Yankee Dawg You Die by Philip Kan Gotanda

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Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Vincent’s first speech as Sergeant Moto in interlude 1 evokes the “evil empire” and the gross distortions of Asian character by American propaganda during World War II. Moto’s speech and the trite image of the vicious Japanese soldier are repeated with variations throughout the play, but Sergeant Moto breaks the stereotype by directly questioning Americans about their inability to truly see and hear him. Moto’s appeal to be seen and heard—to be recognized as a human being—resonates in every scene.

The play also suggests, through the personal and professional struggles of Vincent and Bradley, that being identified as Asian American can cause one to be unseen and unheard. Philip Kan Gotanda suggests that being identified as a minority in the United States can be an unsatisfactory and limiting designation, perhaps just as debilitating as racist film stereotypes like Sergeant Moto. Both Vincent and Bradley are painfully aware that “Asian American” implies otherness, not American, or worse, less than American. The term “Asian” is itself a confusing conflation of many cultures—Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Indian, among others, and this conflation erases individual character and personal history. In the play, the shared experiences of Vincent and Bradley serve to criticize recent decades of American history and indict one-dimensional depictions of people of color, which persist in contemporary media and continue to exclude minorities from many entertainment arenas.

The two characters’ lives represent not only the struggle of each to find meaningful work in his chosen profession but also the struggle of each to build a coherent personal identity in a society that subtly implies that color makes one “less than” or “other than” American. The term emphasizes difference even for those like Chang or Yamashita, born in the United States to families who have lived in the country for generations. Both men recount experiences that reveal their dual identity as a source of confusion and pain. How can one who has never been to Japan, cannot speak Japanese, and knows little of Japanese culture or traditions think of himself not as...

(The entire section is 536 words.)