It's summer, y'all! For most engineering students, that means summer classes or a summer internship. The importance of internships has been drilled into our brains since the first day of freshmen orientation. We attend seminars on how to hustle at career fairs. We spend hours perfecting our resumes. We do mock interviews and practice our handshakes. And if we're lucky, we're rewarded with two months of rather menial work at a place we most likely don't see ourselves being employed in the future.
To be clear, I am not trying to downplay the role of internships as a student in this blog post. They are quite useful, especially if you're uncertain about what kind of work you want to do after college. Maybe those eight weeks in industry were more than enough for you to realize that your heart's true desire is research or grad school. Maybe you thought you would work for a Fortune 500 company after graduation but accidentally fell in love with the culture of start-ups.
But what if you were looking for something other than early work experience from the typical summer internship? Or what if you're having a hard time standing out among your fellow students and getting to the top of that intern hire list? Is there something integral to you as a person that means nothing to the typical recruiter?
These questions were constantly running through my head as I started gearing up for career fair season last fall. Since I was a kid, my family would spend the summers of even years in the Philippines. Because I needed to take a summer class that my school wouldn't let me take at a Philippine university, we skipped our 2016 trip. I wasn't very happy about it since the fact that I went to the Philippines every other year to see family was such a large part of my identity. One of the first things that would come up in conversation with new Filipino American friends was if they had ever been to the Philippines.
As I went through the list of companies that would be at my school's big fall career fair, I tried to think of what I would talk to each recruiter about. To my disappointment, I had a hard time thinking of anything more than the generic questions for most of the companies. There wasn't much in my life that I could connect to the mission of these companies. (To be fair, career fairs aren't always great for BME students.) For example, there was a start-up that was making flours and other food products out of various insects. I was able to talk to them about how hunting for large bugs was unfortunately often the only option for poor families in the Philippines. Another company was focused on developing devices for neonatal intensive care. I pulled out my experience trying to prototype a new kind of oxygen generator for use in rural hospitals in developing countries. But two out of hundreds of companies was not great odds. Walking out of the building, I knew that it had been another unsuccessful career fair for me. I would have to hustle elsewhere if I wanted an internship.
But the internship search gets even bleaker when you're just going through tab after tab of online applications. When I would fill out the default online app, there would be so many blank spaces because of my lack of experience. There was never any space to write about why my few projects were meaningful or to expound on the roles I played in student organizations. Yes, these are things you would talk about in an interview, but I had close to nothing in those little text boxes that would get me anywhere close to an interview.
So I closed all of the job tabs and started scrolling through Facebook. That's when I discovered Kaya Collaborative.
I saw an advertisement that said something about the "Balikbayan Generation." What? Tagalog on a Facebook ad? I clicked on it, and that's how I found what I would be doing this summer.
A Facebook ad? I know. It seems so sketchy. But the moment I saw it, I knew it was everything I was struggling to look for. I'll hopefully be writing more about Kaya Co. as this trip goes on. In short, Kaya Collaborative's mission is to link the millions of diaspora Filipinos around the world back to the Philippines, to show them how to use what they've learned abroad to bring social change back home. One of the ways they do this is by taking on college students and recent graduates as summer fellows.
For one, I was desperate for work experience, and I knew I had a shot at being a competitive candidate. The Kaya Co. Fellowship application had plenty of space to discuss what I was passionate about. Two, there are no Filipino studies classes at my university, and I never had space in my cramped degree plan to take any Asian or Asian American studies classes. Besides placing its fellows in meaningful internships, Kaya Collaborative also throws in a lot of curriculum focused on the Philippines, which was something I had been craving. Three, it was an opportunity to spend two months in the Philippines!! If I crowdfunded wisely, it would be a free trip. When I write it out, it all seems too good to be true, and I'm so grateful and excited about this opportunity.
