Playbill: Casting and advertisement of Yellowface play “The Mikado” stirs controversy amongst Asian community in NYC

 Playbill (by Michael Gioia):

When a flyer advertising The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players‘ December production of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s The Mikado — featuring four Caucasian actors portraying Japanese characters in the classic Gilbert and Sullivan opera — was sent out to theatergoers, members of the Asian community took offense.

Playwright and blogger Leah Nanako Winkler was among the first to speak up, posting (from memory, not directly quoting) her conversation with NYGASP artistic director Albert Bergeret, in which he explained that out of the approximately 40 members of the company, only two actors are of Asian descent.

Erin Quill, a former Christmas Eve in Broadway’s Avenue Q who bills herself as “The Fairy Princess” on her Fairy Princess Diaries blog, also responded to the planned production, stating that when she saw the NYGASP’s last production of The Mikado, it was not “historically accurate” in its presentation and that Gilbert “wanted the representation of Japanese people to be respectful and elegant.”

Instead, Quill said that artistic director Bergeret added a character called The Axe Coolie (“coolie” is a term used to refer to Chinese workers at one time in America, yet the show is set in Japan), a small female child who ran around the stage dressed as a male Asian shouting “High Ya.”

She told that while some actors in that production were “just in a costume and doing their track, others were taking special delight and making a large effort to use stereotypical behavior. There was pulling of the eyes, there was shuffling of feet, there were exaggerated gestures in many regards, but when one cast member both pulled his eyes and gnashed his teeth — it was clear that this production had nothing to do with Gilbert and Sullivan any longer, it was an excuse to indulge in caricature that was degrading and hurtful.”

She concluded that the company “played The Mikado for cheap laughs at the expense of Japanese Heritage.”

Since both posts began circulating the Internet, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players pulled the season brochure post on their page and issued statements explaining that they have taken in the “constructive criticism” and are meeting on how to proceed with the production.

David Wannen, the executive director of NYGASP, explained to via phone that the actress on the cover of the brochure (who has asked to remain nameless) is of Asian descent and that the Caucasian actors inside the brochure are not “manipulating” their facial features to appear Asian (therefore, they are technically not painted in Yellowface, a form of theatrical makeup used to represent an East Asian person).

According to the company’s casting policy, “Qualified singers of all ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities are encouraged to audition in all appropriate categories. There are no ethnically specific roles in Gilbert & Sullivan.”

While the company has held various auditions over the last five years, they said it would be “hard” to get a “demographic percentage of how many actors of Asian descent audition, and of those how many are cast.” Regardless of race or culture, the company casts “based on merit alone, and how that merit fits into the needs of a repertory company.”

In a statement issued to, NYGASP explained, “The original plans for the production have been worked on by an independent committee of the board who scanned The Mikado for offensive material and practice. It was determined that the practice of Yellowface makeup — using make up to appear Asian — was the most offensive practice brought to light by the Asian-American community. As part of a policy that is generally outlined by the statement on the website, we agreed to instruct the cast to avoid this practice specifically. Makeup that was appropriate for the stage without the manipulation of features or complexion. We also agreed to go ahead with the wigs and costumes of our traditional production. Obviously, from the reaction to images on our promotional material, this distinction was not able to be seen and was not satisfying to this community.

We are listening to the response we have received. The Executive Committee of the Board is meeting to discuss a strategy and policy going forward. We have taken this issue extremely seriously since the outcry last summer (2014) and remain committed to doing so.”

On the company’s Tumblr page, they addressed the community’s concerns, stating, “We have attempted to keep the satire in our production of The Mikado as true to the original intent as possible; that is, using the fictional Japanese town of Titipu as the setting for satirizing the very real people of Victorian England.”

They added that, in terms of casting for the company’s repertory nature, “There is no separate casting for parts in specific plays. NYGASP cast members are G&S specialists who must be able to play Japanese villagers in The Mikado one day, British sailors in H.M.S. Pinafore the next day and Venetians in The Gondoliers the day after that. The music, the libretti, the stage direction, the singers’ interpretations, the sets, the costumes and the staging must all combine to create the belief that each actor indeed becomes multiple different characters across the spectrum of Gilbert and Sullivan’s imaginative works.

“NYGASP exists to nurture the living legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan – not to preserve the past unthinkingly, but to show how much G&S can still teach us about the foibles of human nature that are both geographically universal and timeless. We believe passionately that these enduringly entertaining works of 19th Century England – of which The Mikado is the best known – continue to speak to every generation that watches and listens with an open heart.”

