Playwright-in-residence Oliver Mayer
This is an original play.
In 1942, California farming was largely owned and operated by Japanese Americans. Their farm workers came in all colors and persuasions, from Caucasian to Filipino to African American to Mexican American. With the advent of war, most of the workers joined up or were drafted. Due to growing hysteria, the Japanese Americans were forced off the land and many were placed in internment camps. Suddenly there was a crisis in the fields – strawberries and tomatoes to harvest and no one there to do the work. Thus, the Bracero Program came into being, and Mexican nationals came North as migrants to work the fields and to eventually return home with U.S. dollars. After the war, the Braceros continued to serve as cheap labor, and did so until Cesar Chavez unionized the farm workers. Reparation money aside, the Japanese Americans never got back what had been taken from them. This is the historical backdrop for CONJUNTO.
CONJUNTO is about Mexicans and Japanese in Southern California. Two cultures, two peoples whose fortunes rose and fell during the war years, who shared sweat and blood over the harvesting of the land. Whose moments of heroism and agony have been forgotten too long. In the tradition of Saroyan, Steinbeck and Valdez, this is a California play.
Genovevo is the foreman on the Itamura farm, a pelado who dreams of one day becoming a patron – a farm owner. Min owns the farm and cannot fathom how it can be taken from him, an American born and bred. Shoko is Min’s wife, grimly aware of the hard realities of the time, but with a secret dream life taken from her love of the movies. They and the other characters in CONJUNTO are inextricably bound to the land itself, in ways much deeper than ownership or politics. The land does more than simply feed them. It gives them identity, an image of themselves.
During my time at Sundance, I intend to deepen the play through rewriting and new writing, as well as through the use of research materials obtained from the Japan American Museum in Los Angeles. It is imperative to get this story right in order to honor the living and the dead who experienced these catastrophes firsthand. I intend to make a play worthy of this memory, but with a vision of its own. After all, the play must exist NOW. Hopefully I can come closer to bringing CONJUNTO to life, with the help of the Lab.
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