1987 must hold something special for those of us now in our late twenties who have experienced the effects of high school in the 80s and adulthood in the 90s. What has influenced our lives? What drives us in work and family? What is our role in the leading of the world?
As I continually reflect on these questions, I always think back to my seven years in Mandarins and the 1987 DCI Championship. This first Championship is especially poignant for me because not only was this a great event in Mandarins history, but it was also my final year of marching, last year of high school, the year I moved out, etc.
We were a decent, good, all-around A-60 Drum and Bugle Corps — a group of young people who worked hard, had great leadership, and approached our task with Passion, Integrity, Balance, and a sense of Identity. These four traits, even more than the actual ’87 championship, are central parts of my Mandarins experience.
PASSION: Drum corps people are by nature passionate about the art of Drum Corps. Who else would give up the summers to travel thousands of miles by bus (yes, we used to do that), perform in Rodeo Arenas, spend hours of practice in 100-plus degree weather, and more? Does the fun ever end? This kind of dedication has always stayed with me because for many of us it was our last year. This created a feeling of “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right!” This intensity, even beyond that of your run-of-the-mill drum corps freak, epitomizes the passion of the Mandarins.
INTEGRITY: I often remember saying to myself as we watched other corps that year, “I sure am glad we’re not playing that!” I say that not because those corps were bad, but because many corps didn’t seem to want to push the edges of what a small corps could do. If we were going to put anything on the field with the Mandarins name, it was going to be classy, intriguing, and it was going to be done well. We were challenged to try things that were complex, engaging and, once it came together, powerful. As far as I can tell, Mandarins has never and will never have it any other way.
BALANCE: Despite those hours spent in the sun at Kennedy, the camps at Cosumnes, and the continuous practice, there was a good balance of fun and work; and more than not, they were the same thing. I can admit it now, but I am sure that if Don Yee and I were first-year members in 1987, we would not have gotten away with as much goofing off as we did. After hearing stories of the many more hours that other corps put in and the strictness of their regiment, the time we spent on the practice field working and laughing together was even more special. I think it came down to knowing tht we were there to have fun, be part of a community, and to put together a show we could be proud of. This levity — not only on the field, but throughout all aspects of our time together — showed everyone, inside and out of Mandarins, that we enjoyed what we did and our shared enthusiasm made us better when we hit the competition field.
IDENTITY: By far the biggest impact on me was the community built around our common Asian American roots. I can only say that it has been a vital part of my own understanding of identity as an Asian American. Mandarins connected me to a deep history rooted in Sacramento’s Chinatown, we because connected to Asian American churches and community groups throughout our travels, and we learned that it is okay to acknowledge and be proud of the distinctness of our culture. Mandarins showed the reality that lines between peoples are there; we can pretend they don’t exist, or we can be proud of our uniqueness within a larger community. As I look forward to the many opportunities my own daughter will have to be part of communities that help to build her own character, I hope that she will find ones that nurture her in her identity as Mandarins nurtured mine.
My continued thoughts and prayers are with everyone whose lives Mandarins touches. The rich history, experience, and foundations that Mandarins shares with young people is invaluable. Let’s remember and celebrate the amazing impact that this special group has had on those who have been, who are now, and who will become part of the Mandarins’ family.