By email, Quill added, “No Asian American disputes that The Mikado is a staple of the G&S canon, nor that the music is lovely. The Mikado, in mocking British mores of the time, says many things about being an individual, about standing up against petty tyrannies, that love will find a way no matter what age you are, and that ultimately if you speak your truth to power, reason will prevail. (Yes, there are large amounts of ‘poo’ references in the names of characters and the town itself. At the time, it was funny, now it is a bit of a ‘groaner.’)

However, the execution of any production that allows exaggerated makeup, inaccurate costuming, and mockery of Asian people is not, in this day and age with Hamilton, Allegiance and School of Rock, acceptable. When you view the current Lincoln Center Theater performances of The King and I, and see how beautifully APIs [Asian-Pacific Islanders] can inhabit a show that is, yes, a standard of the MT [musical theatre] canon, then you can see the authenticity of a pan Asian representation and what it brings to a production.

“We, the Asian Americans, do not want to ‘take away’ your precious Mikado – we want you to do better. We want you to stop constantly mocking us and telling us by your actions and deeds that Yellowface remains part of your theatrical lexicon. We want you to make any production of it, smarter, less full of stereotypes – more full of the respect G&S were trying for.”

Wannen said, “I really believe that the issue is a larger issue, obviously, than who is Asian and who isn’t. We’re dealing with this on a global level and listening to this outcry.”

– See more at:

The Forgotten Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters

“Young Japanese Hold Dance — Mess hall movies, little theatre activities and jitter-bugging to evacuee bands are popular forms of entertainment at the Tule Lake, California, Japanese relocation center. Here a block dance is in progress. Note the “zoot suit” pants.” Image courtesy of the University of Southern California, Regional History Collection

Nikkei Chicago (by Ellen D. Wu):

Sus Kaminaka was a zoot suiter: one of the many young people in 1940s America who embraced a distinctive, working-class urban aesthetic characterized by flamboyant fashions and irreverent comportment. Kaminaka and other hipsters sported pompadours and ducktail haircuts, “drapes” consisting of broad-shouldered, long fingertip coats tapered at the ankles, pleated pegged pants, wide-brimmed hats, and watch fobs. They also loved to party. Jazz, jitterbugging, lindy hopping, drinking, casual sex, and “cool” were just as integral to the lives of zoot suiters as their characteristic dress.

Sus Kaminaka was also a Nisei: a second-generation American born to immigrant Japanese parents and raised in the farmlands of California’s Sacramento Delta region. Planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, Kaminaka enrolled at a local agricultural college to study truck crops.

But President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on February 19, 1942 and authorizing the secretary of war to “prescribe military areas… from which any or all persons may be excluded” completely upended his ambitions. Ostensibly region- and race-neutral, the order targeted Pacific Coast Japanese Americans. Forced to leave school, home, and community, he soon found himself in the Stockton Assembly Center, one of the 16 temporary way stations for the 120,000 Nikkei (persons of Japanese ancestry) en route to longer-term concentration camps.

On incarceration, Kaminaka’s worldview changed entirely. Previously intent on earning his college degree, a goal he now considered hopeless, he dropped out of his center’s adult education program. Once “proud of living in the best country in the world,” Kaminaka abandoned the idea of registering for the franchise. “I don’t think I was too interested in voting anyway because I didn’t know what it was all about and my vote didn’t mean a thing,” he shrugged. Deciding that hard work was an exercise in futility, he instead “concentrated on having fun like [he] saw the other kids doing.” Before the war, he used to regard Nisei girls as “something sacred” and “never had any dirty thoughts [about] them.” But in Stockton, he shed his “nice boy” reputation. He signed up with an eight-member “gang,” and spent his days and nights chasing young women and going to camp dances. It was during this time that he also acquired his first zoot suit.

After transferring from Stockton to the Rohwer, Arkansas concentration camp, Kaminaka joined a posse known as the Esquires. For entertainment, they devoured stolen food, drank, played poker, and held nightly bull sessions. “All we talked about was girls and we got to do more and more of this…. We would find out who were the most popular girls in camp and then go after them.” Their modus operandi emerged as a source of contention among Rohwer’s social factions. Fisticuffs often broke out at Nisei dances as young men battled to claim the young women of their choosing.

The Rohwer situation was not usual. Conflicts between “rowdies” and other prisoners interrupted the daily routines of several, if not all, the camps. At the Gila River camp in Arizona, for instance, the editors of the center’s newspaper complained that zoot suiters had swiped all the chains from the laundry sinks to use as watch chains. Fighting became frequent enough that at least one anthropologist who observed life at the Poston camp dubbed the escalating tensions “zoot suit warfare.”

