By Trudy Wischemann
A friend and I were laughing last week about the insidious antics of someone, and the words “Oh, that’s beyond white!” came out of his mouth. I don’t remember who we were laughing at. It could have been something from the current slough of politics. Maybe it had nothing to do with politics whatsoever. It could have been anything, anybody. Outrageous arrogance associated with whiteness is a contagious disease in our culture, and it takes conscious effort to resist.
Last Friday night Nikiko Masumoto performed her one-woman play “What We Could Carry” for the Reedley Peace Center. I’d been wanting to see this play since I first read about it in the Fresno Bee five years ago, when she returned to farm with her family. The play is a re-creation of the 1981 testimonies of Japanese-Americans who suffered the WWII internment, testimonies which led, eventually, to formal apologies and minimal monetary restitution from the federal government. It was one of the dark chapters in U.S. history, but, as one of her characters says in the play, this chapter, in terms of how our country has dealt with other (i.e., non-white) races, is not the exception, but the rule. From that point onward in the play, we listened to their testimonies differently.
Mas Masumoto, Nikiko’s father, has been a friend to me since he performed in my first Humanities event in Parlier, early in 1991. He was teamed with the poet Omar Salinas from Sanger, less than 5 miles away from the Masumoto’s farm in Del Rey, but the two writers had never met. Race and social inequality associated with different occupations can create divides “below” white, as Mas testifies in a beautiful short piece called “In the Fourth Grade” published in his first book, Country Voices: The Oral History of a Japanese American Family Farm Community (1987.)
I have always loved watching Mas give presentations, but Nikiko’s performance was something else. It was breathtaking. With only a kitchen stool and battered suitcase as props, she created times and places of the evacuation; with just a music stand and microphone she transported us to the hearing rooms where the testimonies were first given token (and only later serious) attention. The civic necessity of a whole community speaking up in their own defense was overwhelming, as the different people who did so showed up in Nikiko’s body, came out of her mouth. Her passionate representation of those people, men and women, young and old, quietly respectful and righteously outraged, gave me new respect for the power of theater, of face-to-face communication, however ephemeral it might seem. In the blink of an eye, that woman can change hearts.
And changed hearts is what we’re going to need if we’re ever going to move beyond white, beyond the supposed superiority of that race of people and the privileges still associated with it. Beyond white is where we need to go. And as we move into the season where Joseph and Mary take their historic, arduous trip to Bethlehem, where they, as swarthy folks of Jerusalem, would be counted and taxed for the white folks in Rome, we have yet another opportunity to move in that direction. Peace unearth.
Trudy Wischemann is a rowdy mixture of European peasants who writes. You can send her your beyond white experiences c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.