A Thousand Kids Taste
a "Slice" of Little Tokyo
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida

The kids are coming! A thousand kids in Little Tokyo. This week. As part of the administrative staff of Great Leap, I’ve been working very hard the past few months to launch the "Kids on Tour" project. Great Leap is a nonprofit performing arts organization that is producing ten performances of our multicultural theater piece "A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens" at the David Henry Hwang Theater in association with East West Players this week.

"A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens," directed by Nobuko Miyamoto and starring Dan Kwong, Paulina Sahagun, Chic Street Man and Arlene Malinowski, is a fun-filled feast of stories that give vivid insights into the Asian, Latino, African and Deaf American experience.

Although we tour this successful multi-ethnic performance to tens of thousands of children in Southern California each year, we rarely perform for the kids who actually live within the City of Los Angeles. The problem is that many schools in LA lack the facilities and resources to bring our performances to their campuses. At the overcrowded year-round school in Koreatown where my husband teaches, the Multi-Purpose Room (cafeteria/auditorium) serves as classrooms for kids.

So this year, we created the "Kids on Tour" project. As a community activist in the Japanese American community, I’m excited to bring 1,000 students to Little Tokyo for this dual-activity field trip. From Tuesday through Friday this week, they’ll be coming from Loreto Elementary School, Foshay Learning Center, Virgil Middle School, Washington Irving Middle School, King Drew Medical Magnet, PS#1 and New Bridge School.

The students will start out with a guided tour of the Japanese American National Museum. These kids, mostly Latino and African American, will learn about the Japanese American immigrant experience, and the injustices suffered by Japanese Americans during World War II. The museum visit will provide students with a general sense of the local history that has produced Little Tokyo, and allow them to understand the context within which different people have come to Southern California and how this immigrant group to Los Angeles has become part of the city’s fabric.

From there, the kids will walk through Little Tokyo to the David Henry Hwang Theater at Union Center for the Arts, and we will open up the cultural borders beyond the Japanese American experience, to share personal stories of the Asian, African American and Latino experiences. We also feature Arlene Malinowski, a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), adding another dimension to our ethnic-based storytelling, including her stories of growing up as a hearing child of Deaf parents.

This type of cultural tourism is so important for young people of Los Angeles to come to Little Tokyo. Many of these students will visit Little Tokyo for the first time, so it is important that we give them a "slice" of Little Tokyo that will make them want to come back. Nisei Week, the Tofu Festival, and the San Tai San Basketball Tournament were created to bring people to Little Tokyo. The proposed Little Tokyo Recreation Center with basketball and volleyball courts is another way of bringing young people to Little Tokyo on a regular basis.

In addition to the "Kids on Tour" events, we are also presenting two encore children’s public performances this weekend. Billed as Family Day matinee performances, we will have two shows for kids on Saturday, 9/30 and Sunday, 10/1 at 2pm. These specially priced shows ($10) will allow parents to bring their kids to see some really fun and diverse performances. I guarantee you will see kids and parents will be stomping their feet and "shaking" their hands.

And tomorrow (9/28) is the Opening Night of "A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens" for our adult and college audiences. Although this is our most successful touring production throughout the country, we have never produced a run of this show for public audiences in our hometown, Los Angeles. Our artists will feature fresh new pieces and funny surprises for our LA audiences.

Dan Kwong, no stranger to Little Tokyo, will debut a new work, "Station Wagons of Life," telling his tale of a working class Asian American family in LA in their family car. Paulina Sahagun’s "Nahuatl-Now What?" explores the question "Where do I belong?" as she straddles two worlds through the crossed wires of a high tech Aztec in Gringolandia. Arlene Malinowski, in her new piece "The Bully," tells her story about the Catholic school nun who bullied her and her brave deaf mother who saved the day. Chic Street Man ties it all together with acoustic, bluesy ballads, funky rhythms and jazzy upbeat originals that transcend cultural barriers, and put a smile on your face.

I hope you’ll join us for "A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens" at the David Henry Hwang Theater from tomorrow, September 28 through Sunday, October 1. All performances are at 8pm and the final performance on October 1 will be American Sign Language interpreted.

"A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens" and the "Kids on Tour" project is made possible in part by grants and support from the National Endowment for the Arts, California Arts Council, Los Angeles County Arts Commission and City of Los Angeles, Cultural Affairs Department, Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation, Edison International, Japanese American Community Services (JACS), Bank of America, Sony Pictures Entertainment, American Honda Motor Co., Inc., Sara Lee Fresh, Meissner Manufacturing, Co., Inc., Hitachi, Ltd., Aihara Insurance Agency, The Aaroe Associates Charitable Foundation, Grancell, Lebovitz, Stander, Marx & Barnes, and Bindu Records.

So if you’re walking through Little Tokyo this week and you see a bunch of young people heading down the street, you’ll know that they’re learning about the Japanese American experience, and engaging in the multicultural performances of Great Leap. Smile, give them a little wave, and welcome them to Little Tokyo.

Be a part of this unique event that will engage your creative imagination and your cultural flavors. Public performances run from September 28-October 1 at 8pm. Family matinees, September 30-October 1 at 2pm. Tickets are $20/$18/$10. For more information or to purchase tickets by phone or online, contact 310/264-6696 or our website at www.greatleap.org.

Jenni Emiko Kuida is the Managing Director of Great Leap and Executive Producer of "A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens." A columnist of the Through the Fire column for the past five years, Jenni Emiko Kuida is also one of the authors of the original "101 Ways to Tell if You’re Japanese American."

Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, September 27, 2000

Updated: 2/23/03

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