Statements Against Miss Saigon

FROM Ordway Apology Represents Victory for Asian American Communities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

 

On April 22, 2015, the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition received a letter of apology from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts regarding the Ordway’s history in relationship to the musical Miss Saigon. In this letter addressed to a Coalition member, Ordway President and CEO Patricia Mitchell states, “I am deeply sorry and take responsibility for the failure of institutional memory which communicates to you and others that your passionately held concerns and beliefs have been completely disregarded.”

This letter follows the Coalition’s protest of the Ordway’s production of Miss Saigon in 2013. Since then, the Coalition and members of the Asian American community have held meetings with the Ordway over our concerns with Miss Saigon. This letter is the second official Ordway response to the Coalition—on October 29, 2014, Ordway President and CEO Patricia Mitchell wrote the Coalition “that the Ordway will not present MISS SAIGON as long as I remain President of the Ordway.”

The Coalition wishes to highlight that this apology represents a victory for Asian American activism, and we share this achievement with our allies and supporters. The Coalition also recognizes that these letters represent a positive step forward in the Ordway’s relationship with the Asian American community. In the letter, the Ordway clearly acknowledges and apologizes for the negative impact Miss Saigon has caused for members of our community, and demonstrates a willingness to building racial justice within the arts.

 

REMAINING CONCERNS:

Despite these letters, the Coalition feels there are issues which remain unresolved regarding the Ordway’s presentation of Miss Saigon for a third time.

Most importantly, given Patricia Mitchell’s retirement announcement on May 28, 2015, the statement that Miss Saigon will not be presented at the Ordway under her leadership becomes moot. The Ordway fails to state that regardless of leadership, it will not bring Miss Saigon back to the Twin Cities. This was one of the Coalition’s original requests that remains unresolved.

Beyond this, the Ordway’s letter does not acknowledge several other facts. We offer the following not to prolong a disagreement, but to highlight several key points we believe are fundamental to understanding, and therefore resolving, this conflict. The Ordway does not acknowledge that there were protests by the Asian American community and its allies at the first two presentations of Miss Saigon. The Ordway as an institution should have been aware of this.

The letter does not acknowledge that the Ordway convened two Asian American advisory committees, one before the first presentation of Miss Saigon and one before the second. In each case, both advisory committees strongly urged that the Ordway should not present this musical. The Ordway chose to disregard the advice of both committees.

The Ordway’s surprise at the Asian American community’s antipathy towards Miss Saigon is not simply a failure of the Ordway’s institutional memory. Instead, the Ordway was clearly unaware both of the history of Asian American activism and Asian American theater, and thus, ignorant of the Asian American community.

The protests over Miss Saigon across the country in the early 1990s are now regarded as a seminal moment in Asian American activism. Those acquainted with Asian American theater history would know that Miss Saigon has, from the start, been regarded as racist, sexist, colonialist, and insulting to Asian Americans. Thus, when the Ordway states that it was not prepared for the vehemence of the negative reaction by Asian Americans in response to the third local production of Miss Saigon, the Ordway not only fails to grasp its own institutional memory, but is also admitting that it was unaware of a larger national Asian American history in arts and activism.

 

MOVING FORWARD:

The Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition applauds the Ordway’s intent to foster institutional memory and its commitment to genuinely engage Asian American community in future programming. We are optimistic that the Ordway will demonstrate leadership around this issue by making a commitment that they will not produce Miss Saigon in the future, regardless of administrative leadership.

In the meantime, we are meeting with community supporters to envision how we can best work to build racial justice and equity, locally and nationally.

For further details on the Coalition’s views of Miss Saigon and a background on this controversy, those interested can consult the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon webpage: http://www.dontbuymiss-saigon.com/.

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Download the Ordway’s apology letter HERE

Download a PDF version of this press release HERE

CONTACT:

dontbuymisssaigon@gmail.com

FROM Ramsey County Attorney John Choi

(This statement was delivered to the organizers during the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Unity Event at Rice Park on October 8, 2013):

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person tonight, but I want you to know I am with you in spirit.

One of my top priorities as County Attorney has been to combat the truly detrimental effects of the trafficking of young children in our community.

Sex trafficking has a devastating impact on victims, families, and on our broader community, and we are in a constant battle against attempts to minimize this crime or blame the victim.

To the extent that this production:
– glamorizes the trafficking of teenage girls, or
– sends a message to men that buying sex from girls is ok, or
– serves in any way to perpetuate negative cultural stereotypes,

it is counterproductive and undermines our efforts to call the selling of our children what it is: modern day slavery.

My office reached out to the Ordway and asked that they include information on the MN Girls Are Not for Sale campaign in their brochure and I’m pleased to know they will be doing so. But we must do more.

As home to the largest Asian American population in the Midwest, we have both a unique opportunity and a great responsibility to foster greater understanding and awareness of Asian American cultures and people in our community.

And we have an obligation to listen to those voices.

Thank you for coming out tonight – to lend your voice to the call – to take a stand against the perpetuation of negative cultural stereotypes and the glamorization of sex trafficking.

Our community is stronger because of you.

— John Choi
Ramsey County Attorney

FROM Mee Moua and the AAJC

For the last two decades, Advancing Justice – AAJC has worked with partners from all communities across the United States to monitor and respond to negative portrayals of Asian Americans in the media. The showing of Miss Saigon perpetuates harmful stereotypes that hyper-sexualize Asian women, minimizes the tragedies of war and human trafficking, and affirms racial privilege and superiority. These harmful themes have a real world impact on the lives of Asian Americans.

