What Does It Mean to be an American?
When my friend Elliott Masie asked me to join him as a producer of a Broadway musical called Allegiance, he didn’t have to twist my arm. The show, which is now also a movie, tells the story of our government’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It stars two of my favorite actors: George Takei and Lea Salonga.
George is not just an actor in this story. He is the source of the story. Born in Los Angeles, California, he is a native-born American citizen. Yet, as a young boy, he was imprisoned in an American concentration camp. His crime? He was of Japanese descent during World War II.
In the camps, Japanese-Americans struggled with the concept of allegiance. How can you have allegiance to a nation that has imprisoned you for no reason other than your race? What does it mean to be an American if you do not have the fundamental rights promised to everyone in the Constitution?
Listening to George tell his story, I was struck by the absence of bitterness. He is proud to be an American. He is devoted to our Constitution. He is dedicated to making the words in that document a reality.
George understands allegiance the way John Lewis and countless others who have been denied basic rights have understood it. It is not merely an allegiance to an anthem or a flag. It is an allegiance to the truths that we are all created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is the allegiance that we all must share, because that is what makes us Americans.
During these difficult times, I think about George often and am inspired. Despite being wrongfully imprisoned by his own government, he walks through this life with a sly smile, a wicked sense of humor, and an unwavering allegiance to the belief that America can be the nation that it promises to be.
(BTW - If you missed it on Broadway, you can stream Allegiance at BroadwayOnDemand.com)
John Howley, Esq.