But I'm also a little terrified. I have a tendency of getting myself into situations where I have no idea what's going to happen. I jump in (or sometimes trip and fall in) and hope for the best. Fortunately, those uncertainties always turned into the most rewarding experiences of my life. So I'm very optimistic about what this summer fellowship/internship/adventure brings. Kaya ko ba? In two months, hopefully I'll be able to say "Oo, kaya ko." But for now, tingnan natin...
On December 13, 2016, I watched George Takei's Allegiance: The Broadway Musical on the Big Screen at a movie theater in Austin, Texas. I'll be honest, I was so close to not going. The screening was on the evening of December 13th, and I had a big final exam on the 14th in the afternoon. And a flight to the Philippines the next morning. Eventually, I decided that this show was too important for me to miss, especially after watching the production on Broadway exactly one year ago.
After following Allegiance's development for so long, I was determined to go see it when the Broadway announcement was finally made. Right after my last final exam on a Tuesday, I was on a plane from Austin to Baltimore. I had to lug everything that I was planning to bring home to Houston for the winter break with me since the dorms were closing the next day. Early on Wednesday morning, my cousins and I were on the first bus from Silver Spring to Port Authority, and we watched the show that night.
And we loved it! I went into the show knowing and loving a lot of the music already. My cousins went into the show relatively blind, and they genuinely enjoyed it.
I don't remember exactly when the announcements came out about Allegiance playing in movie theaters through Fathom Events, but I had always had really high hopes for this filmed version. In May 2015, my family and I flew to London and watched the West End production of Miss Saigon. I definitely cried a lot in the Prince Edward. To my surprise, the filmed version that played in theaters through Fathom Events in September 2016 made me cry just as much. After watching the movie adaptations of Les Misérables and Into the Woods, I was definitely craving a nice filmed version of an actual show like that Into the Woods recording with Bernadette Peters or Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway. I thought Miss Saigon did a pretty good job of integrating live shots and close-ups filmed separately, so I was curious about how Allegiance would fare.
And we definitely got close-ups. At the Longacre, I was sitting maybe around Row L or M of the orchestra section. I'm also pretty near-sighted. The experience of most of the scenes were definitely enhanced by the varied angles and close-ups. In "Do Not Fight the Storm," I liked how we really got to focus on Tatsuo as he's forced to sell his farm for ten percent of its value. Greg Watanabe's performace of Mike Masaoka was even more striking on camera. Allegiance centers on the Kimura family, but this filmed version also showed us the struggles of the Gotos and the Tanakas and the Maruyamas. "Gaman" was so much more moving when I could see everyone's faces clearly.
For me, the only shot that seemed very obviously filmed separately was when Kei goes to pick up Sammy's Purple Heart near the end. The lighting looked very different. I'm guessing it's because Kei was sitting on the ground, and the camera was shooting from above. That was the only time in the show that we had seen that angle, so it was a little distracting to me.
The only scene where I didn't enjoy having the varied shots was "Itetsuita." In my opinion, there aren't a lot of scenes in musical theater that are as powerful and as simple as "Itetsuita." I feel like we were only able to see the projection on two people before we saw it on all of them at the same time. What made this scene so powerful to me on Broadway was that we saw the projection on so many people that it felt relentless. The filmed version had a lot of sweeping shots on the actors' faces, so I feel like the audienc missed out on the full effect of this scene.
I also think there were visual effects put in during the "442nd Battle," which I didn't think were entirely necessary. I specifically remember feeling a little uncomfortable during that scene when I watched Allegiance on Broadway because the 442nd's guns were pointed directly at the audience. That's not a bad thing; it means that I was thoroughly immersed in the show. On screen, I don't think I realized the musket flashes were just visual effects until there was a wide shot and the effect was clearer than the actors. Then it became really noticeable during Sammy's close-ups.
My last little gripe is that I thought the sound mixing could have been better. Maybe it was just my theater, but towards the end of the songs when the orchestration swells, the voices got a little drowned out. This didn't bother me because I know every word, but I know that a lot of people across the country watched Allegiance for the first time that night. At least its not too difficult to figure out the last lyrics of songs. [Update: This was an issue my theater was having that evening. At the subsequent screening, the audio was much better. But it was also much lower (which made everyone in the theater keep quiet and listen carefully).]
