Asian American Arts Alliance to Honor George Takei, Soh Daiko Founders

The Asian American Arts Alliance will hold its 33rd Anniversary Benefit Gala on Wednesday, September 16 at Tribeca Rooftop and will have a distinct Japanese American theme.

The Benefit Gala is a celebration of outstanding Asian Americans in the arts and an opportunity for audiences and patrons to make a significant contribution toward the artistic talent within the community. This year, the Alliance is featuring honorees actor and activist George Takei and founding members of Soh Daiko, Alan and Merle Okada.

The Alliance is also honoring Takehiro Ueyama with the 2015 Jadin Wong Award for Emerging Asian American Choreographer and Christina Chiu with the Fifth Annual Wai Look Award for Outstanding Service to the Arts.

Funds raised from this event support the Alliance’s programs and services, which offers artists opportunities to be their own best entrepreneurs across the spectrum of their careers—helping them to build audiences, seek funding, and grow their own artistic and strategic alliances. This year’s Gala Benefit Honorary Chair is Mayor David Dinkins; Gala Benefit Co-Chairs are Susan Onuma, Gary Moriwaki, and Julie Azuma; and Benefit Committee members are Karen Beluso, Rocky Chin & May Chen, Larry Hama, Barbara Ho, Fay Ann Lee, Cobi Narita, Ron Ostermann, Hong Qu, Ravi Rajan, Athena Robles & G. Richard Dodge Jr., Beesham Seecharan, Bea Soong, Mark Swicegood, Norma Tan, Helen Wan, Andrew Wang, and Cindy Zhou.

To purchase tickets to this year’s Asian American Arts Alliance 33rd Anniversary Benefit Gala, please visit the organization’s website.

George Takei – Actor & Activist

Asian American Arts Alliance, George Takei, Soh Daiko, Alan Okada, Merle Okada, NYC, Japan, Takehiro Ueyama, Christina Chiu, Japanese Americans, arts, dance, taiko, taiko drumming, activism, acting, writing, literature, Allegiance
George Takei. Photo by Luke Fontana.

George Takei is best known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu in the acclaimed television and film series Star Trek.

He’s an actor, social justice activist, social media mega-power, star of the upcoming Broadway musical Allegiance, and subject of To Be Takei, a documentary on his life and career.

Takei’s acting career has spanned five decades, with more than 40 feature films and hundreds of television guest-starring roles to his credit. Takei is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Actors’ Equity Association, and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

With the outbreak of World War II, Los Angeles, California-born Takei and his family were placed behind the barbed-wire enclosures of United States internment camps along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans. Takei spent most of his childhood at Camp Rohwer in the swamps of Arkansas and at wind-swept Camp Tule Lake in northern California. At the end of the war, Takei’s family returned to their native Los Angeles.

Inspired by this difficult chapter of American history, Takei developed the Broadway-bound musical Allegiance, an epic story of love, family and heroism in which he stars alongside Tony Award winner Lea Salonga. Allegiance’s record-breaking world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 2012 won multiple awards and will be followed by a Broadway run this year with previews beginning October 6 and opening night November 8.

Now a community activist, Takei serves as chair of the council of governors of East West Players, the nation’s foremost Asian Pacific American theater. He is also a member of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender political organization. Takei is Chairman Emeritus of the Japanese American National Museum’s Board of Trustees, a member of the US-Japan Bridging Foundation’s Board of Directors, and served on the Board of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission under President Clinton. In recognition of his contribution to the Japan-United States relationship, Takei was conferred with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette by His Majesty the Emperor of Japan in 2004.

To Be Takei, a Jennifer M. Kroot documentary on the life and career of Takei, premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2014 and was later released in select theaters across North America.

Takei shared a Grammy nomination with Leonard Nimoy in 1987 in the Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Recording category. Takei also received a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame in 1986, and in 1991 he left his signature and hand print, in cement, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. His first book, his autobiography, To the Stars, was published in 1994, and in 2012 and 2013 he published his second and third books, Oh Myyy! There Goes The Internet, and its sequel, Lions And Tigers And Bears: The Internet Strikes Back – both about his forays on social media and the Internet, making the Amazon e-book and paperback best-seller lists in 2012 and 2013. has named Takei the most-influential person on Facebook, where currently he has nearly 8.5 million likes. He has 1.5 million followers on Twitter.

Takei and his husband, Brad, were married at the Japanese American National Museum on Sept. 14, 2008.


Merle and Alan Okada – Founding Members, Soh Daiko

Asian American Arts Alliance, George Takei, Soh Daiko, Alan Okada, Merle Okada, NYC, Japan, Takehiro Ueyama, Christina Chiu, Japanese Americans, arts, dance, taiko, taiko drumming, activism, acting, writing, literature, Allegiance
Alan and Merle Okada. Photo courtesy of Asian American Arts Alliance

Merle, a native of Hawaii (though not a native Hawaiian) and Alan, an indigenous New Yorker, met in 1971 as part of the Asian American contingent in the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in Washington, D.C. They served as volunteers at the first Chinatown Health Fairs and worked together on Yellow Pearl, Bridge Magazine, Amerasia Creative Arts and community murals in the Lower East Side.