In popular memory zoot suiters are often associated with African Americans and Chicanos during World War II. But many Nikkei also participated in this cultural movement. While it is not possible to determine the exact numbers of Japanese American zoot suiters, the available historical evidence suggests that they were a visible presence.

Some Nisei started “zooting” well before camp. In his hometown of Los Angeles, all of Lester Kimura’s friends happened to be Chicano, and they influenced his fashion sense: “I learned how to dress from the Mexican kids because they really knew how to be classy,” he explained. “They had ‘drapes’ way before the Nisei heard of such things.” The big-city Nisei who carried this look into the camps exposed young people hailing from rural areas—such as Kaminaka—to zoot suit style. Spotting a lucrative opportunity, Kimura ran a brisk business at the Santa Anita Assembly Center draping pants for the newly-initiated.

So the internment experience itself was an incubator for Nikkei zoot suit culture. Japanese Americans even invented their own slang for Nisei zoot suiters. One was “pachuke,” a Japanese version of the Spanish word “pachuco”/“pachuca.” The other was “yogore,” a derivation of the Japanese verb yogoreru (to get dirty). Sociologist Shotero Frank Miyamoto, a contemporary observer of Japanese America, explained that “yogore” referred to individuals who were “shiftless, transient, constantly drinking and gambling, hanging around pool halls, always picking fights, visiting prostitutes or attempting to engage in illicit sex relations.”

Yogore posed a serious problem to the War Relocation Authority (WRA), the federal body charged with administrating internment. From the WRA’s point of view, zoot suiters endangered the very future of the entire Japanese American population. The federal government planned to scatter (or “resettle”) Japanese Americans around the country so that they might “assimilate” into the white middle class instead of returning to their West Coast farms and Little Tokyos. Pachuke troubled this vision for solving the “Japanese Problem” because they spurned polite standards of decorum. Their brashness loudly advertised their differences from the white middle-class. It also suggested an explicit kinship with working-class black and brown folk—the very opposite of the message that the WRA wanted to send to mainstream America.

Even worse, the zoot suit itself signaled an open defiance of the nation’s war effort. The War Production Board had banned the sale of zoot suits as a means to ration fabric. So wearing a zoot suit could be read as an unpatriotic act. The eruption of Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943—when thousands of white soldiers and civilians violently attacked Mexican Americans and other zoot suiters of color—drove home this point. Thus pachuke let loose from the camps might place Nikkei under further suspicion of disloyalty. No wonder, then, that the Manzanar camp’s Free Press newspaper editors beseeched its readers: “Leave your zoot suits behind. And above all, be an ambassador of goodwill for the sake of the Japanese in America.”

The WRA worked hard to weed out yogore among potential resettlers. Prisoners who wanted to leave the camps had to promise federal officials that they would only speak English in public, avoid associating with large groups of Japanese, and generally conform to mainline standards of behavior and clothing.

Chicago’s resettlers tested this rigid vision of ethnic dispersal right away. Some complied strictly with the WRA’s guidelines. But others took a more realistic approach in this new, strange city. Lonely Nisei sought each other out for companionship. Many hesitated to interact with whites because they simply did not know where they stood in Chicago’s racial order. Racial discrimination also intensified their uneasiness and remained a barrier to securing desirable housing, employment, and access to public spaces such as dance halls, hospitals, and even cemeteries.

Living an indeterminate present and looking toward an unknown future, countless resettlers readily dismissed the WRA’s instructions to act as respectable “ambassadors” to mainstream America. Many quit their jobs unannounced, seeking better work and higher pay, to the chagrin of federal authorities who feared that such habits “reflected unfavorably” on all Japanese Americans. Some zoot suiters openly flaunted the government’s assimilationist directives. Tadashi “Blackie” Nakajima not only continued to wear his drapes around Chicago, but also spewed English vulgarities and Japanese slang expressions in public, consorted with the North Clark Street yogore gang, gambled, and frequented brothels—clearly not the type of integration that the WRA had in mind for former internees.

