by ADAM CHAU via Gazillion Voices

I think in many ways it’s important to understand my frame of reference when thinking about Miss Saigon. I’m a Vietnamese American adopted out of South Vietnam in 1973. I’m a person of color, transracial adoptee, Vietnamese adoptee, Asian American, and man of color who is raising children of color. I work in business and technology as an IT Analyst and have called the Twin Cities my home for the last twenty years.

In my spare time I’ve tried to give back to my community by helping to promote and support it, and at the same time just listening to it, learning from it, and trying to absorb all the great people and ideas it has to offer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have met authors, musicians, journalists, screenwriters, producers, activists, bloggers, poets, doctors, researchers, educators – truly amazing people from all walks of life in the APIA community across the country. All of this combined makes up my frame of reference when I think about Miss Saigon, and the reason I feel it’s important to add my own voice to the outspoken, educated, and passionate people who have already come out against the production now and in the past; to stand up with my community. A community of color, allies of color, people who understand the negative effect of images and what these images can tell you about how others view our status in this country, and how those perceptions can lead to an imbalance of power, financial wealth, and civil liberties.

A symbol is a symbol is a symbol

Just because the Ordway isn’t continuing the process of using yellowface now, the show has been a vehicle for practices like yellowface in the past. The Ordway has a history and legacy of usurping power from our community that still has yet to have its voice fully heard, represented, and taken seriously as equals. In that way, Miss Saigon is a symbol of past indiscretions against the APIA community, as well as other communities of color, and like symbols of that ilk, doesn’t need a resurgence.

Does the Ordway have a true commitment to the community, diversity, and racial equality in the performing arts like it tells donors?

In its 2012 Report To The Community, the Ordway Center For The Performing Arts (a charitable non-profit organization) states: “The Ordway is a venue built by the community for the community. Local arts organizations such as Theater Latté Da, Mu Performing Arts, and VocalEssence rehearse and perform here as well.”

If the Ordway is a venue built “by the community for the community,” why doesn’t the Ordway take the recommendations from Randy Reyes, artistic director for Mu Performing Arts (referenced in the 2012 report), a local Asian American arts center in existence for over twenty years to not put on the show (or at the very least pledge never to bring it back again)? Why doesn’t the Ordway listen to artists and writers like David Mura, honored with multiple NEA and Bush Foundation fellowships, and a third generation Japanese American whose parents were sent to Japanese Internment camps? Why doesn’t it listen to Bao Phi, a nationally recognized spoken word artist and writer and program director at The Loft, one of the nation’s leading literary centers?

How can the Ordway say they are about community when it’s not taking the recommended action from Asian American community leaders regarding images of the Asian American community?

Because of our country’s history, steeped in xenophobia and racial inequity, the actions of the Ordway is like someone not of color telling a person of color, or whole communities of color, that they shouldn’t be offended by words, phrases, and actions that are, or have been, used to denigrate them in the past and present. In effect, we should just get over it, or simply ignore it.

I find it hard to believe that the Ordway’s donors would support that type of thinking, and the Ordway’s decision to bring back Miss Saigon is no different.

By not consulting its own cultural advisory board about Miss Saigon, the Ordway has fallen short in its due diligence to vet the production in a culturally diverse community – in effect failing its donors, funders, and the general demographic to which it serves as a nonprofit organization

In a recent article on MPR, it was made known that the Ordway didn’t consult its own cultural advisory panel when thinking about bringing back Miss Saigon, even though the production has been protested and critiqued since its inception here and around the country by communities of color.

The Ordway can’t claim to be following the goals of its mission, which in part is to “enrich diverse audiences” and where “education and community engagement are integral,” if the performance center can’t even consult its own advisory board on a play that has had so much controversy surrounding it in regards to race and ethnicity.

But if other Asian Americans in the cast are supporting it…

Just because a movie, television show, or theatre production has members from the APIA community involved, doesn’t mean it’s absolved from being problematic or contributing to structures and processes that have systematically held individuals and communities of color down, especially when the creators of that media are not people of color – as is the case with Miss Saigon. Trying to use this as one of the arguments for the show is misdirection, a red herring that in many ways asks Ordway donors to look away from the larger issues.

At the same time (with respect to working artists of all colors who may be trying to change what they see as wrong in the industry from the inside, or who simply want to work in their field), is it truly a surprise that someone from the cast of this production, who has a financial stake in it, would come out in support of the show? And do these individuals really care about the local communities of color, the Asian American communities that they pass through but don’t live in, the communities the show effects long after?

No matter how much the Ordway is going to make in ticket sales, in an ever growing multicultural society, it should just be good business to listen to the thousands of voices who feel the Ordway is on the wrong side of history

Looking at ticket prices and seats available for the show, you can estimate the Ordway to make anywhere between $500,000-$1,000,000 (and some estimates have it making upwards of $1.3 to $1.5 million). When you think about the fact that in 2012 the Ordway’s total theatre revenue (including ticket office service charges) was around $9 million, it’s easy to see why the Ordway is turning a blind eye towards the thousands of individuals who are against it.

But this is shortsighted. Myopic.

In the end, having the production only serves to help lose support from communities and allies of color who, as consumers, will remember far into the future that the Ordway cared more about the immediate financial gains of Miss Saigon and less about them – as men and women, children and families, mothers and daughters, generations old who have made their homes here, and as individuals who simply want to be treated with respect.

~ Adam Chau

Adam Chau is a business and IT Analyst in the Twin Cities. In his spare time he’s had the pleasure of serving on four adoptee organizations’ boards, blogged for MyxTV, Hyphen, SEFTRE, BCB, and Gazillion Voices, helped program two local film festivals showcasing APIA and adoptee community members, taken up space on a panel with the Los Angeles Times, and is helping to publish and edit books by adoptees and authors of color.