Breaking the Silence is a Readers’ Theater play based on oral histories, poetry, stories, and material researched and scripted by Nisei writer, Nikki Nojima Louis, who has arranged the material to weave a tapestry of three generations of Japanese Americans. The play premiered at the University of Washington and was produced by the Northwest Asian American Theater in Seattle. It has toured regionally and nationally to schools and communities in Washington, California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida.
The following excerpt is from the section depicting The War Years. The speakers represent Japanese Americans of the 1st generation: Issei; 2nd generation: Nisei; 3rd generation: Sansei.
The War Years
SONG – Forever Foreign [Music by Paige Wheeler; lyrics by Nikki Nojima Louis] Ichi, ni, san shi
We are American
but our faces are forever foreign
Fifty-three years have come to pass
So many spring times
And the Issei are nearly gone
My grandmother became a citizen
At the age of sixty-four
My mother’s brother died
For the Four-Forty-Second
I am a third generation American
But my daughter still looks foreign
Our faces are forever foreign
NARRATOR: The second generation of Japanese Americans is called Nisei.
SANSEI WOMAN: The birth of offspring to immigrant families marked a new era in the history of Japanese Americans.
SANSEI MAN: I was a creature of two worlds: approaching manhood with an American heart and mind and a Japanese face. I was steeped in American culture but aware of an alien heritage—living in a society not quite ready for me. At times I asked myself, “What am I? Where am I going?”
NISEI WOMAN: We were American by birth, education, outlook and inclination. Still, there was no denying our Japanese features, our cultures, or our communities.
SANSEI WOMAN: My life was an odd mixture of the Occident and the Orient. I sat down to American breakfasts and Japanese lunches. My palate had a fondness for corned beef and cabbage–along with rice! I was comfortable with a knife and fork >and< with chopsticks. At Christmas time, I hung my stocking over the fireplace, but I ate rice cakes and long noodles, Japanese-style, at New Year's. I said grace at mealtimes and said my prayers at bedtime. My parents spoke to me in both Japanese and English, and I answered in whatever was convenient, or a mixture of both— ISSEI MAN: We went to school with white classmates. To them we became Mac instead of—Makoto. Sam, instead of—Isamu. Mud, instead of—Masahira. Horse, instead of—Hisao. SANSEI MAN: Yes, I remember. Yuriko meant Lily in English—Sumire meant Violet—and—we called Momoko, Peaches!
ISSEI MAN: One kid named Hitoshi—he was kinda short and stout. We called him Hippo!
ISSEI WOMAN: Remember how we used to type other Nisei?
SANSEI MAN: Yeah, Los Angeles Nisei were casual, informal, and interested in a good time.
They had the reputation of being “fast.”
ISSEI WOMAN: San Francisco Nisei were conservative, but sophisticated—well dressed and well groomed.
NISEI WOMAN: Seattle Nisei were friendly, but naïve— unsophisticated. Backwoodsy!
SANSEI WOMAN: But wherever we lived at the beginning of the 1940’s we were growing up integrating both the Japanese ways of our parents and the mainstream customs of our fellow Americans. We went to Japanese Language classes and worked on our parents’ farms or in family- run businesses after school, but we still played kick-the-can and baseball. We still listened to Jack Benny and The Lone Ranger [HEIGH OH SILVER!]—and we sang along with the Top Ten on the Hit Parade. We took lessons in Japanese dancing, but we also learned to jitterbug!
SWING MUSIC: In the Mood [COUPLES BEGIN TO JITTERBUG] ISSEI MAN: [RUNS IN, INTERRUPTS DANCING] Japan has just bombed Pearl Harbor!
ISSEI WOMAN: What is Pearl Harbor?