‘Living Voices’ Defies Genre Conventions, Racial Prejudice

A group of Japanese Americans make a line outside of the mess hall at a relocation center during World War II A group of Japanese Americans stand outside of a mess hall in the Manzanar Relocation Center, California. (photo credit: Ansel Adams, courtesy of Library of Congress)

Without a set, props, costume or even a supporting cast, Seattle-based actor and playwright Keiko Green used a combination of multimedia elements and acting to tell the story of “Within the Silence.”

Both a monologue and a history lesson, the performance follows the story of Emiko Yamada, a young Japanese-American woman living in Seattle in the 1940s. Yamada was relocated with her family to the Minidoka Internment camp following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Green performed “Within the Silence” in the Gaiser Hall student center on Jan. 25 at 10 a.m. The show was put on by Living Voices, a Seattle-based theater company that uses archived footage paired with solo performers to tell the stories of characters who survived historical tragedies.

“There was fear, anger, and confusion,” Green said. “It escalated into hysteria.”

During their years of internment, the Yamada family struggled against the prejudice and nativism which led to the incarceration of approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.

During the performance, historical photographs and video footage were projected on a screen behind Green, while occasional audio clips represented other characters in the production. Green, who has been performing this piece since last summer, said it was a new experience for her.

“I’ve never had to work that much with multimedia,” she said.

Living Voices’ performances are made from researching and assembling these media snippets and historical accounts, using them to create a story. “Everything that happens in these stories happened to somebody,” Green said.

Vivienne Voisin, the Activities Programming Board cultural events coordinator, introduced Green at the event. “I think she was a really passionate performer,” Voisin said.

Voisin said the event was very educational, and had been well received by Clark students.

“Students said it was very touching, and they really enjoyed the performance,” Voisin said.

Samantha Lelo, the APB program support supervisor, said that Living Voices has performed at Clark several times during her nine years at Clark.

“We try to rotate them and find which ones are more relevant,” Lelo said.

Lelo said the APB board hopes to continue hosting Living Voices events in the future.

Green believes that the blaming of minorities in national crisis makes “Within the Silence” an even more socially-relevant production to watch. According to Green, Japanese-American internment re-entered the public eye when a Virginia mayor cited internment in an argument against accepting Syrian refugees after the Paris terrorist attack last November.

“President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” said Mayor David Bowers of Roanoke, as reported by The Washington Post. “And it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

Since then, Green has noticed an increase in references and communications about the Japanese-American internment. “This story has literally been brought back into the present,” she said.

Green hopes that telling stories about the internment will help students be more open minded. “It’s a good reminder that we can really learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past,” she said.

Van Forsyth, a history professor, refers to internment as “the worst constitutional rights violation of the 20th century.” Forsyth covers internment in his unit on World War II. He stresses how little time Japanese-Americans had to prepare for relocation.

“Think about it,”  Forsyth said. “Forty-eight hours from now, you’ve got to be at the Amtrak station in Vancouver. Go get your life in order.”

According to Forsyth, nativism, the belief that a country should protect native interests, “rears its ugly head” during wars and economic depressions.

“History is filled with groups looking for scapegoats in hard times,” Forsyth said.

According to Forsyth, many immigrant groups faced harsh treatment during World  War II. Even before the Pearl Harbor bombing, Japanese-Americans were easily scapegoated because of their race.

Forsyth said nativism is still alive in American culture.

“Some people want us to say that we’re at war with Islam,” Forsyth said. “That’s why you get a guy like Trump who says ‘stop all Muslims from coming into the country.’”

Carlos Castro, a sociology professor who teaches a course on Race and Ethnicity in the U.S., said that ethnic and racial tensions are often born from economic anxieties.

“People think the U.S. isn’t as strong as it used to be,” Castro said. He said this causes people to scapegoat minorities.

“That’s what happened with Hitler in Germany,” Castro said. “They scapegoated the Jews.”

Castro said it’s important for students to learn about privilege and inequity in history. Without that education, you only learn the traditional views of your own group.

Castro was born in Nicaragua and came to the U.S. when he was 28. He couldn’t speak English and hadn’t learned U.S. history.

“I read the books, I learned about African Americans, I learned about American Indians,” Castro said. “I learned about Malcolm X, and all the different people.”

“That has not diminished me. On the contrary, it has enriched me.”

About Riley Clarke (16 Articles)

I’m the news editor for the Clark College Independent. When I’m not working around the staff room, you can find me in the backroom reading horror novels and binge-listening to podcasts.

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