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February 11, 2002

Play Reading to Recall Japanese Internment

A public reading of Philip Kan Gotanda's play Sisters Matsumoto, a touching portrayal of the strength and survival of a Japanese American family after they return home from the internment camps at the end of World War II, will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

The reading marks the 60th anniversary on Feb. 19 of Franklin Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of Americans of Japanese descent.

The reading will take place at 7 p.m. at von der Mehden Recital Hall on the Storrs campus. Admission is free and open to the public. A discussion and reception will follow the reading.

In Sisters Matsumoto, a proud family returns from an internment camp in Arkansas to their once-thriving farm in northern California. Grace, the eldest sister, finds herself the new leader of the family, while struggling to reshape her relationship with her husband and to reconcile her feelings about her late father. Chiz, the middle sister, encourages the family to assimilate as a solution to their problems. Rose, the youngest, opens herself up to new love while recovering from the loss of her fiancŽ, killed in combat.

While facing difficult circumstances, the three sisters, their husbands, lovers and neighbors learn to start over and redefine themselves in the racially charged climate of post-World War II America.

Participating in the reading are four UConn students, two Equity actors, and dramatic arts faculty member Robert McDonald, with Sheila Kucko, assistant director of the Asian American Cultural Center, as narrator.

The play is rooted in playwright Gotanda's life. Growing up in the tightly-knit Japanese American community of Stockton, Calif. (where the play takes place), Gotanda was intensely aware of the fact that his parents had been interned. He was motivated to write the play in order to keep this history alive for himself and his family.

"That world, and this family in particular, had strong survival skills," he says, "and that's what this play is about."

The play takes on new meaning in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Though the world has changed in so many ways since World War II, in many ways it has not," says producer Christine Toy Johnson. "For though our government has thankfully not reacted to the heinous events of September 11 by putting our Arab American citizens in internment camps, racial discrimination in response to fear is just as prevalent around the world today as it was in the 1940s," she says.

"We are proud to bring this story about the strength of the human spirit to you, not only in honor of those who survived the internment, but also as a potent reminder that we must continue to embrace our differences as well as our similarities in order to ensure that history will not repeat itself."

For information, contact the Asian American Studies Institute at (860) 486-5083.

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