– Asian American women and girls are objectified and expected to be subservient followers instead of strong vocal leaders;

– The hardships and sacrifices endured by the Asian American refugee community go unrecognized – minimizing and disregarding our painful collective experience and continued struggles; and

– Asian Americans continue to be treated as second-class foreigners who are never accepted into American society – often leading to violence and hate crimes against the community by those who do not see us as fellow Americans.

We share the frustration and concerns that the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Asian American community has voiced regarding the Ordway Center for Performing Arts’ decision to perform Miss Saigon. We also support efforts to raise awareness and promote dialogue regarding the musical at performances around the country.

— Mee Moua
Former Minnesota State Senator, 2002-2010 (District 67)
President and Executive Director of Advancing Justice – AAJC, Washington, D.C.
Read the AAJC’s letter to the Ordway

FROM OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates

Miss Saigon is filled with a myriad of racist and sexist depictions of APAs…. It is unacceptable that racism against the APA community continues to be defended as artistic freedom when equally racist caricatures of other racial groups, such as mammies, are avoided.

Similarly, a musical about a transcontinental slave trade where the female slave falls in love with the slave master would be impermissible, and rightfully so. Though stories such as those may have occurred, they are racist and offensive, such is the problem with Miss Saigon and the argument for its historical accuracy.

Cultivating dialogue about race and educating an audience does not have to come at the continued expense of Asian Pacific Americans…In conclusion, Miss Saigon is an affront to the Asian Pacific American community. It further perpetuates negative portrayals of APA men and women and trivializes the experiences and narratives of Vietnamese individuals during that time. We ask that the Ordway Center for Performing Arts comply with the requests from the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition.

— Tom L. Hayashi
Executive Director, OCA
Full statement here

FROM Chanida Phaengdara Potter

Freedom of expression is a right that we support, but not at the expense of profiting off the stereotypes that continue to oppress our communities of color. The story of Miss Saigon is as original as the history of racism and sexism existing in America. We do not support the Ordway and its production of Miss Saigon. As an online publication platform, we care about the realities and truth of our experiences and journeys as Lao Americans. We stand in solidarity with our Asian American brothers and sisters and that’s why we will continue to tell our stories, written for us by us.

— Chanida Phaengdara Potter
Little Laos on the Prairie

FROM Blong Yang

The stereotypes perpetuated by Miss Saigon have been around for as long as Asian Americans have been in the United States. They are harmful and racist. As someone from North Minneapolis, a place where racism has impacted people of color on such a huge scale, I will not be attending and neither should anyone who cares about racial equality in America.

— Blong Yang
Candidate for Minneapolis City Council, Ward 5
Former investigator with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights
blongyang.org

FROM Community Action Against Racism (CAAR)

Community Action Against Racism (CAAR) stands in solidarity with the work of the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition. CAAR’s mission is to hold institutions accountable for spreading negative ethnic and racial stereotypes. Supporting the Coalition aligns with CAAR’s work around racial justice and activating community voices.

— CAAR
Community Action Against Racism
communityactionagainstracism.wordpress.com

FROM Stonewall DFL

Stonewall DFL officially joins the protest of the Ordway’s performance of Miss Saigon due to its perpetuating negative stereotypes of women and persons of color and its romanticizing of human trafficking.

Our history is in step with the traditions of standing up to persecution and harassment and resisting oppressive forces. Before the events at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, there was the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement. Members of our LGBT community fought for their right to love and be loved. They fought to play music and publish novels. They resisted the corrupt police force, fought for housing rights, jobs, education and voting rights. These were LGBT issues then and remain LGBT issue today. These issues contain intersections of various –ism’s and social constructed categories. There is no hierarchy to issues of oppression and prejudice.

Stonewall DFL has chosen to join the protest of the Ordway’s musical production of Miss Saigon. This production erroneously depicts people of color in stereotypical tropes, promotes human trafficking as love, and blatantly showcases the myth of white moral superiority.

Stonewall DFL stands with our brothers and sisters in the Asian American Community in confronting this assault on our shared humanity.

— Stonewall DFL
The LGBT Caucus of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party
stonewalldfl.com

FROM Jacob Grippen

Art is no stranger to controversy, but the stereotypes perpetuated by Miss Saigon do little to advance our understanding of the actual culture and experiences of the Asian Community. Miss Saigon is rash with racism and sexism, and performances of the show have a detrimental effect on all communities by teaching viewers misguided, harmful information. Conversations to educate have happened before, but they seem to have fallen on the Ordway’s deaf ears. We must continue to have these conversations until people in power understand the negative effect these performances have on the Asian community, and the communities of our state, country, and world.

— Jacob Grippen
State DFL Secretary, Minnesota

FROM Stephen B. Young

“Miss Saigon thrives on the corrupting Orientalism that is no longer culturally permissible among people of taste and good will. It is cultural trash that demeans both Vietnamese and Americans. It overflows with the quasi-racial condescension that cruelly stereotyped Vietnamese nationalists as moral midgets. It is an insult to all those who fought and died for freedom and justice for the people of South Vietnam.”

— Stephen B. Young
Former Dean, Hamline University School of Law;
Former Assistant Dean at Harvard Law School
Author of The Tradition of Human Rights in China and Vietnam