Sus Kaminaka’s wartime testimony captured this pervasive feeling of restlessness and anxiety. After going through a series of jobs in Chicago, he concluded that he would “play around” until being drafted, filling his days and nights with Nisei dances, drinking, and sexual exploits. Kaminaka expressed a profound ambivalence toward this existence: “I am getting absolutely no place now… It isn’t doing me much good. It bothers me a lot and I think [about] a lot of things I should be doing but I never get ambitious enough to get around to it.” Yet he also admitted to feeling hopeful, confessing a yearning to be recognized as a bona fide American. “I am willing to fight for the US as I plan to live here always and it is my country in spite of what some Caucasians say. At least I can say that I have a more definite part in the war effort if I were drafted. That’s about all the future I can look forward to now.” In the meantime, however, Kaminaka and scores of other resettlers—yogore and “non-yogore” alike—continued to drift, finding solace in the very types of activities discouraged by the state.

Predictably, the Nisei’s unseemly conduct unsettled resettlement coordinators. Fearing that the situation would only worsen, a group of Nikkei and their allies established the Chicago Resettlers Committee (CRC) in September 1945 “to attend to the unfinished problems of evacuation and resettlement.” CRC co-founder Setsuko Matsunaga Nishi detailed resettlers’ anomalous predicament: bereft of the “stabilizing factors of family and community ties,” Nisei harbored a “sense of futility about their future, a feeling of not belonging, of being outcast.” To underscore the direness of the situation, Nishi pointed to the yogore: “the Nisei with ‘Zoot Suit’ and pachuco duck-tail hair cut is not an uncommon sight,” she warned.

The CRC argued that the formal organization of the Japanese American community was increasingly urgent as Nikkei continued to stream into the city. Resettlers needed assistance to restart their lives and constructive recreational activities to redirect Niseifrom the “unwholesome influences” that were already tempting them.

While CRC leaders agreed with the WRA that the “ultimate goal” of resettlement was assimilation, they proposed a radically different approach. By creating a stable, nurturing social environment, activities that specifically targeted Japanese Americans could still be used to achieve integration. Furthermore, they stressed that mainstream institutions—rather than Nikkei themselves—bore the burden of responsibility for this task.

The CRC’s arguments sufficiently persuaded the WRA to reevaluate its original vision for resettlement. Chicago’s Council of Social Agencies, the umbrella organization of municipal social services, officially recognized the CRC in September 1946 and agreed to provide half of its operating budget for 1947. Soon Chicago would boast of a vibrant, postwar Japanese American community anchored by the CRC and more than 100 other ethnic associations.

Zoot suiters, then, played an important role in the formation of Chicago’s Nikkei community in Chicago. As individuals, they forced the WRA and its partners to reconsider their strict assimilationist blueprint for resettlement. And as symbolic figures, they provided a powerful rhetorical specter that Japanese American spokespersons skillfully invoked to legitimate the establishment of ethnic organizations.

Yet Nisei zoot suiters have remained forgotten in Japanese American history and American history more generally. How do we explain this curious absence? For one, Japanese American spokespersons ensured that the public face of the ethnic community during and after the war was “GI Joe Nisei.” The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) worked especially hard to publicize Nisei battlefront contributions. It spotlighted the phenomenal record of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team and other Niseiin uniform as way to emphasize Japanese Americans’ undivided loyalty to the nation. Such a project, of course, was critical to the possibility of a collective future for Japanese Americans in the United States. But as narratives of Nikkei martial heroism gained widespread traction, they crowded out other images of Japanese Americans—including yogore—obscuring these stories for decades.

In the end, however, the actions and thoughts of those who were identified as yogore or pachuke were arguably not so different than other Nisei. It is important to remember that many (if not most) of Chicago’s resettlers ignored or flouted the federal government’s insistence that they stay away from their fellow Japanese Americans, steer clear of anything “Japanesey,” and fade into the white middle-class. Ultimately, affirming this diversity of experiences allows for a fuller understanding of Japanese American history and the range of the very human consequences of racial profiling and wartime incarceration.


Note on Sources

The best primary sources on Japanese American zoot suiters are the life history interviews of Nisei resettlers in Chicago recorded by Charles Kikuchi during World War II. Kikuchi was part of the University of California’s Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS), a team of white and Nisei social science investigators who conducted extensive fieldwork on the wartime incarceration experience as it unfolded. The verbatim transcripts of Kikuchi’s interviews, along with his field notes and diary entries, are available at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library Special Collections and the University of California, Los Angeles’s Young Research Library Special Collections. Fifteen of the 64 interviews were published in abridged form in Dorothy Thomas, The Salvage (University of California Press, 1952), including that of Sus Kaminaka. (Note that “Sus Kaminaka” was the pseudonym that Kikuchi assigned to subject “CH-45, agricultural student.”)

