MG: This week Shannon and I are incubating a new scene—in which the 110 Freeway itself goes to war. The car pool was invented—or, in any event, popularized–during World War II with the rationing of gas and rubber. A slogan from the time–“Ride alone, you ride with Hitler”–found its way into our libretto.
SH: “Keep it under 40” isn’t the logline of a new sequel of Logan’s Run, it was one of the US government propaganda campaigns for the conservation of gas and rubber. The war effort included promoting the “Victory Speed” of 35 mph and car-sharing clubs, and discouraging pleasure travel with the slogan “Is your trip necessary?” http://www.authentichistory.com/1939-1945/2-homefront/5-pitching_in/Rationing-Is_Your_Trip_Necessary.html Everyone from Bugs Bunny to Fibber McGee and Molly in on the effort. http://www.authentichistory.com/1939-1945/2-homefront/5-pitching_in/Rationing-Gas_Rationing-Fibber_McGee.html
Shannon: We also dramatize what happened in Boyle Heights As a friend described It, this scene goes from Norman Rockwell to Edvard Munch. We show the relatively harmonious racial mix in Boyle Heights before the war…then. Fueled by propaganda, the way neighbors turned against their Japanese friends.
MG: I have to admit, as an author of books for which I throw out at least two pages of writing for every page that is published, I am more troubled by the immediacy of this blogging business. I hate showing you my, well, process. I like making writing look seamless. And if you’re following this blog you’re discovering that it’s not. You’ve heard things that we will likely toss out of the final version.
Shannon: This is a workshop, MG. This isn’t meant to be a polished, perfect version. Shouldn’t we get points for sticking out our necks?
MG: Sticking out our necks—for what? The guillotine?
SH: We did some research upfront before beginning the libretto about the experiences we wanted our characters to have. A gold mine for us, and one of the jewels of LA, is the Japanese American National Museum. The JANM has a study center jam packed with collections of oral histories and other ephemera that helped us get a feel for life in 1942 that we were craving to get into the skins of our characters.
Racist Mob Chorus: A Jap is a Jap!
Shirley and Oscar: These are our neighbors!
Racist Mob Chorus: Wipe him off the map!
Shirley and Oscar: These are Americans!
Susan’s mother: We leave on May 10, Mother’s Day. We take the bus from MacArthur Park.
MG: A student of mine, for instance, introduced me to Citizen 13666, a sketchbook from an internment camp by Japanese. But as we did more research, we discovered our preconceptions were not accurate.
The Japanese in Boyle Heights weren’t herded onto trucks and taken away in the dark of night. They drove to MacArthur Park and boarded buses. We’re trying to keep the libretto as faithful as possible to history.
But if we’ve already had our preconceptions belied by deeper research, I suspect there will be an even bigger ragged mess ahead. And we’re going to drag you through all of it.
Right now Shannon and I are having a nervous conversation while Laura scrambles to write the music.
Little Tokyo Today
Docents from the Japanese American National Museum conduct periodic walking tours of present-day little Tokyo. For more information check out their website:
SIDE BAR: A Son of Boyle Heights Honored by the Freeway
Ever wonder about the seemingly random stretches of highway that memorialize people famous—such as Rosa Parks—and the not so famous—such as Sadao S. Munemori? You want to learn more, but it’s illegal to surf the web while on the Sadao S. Munemori Memorial Freeway Interchange? The freeway interchange between Route 105 and Route 405 was officially dedicated to the memory of Munemori by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 41 in 1994 [LINK: http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/93-94/statute/ch_0101-0150/ch_131_st_1994_scr_41%5D. Private First Class Sadao S. “Spud” Munemori was Angelino of Japanese ancestry who grew up in Boyle Heights and Glendale. He served in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the US Army while his family was interned in Manzanar. April 5, 1945 near Seravezza, Italy, Munemori took charge when the leaders of his unit were wounded and finally lost his life when he threw himself on a hand grenade to save the lives of two of his men. His heroic sacrifice was posthumously honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor. The system of Californian freeway names is explained in elaborate detail here: http://www.cahighways.org/names.htm