Actor Darren Barnet plays Paxton Hall Yoshida, a half-Japanese jock who becomes the love interest of Devi Vishwakumar played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. He’s revered by his classmates for both his good looks and athletic prowess, and he coasts on both throughout most of the first season.
Then in the show’s second season, Paxton breaks his arm and suddenly finds himself without an athletic scholarship and facing the prospect of missing out on college, so he leans (blackmails) on Devi to help him with school.
After some tutoring sessions, successes, and failures, Paxton learns that he has to dig a little deeper if he’s going to succeed academically, which brings us to the scene where he explores his identity.
Manzanar and the Japanese American internment
The “Miyagi Moment” I refer to in the article title is from a short scene in The Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita, talks about losing his wife and child at Manzanar, a Japanese American internment camp.
Manzanar, in case you don’t know, held 10,000 Japanese Americans during the Second World War. These people were taken from their homes and businesses, and forced to live in the camp for most of the war. It was deemed an evacuation, but they were concentration camps. There’s a great film called Farewell to Manzanar with Clyde Kusatsu that explores the camp’s history and the families who were sent there.
Daniel explores this history ever so briefly in the movie, but this moment adds a lot of depth to the now-tragic figure of Mr. Miyagi. It also puts Daniel’s issues with his girlfriend into a bit of perspective.
Paxton’s “Miyagi Moment” comes when volunteers to do an extra-credit assignment in his history class in which he’s asked to explore an event in American history that has affected his family.
Earlier in the season, Paxton’s grandfather, Theodore Yoshida, played by Clyde Kusatsu (Admiral Nakamura from Star Trek: The Next Generation), gave a box of books to his grandson that included a diary from Paxton’s great grandfather that detailed his experiences in Manzanar.
Paxton’s assignment helps him learn about his family’s history and how it’s depicted in the show speaks to some real-world truths about how hard it is to talk about the internment for older generations.
Paxton talks to his father, played by Tohoru Masamune (Shredder!), about Manzanar and why he’s only learning about this history now. His father says that Paxton’s grandfather never really talked about his experiences as a child in the camp. He would shut down the conversation, which is something that older Japanese people do.
There are many reasons why Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians might not speak about their experiences in the camps, but the few I’ve heard include wanting their children to still love the country they were living in and the fear they feel toward their governments.
Many of the Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians who were rounded up were born in their respective countries. They were citizens, but then suddenly they were being treated as enemy aliens and stripped of their rights. Most were relocated to the middle of their countries forced to live in camps or work on farms while some were forced to move to Japan, a country they likely had never visited.
The same happened to many Italian and German Americans/Canadians who were also sent to camps, but the scale of the seizure of the Japanese property was unparalleled.
Japanese Canadians had their property seized by their government and sold to white British Columbians. The internment allowed the federal and provincial government to turn over industries they had expanded back into white hands. The internment is basically why there are no actual Japan towns anywhere in the United States or Canada, and why people like me exist in eastern Canada.
That kind of power government strikes fear in a population, so it’s no surprise that Paxton’s grandfather is unwilling to speak about his experiences. It’s an extremely brave thing that he’s willing to come into Paxton’s class to talk about it. He also mentions that the worst part of the experience was the dignity it stole from his father. He lost everything because of the internment.
Ok, so Paxton’s learned about the internment, but did it change him? Not really.
As viewers, I guess our hope should be that this experience will make him into a better student and teach him the value of putting effort into other aspects of his life. I have no expectations that him learning about the internment will make him more empathetic, but maybe it’ll give him a subject to focus on in school.
And while it’s nice they mentioned the internment, I’d love it if they could explore more histories, but I’m aware that you can’t casually go about exploring the Chinese Head Tax or the treatment of Indigenous people of Turtle Island, which are important things to talk about too. Paxton’s character being Japanese was somewhat coincidental as the producers on the show didn’t know about Barnet’s heritage.
I think, honestly, it’s just a good moment for both the character and actor to be able to expose some history to viewers.