Other sources consulted for this essay include various concentration camp newspapers (available on, the Japanese Relocation Collection at the Church of the Brethren Archives (Elgin, IL), the Chicago Resettlers Collection at the Chicago History Museum Research Collection, and the Japanese American Service Committee Legacy Center Archives (Chicago). For full citations see Chapter 1 in Ellen D. Wu, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton, 2014).


Author Bio

Ellen D. Wu, a second-generation Chinese American and native Hoosier, earned her M.A. in Asian American Studies at UCLA and her Ph.D. in History at the University of Chicago. Currently she is assistant professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington, where she researches and teaches modern United States and Asian American history. Her writing has been published in Chinese America: History and Perspectives, the Pacific Historical Review, the Journal of American Ethnic History, Gidra, Densho, the History News Network, and has recently published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on the Amy Chua controversy and the “model minority” myth. She is the author of The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton University Press, 2014), the first full-length historical study of the invention of the “model minority” stereotype between the 1930s and the 1960s. Follow her on Twitter @ellendwu.


Travel industry caters to Asian Americans with culture and history

Image: Immigrants Maintain Population Levels Of Major U.S. Cities

NBC News:

When Lakshmi Ramakrishnan was growing up in Amarillo, Texas in the 1980s there were just a few Indian families in the area. So jumping in the car was the only way to get their cultural fix: they would drive as far north as Canada to shop, eat, visit with friends and visit Hindu temples. In a memory familiar to many Asian Americans who grew up far from established ethnic neighborhoods, they’d fill their car with food and new clothes before heading back to Texas.

Little did the Ramakrishnans know that they were early adopters of “culture and heritage travel,” which in 2013 contributed over $171 billion to the U.S. economy, according to a study partially commissioned by the U.S. Department of Commerce. As the Asian-American population grows, experts say, so does their contribution to the travel industry.

Nina Ichikawa's family on a trip to Yosemite National Park in the 1930's.
The writer, Nina Ichikawa’s family, including her grandmother – Elsie Ogata (far left) – on a trip to Yosemite National Park in the 1930’s.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian-American market is projected to grow 31 percent by 2020, just slightly less than the 34 percent grown in the Hispanic market,” said Laura Mandala of Mandala Research, whose firm carried out the study. More than half of all Asian Americans — 51 percent — have taken a domestic plane trip in the last 12 months, according to Nielsen, and families generally shape trips around interest in culture, history, community and food.

“Finding the tastes of ‘home’ is often part of the Asian-American travel experience”

Elson Park is an extreme example on the front end of this trend. The 74-year-old retired computer programmer from Salt Lake City spends 200 days a year backpacking around the world, sharing his adventures via a Facebook fan pageand a Korean-language photography site. He often travels by bike, planning out his trips with a bicycle computer and squeezing in regular marathons between cycling trips.

The National Parks Service (NPS) seems to be catering to travelers like Park and the Ramakirshnans with their recent introduction of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Travel Itinerary.

A group of Bainbridge Island Japanese residents wave from a train as they're transferred from Seattle to Owens Valley Reception Center, California, in March of 1942.
A group of Bainbridge Island Japanese residents wave from a train as they’re transferred from Seattle to Owens Valley Reception Center, California, in March of 1942.

The NPS now lists nearly 70 historic sites in 16 states and throughout the Pacific — a mix of monuments, museums and historic neighborhoods.

It’s funny how little people know about the history of the U.S. We hope people will visit these sites and understand the tremendously important role that AAPIs have played in the development of our nation,” said Carol Shull, the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C. “These places define and give special identity to communities, and heritage tourism is a huge economic generator.

Entrance gate to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.
Entrance gate to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

Los Angeles chef Roy Choi has been convinced of that fact, and building businesses based on it, for years. Starting with his hybrid-Korean taco truck business and now expanding into the hospitality industry, Choi has made a point to promote and bring dollars to LA’s diverse ethnic neighborhoods.

View image on Twitter

Chef Roy Choi

The Line Hotel, his new venture in Koreatown, pointedly encourages visitors to invest in the neighborhood, offering free bikes to borrow, a list of nearby Korean restaurants and discounted tickets for the Metro, which stops just across the street. Multiple worlds are encouraged to mingle: a ground-floor panaderia and café opens to the street, offering $1 pastries, Hello Kitty cakes and piping-hot congee for breakfast.

Choi explained his philosophy in the hotel’s in-house magazine, appropriately titled “Here”: “If you feed people you find they start to open up a little bit. You can tap into their empathy, into their soul. You can go directly to people with food.”

