The following is a statement from the The Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League on the Seattle production of “The Mikado”:
The Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) announced today that, in addition to opposing Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s recent staging of “The Mikado,” it is committed to being a leader in the robust dialogue surrounding the issue.
“We will work diligently to find opportunities for dialogue with members of Seattle Gilbert Sullivan Society, Seattle’s Asian American organizations, civil rights organizations and Seattle’s arts community,” said Chapter President, Toshiko Hasegawa. “From this situation, there is an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue. We will bring our honest perspective to the table, sharing our history and experiences, and we look forward to reaching out to community partners to join us. I am confident we can move forward with greater mutual respect and understanding.”
With that said, the Seattle chapter’s official stance can be seen in the statement released earlier in July 2014, by National JACL. The national statement contends that, while “The Mikado” was written in the 1800s, its historical context as British satire no longer resonates with present day reality; in its stead, the audience is presented with comedic hyperbole wrapped in Japanese stereotype. The group believes that cultural misappropriation has never been, and should never be considered an acceptable art form. The practice of yellow face in 2014 is especially troubling to Puget Sound’s Asian American community, given the history of racism its members have endured.
For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 denied the immigration of Chinese laborers. Executive Order 9066 in 1942 ordered the incarceration of all people of Japanese ancestry. Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island were the first in the country to be forcibly removed from their homes to be incarcerated in internment camps. Well into the 1960s Seattle’s Asian Americans were denied access to specific neighborhoods, from purchasing homes, from sitting for the bar exam and were subject to many other exclusionary practices.
Racial stereotypes and exaggerated, negative caricatures of Asians were once used by the U.S. military and mainstream media to divide society and create negative sentiments against Asian Americans. The performance by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society is a reinforcement of negative stereotypes that have been long been harmful to the perception of Asian American culture and should not be tolerated today. JACL Seattle denounces the use of racism as a form of entertainment.
Editor’s note(7/28/14 at 6:39 a.m.): An incorrect image was used for this story. A correct press image of the Seattle production of “The Mikado” has been inserted.