The People of the Tags

Performed with Wendy Maruyama’s E. O. 9066 Tag Project

Swirling in silk, telling true tales that triumph over despair, the Riverside Art Museum’s performing artists-in-residence, America’s first Asian Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki and Emmy Award-winning musician/composer Mark Izu present, The People of the Tags.

The events and circumstances that led to the Japanese prison camps in the 1940s are strikingly similar to what’s happening today. Every incarcerated man, woman, and child was forced to wear a tag with a name and a number. Made of replicas of these tags, Wendy Maruyama’s hanging sculptures bear silent witness.

Brenda’s stories will give dramatic testimony to the real people behind these tags. Stories she has gathered in her 42 years as a teller in the hinterlands of America; acts of bravery and human decency that can teach us strategies for navigating the turbulence of today.

In the polyglot of cultures that is America today, our children marry each other. These beautiful rainbow children unknowingly inherit unresolved trauma. Our descendants are all children of the tags. But if you know your past, together we can change our future.

Please bring photos of people and loved ones who were incarcerated in the Japanese prison camps. By telling their story in a public forum, we can transform their shame into honor. If you are a person from the tags, show up! We will honor YOU!

“Mark Izu’s music is a great gift to the jazz tradition, to its ongoing transformation and revitalization into energetic and unpredictable new directions.”

– Downbeat Magazine

“Aoki encompasses the comic and the tragic with fine, quick, delicate gestures, using everything from her expressive hands and face to her long sweeping black hair . . . making relevant and magical even the most faraway tales.”

 – Los Angeles Times, Critic’s Choice

Since 1976 Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu have, together and separately, created multi-disciplinary work that has received national and international acclaim. They founded First Voice in 1997 with a mission to create, present, and contribute the stories and music of people living between worlds. Critical to this mission is “personal experience” or “voice” – essential to the authentic representation of the people of the United States. 

The two prominent Asian-American artists were founding faculty at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford. First Voice was founded in 1997 to provide an organizational structure for their collaborations, which center on the creation of contemporary American art by working in and adapting non-Western theatrical, musical, and spoken word traditions. First Voice looks for symbols, parables, and shared intent between people that can be woven together to create universal understanding. 

Aoki and Izu’s work has garnered: Emmy Awards: Dramalogue Awards; Critic Circle Awards; Indie Awards; Goldies; Certificates of Merit from the California State Legislature, Mayor of San Francisco, and Board of Supervisors; and commissions from U.S. Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Japanese Department of Cultural Affairs, the Asian Arts Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. Japan Friendship, Meet-the-Composer, the Gerbode Foundation, the Dramatist Guild, and the American Association of Authors, Composers, and Publishers (ASCAP).

Throughout the organization’s history, First Voice has produced, presented, toured, published, and recorded original work that incorporates Asian theatre and music (particularly Japanese Nohgaku and Gagaku) and musical and spoken word traditions into indigenous American art forms like jazz and contemporary performance art. This original work includes: symphonic works, plays, storytelling, jazz ensemble, chamber music, large-scale pageant performances with traditional and contemporary dancers, solo monodramas and live performance to silent film. First Voice collaborates not only across disciplines, but also across cultures. Full-length main-stage performances usually revolve around issues of place, home, family and survival. Collaborations include artists from Japan: Aunt Lily’s Flowerbook (2017), MU, (2013), Legend of Morning Glory (2008); Hong Kong: Kuan-Yin: Our Lady of Compassion (2002); Hawaiian treasure Keola Beamer: Ghost Festival I (2001); Basque musician: Kepa Junpera (2010); Karuk Tribal elders Julian Lang and Lyn Risling: Hibakusha (1995); musicians and storytellers from the Cherokee nation: Fire in Heaven (2003); Afro-Peruvian, Mayan, Indian, and Korean dancers: Return of the Sun (2009); classical conductor Kent Nagano, Opera Lyon, and the Berkeley Symphony: Mermaid (1997); and African-American civil rights poet & actor John O’Neal: Ballad of the Bones (1999). The work is premiered in Aoki and Izu’s home base in San Francisco and then presented internationally.

To learn more about the residency,  visit:

For more information on RAM’s Wendy Maruyama: E.O. 9066 exhibition, visit:

Sponsored by:

  • Exhibition sponsored by Bob Harris & Susan Rothermund, Burgess Moving & Storage, with special thanks to the Japanese American National Museum and the Riverside Metropolitan Museum.
  • Exhibit-related programming for Wendy Maruyama: E.O. 9066 was made possible with support from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program at the California State Library.