Miss Saigon Teaches Us

The April 14 opening of Miss Saigon at the White Plains Performing Arts Center reminds us of how wars bring tragic displacement to noncombatants.

This musical begins in the former Saigon, and it tells a doomed love story about a bargirl named Kim who falls in love with a U.S. serviceman.  Abandoned by her lover after the South Vietnamese government collapsed, Kim boards a boat with her half-American child and other refugees to find a better life, not knowing where they will end up.

Although the musical is set in the 1970s, we only need to look at today’s headlines to see Miss Saigon’s depiction of displacement replayed around the world. The United Nations reports that more than eight million Ukrainians have been scattered across Europe since the Russian invasion.

Earlier this week, we saw a boat adrift in the Mediterranean, in danger of capsizing with 400 migrants fleeing poverty and conflicts in Africa. In New York, we are seeing busloads of migrants arriving from the southern border. Debates and arguments erupt everywhere the displaced people arrive. How should the world respond to this fact of life?

At this time of Easter and Passover, we retell the Biblical story of Exodus and the Israelites’ departure from Egypt, demonstrating how displacement spans human history. The Bible’s Book of Deuteronomy offers clear instructions regarding displaced people: “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

For those who are not religious, art like Miss Saigon similarly challenges audiences to consider how they receive foreigners fleeing war, poverty or oppression.

Congratulations to the White Plains Performing Arts Center for bringing us art in life, and life in art. Performances continue through May 7.