Twin Cities is home to long legacy of protest of ‘Miss Saigon’


September 6, 2013

For people like Juliana Hu Pegues, a postdoctoral fellow at Macalester College, the return of “Miss Saigon” to the Ordway this fall is both frustrating and exhausting.

“Frankly, I’m outraged!” she says, sitting in her office in Macalester’s humanities building during a recent interview.

Pegues, who is Chinese-American, protested “Miss Saigon” at the Orpheum in Minneapolis in 1994 for its stereotyped portrayal of Asian-American women. She picketed again when it came to the Ordway in St. Paul in 1999, and she plans to demonstrate again in October.

Manna Nichols in the role of Kim in “Miss Saigon.” The production returns to the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul on October 8. (Photo/Billy Bustamante)

Pegues acknowledges the Ordway has hosted conversations for each performance and even invited Asian-Americans to join its cultural advisory panel.

But the Ordway didn’t consult the advisory panel when it decided to bring the show back.

“I think it’s really not about education anymore, it’s about absolving them of accountability. Because if it was truly education …  if they truly were listening to the mandate of Asian-American artists in the Twin Cities … they wouldn’t bring it back.”

So why is Minnesota home to repeated protests? Juliana Hu Pegues suggests maybe a better question to ask is why Minnesota – home to more than 30,000 Asian adoptees – is so in love with “Miss Saigon.”

“It’s really unfortunate that you want to love us and cry over us as children but don’t want to listen to our concerns as adults.”

Pegues theorizes that “Miss Saigon” fills a need in Americans lives – a need to believe that, even though the U.S. lost the war in Vietnam, it wasn’t all for nothing because we saved the children.

Unfortunately, Pegues says, that desire to be the hero of an oversimplified story from the past is preventing Minnesota from making healthy progress toward a multi-racial future.

MPR State of the Arts. Marianne Combs has been reporting on the arts in Minnesota since 2000; she first joined MPR in 1993.