This week I am finding strength in remembering a particularly powerful Thanksgiving that I was fortunate to experience last year. Though my Jewish-Hindu-Christian-Buddhist-American family is a unique amalgamation of faiths, races, cultures, and personalities we tend to stick to the mainstream tradition of gathering around a giant roasted bird, saying thanks, and tacitly supporting our favorite style of cranberry (relish, duh). In 2015, however, we decided to ditch Highland Park, PGH for Broadway, NYC with one main goal in mind: Grandma Satako was going to meet George Takei.
George Takei would be in Times Square starring in the musical Allegiance, a show inspired by his experience in Japanese internment during WWII when over 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated by the US government simply for being an unfavorable race. My 87-year-old Japanese American grandma and her family spent several years at Tule Lake Segregation Center, the same concentration camp as George. So the story of Allegiance hits particularly close-to-home.
Prompted by Grandma Satako’s excitement and determination to see George, my entire family of 15 went to see the musical together. The show captured many details of internment that often go unspoken. The childhoods marked by barbed wire. The shame and heartbreak of patriotism. The painful divisions in families that lasted for entire lifetimes. It also captured the strength of our people. The resilience of family and ritual. The varying forms of resistance, from organized protests to organized dance parties. The power in making the decision to wake up and be there for each other each day. Of course seeing this history unfold to the tune of Broadway was a bit of a surreal experience, but an incredibly emotional one nonetheless. Sitting just a couple seats away from my grandma, I pretty much sobbed the entire time.
After the show, we all rallied behind Grandma Satako to strategize a way for her to meet George. We started with some failed attempts to capture his attention by tweeting @GeorgeTakei, and eventually opted for the good old fashioned method of making friends with the theater security guard. Lucky for us, the guard was a hero. After hearing her story, he let Grandma Satako and her party of fourteen traverse the barricades and wait right outside the stage door. She was to be the first person to speak with George when he came out.
We all waited anxiously, not knowing if my grandma would know what to say to George. But when he finally did come out she put all of our concerns to shame. Perhaps it was the empowerment she was feeling from having her story acknowledged on Broadway, or perhaps it was the adrenaline from her near celebrity status, but she displayed a confidence and candor that we had not seen from her before. My grandma was hype. She cut right to the chase and called George out for not remembering the time they met briefly twenty years prior at one of the first organized pilgrimages for Japanese internment survivors to Tule Lake. He had apparently been distributing and signing his autobiography, but ran out of books before she could get one. The discussion outside the stage door went something like:
Grandma Satako: You ran out of books so I ordered one from you. Don’t you remember that?
George Takei: Sorry, I am getting old. But thank you for coming to join us tonight.
Grandma Satako: Well I keep track of you!
George Takei: Thank you, thank you. Have I been behaving?
The video of their meeting really captures the joy and excitement we were all feeling. Their simple interaction was an extremely powerful moment for my family. Coming together to see my grandma and her story brought to justice. Seeing her connect face-to-face with a Japanese American activist, celebrity, and fellow Tule Lake survivor. Seeing the shame of internment transform into a pride for her story and her survival.
So now this Thanksgiving, as we hear serious talk coming from Trump and his surrogates about using Japanese internment as a precedent for a registry for Muslim Americans in the US, I have to remember this moment. I have to remember the strength and resilience of my people in the darkest of times. I have to remember how my beautifully messy and diverse amalgamation of a family will always be my posse. And I have to tell Trump this…you better believe that Grandma Satako and her posse are keeping track of you.
Allegiance will be in select theaters nationwide starting on Dec 13, 2016. Find out more here.