Last week, a Newton North High School put on a musical called Thoroughly Modern Millie. The script to this musical portrays some extremely racist characters who perpetuate Asian stereotypes. Consequently, many community members, many of them Asian parents, teachers, and students, expressed disappointment, anger, and frustration. There was a Talk Back a day or two after the musical was put on. I did not attend the event, nor did I even hear about the musical being put on until it was already done. However, as a member of an arts and advocacy organization, and specifically one that promotes Asian American culture and works to bring awareness and break down oppression, this was something I wanted to learn more about.
From the little research I’ve done on the musical and the process in which Newton North took to put on the musical, I have many questions. Who should we hold accountable for the fallout? Who is being targeted by the musical’s content? Who is speaking up? Who is being silenced? I found out the school tried to address the racism before and after the performance. They even wrote a letter in response to the community’s outcry. In it, the principal talked about the discussions, consulting one of their Asian teachers (ok, this felt a little like tokenizing), having the students of the Asian club talk to the director, inviting people to the Talk Back, and even asking the company who owns the rights to Thoroughly Modern Millie to see if they had another script without the racism (surprise! they didn’t). You can read the whole response here: Millieresponse While reading this, I just kept thinking, “This obviously isn’t enough!” I kept wondering why a school would choose to put on a musical knowing it would cause such negative reactions. Was this a way to open a dialogue about racism? This wouldn’t be the route I would take, but I’m not a theater director at a majority White suburban high school.
I haven’t seen the musical and don’t know anyone who participated in the production. This incident is just another reminder that racism still is a problem and should be addressed. From what I’ve learned about the fallout in Newton, I’m hoping more work can be done to raise more awareness on why people reacted so passionately. Check out some reactions from the Talk Back. What it showed me wasn’t so much people wanting to fight one another or even looking for apologies, but people from the Newton community wanting visibility around the issue–to not brush it under the rug as racism often is, especially when it comes to anti-Asian racism. I look forward to learning more about how this community will continue to figure out how to address a complex issue such as this.
Born in Philippines
Age 2 immigrated to Queens, NY
Age 27 move to Boston, MA
Filipino, female, queer, activist, artist
*Taiko drummer & photographer*
Photo by: Michael Simonitsch.
A memory… is when I brought my girlfriend (now wife) to Easter dinner with my family. At that point, I hadn’t even come out to most of them so I introduced her as my friend. When you are intimate with someone, it is difficult to hide that connection and I could tell that my family quickly realized that she was not just my friend. I felt it in the room that they understood and were not happy. After dinner, one of my aunts, who I thought would be the most understand, sent me an email flatly asking me if I was gay. I thought to myself, ‘This is easy. She asked me. So I’ll answer.’ I was still afraid, but she was the ‘cool’ aunt so I wrote to her and said ‘Yes, I am dating Jenn. I hope you can be happy for me because I am finally in a place where I am learning to be happy with who I am.’ I was surprised that the response was not as understanding as I thought it would be. It stuck with me until today. My family has slowly come around to accepting our relationship and who I am. They have always said they had an issue with the relationship and not me, but if you can’t accept the relationship and who I love- you aren’t accepting me as a whole. That memory sticks with me so much because I was really hurt by that response. Being visible for me is also being visible in my family. At one point, I had asked myself, ‘If they don’t accept me… how involved with my family do I really need to be? Do I stick around? Do I fight for this or do I walk away?’ I made the decision to fight to keep my family, and to work through this with them. As much as this was a process for me, it is also a process for them. It took me all this time to be honest with myself and to learn to love myself, I should only expect that it will also take time for them. Visibility isn’t always being on a stage claiming who I am (though I often am doing that with The Genki Spark), but is also being visible with my family.
This campaign as part of MAP Health’s visibility social media campaign. After a community wide nomination process Genki Spark member, Lee Ann Teylan was selected to be honored. Please check out the profiles of the other amazing Boston based honorees which include Sarath Suong, Narong Sokham, Hema Sarang-Simenski, Cassie Luna, and Maxwell Ng.
Congratulations Lee Ann!
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, flap, flap, flap
Wiggle, wiggle wiggle, flap flap flap
This is the constant refrain I heard as Tiffany sensei began to deftly take apart my drumming technique so that I can play more efficiently and with less strain. During the weekend long workshop, we wiggled and we flapped with visions of spaghetti arms floating in and out of my consciousness. The technique worked because how else could I have lasted 4 days of daily drumming, sometimes up to 45 minutes at a stretch without acquiring a single blister on my hands. Lots of sore muscles. No blisters.
Four days of taiko intensive workshop with Tiffany Tamaribuchi, an internationally known taiko master is first and foremost a lot of FUN! Yes, we did learn to play the Odaiko but a funny thing happened before we played our solos. I learned to overcome my self-doubts, my fears. (Play a solo? Oh no. Not me.) I learned to relax and enjoy the moment. I felt connected and balanced. So what if I made a mistake. So what if I couldn’t play a pattern after the first or fifth repetition. So what if after learning a drill one day, I couldn’t remember how to play it the next. All I know is no one is keeping score (maybe me, still). No one will remember how badly or how well I played my solo except me. And in my mind at that moment, I was flawless. The corrections, the do overs….those can wait until the following day.
I still have plenty of challenges to work on and who doesn’t? But after Taiko Baka, I am less intimidated. It isn’t as daunting a task anymore. True, I still get nervous. But it’s all relative. At the very least, I don’t feel like Sissyphus pushing a big boulder up a steep hill all the time.
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, Flap, flap flap.
— Mary Ann