Songs is the story of a Korean-American. There are, of course, Koreans and White Persons in this play, but their existence is rather parasitic. Without the flesh and blood of the Korean-American, they would be lifeless and perhaps nonexistent, as they are merely part of the Korean-American’s identity. I have been asked a number of times what the plot of this play is, to which I’ve consistently answered that there is no plot. This is a story with no beginning or middle or end. This is a story that unfolds and blossoms into the complexities of an Asian-American woman whom we call Korean-American.
Our identity is often as kaleidoscopic as the beautiful hanbok I wear onstage. What makes us who we are consists of numerous factors including the languages we speak and the food we consume, as well as our physical appearances. I find it fairly easy to define my own identity, as I am simply Japanese, inside and out. I was born and raised in Japan, and even after about 15 years in the U.S., I still consider myself Japanese rather than Japanese-American. Consequently, the complexity and depth in the meaning of the word, “Asian-American,” is something I can only understand intellectually but not emotionally.
Because I am not Asian-American, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven is not my story. It is rather a story of my sister, who carries inside her the essence of two cultures – Japanese and American. My sister and I were separated due to our parents’ divorce when she was four and I was nine. She immigrated to the U.S. with our mother then, while I stayed in Japan with our father. We grew up separately in different social environments, speaking different languages, learning in different education systems, and facing different obstacles in life. My sister talks and curses like a New Yorker, as she grew up in Manhattan, while I thank and apologize too much like a typical Japanese person does. She is intellectually ambitious and competitive, which I find too stressful. Most of the time, I consider our differences as personality differences that anyone can find in sisterhood. There is, however, one fundamental difference between my sister and me that I cannot label as personality difference. We are different in our perception and understanding of racial identity.
In the opening monologue, Cindy Im as the Korean-American declares, “I am so mad about all of the racist things against me in this country, which is America.” The sentence doesn’t resonate with my heart or mind at all. I am not mad about racist things against me. I am not even aware of racist things against me. And most of the time I am oblivious of my racial identity. But what about my sister? I’ve been feeling naïve and guilty as I realize how I’m blind to racial identity and how it must be important to my sister and other Asian-Americans. I also feel slightly lost as multitudes of questions inundate my mind. What is it like to be an Asian-American? What does it mean to be an Asian-American? How does my sister define her identity while being Japanese and American at the same time? Is she mad about racist things against her in this country? And maybe at times does she lose her sense of belonging?
Recently my sister wrote me an email where she said, “My racial identity development has been much more deliberate and pronounced since graduating from college.” This is an experience I haven’t had and will probably never have unless I decide to become an American. I almost feel sad and heartbroken, since I desire but fail to understand the emotional aspect of racial identity that my sister is experiencing. To me, she is a bridge between two cultures, something that I cannot build myself because I lack the depth and complexity of identity that my sister has. The only thing I can do right now is to become part of the bridge that will lead everyone to the world of Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven. And in every performance, I certainly feel a little closer to my beloved sister.
–Mimu Tsujimura, “Korean 1″ in Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven