The Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition released a press release hailing as a victory an apology from the head of the organization that presented Miss Saigon three times aganst the protests of the community.
But it’s a hollow victory at best.
In Front of the Lines
Ordway President Patricia Mitchell to KARE11, September 2013:

I do not apologize for presenting the work, of course, we regret that it is painful for some, but many theater works, anything that is interesting, is going to have some element of controversy. If it did not, we would all be watching Leave it To Beaver reruns.

Right before her announcement of her December 2015 retirement, Mitchell vowed

“the Ordway will not produce Miss Saigon as long as I remain President of the Ordway.”

A fair amount of politicking since that statement was released in November 2014. The slate for the 2015 year certainly had been well confirmed so basically all Mitchell was saying was that Miss Saigon would not be presented in 2015. Her statement made no promise that the Ordway as an organization would never present the musical again.
Behind the Screams
This “new” apology was sent to David Mura, a poet whose long time efforts to work alongside institutions such as the Ordway have led him to be considered the Go-To representative of the Asian American community. It was sent April 22, 6 months after Mitchell’s statement. From indications from press articles and personal communications as well as the content, it appears that both the apology and the subsequent July 15 press release response put out by the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition were the product of communication “with the Ordway and [Coalition] members.”
(Note: the Coalition posted the apology on Google Drive which tracks views of signed-in Google product users ie Gmail, Youtube, Blogger. Signing out from your Google accounts before viewing the document MAY prevent the relaying of your visit back to the OP.)
In the apology, Mitchell blamed the lack of institutional memory for the organization’s failure to listen to voices against the presentation of the musical. “I am deeply sorry and take responsibility for the failure of institutional memory which communicates to you and others that your passionately held beliefs have been completely disregarded.” Mitchell follows up by saying that she dug through files to restore her convenient amnesia about the protests, pointing to only two that were salvaged.
However in August 2013, it seemed Mitchell was fully aware of the historical background of the protests.

“It’s certainly part of the institutional history of the Ordway,” she told the Pioneer Press.

Despite this contradiction, the Coalition supported Mitchell’s assertion.

“The Ordway was clearly unaware both of the history of Asian American activism and Asian American Theater.”

In regards to the previous protests, they write,

“The Ordway should have been aware of this.”

The positing of “awareness” condones the contention that the current leadership was clueless about the controversy directed at them and in a larger perspective. As evidenced by Mitchell’s previous statements, that is false. Instead of criticizing the Ordway in choosing to ignore the voices of protests, the Coalition buys into the lame excuse.
They even claim a victory even though they pointed out in their announcement the hollowness of the apology.
Behind the Words
The Coalition’s press release attributes the apology to the Ordway as an institution however Mitchell’s carefully crafted letter does not state that the apology emanates from the organization itself. It comes from an outgoing president who has nothing to lose by bending to the wills of the community coalition and making amends before she expires–or at least her contract does.
When trying to understand why the authors of the press release supported the assertion of institutional amnesia, I was told that this was a tactical move¬† (and one that took nearly 3 months to “fashion.”) Whatever strategy the Coalition perceives it to be, it’s failing. What it does look like is, from the culled press comments and communications, is that the coalition is overjoyed to have a seat at the table even though the bone they’ve been thrown is sitting underneath on the floor.

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I expected nothing less than disregard from an organization whose head I, as co-chair of the protest committee and co-founder of the educational side organization, personally dealt with in 1994 with the original Miss Saigon protests. Members of that original protest committee are still active in this new coalition. Their acceptance and support of this “I forgot” excuse paves the foundation for other detestable acts and behavior to be forgiven in such manner. If their tactic was to build community allies with this statement, they’re failing miserably. Unfortunately their potential allies aren’t so inclined to wipe the slate clean and start anew.
They coalition not have bought into Miss Saigon. But it’s what they did buy into that’s bothersome.
When I pointed out the mellowing of voice, one of the authors accused me of “dictating strategy” and because my feet weren’t in the trenches dealing with the Ordway and building the Coalition, I basically should shut up. Seems that some members of the Coalition spent too much time with the Ordway. They bought and embodied the same disregard for different viewpoints that claim to rally against.
That’s the real failure.

 

–Ken Choy

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