Anyway, my overall opinion of the filmed version of this show is overwhelmingly positive. Those three (maybe three and a half) minor issues were the only negatives for me. Seeing Allegiance like this made me sad and angry again about it's short Broadway run. It's been over a year since the show opened. Nothing has changed, and everything has changed. The relevance of Allegiance today is unquestionable.
There are talks of having a second screening through Fathom Events next year and an eventual DVD. I would do everything I could to see this beautiful recording on the big screen again. I plan to buy multiple DVD's and give them to high schools and middle schools. I remember how much my self-esteem rose as a kid when I saw characters like Lilo and Mulan on screen when we had movie days at school; Allegiance could be that for so many students.
Most Filipino Americans will be familiar with this photo. Every Christmas Eve, Filipino American families celebrate the birth of Jesus with food, stories, games, and more food. In Sugar Land, Texas, we have the turkey, roast beef, rolls, and apple pie. We have the ribs, brisket, sausage, and barbecue sauce. But we also have lechon, adobo, pancit, lumpia, kare-kare, suman, sapin-sapin, and piles of rice.
Filipino Americans usually don't spend Christmas with just their immediate family. Because many of us have immigrated to the United States, we don't go over to Grandma's house for Christmas, either. Your friends become your extended family. The only people you're directly related to at these parties are your parents and siblings, but you still call everyone "Tita" or "Kuya" ("Aunt" or "Older Brother/Male Cousin").
I've celebrated almost twenty Filipino American Christmases here in the States, but I've never experienced the Christmas season in the Philippines.
And I'm so excited to be going to the Philippines for over three weeks in just a few days. My flight is only a few hours after my last final exam. I haven't been to the Philippines since the summer of 2014, so I'm extremely excited. I also know that I'm very fortunate to be able to travel. I'm hoping to write a lot about my favorite experiences.
I recently watched an episode of Fresh Off The Boat where the mother was frustrated that her kids were acting like tourists while they were on vacation in her home country. It's something that I definitely could see my mom and dad being upset about, but because our trips to the Philippines have always been very extended and full of family events, I haven't had very many "tourist" experiences there. I'm not saying that I wouldn't enjoy a touristy experience, but such a large part of my family's life is still in the Philippines that our trips have felt like we were just living there for two months instead of vacationing.
This trip is going to be more of a mix. I do have some big family events to attend like my uncle's eightieth birthday in Manila and a cousin's wedding somewhere in Bukidnon. I have to take care of something at the bank for my dad. But I'm also going to have time to enjoy being a tourist in this beautiful country. I can't say exactly where yet.
If you're thinking about taking a trip to the Philippines, I would definitely encourage you to go and bring your sense of adventure. There are over 7000 islands, so imagine how many beaches that equals. Because of it's location in the Pacific, there's also a lot for history lovers and geology lovers. No tourist experience is perfect, but you'll definitely get something unique if you choose the Philippines.
Anyway, tara na! Biyahe tayo!
One of the benefits of an all-girls school was not being afraid of the safety shower strip.
As a female engineering student, I know there are going to be times when I'm the only woman. The Biomedical Engineering department here at UT actually has a lot of women compared to the other engineering departments. After attending an all-girls high school, I'll admit that it's nice to still be surrounded by a lot of inspiring women. What wasn't so nice was discovering that I was the only girl in my first college chemistry lab.
I actually felt completely fine with the situation except for one scenario: the safety shower. I first learned about this vital element of lab safety in ninth-grade Biology. We wouldn't really ever need it in that class, but it was still included in our lab safety quiz. In tenth-grade Chemistry, we watched a (what we though was pretty hilarious) movie on lab safety. In one of the most memorable scenes, one student spills acid all over his lab partner. As taught by his teacher, the student runs to the safety shower and starts frantically taking off his clothes. As a courtesy, the rest of the class is ushered out of the room to give the poor guy some privacy. The camera zooms out, and we see that the guy who spilled the acid is creepily staring as the student scrubs at his skin.
