[drum performance by Sawagi Taiko]
Powell Street Festival is happening this weekend in Vancouver, celebrating the Japanese heritage. I had a great day strolling in Oppenheimer Park, visiting many booths set up there, eating delicious street food (hello, snow cone with green tea and black bean toppings!) and meeting up with Vancouver friends.
But the highlight of the festival for me was a moving reading of The Tashme Project by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa, which debuted at the Firehall Arts Centre (and continues tomorrow – July 31 – at noon). The project was a culmination of interviews Manning and Miwa conducted with nine Japanese men and women who were interned in Tashme – the biggest internment camp, with 2,400 inhabitants – during the Second World War.
Julie Tamiko Manning
Set up simply with the Manning and Miwa standing with music stands reading from their scripts (with paper signs for different chapter numbers and headings), they both took turns representing the various men and women they interviewed. The performance was divided into 7 chapters – the first two depicting life before the camp, and the last chapter with Manning and Miwa’s own reflections after doing the project.
The memories of the camp were not as traumatic as I had expected them to be – many of the interviewees credit their childhood innocence that prevented them from knowing the full implication of their interned status. For them, the camp was a chance to play all day long with other JapaneseCanadians – a chance they didn’t necessarily have before, since Japanese Canadians were spread out all over BC. Yet, the grim and sad undercurrent of their status does exist, as one person recounts the story of her sister getting married in the campgrounds in the kitchen of her house with nothing – no clothes, no guests except for the parents, with the rest of the children peeking from the other room.
Prejudices outside the camps are also addressed, often with a touch of humour as well. My favourite part was a memory of a Japanese woman, who reversed culture shock in her “native” land as her family chose to be repatriated as Japanese. Hilariously, she recalls the moment when she realized the first-generation parents’ and grandparents’ accented English isn’t “Japanese” but still “English,” as she tries to communicate with the Japanese people in her grandmother’s Japanese-inflected English, thinking she is speaking Japanese.
At the end of the performance, Manning and Miwa urged the audience members to take the paper cranes (which were strewn on the floor) home with them, which contained advice from the elders they interviewed. Mine read: “Be considerate. Think of other people.”
Thank you for providing an opportunity to enjoy the unique Japanese Canadian history in Vancouver, Powell Street Festival!
[image of Julie Tamiko Manning from Georgia Straight]