San Diego Playwrights

Getting San Diego Playwrights Produced on San Diego Stages

OUR STORIES–Thelma Virata de Castro

on March 31, 2017

Umeko Kawamoto 002

Last fall I attended a memorial service at the Buddhist Temple of San Diego. Umeko Kawamoto was born on November 16, 1920 and lived for almost 96 years. She was a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, waitress, bank teller and community volunteer. At the service, her family shared some of her favorite sayings:

“Your life isn’t small. It should include more than yourself.”

I interviewed Umeko for Asian Story Theater’s Stories of the Sun Café in 2015. She was a waitress at the Sun Café, a historic restaurant in prewar Japantown, in what became San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. She was interned at Poston during World War II, but that was just one portion of her experience. She talked mainly about her family. She loved dancing and Johnny Mathis. Her motto was “Keep Busy”, which became the title for the script I wrote about her.

Interview picture Umeko Kawamoto

Umeko Kawamoto Interview with Kent Brisby and Thelma Virata de Castro (Photo Credit Joyce Teague)

Why do stories matter? At the reception after the memorial service, I sat and chatted with some of those who came to honor Umeko. The generation that followed the internees became historians, community leaders and civil rights activists.  Japanese Americans have been some of the most vocal to protest anti-Muslim government policies.

“Your life isn’t small. It should include more than yourself.”

Sun Cafe

 

Stories of the Sun Café focused on the Chinese American and Japanese American communities of San Diego. In Winter 2015, Asian Story Theater was awarded a California Humanities Community Stories Grant for Halo-Halo—Mixed Together Stories from San Diego’s Filipino American Community. I worked as Community Liaison and one of the playwrights for the project.

Halo-Halo Poster

In our Humanities-based approach for Halo-Halo, we solicited story ideas from community groups and our playwright team. We were given ideas for military stories, such as World War II Veterans, and education stories, such as the Filipino Language Movement. We learned about a pageant protestor in the 1970’s, and did historical research about Taxi Dance Halls and the Delano grape strike. One playwright wrote about a transgender civic leader, and another wrote about a young woman who is undocumented. Just as the dessert of halo-halo is made up of a mixture of ingredients, the Filipino American community contains a mixture of stories.

FANHS and FILAMEDA Social

Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and Filipino American Educators Association Meeting

Someone I know asked if I could interview him for the project. I wasn’t sure why he wanted to talk. When we met, he shared his experience of domestic violence. Months later, I also interviewed his mother. Family is perhaps the highest value in Filipino culture. This mother didn’t tell her friends about her husband’s abuse because she didn’t want them to look down on her. Although these interviewees remain anonymous, their story is being told. The son is still healing, but he wanted people to know: “You are not alone.”

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in theatre was to sit in the same audience with Umeko and watch her story. Theatre brings people together to remember, to learn, and to feel. These are our stories.

Halo-Halo–Mixed Together Stories from San Diego’s Filipino American Community runs March 31-April 9 at the Lyceum Space, Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego. For tickets call 619-544-1000 or visit Lyceumevents.org. For more information about Halo-Halo visit AsianStoryTheater.org.

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