While we never had any lab accidents at my all-girls high school, there was an unspoken pact among friends to hold up the fire blanket and look away if anyone needed to use the safety shower. Cut to my freshman year of college. People start trickling into the lab and claiming their station. Lab begins, and I'm clearly the only girl. We all laugh, and the guys promise that they're not awful.
We always had a pretty good time in lab. But in the back of my mind, I was always praying that I would never need to use that safety shower. I was constantly hyper aware of what people were carrying around me, and I gave people plenty of space when they were working in the fume hood. If I ever did need to use the safety shower, I know my priority would have to be striping down as fast as possible not comfort and privacy. Either way, that lab definitely kept me on my toes.
"Someday you'll understand the path I've chosen. Today, I answer "No" and "No" to set my conscience free. My allegiance must lie first with me."
No, these weren't words spoken by my own father, although they sound very much like something he would say. These are lyrics sung by Tatsuo Kimura (Christopheren Nomura) as he reacts to the dehumanizing Loyalty Questionnaire given to the Japanese American Internees in Allegiance's powerful, titular song.
Now, you may not realize it, but there are so many absolutely revolutionary things in that previous statement, specifically revolutionary for Asian/Asian American representation in the arts. And that's just a small part of Allegiance's legacy.
Keep reading to find out what I mean. (Spoilers ahead, but you should learn the main plot points if you haven't. This is our country's history.)
And don't miss Allegiance at your local movie theater on December 13! Click here for details.
First, let's talk about Tatsuo. He's worked hard his entire life on his artichoke farm in Salinas, California for his kids, Keiko (or Kei, Lea Salonga) and Sam (or Sammy, Telly Leung). He still quietly mourns the death of his wife.
Traditionally, what have been the roles available for Asian men on Broadway? Miss Saigon's Engineer is a mega-flashy, star-creating role, but his main characteristic is that he absolutely hates being Asian. ("Why was a born of a race that thinks only of rice and hates entrepeneurs?") What about The King and I? The recent revival certainly did a lot of good in terms of The King; four incredible actors who each had distinct portrayals. But it still is one of those roles where the Asian man is exotic and other-worldly. (Take a look at census data; heck, look around you. Asian men don't just exist oceans away; Asian men are HERE.)
Now let's look back at Tatsuo and Allegiance and see what an Asian male role could be.
Tatsuo is very proud of his Japanese heritage and wants his kids to stay connected to their roots. (In Sammy's case, that's easier said than done.) He is completely appalled that the country he's called home for so many years has put him behind barbed wire. At first, he keeps his head down and puts up with Heart Mountain camp life as to not cause greater trouble. But the question of his loyalty finally pushes him over the edge, and he refuses to sacrifice his dignity despite the threat of hard labor away from his family.
That is a beautiful role for Asian actors to play one day. And that's not the only incredible role Allegiance created for Asian/Asian-American men; the show is full of them!
Let's continue with another man of the Kimura Family.
There's Sam, Tatsuo's son. (Young Sam is played by Leung, and the older Sam is played by George Takei.) He's young and full of pep and pride. Unfortunately for his father, Sammy doesn't get accepted into law school. Sammy on the other hand is tired of trying to be the smart, successful kid.
When war is declared on Japan, his first instinct is to enlist in the army. He and all the other Japanese American boys are turned away. It is definitely a shot to Sammy's pride.
After being accused of not being American enough, Sammy actually blooms into an incredible leader among the young people in the camp. He starts petitions. He organizes events. He helps out in the infirmary.
And when the opportunity to enlist finally arrives, he does not hesitate one bit. His father is furious that his son is willing to die for the people who watch them day and night. But Sammy sees an opportunity to prove his loyalty and allegiance and an opportunity to free his family.
Perhaps the most groundbreaking thing about Sammy's character is...
