By BILL WATANABE
I recently had the good fortune to catch the Broadway opening of the musical show called “Allegiance” that stars many fine Asian American actors, including George Takei, Greg Watanabe and Lea Salonga. The story is one that would be familiar to many in the Nikkei community — a Japanese American family is uprooted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and sent to the Heart Mountain incarceration center in Wyoming, joining thousands of other Japanese and Japanese American prisoners.
While the story is not new, the lyrics and melodies of the songs evoke fresh feelings of family ties, love and romance, and relational conflicts. After the play, I got to visit backstage with George Takei and Greg Watanabe (no relation to me); if I was any good with “selfies” I could have shown you a nice photo op.
“Allegiance” bares the conflicts that arose between people trying to do the right things in the midst of swirling and changing forces all around them — doing the right things as they saw and interpreted those changes.
A young JACL organization is caught in the middle of these conflicts and tries to steer the “right course” for the Nikkei community. A young Nisei man joins the U.S. Army to fight in Europe while another refuses to enlist as long as his family remains incarcerated. One Issei chooses to go back to Japan for the sake of honor while others choose to remain and honor their adopted homeland.
I could really identify with these difficult and conflicting choices because within my own family I had relatives who were pro-Japan fanatics, some who were neutral, and an uncle in the 442/MIS. How hard it must have been to try to sort out the right courses of action while a world war was taking place and trying to take into consideration one’s family ties and planning for the future.
Right now, there is another conflict going on within our Nikkei community regarding the sale of the Keiro facilities, which include nursing homes and a retirement home in Boyle Heights and the South Bay.
Keiro has existed and served the community for many, many years, starting with the Japanese Hospital, which was built by the Issei in 1929. The board of Keiro has overseen and faithfully supported for decades the operation of nursing homes to take care of the Nikkei elderly and many thousands of Nikkei have donated time and money to help make it one of the best nursing homes in the area. All of the people who staff Keiro and who serve on the board are, in my opinion, extremely dedicated community servants who seek to do the right thing.
And they have decided that the time has come, within the context of major changes in the healthcare field, to sell the properties and use the funds to establish a foundation that could continue to help Nikkei elderly in the future.
Others feel the sale of Keiro is totally wrong and should never happen. They feel Keiro has, over the years, become a long-standing institution that belongs to the community and not to just a small circle of board members (no matter how well-meaning). Keiro needs to be there for future generations of elderly — especially those who are non-English-speaking and would benefit by having a language-based nursing home and retirement home context.
These folks feel the right thing to do is to use any legal means to stop the sale. There are those who feel that the Issei and Nisei pioneers who built Keiro would continue the fight to keep the doors open even if conditions change.
After World War II ended, there were long-standing animosities by many in the Nikkei community toward the draft resisters, the renunciants, and the no-no’s. There were bad feelings for decades by others toward the JACL for the role they played during the war and the camp incarceration.
However things turn out regarding the sale of Keiro, I hope we can remember that no one has a lock on knowing what is “doing the right thing.” We will need to recoup and resolve to work together to make things “work out for the best.”
In the words of UCLA Coach John Wooden — “Things work out for the best for those who make the best of how things work out.”
Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near downtown Los Angeles and can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.