Two readings brought dramatic moments to the JACL National Convention.
By Gil Asakawa, Contributor
The JACL National Convention offered different ways for attendees to connect with history and culture, not just through the typical offerings of speeches and presentations. For one, there was a string of movies screened during the confab and two dramatic readings.
Acclaimed actor and community activist Tamlyn Tomita led a cast of young women on July 20 at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center for a reading of “Question 27, Question 28,” a refreshingly different perspective on incarceration and the years afterward “curated” by playwright Chay Yew. Yew assembled actual quotes from oral histories provided by Japanese American women before, during and after World War II.
Tomita has been part of “Question 27, Question 28” since it first premiered in 2004 and has championed it ever since.
The stories cover the shock of the attack on Pearl Harbor and JA families’ fear of what the future holds for them to the hardships of life in American concentration camps.
In an interview the week following the convention, Tomita said that the importance of this piece — which has always been a reading, never a staged production — is its attention to actual facts, captured in real time as history unfolded.
“And that’s, you know, critical race theory in action,” she said. “It’s looking at that chapter in history, specifically through another lens, and saying this is what happened.”
The reading was so powerful and effective that it sparked a lively discussion with audience members afterwards, with many commenting that it deserves to be performed at every JACL National Convention and in theaters across the country.
Former JACL National President and Executive Director Floyd Mori challenged the audience to raise the money necessary to bring it to every district within the organization.
The other dramatic reading during the convention was of a graphic novel, not a script, though “Shimbun” is on its way to becoming a full-length feature film. Writer-director Jeffrey Gee Chin is producing the graphic novel as a template for the film version.
And both are being built on the foundation of Chin’s well-received 2012 short feature “Li’l Tokyo Reporter,” based on a true story of crusading newspaperman Sei Fujii, who fought off gang activity in Little Tokyo in the 1930s.
“Reporter” starred award-winning actor Chris Tashima as Fujii and co-starred Keiko Agena, who some fans might know best from her role in “The Gilmore Girls” TV series from the early 2000s but also was featured in the crime drama “Prodigal Son.”
With Chin reading the narrator’s parts and Tashima and Agena reprising their roles from “L’il Tokyo Reporter,” the threesome read a chapter from the novel and then held a Q&A with the audience assembled at JANM for the discussion.
Both sessions added a different way for JACL attendees to both learn about the community’s history and interact with some of the creative stars that shine within it.