Yes, ladies and gentlemen! He's not just a male lead; Sammy is a male romantic lead. He gets to have a crush. He gets to flirt with her. He gets to have sweet moments with her.
And he eventually falls in love with Nurse Hannah. Hannah Campbell (Katie Rose Clarke).
I'm bringing this up because race is definitely a character in this show. We rarely see interracial relationships on stage, let alone relationships with an Asian or Asian American man. And we can't use the excuse that the number of interracial relationships has only gone up recently. Allegiance takes place in the 1940's. This isn't anything new.
But just when you thought Allegiance couldn't be any better, there's not just one romantic leading man.
Enter Frankie Suzuki.
He's cool. He's charming. And he's on a mission to win Kei's heart.
He's also everything Sammy couldn't be for his father, which Sammy's not happy about.
Before being forced into Heart Mountain, Frankie (Michael K. Lee) was a law student at USC. His parents ran a Japanese language school, so he's able to converse fluently with Tatsuo and Ojii-chan (Kei and Sammy's grandfather, also played by George Takei). Sammy on the other hand has always had trouble with his Japanese.
Frankie also has a lot of guts. Where Sammy believes they all need to prove their loyalty, Frankie thinks that's all a load of garbage (which also happens to be where his Loyalty Questionnaire ends up). He refuses to serve in the army while his rights as an American citizen are not being honored.
The character of Frankie is based on Frank Emi, a real leader of the draft resistance at Heart Mountain. Refusing neither to serve in the armed forces nor to confess loyalty to the Japanese Emperor, Emi shared alternate answers to controversial questions #27 and #28 of the Loyalty Questionnaire. Aside from his incarceration in the camps, Emi spent over a year in a federal penitentiary after being convicted of conspiracy and violation of the Selective Service Act.
The real Frank Emi, entered camp with his wife and baby daughter. Frankie Suzuki arrives at Heart Mountain and finds himself in a barrack with ten other single men. Frankie and Kei become a sort of power couple for the resistance. When Frankie and the other resistors are sent to the penitentiary, Kei is able to lead the women in a writing campaign to shorten their sentence.
Wow. An Asian American role based on a real man. And that's just one of them in Allegiance. Let's step away from the romantic leads and talk about Mike Masaoka.
Mike Masaoka (Greg Watanabe) is one of the most controversial figures in Japanese American history. As a leader of the Japanese American Citizens League, Masaoka ended up as the liaison between the Japanese Americans and the War Relocation Authority. This one man had to be the voice of two different generations of people who all held different beliefs. The fate of over 100,000 people was put in his hands. His actions had the power to change lives and end lives.
In terms of Asian roles in musical theater, I believe that of Mike Masaoka is one of the most difficult. Part of that difficulty lies in the fact that the role is completely spoken. When emotions heighten, Masaoka cannot break into song. Instead, his thoughts are delivered through powerful monologues. The fact that Masaoka does not communicate through song further distances him from the rest of the Japanese American community.
The other difficulty is the fact that the audience must both sympathize with him and see why he was hated by so many. He's not necessarily the villain, but there's no denying what could have been avoided had he not made certain decisions. Masaoka never had to endure living in a camp, but he definitely did not come out of the period unscathed.
If you asked me to name another show with this many big roles for Asian/Asian American men, I probably wouldn't be able to give you an answer. I bet other shows exist; there's just been so little talk about shows like this that I'd have to do a lot of digging. (I just discovered a show called Making Tracks the other day by accident. I literally had no idea about its existence when I started writing this. If you liked Rent, find a copy of Making Track's concept album and give it a listen. )
Allegiance has meant a lot to me for so many years. It still means a lot to me, and I definitely have more blog posts to write on it. I wanted to get this out because I haven't seen many people talking about the Asian/Asian American male roles that this show created. Sure, it might make the show hard for a high school to perform, but when you think about the shows most commonly performed in high schools, it makes sense why there have always been so few Asian American students in theater programs.
Please don't miss Allegiance when it hits movie theaters on December 13, 2016.