A cast member of the local production of “Miss Saigon” is stepping in to defend the production against allegations it’s a racist play because of its stereotyped portrayal of Asian-American women.
Orville Mendoza, a Filipino-American who arrived in the U.S. when he was 2, will play the part of “The Engineer” at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. He writes on the Twin Cities Daily Planet that people protesting the production “view us as mercenary. As not real people or real artists. That we are little more than performing monkeys for the white man.”
There is also the suggestion that we Asian artists involved in the show are “selling out.” I, for one, do not believe I am “selling out.”
That term has the connotation that I’m doing something against my will or morals for monetary gain. I whole-heartedly believe in this show. The show deals with racism but it isn’t racist, in my opinion.
The tone of the show is very specific. It neither glorifies prostitution, or war, nor does it whitewash a very real historical event in Asian and American history. To do so would be insulting to those who lived it. Yes, it is a work of fiction based on another work of fiction set in a less than flattering world. But the underlying motives and themes of the show are very different.
The assertion that this show is hurtful to all Asians has simply not been my experience with the show. I’m not trying to belittle or diminish the feelings that those who are speaking out against Miss Saigon are having. They are entitled to their opinion. And I know the show is not to everyone’s taste.
But in my own experience, traveling the country having been a member of the original second national tour for almost six years (yes, we played the Ordway, and yes, I remember the protests back then), those Vietnamese immigrants and servicemen who lived the war and actually came to see the show expressed sincere gratitude that a version of what they experienced was being presented on stage.
Instead of being hurtful, they felt it was cathartic. We cannot diminish their feelings either. I, personally, can relate to many things in Miss Saigon.
To simply dismiss the show because of it’s setting or it’s subject matter is reductive. All drama contains some unflattering elements of the human experience. That’s what drama is built on. It’s not the subject matter, it’s the very specific way you deal with the subject matter.
Mendoza said to assume only Asians are allowed to tell Asian stories “hurts all artists of every race because that idea is a two-edged sword.”
Sheila Regan, of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, called for arts reviewers in the Twin Cities to boycott the production.
“The production deserves nothing more from us than our silence,” she wrote. “We should not preview it, review it, interview anybody involved with it. The Ordway deserves nothing more than silence for this misguided and greedy decision.”