By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Excerpts from the Broadway musical “Allegiance,” which is coming to Little Tokyo next year, were performed during Go For Broke National Education Center’s 16th annual Evening of Aloha on Sept. 23 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles.
Actor and activist George Takei, one of the evening’s honorees, performed with a new group of local actors/singers. He will reprise his roles as Ojiichan and elderly Sam Kimura when the show is produced at the Aratani Theatre in February.
The Broadway version of “Allegiance” will also be shown in movie theaters in December.
Emceed by David Ono of ABC 7 Eyewitness News, the program began with the traditional salute to all of the Nisei veterans of World War II who were present. They appeared on stage and were given a standing ovation. Later there was a video tribute to those who passed away since the last gala.
The 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Color Guard from Hawaii posted the colors and recording artist Lauren Hanako Kinkade sang the national anthem.
Mitchell Maki, president and CEO of GFBNEC, stated that in addition to the veterans, the gala was dedicated to “the women of World War II, the mothers, the wives, and the sisters who supported these men in a very dark chapter of American history.”
The women were honored with a performance by Staci Yamashita-Iida, an avid hula dancer who has performed all over the world for more than 20 years, and tributes by Tom Ikeda, executive director of Densho in Seattle; Steve Sato, son of a 100th Battalion veteran; and Toke Yoshihashi, a 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran.
Ikeda noted that his grandmother, who was incarcerated at the Minidoka camp in Idaho and lost a son who was killed in action in Europe, was a model of “courage, sacrifice, strength … To have lost her eldest son … to be treated so badly and sacrifice so much, yet she was one of the first Japanese to apply for U.S. citizenship [after the war].”
When he gives presentations at schools, Ikeda said, he shows a photo of his grandmother and says, “This is what an American looks like.”
Sato, who was a baby when his father was killed in action, said of his mother, “She taught me that it was our time now. We never forget those who we love. Mama, I will always remember you.”
Stephen Kagawa, chair of GFBNEC’s Board of Directors, presented the 2017 Go For Broke Award to longtime board member Bill Seki for “his commitment and dedication to our organization and to preserving the legacy of our Nisei veterans.”
The managing partner of the law firm of Seki, Nishimura & Watase, a former deputy district attorney and the son of a 100th Battalion veteran, Seki has been on the board for 10 years and served as president twice, from 2005 to 2009 and 2013 to 2016.
After borrowing Takei’s catchphrase — “Oh my!” — Seki said he was “truly overwhelmed” and added, “While I appreciate the recognition, it’s hard to accept recognition for something that you enjoy doing.”
He said that he was thankful for having “an opportunity to meet a lot of my heroes,” who represent such qualities as “courage, compassion, bravery, loyalty, honor, patriotism,” and being able to work with “many people who, like myself, believe in this mission.”
Ono introduced the winners of GFBNEC’s 2017 High School and College/University Student Essay, Poetry and Video Contest, which is sponsored by Pacific Global Investment Management Company in memory of philanthropists Manabi Hirasaki and Sig Kagawa, and by Ken and June Shimabukuro and an anonymous donor in memory of 100th Battalion veteran Mas Takahashi. The first-prize winners are:
College — Essay: Kenneth Kitahata, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio; poem: Miya Eberlein, UCLA; video: Alison Hana Coombs, University of Washington, Seattle
High school — Essay: Javier Herrera, Mt. Carmel High School, San Diego; poem, Tamara Sato, Punahou School, Honolulu; video: Sophia Ichida Eberlein, Palisades Charter High School, Pacific Palisades
The “Allegiance” musical numbers were “Ishi Kara Ishi” (a duet between Takei as Ojiichan and Kinkade as Kei Kimura), “Higher” (solo by Kinkade), “Gaman,” and “Our Time Now.”
The other performers were Garrett Ching as young Sammy, Brianne Sanborn as Nurse Hannah, Jason Fong as Frankie, Derek Mio as Mike Masaoka, and Scott Watanabe as Tatsuo, with Kendyl Yokoyama and Brooke Ishibashi as chorus members. In the play, Sammy joins the Army to demonstrate his loyalty and has a falling-out with his sister Kei, whose boyfriend Frankie is a draft resister.
