Uprooted’ taps into the personal experiences of Japanese American internment

By JL Odom

The stage – in particular, the former Naval Air Station Alameda – is set for a one-of-a-kind show this weekend, “Island City Waterways: Uprooted.”

After a two-year hiatus, this popular, free outdoor event celebrating Alameda’s waterfront history returns to East Bay Island Saturday and Sunday.

Presented by Rhythmix Cultural Works Community Arts Center in partnership with the City of Alameda, “Island City Waterways 2022” explores the concept of uprooting – with a specific connection to Alameda’s NAS history as an airplane and pilot hub, military base and “civilian checkpoint” where Japanese Americans were ordered to report before being sent to World War II internment camps.

According to Janet Koike, Founder and Creative Director of Rhythmix, “These are all stories of uprooting — uprooting to fly, [as with] the first pilots, [and] uprooted by war, either by the war industry, by becoming a soldier, by being drafted or by being politically targeted.”

The historical and cultural significance of Alameda NAS, now known as Alameda Point, will be showcased and honored through immersive dance, music and theater performances by the 13th Floor Theatre, Akira Tana Trio, Ensemble of world music Maze Daiko and ODC/Dance.

Kimi Okada is Associate Choreographer at ODC/Dance San Francisco, and she co-choreographed “Uprooted” with Brenda Way, Founder and Artistic Director of ODC/Dance. Okada explains that when Koike approached her with the idea of ​​using the former military base of Alameda as a location and “uprooted” as a theme, she had an identifiable personal connection to Koike’s proposal: “For me, it’s was an amazing opportunity to be able to use my own personal family history records.”

These records are Okada’s mother’s detailed letters to friends and family that she had written during World War II. Says Okada of her mother, “She had an old Underwood typewriter, and she had carbon copies on onion-skin paper of every letter she wrote since then. [the] relocation camp and detention center where Japanese Americans were placed before they actually went to the internment camps.”

Prior to the internment, Okada’s mother had worked as a civil servant and therefore had what Okada describes as a sort of secretary mentality. According to Okada, her mother didn’t really talk about the internment experience while she was alive – it’s not that she hid it, Okada explains, but she was very down to earth about it. .

As Okada comments, “I didn’t really realize how much their freedoms were taken away until much later, because my mother didn’t talk about it as a huge period of racism and injustice. She talked about what it was like to deal with on a daily basis; it was from a very personal perspective.”

Okada’s mother and father married shortly before Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, a 1942 directive that required Japanese people — including his parents — to go to relocation centers.

In developing the piece for “Uprooted”, Okada notes that it was about capturing what his parents went through during this time. As she says, “They were married for two weeks and suddenly found themselves in a fishbowl with no intimacy. What did they do every day? How did they deal with it? How did they develop an intimate relationship? What was it like being with all the other family members and bickering with everyone? I mean, there are so many hints of what everyday life was like not just with close family members. family, but with thousands of people who were in the camp.

For Okada, creating ‘Uprooted’ from his mother’s letters was an opportunity to tell his side of his parents’ story, with the aim of capturing the spirit, ethos and what they might have been through. emotionally.

She shares, “I have a huge loose-leaf notebook full of letters from my mother to various people describing daily life in the camps and what they thought and everything from how they had to wait in line to the lack of privacy in the dresser and the showers to what they did for entertainment. Truly, it was an incredible documentation of day to day life of what it was like to actually be in these camps. internment.

Koike notes that the personal story of Okada’s parents—and its application to the play “Uprooted”—also conveys a cultural, and therefore broader, story.

said Koike, “[Her mother’s] the answer was not that unusual for Japanese Americans. Yes, there were people who objected outwardly, as they certainly had a right to, but as a cultural response after the war, it seemed there was a greater percentage[age] of people who wanted to put their heads down and try to make a living. They didn’t want to talk about that. My parents didn’t want to talk about it either. And I don’t think they really wanted to take that miserable memory with them; they wanted to move on.”

This weekend’s event draws attention to these culturally significant personal experiences of Japanese Americans during the 20th century, while addressing the importance of community, broader and deeper circumstances of racial discrimination. and injustice – and the notion of resilience.

Says Okada, “I try to capture that feeling of, ‘This is what life has in store for us. This is how we’re going to get through this.’ That’s really, for me, what’s the emotional center and the impetus for doing this piece that sits in that much larger context.”

“Island City Waterways: Uprooted” takes place at 10 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at West Mall Square in Alameda Point. ASL interpretation will be offered at all Sunday performances. The all-ages show is free, but an RSVP is required. For tickets and information, visit https://www.islandcitywaterways.org/.

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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