Room service at The Line comes wrapped in a brightly patterned bojagi — a Korean wrapping fabric, festooned with Mexican cowgirls. Inside the cotton folds sits a Coleman thermos filled with hearty, spicy cabbage soup. The hotel seems to have tapped into what Asian American and other travelers are hankering for today: modern experiences seeped in local flavor — delicious food, wrapped in culture.

A still frame from a home movie, part of a collection of Asian American home movies collected by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).
A still frame from a home movie, part of a collection of Asian American home movies collected by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).

Like San Francisco’s Japanese-American families faithfully stopping at Ikeda’s California Country Market en route to Lake Tahoe, Mandala says modern travel itineraries are driven by cuisine as much as culture.

Finding the tastes of ‘home’ is often part of the Asian-American travel experience, much like the Italian American searches for the best Italian food a destination has to offer,” she said.

While most of the Asian-American travel destinations on the NPS list can’t boast an architectural lobby with a thumping DJ like the Line Hotel, their quirky charm is cherished by generations of visitors. As a junior high school student, Julian Liu‘s parents took him to Locke, a small town outside of Sacramento known as the oldest intact Chinese farming community. Its Old West flavor mixed with Chinese pioneer spirit left a deep impression on him.

The town of Locke was founded in 1915, after a fire destroyed the Chinese community in Walnut Grove, and was the last of the Sacramento River Chinatowns to be built.
The town of Locke was founded in 1915, after a fire destroyed the Chinese community in Walnut Grove, and was the last of the Sacramento River Chinatowns to be built.

I remember thinking it looked a lot like one of those towns in a western movie where a shootout might happen, ” said Liu. “For Chinese Americans, places like Locke are vital to connect newer immigrants with the experiences of people who came much earlier.”

Ramakrishan, whose Little India trips with her parents evolved into her own pilgrimages with college friends to Chinatowns along the west coast, is now planning trips for her two small children.

I think it’s true that people, especially those that grew up here in the U.S., are more interested in finding these Asian-American historical sites,” she said. “When I was young, there weren’t many Indian people around. But now I live outside of Houston, where you can’t go half a mile without running into some Indian people.”

Asian American history on display at 2015 Rose Parade, including the first-ever Sikh float

NBC News: 

The morning of January first ushers in new year, and with it, the 126th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade, a New Year’s morning tradition dating back to 1890 and reaching 50 million viewers, including many who have camped out all night along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California, and many more across the country who will watch on their television sets. This year’s theme is “Inspiring Stories,” and several groups have looked to Asian-American history and cultures for stories and inspiration.

  • The City of Alhambra’s “Go for Broke” float honors the second generation (Nisei) Japanese Americans who fought in WWII, while many of their families were incarcerated. The 41-foot float replicates the black granite monument in downtown Los Angeles and will feature several veterans riding on the float.
  • The United Sikh Mission float, “A Sikh American Journey,” marks the first time that Sikh Americans and their 130 year history in America have been represented in a Rose Parade float. Organizers hope it will help educateand dispel harmful stereotypes. The float depicts the Stockton gurdwara, the first Sikh temple built in America in 1912.
  • The American Honda Motor Co.’s float, “Building Dreams of Friendship,” features two bridges connecting iconic imagery from America and Japan, and will feature Tomodachi leadership exchange students from Japan’s Tohoku region, the area hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
  • China Airlines‘s float, “Inspiring Grace of Cloud Gate,” celebrates internationally renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, and the Cloud Gate which is the oldest known dance in China.
  • Singpoli Group‘s “A Bright Future” depicts a fifty-five foot phoenix, representing hope, optimism, and rebirth. The bird will turn its head, flap its wings, and breathe fire. The Chinese phoenix is often coupled with a dragon, which also appears.
  • The City of South Pasadena’s float, “Still Winning!” shows two Chinese dragon boats racing against each other, shadowed by a giant pink ribbon, representing The Los Angeles Pink Dragons (whose members will also be riding on this float), the first dragon boat team comprised solely of breast cancer survivors.
  • Dole Packaged Foods’ Float, “Rhythm of Hawaii,” celebrates the natural and cultural wonders of Hawaii with two twelve-foot outrigger canoes, jumping dolphins, pahu drums, hula dancers, a waterfall, and two active volcanoes, which will actually erupt with flames and smoke.

In addition, the parade featured the Hawaii Pa’u Riders, the Maui High School Saber Marching Band and Color Guard, and the Koriyama Honor Green Band from Japan.