Having learned to play taiko (Japanese drum) to accompany Japanese American Buddhist Obon celebrations in New York; Seabrook, New Jersey; and Washington, D.C. during the mid-1970s, they became founding members of Soh Daiko in 1979. Soh Daiko was the first taiko group on the east coast of the United States and, at that time, one of only 12 outside of Japan. Merle served as the president and chair of Soh Daiko from 1979 until 2012 and led the development of both the organization and the art form while strengthening its roots in the community.

Soh Daiko has performed for community festivals and celebrations and in support of Asian American organizations and causes for more than 35 years. In addition to performances and workshops at festivals, universities and community venues, the group has performed at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, SummerStage, Japan Society, and Carnegie Hall, and has been featured on television in Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow and MTV Unplugged. It is widely considered to be a pioneer and leader among the hundreds of taiko groups that now exist across the U.S. and Canada.

Alan served on the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center advisory committee for the eight North American Taiko Conferences, on the advisory group for the Japanese American National Museum’s Big Drum exhibit and as an advisor for the 2014 World Taiko Gathering. He currently serves as a member of the newly formed national Taiko Community Alliance board and the Kodo Art Sphere America (KASA) board.  From 1991 until 2011, he worked in international corporate philanthropy at the Citigroup Foundation before retiring as vice president and chief administrative officer.


Takehiro Ueyama – 2015 Jadin Wong Awardee

The 2015 Jadin Wong Award is intended to recognize one emerging Asian American choreographer whose work shows potential for greater achievement and hopes to make a significant impact on the NYC artistic community as a whole.

Asian American Arts Alliance, George Takei, Soh Daiko, Alan Okada, Merle Okada, NYC, Japan, Takehiro Ueyama, Christina Chiu, Japanese Americans, arts, dance, taiko, taiko drumming, activism, acting, writing, literature, Allegiance
Takehiro Ueyama. Photo courtesy of Asian American Arts Alliance.

Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Takehiro “Take” Ueyama moved to the United States in 1991 to study dance at the Juilliard School in New York City. Upon graduation, he was invited to join the Paul Taylor Dance Company, touring the world with them for eight years.

In 2003, Ueyama debuted his first choreographic work, Tsubasa, performed with fellow Taylor dancers at the McKenna Theatre at SUNY New Paltz, NY, and in 2005 founded TAKE Dance. He has performed repeatedly as a guest artist with Kazuko Hirabayashi Dance Theatre. His television and film credits include PBS’s Dance in America series (with the Taylor Company), Acts of Ardor, and Dancemaker, a film by dancer/choreographer Matthew Diamond.

Having been a baseball player in Japan before fully committing to dance, Ueyama’s work blends both eastern and western sensibilities. Containing both powerful athleticism, as well as traces of his Japanese heritage by employing delicate gestures, his repertoire has been inspired by the beauty in nature, the duality of darkness and light in the universal human condition and the humanity and compassion in day-to-day living. These elements, combined with his various partnerships and collaborations with artists of other genres, lend diversity to movement, music and subject matter. Described as both sensitive and exciting, Ueyama’s choreography ensures a place for the heart on any stage it appears, a feast for the eyes, mind and soul; it is uniquely, “TAKE”.


Christina Chiu – 2015 Wai Look Awardee

The Wai Look Award for Outstanding Service to the Arts is intended to recognize and encourage Asian American individuals working as an arts administrator, advocate, leader or equivalent whose active participation in or for the arts has made a considerable impact.

Asian American Arts Alliance, George Takei, Soh Daiko, Alan Okada, Merle Okada, NYC, Japan, Takehiro Ueyama, Christina Chiu, Japanese Americans, arts, dance, taiko, taiko drumming, activism, acting, writing, literature, Allegiance
Christian Chiu. Photo by Mélissa Boucher.

Christina Chiu is Curator and Co-host of the Pen Parentis Literary Salons, a non-profit organization that provides resources to authors who are also parents in order to help them stay on creative track after starting a family. She is also a Board Member of the New York Writers Workshop, an organization dedicated to public service and which offers professional guidance, resources and workshops that teach craft and foster creativity and enable writers to achieve their goals. Chiu is a Founding Member of the Asian American Writers Workshop. She also mentors in a youth program called Youth Storytellers where she works with at-risk youth to create their own screenplays.

Chiu is the author of Troublemaker and Other Saints, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 2001, and Lives of Notable Asian Americans, published by Chelsea House in 1995. Her stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Tin House, Charlie Chan is Dead II, Washington Square, The Asian Pacific American Journal, and Acorn. Chiu served as a review panelist for the New York Foundation for the Arts and review panelist for 14th Annual Asian American Literary Award in 2001. She also served on the application jury for Columbia University School of the Arts and occasionally serves on the selection committee for a well-established artist colony. She is working toward completing a novel and has just finished writing two screenplays, Finding Jason Washington and Troublemaker. Her accolades include the Asian American Literary Award, the Robert Simpson Fellowship, the Alternate Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. She is the recipient of the Van Lier Fellowship, winner of the New Stone Circle Fiction Contest, and was nominated for the Stephen Crane First Fiction Award. She received her MFA in writing from Columbia University.