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Fighting Hatred With Song

“Your eyes tell the story of your family.” 

Through its long history, Sesame Street has addressed difficult issues, and the troubling rise in anti-Asian hatred during the COVID-19 pandemic is no different.

In the video, Filipina American Analyn, performed by Claudia Fabella, is sad because a kid at the playground makes fun of her, saying her eyes are ugly and “slanty.” Alan, played by Alan Muraoka, and Wes, a Muppet, comfort Analyn and tell her that her eyes are actually beautiful.

The poignant, gentle song, written by Elizabeth Hara, is part of a Sesame Street initiative to address issues of racial justice as a way to help families have open and honest conversations with their children about race.

In another video, Wes, who is Black, reveals that he was teased at school for bringing curry chicken for lunch. His dad, Elijah, tells him to breathe, say how he feels and share what happened. 

For “Proud of Your Eyes,” it was natural to turn to Muraoka’s Alan to comfort and lead the difficult conversation. Muraoka has been the friendly owner of Hooper’s Store on Sesame Street since 1998.

“With the rise of Asian American bias and attacks, Sesame Street knew they wanted to do something from a child’s perspective,” Muraoka said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo. “Talking to families, and other Asian Americans who work at the company, the idea came up of eyes and being bullied for their eyes. It’s something that was on a lot of people’s agendas.” 

In “Proud of Your Eyes,” Alan shows Analyn some family photos, including his sister, Kathy Funakura, his dad, Victor, and Victor and his wife, Lois. (Sesame Street Workshop)

The video has been seen more than 170,000 times since its release on June 23. Sesame Street finished its 52nd season in February, shooting under strict COVID-19 protocols.

“I cannot tell you the feedback I’ve gotten both from people I kow and don’t know,” Muraoka said. “It’s adults who had this experience of bullying when they were young and the idea that now somebody is talking about it and trying to be proactive in ways to combat it.”

Victor served in the Army during the Korean War.

In the song, Muraoka shares some photos of his family, and reveals with pride that his eyes came from his dad, Victor. Victor Muraoka served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and is a member of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans (JAKWV), as well as the VFW San Fernando Nisei Memorial Post 4140.

During World War II, Victor was interned in Manzanar, where he learned to play a bugle, given to him by his uncle, Bo Hamamoto. He also enjoyed singing in Manzanar and as a member of the Valley Master Chorale. Singing is a talent both father and son share. 

At his 60th birthday, Alan and Victor shared a duet of “Danny Boy.” These days, Victor and his wife Lois enjoy spending time trying their luck in Las Vegas.

Muraoka and his father, Victor, perform “Danny Boy” for Victor’s 60th birthday.

“My dad is the reason that I am a singer as well,” Muraoka said. “He inspired me and I know that it makes him proud that I took his love and made it my own as well. Singing with him was a rarity, though. We used to sing at church together when I was a kid, but this was the first time that we sang together.”

Besides performing on Sesame Street, Muraoka is a talented director. In February, he and Chuck Vinson were nominated for an NAACP Image Award for directing “The Power of We: A Sesame Street Special.” 

He was also recognized by The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as part of the cast of Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration (HBO) with a 2019-2020 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Special. 

Most recently, Muraoka is the director of an all-Asian concert version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder. Starring Lea Salonga, the performance started streaming on July 15 as a benefit for Stop AAPI Hate, in partnership with CollaborAzian.

At the end of May, his video “I Am Here” debuted in conjunction with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. “I Am Here” is a stirring anthem in response to rise of anti-Asian American violence across the country. Among the artists on the video are George Takei, Ann Harada (Avenue QCinderella), Telly Leung (Aladdin, Godspell), Raymond J Lee (Groundhog Day”), Ali Ewoldt (Phantom of the Opera) and Jose Llana (The King and I).

Muraoka directed “I Am Still Here” and also performs in the music video that features an all-star cast of Asian American Broadway talent. The anthem, written by Adam Gwong, premiered during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. (Sesame Street Workshop)

The goal of the video is to raise awareness for Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Viewers are encouraged to affirm allyship and stand against hate with bystander intervention training.

“Adam Gwong wrote a song, an anthem, a battle cry to say we have to stand up and stop this,” Muraoka said. “Everyone jumped on board and said we’ll do this. The result is the video and I’m really proud of it.

“I’ve been able to build a book of knowledge of how to do this, and how to do this in an artistic and satisfying way. All of our theater friends will get back to work in September, in the meantime we’re all figuring out ways to get through a lot of virtual productions of shows where they will film it in a theater and stream it after the fact — theater people are resourceful, so we’ve all found ways to reinvent ourselves.”

* * * * *

“I Am Here” can be seen at: https://youtu.be/b3YX3gtCNm4

Proud Of Your Eyes” is streaming on the Sesame Street YouTube channel.

 

*This article was originally published in The Rafu Shimpo on July 17, 2021

 

© 2021 Gwen Muranaka / Rafu Shimpo

Alan Muraoka Anti-Asian American violence I Am Here music Sesami Street