- Joanne Oppenheim
Ellis Island Memories
Recently I enjoyed a brilliant performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, starring George Takei and I was reminded of a very different but special event that we shared—a day that reminded me of our immigrant origins—a subject dear to George’s heart and mine. It's a memory that seems right as we approach the 4th of July.
A few years ago, after the publication of my book, Stanley Hayami, Nisei Son, I had the honor of reading some of Stanley Hayami’s letters about his time in the service. It was an event to honor the segregated, all Nisei, 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team with a program held in the Great Hall at Ellis Island. For me it was especially moving to speak in that historic place. I have often said that like Stanley and George—I too, am a Nisei. I'm the daughter of an immigrant who came to this country when he was just seven years old. Standing in the soaring space of that Great Hall, I could not help thinking of my grandparents and father who had surely passed through this place early in the 20th century. Like Stanley’s parents my grandparents had left their homes knowing they would probably never again see their parents or friends. They left with little in the way of money or possessions, yet they came with hope and willingness to make a new and better life. They left at about the same time as Stanley’s parents, but my family was more fortunate than the Hayamis and the thousands of Asian immigrants who found themselves excluded from the American melting pot. Stanley and George’s parents could not become US citizens by law, nor could they own property. When the war started in 1941, they were classified as “enemy aliens” and their American born children, citizens by birth, were suddenly classified as “non-aliens”—whatever that was supposed to mean. It took until 1952 for Japanese immigrants to become naturalized citizens and gain the rights to own land.
On that day at Ellis Island, George Takei was the main speaker and host.
UPDATE! Mark your calendar!
We just learned that George will lead the cast in the Los Angeles premiere of the Broadway musical Allegiance in February 21-April 1, 2018. If you are in LA or visiting, don't miss it! Allegiance tells the story of the incarceration that families like Stanley Hayami's and George Takei's endured, when they were imprisoned because they looked like the enemy. Allegiance is a powerful reminder that what happened then, should never happen again.