“Allegiance” and the Importance of Knowing History

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Allegiance starts George Takei, Lea Salonga,
Telly Leung, and Michael K. Lee

Allegiance, the brilliant musical based on George Takei’s experience of internment during WWII, is coming back to theaters on February 19, and I can’t say enough about how important it is that as many people as possible go to see it.

I had the privilege of seeing Allegiance in December, when Fathom Events brought it to theaters for what was to become the highest-grossing one-night Broadway musical screening in Fathom Events history. The theater in my Midwest town was delightfully packed—a fact that gave me hope for the future and courage to face it. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, after all, and it’s incredibly encouraging to see just how many people are committed to knowing their history. Allegiance is the story of one of the United States’ darker chapters, and it—in many ways—parallels the dark chapter we find ourselves in now. It behooves us all to remember.

The play follows the Kimura family through their internment in the Heart Mountain concentration camp and explores their differing responses to the indignity of their treatment at the hands of the US government. As the story progresses, the Kimuras, and their fellow interned citizens, struggle to face the injustice of their situation with bravery and make the best of their lives in the appalling conditions of the facility. But Allegiance is not merely about the situation inside the camps; it is also—and fundamentally—about the ideological divide that existed between Japanese-Americans interned in the camps. While the Kimuras’ only son, Sammy, endeavors to enlist in the army and prove his loyalty to his country, his father Tatsuo refuses to answer yes to the required loyalty questionnaire and his sister Kei joins the in-camp resistance—falling in love with an anti-draft activist in the process.

Sammy’s stance reflects the viewpoint of many Japanese-Americans at that time: that it was their duty to prove to the US government and to their neighbors that they were real Americans. Kei’s stance, and the stance of her fiancé, Frankie Suzuki, reflects the viewpoint of a vocal minority in the camps: that it was their duty to resist maltreatment and to refuse to serve a country that had abandoned and abused them.

In an era of polarized beliefs and philosophical debates over the effectiveness of respectability vs the effectiveness of resistance, the message of Allegiance—that, while each person must protest injustice in the manner they deem best, we cannot allow our differing viewpoints to divide us—feels more timely than ever. The political divide existing between Sammy and the rest of his family ultimately tears them apart—keeping them from one another until it is almost too late to find closure and offer forgiveness. And this is a message we must keep in mind in the days to come. We face grave challenges to our national ideals and freedoms, and many of us have strong opinions about how those challenges should be met, but we must never lose sight of our shared humanity. We must never lose empathy for those of us who are at different stages of the journey.

The internment of Japanese-American citizens in WWII bears an uncanny resemblance to the current targeting of non-white citizens by the current administration, and both have their roots in the same place: ignorance and fear. Time and time again, ignorance and fear have lead American citizens to do terrible things: to burn women to death, to incarcerate Japanese-Americans, to beat, lynch, and segregate black Americans, to persecute intellectuals with counter-culture views. Time and time again, we have fallen from our ideals. But time and time again, we have risen. The outpouring of love and praise for Allegiance is a reminder that we still have the ability to rise, to remember, and to resolve: never again. These are dark days, but so many people are committed to rejecting them—to learning about the past so that we might not go down those terrible and well-trod paths again—and that gives me such faith.

Go see Allegiance on February 19. See, learn, resolve, resist.

And find a theater near you at the official Allegiance website where tickets are currently on sale.

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