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Uncle Gunjiro's Girlfriend (play)

Creators: Brenda Wong Aoki


Performance piece that incorporates storytelling, music, dance, and multimedia elements to expose the secret of Brenda Wong Aoki's family: her great-uncle's marriage to a white woman and the subsequent split in the family.

She begins with the story of three young men in Japan, the younger two of whom come to the U.S. After the San Francisco earthquake, as he is rebuilding his church, a prominent San Francisco archdeacon invites the youngest brother, Gunjiro, to live with his family to learn about Christianity. Meanwhile Chojiro, the second brother and Brenda's grandfather, becomes a prominent Christian minister in San Francisco. There, Gunjiro and one of the archdeacon's daughters, Helen, fall in love. Back in the present, Brenda talks about her family that grew up in Utah, seemingly always in crisis, something that she has carried over to her adult life. She feels it is a legacy of the World War II incarceration, even if her family hadn't been incarcerated since they lived in Utah. Wanting to know the family secrets, she visits a 110 year old aunt who fills her in on some of the family history and mentions the scandal that Gunjiro and Helen became. A trip to the library confirms this, as she finds numerous articles about their scandalous affair and eventual marriage in Seattle. Later, Brenda tracks down one of Gunjiro's granddaughters and through her, meets many other members of the family, which has changed its name to Oakie (from Aoki). While mostly sent to concentration camps during the war, they have seemingly become successful, but allude to the fact that Gunjiro never could face Chojiro out of guilt. Brenda goes to his old church to find out what happened to Chojiro; she learns that after Gunjiro and Helen's marriage, it is Chojiro who is punished, asked to leave his church, then exiled to Utah and gradually impoverished, later become a sharecropper and dying young, leaving eleven children behind and the chaos Brenda remembers. After receiving her grandfather's robes from the current pastor of his old church, she imagines her grandfather urging her to tell the story of her family.

Aoki tells the story through voicing the various characters and by speaking in her own voice in the contemporary segments. Bassist Mark Izu provides live musical accompaniment. Slides—mostly old photographs and newspaper clippings—are projected in the background. Later iterations of the show added new material and additional accompaniment by koto artist Shoko Hikage.

Uncle Gunjiro's Girlfriend was funded in part by grants from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program . It premiered on October 10, 1998, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and has been performed many times subsequently.

Media Details
Date Opened 1998-10-10
Writer Brenda Wong Aoki
Technical Team Mark Izu (music)
Website http://www.firstvoice.org/uncle-gunjiros-girlfriend/
For More Information

For More Information

Official website: http://www.firstvoice.org/uncle-gunjiros-girlfriend/ .

Cheng, Scarlet. " Speaking of the Unspoken ." Los Angeles Times , Apr. 30, 2000.

Omori, Chizu. " 'When Love Overcame Hate'—A History of America's Race Relations in One Union. " International Examiner , Aug. 12 2015.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho