By traci kato kiriyama

Two artists in the Asian American community recently pulled together a writers’ group and gave us an assignment for Week 1 to write a response to the recent controversy in casting and storytelling through La Jolla Playhouse’s page-to-stage production of “Nightingale.”  Here’s mine…



We are what they eat

30 second crumbs in between principal dialogue
(we are still proud)

High noon green tea to their oriental fantasies
(hot water misses cup, hits lap, oops.)

Orange kung pao chicken bean sprout umami medley,
With a faint splash of Bruce Lee, Sulu and Mickey Rooney
(i’ve had that dish before)


We sit

Mirrors of the space in between

Of small and precious coin
Of diversity checklist sigh
Of static electricity nose
Of quickly craned neck
Of black hair flickering in the background
Of upturned eyebrow at flashes of brown skin
Of straining to see who is left of center on our flat screens
Of waiting to hear a voice




We are what they (want to) see


Hasty, sawed-off, magic trick
(are they coming back for her?)

Abridged abacus of their ornamental dreams
(do the math.)

Long duck rice paddy gangster victim war monger prostitute company man
(yes, sound the ‘gong’)

In-the-charge-of-multi-culti-well-then-of-course, White Leads!
(shouts from the 15th row, “We ARE Western!”)




We are what they (want to) see

Bound to the tethers of hollow story books

Of window dressing
Of buck toothed crowns
Of hanger
Of hidden & seeking
Of shaky needle and thread
Of arms tired from holding the curtain open
Of plastic, prosthetic, marionette existence
Of wanting to hear a voice


I almost

Feel yet another part of my spirit buckle,
The joints of my pride coming loose,





I recall what my simple,


Of tin-plated preservation
Of fences
Of spikes
Of posts and stakes and wire, cut

Of coupon clipping
Of parental woe
Of cooking without recipe
Of soup too rich for explanation

Of medal and gutter
Of podium and gavel
Of rink and track
Of war and jail
Of toil and triumph
Of healing and happiness
Of herstory and history
Of chapter upon chapter upon legend upon tale
Of riches, exposed
Of our collective encyclopedia, ajar

We are what I see

Of laughter and shouting
Of reckoning and reveling
Of flesh and delight
Of broken threads
Of crazy dreams
Of excavation
Of construction, past silence

Of bold paths before me



Of needing to share a voice

Of wanting exactly what I am

Of waiting




traci kato-kiriyama writes from various pockets around LA and suggests further reading of the controversy that includes:  “In a place called Naboo, or mythical China” on; “The Nightingale: La Jolla Playhouse…” on; “The (Yellowish) Nightingale” on; a comprehensive amount of posts gathered on the Facebook page called “Yellow Shakespeare”; and the one that propelled the issue to the surface, Erin Quill’s essay “Moises Kaufman can kiss my…” on

Editor’s note: This column was originally printed in the Aug. 22 issue of The Rafu Shimpo.

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