Kagawa presented the Defining Courage Award to Takei, citing his efforts to educate the public about the Japanese American wartime experience as well as “advocating for the rights of LGBTQ individuals” and “fighting Klingons in distant galaxies,” a reference to the actor’s “Star Trek” role as Sulu.
Takei thanked the veterans “who made this America possible for us, not just Japanese Americans but for all Americans … a story that is still too little-known and we have a mission of telling that story for them …The message that story has to teach us is vitally important … so much more in this fraught America of today. It’s very important that that story and the lessons that can be drawn from that be retold to a younger generation.”
The musical “reached many people, not intellectually but through the heart,” said Takei, who will also be playing a Nisei veteran in an upcoming short film, “American,” directed by Richie Adams.
Takei praised the young Nisei who tried to sign up for military service immediately after Pearl Harbor but were turned away because of their race, as well as those who volunteered or were drafted from the camps. He noted that incarcerees were subjected to a questionnaire that required them to “swear your loyalty to the USA and forswear your loyalty to the emperor of Japan,” based on the false assumption that “we had an inborn racial loyalty to the emperor.”
While “thousands of young Japanese Americans bit the bullet, swallowed the bitter taste and answered yes,” Takei said, some answered, “I will not go as an internee, leave my family in imprisonment to fight for this country. I will fight as an American. This was a gutsy position, this was a principled position and it was an American position.”
The resisters, as well as the Nisei who challenged the constitutionality of the government’s actions — Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi and Mitsuye Endo — “fought for America as well … Their battlefield was the courtroom … They too are our heroes,” said Takei, eliciting applause from the audience. He also thanked attorney Wayne Collins, who represented Japanese Americans in several court cases when no one else would.
Maki made a “Fund the Future” pitch for additional donations from attendees, which raised more than, $100,000. “By telling the story to schoolchildren about Nisei World War II veterans and helping them to see the connections to today’s challenges, we keep the story relevant … reminding all Americans that in times of crisis we must cling to our most cherished value, and that value is that in America no one is to be judged by the color of your skin, the nation of your origin, or the god that you choose to worship,” Maki said.
Rewards for donations included the 2017 GFBNEC Challenge Coin, a blanket with the emblems of the Nisei units of World War II, and tickets to an upcoming concert by Daniel Ho and Tak Matsumoto at the Aratani.
Maki also showed a video about sketches of young Nisei recruits drawn by Issei artist Jack Yamasaki while incarcerated at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. GFBNEC was able to identify two of them as Richard Takeshi Kawamoto and Hiroshi Ben Kamada, and located their families. Sharon, Ken and Richard Kawamoto from San Diego and Jan Kamada Tinker, Frank Tinker and Ryan Kamada from Denver were invited on stage to receive the portraits.
The gala was presented by American Honda Motor Co. Inc., which provided a 2017 Honda CR-V EX-L AWD with navigation for the opportunity drawing. Kacey Takashima was the Honda representative during the drawing, which was won by Kyle Choi.
The evening’s chefs were introduced on stage: Roy Yamaguchi, founder and owner, Roy’s Restaurants Worldwide; Garret Mukogawa, corporate executive chef, Roy’s Restaurants, Hawaii; Akira Hirose, chef and owner, Maison Akira, Pasadena; Jeremy Choo, pastry chef, King’s Hawaiian Restaurant & Bakery; and Joseph Mills, executive chef, Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites.
The gala was co-chaired by Ernie Doizaki, owner of Kansas Marine Co., and George A. Henning, chairman, president and CEO of Pacific Global Investment Management Company.
Entertainment at the reception, which included a silent auction, was provided by Ka Leo Nahenahe with hula by Yamashita-Iida, Leslie Lekili Tanaka, Macy Kanoelani Morikawa and Amanda Ku’uleilani Taketa.
Special guests at the reception and dinner included Rep. Mark Takano, Assemblymembers Al Muratsuchi and Ed Chau, Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu, Consul General Akira Chiba and Madame Yuko Chiba, and Jan Perry, general manager of the Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo