Aloha and Allegiance

George Takei, Lauren Kinkade and other local actors/singers performed songs from “Allegiance.”

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Excerpts from the Broadway musical “Allegiance,” which is coming to Little Tokyo next year, were performed during Go For Broke National Education Center’s 16th annual Evening of Aloha on Sept. 23 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles.

Actor and activist George Takei, one of the evening’s honorees, performed with a new group of local actors/singers. He will reprise his roles as Ojiichan and elderly Sam Kimura when the show is produced at the Aratani Theatre in February.

Staci Yamashita-Iida performed “Ipo Lei Manu.”

The Broadway version of “Allegiance” will also be shown in movie theaters in December.

Emceed by David Ono of ABC 7 Eyewitness News, the program began with the traditional salute to all of the Nisei veterans of World War II who were present. They appeared on stage and were given a standing ovation. Later there was a video tribute to those who passed away since the last gala.

The 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Color Guard from Hawaii posted the colors and recording artist Lauren Hanako Kinkade sang the national anthem.

Mitchell Maki, president and CEO of GFBNEC, stated that in addition to the veterans, the gala was dedicated to “the women of World War II, the mothers, the wives, and the sisters who supported these men in a very dark chapter of American history.”

The women were honored with a performance by Staci Yamashita-Iida, an avid hula dancer who has performed all over the world for more than 20 years, and tributes by Tom Ikeda, executive director of Densho in Seattle; Steve Sato, son of a 100th Battalion veteran; and Toke Yoshihashi, a 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran.

Ikeda noted that his grandmother, who was incarcerated at the Minidoka camp in Idaho and lost a son who was killed in action in Europe, was a model of “courage, sacrifice, strength … To have lost her eldest son … to be treated so badly and sacrifice so much, yet she was one of the first Japanese to apply for U.S. citizenship [after the war].”

When he gives presentations at schools, Ikeda said, he shows a photo of his grandmother and says, “This is what an American looks like.”

From left: Mitchell Maki, GFBNEC president and CEO; Bill Seki, board member and recipient of the Go For broke Award; Stephen Kagawa, GFBNEC board chair.

Sato, who was a baby when his father was killed in action, said of his mother, “She taught me that it was our time now. We never forget those who we love. Mama, I will always remember you.”

Stephen Kagawa, chair of GFBNEC’s Board of Directors, presented the 2017 Go For Broke Award to longtime board member Bill Seki for “his commitment and dedication to our organization and to preserving the legacy of our Nisei veterans.”

The managing partner of the law firm of Seki, Nishimura & Watase, a former deputy district attorney and the son of a 100th Battalion veteran, Seki has been on the board for 10 years and served as president twice, from 2005 to 2009 and 2013 to 2016.

After borrowing Takei’s catchphrase — “Oh my!” — Seki said he was “truly overwhelmed” and added, “While I appreciate the recognition, it’s hard to accept recognition for something that you enjoy doing.”

He said that he was thankful for having “an opportunity to meet a lot of my heroes,” who represent such qualities as “courage, compassion, bravery, loyalty, honor, patriotism,” and being able to work with “many people who, like myself, believe in this mission.”

Nisei veterans in attendance were introduced on stage and Lauren Kindade sang the national anthem.

Ono introduced the winners of GFBNEC’s 2017 High School and College/University Student Essay, Poetry and Video Contest, which is sponsored by Pacific Global Investment Management Company in memory of philanthropists Manabi Hirasaki and Sig Kagawa, and by Ken and June Shimabukuro and an anonymous donor in memory of 100th Battalion veteran Mas Takahashi. The first-prize winners are:

College — Essay: Kenneth Kitahata, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio; poem: Miya Eberlein, UCLA; video: Alison Hana Coombs, University of Washington, Seattle

High school — Essay: Javier Herrera, Mt. Carmel High School, San Diego; poem, Tamara Sato, Punahou School, Honolulu; video: Sophia Ichida Eberlein, Palisades Charter High School, Pacific Palisades

The “Allegiance” musical numbers were “Ishi Kara Ishi” (a duet between Takei as Ojiichan and Kinkade as Kei Kimura), “Higher” (solo by Kinkade), “Gaman,” and “Our Time Now.”

The other performers were Garrett Ching as young Sammy, Brianne Sanborn as Nurse Hannah, Jason Fong as Frankie, Derek Mio as Mike Masaoka, and Scott Watanabe as Tatsuo, with Kendyl Yokoyama and Brooke Ishibashi as chorus members. In the play, Sammy joins the Army to demonstrate his loyalty and has a falling-out with his sister Kei, whose boyfriend Frankie is a draft resister.

The first-place winners of GFBNEC’s High School and College/University Student Essay, Poetry and Video Contest were introduced.

Kagawa presented the Defining Courage Award to Takei, citing his efforts to educate the public about the Japanese American wartime experience as well as “advocating for the rights of LGBTQ individuals” and “fighting Klingons in distant galaxies,” a reference to the actor’s “Star Trek” role as Sulu.