Originally published at Ongoing History of Protest Music
No-No Boy is a multimedia project formed by Julian Saporiti & Erin Aoyama while pursuing their doctorates at Brown University.
The project employs music as an educational tool to teach historical lessons about the Asian American experience, something they both share in their heritage. Saporiti’s family were refugees during the Vietnam War while Aoyama had family incarcerated at United States internment camps during World War II.
Their name comes from the No-No Boys, who were Japanese Americans who refused to pledge allegiance to the U.S. government and who were detained in concentration camps. They also refused to fight in the war. These experiences were the basis of John Okada’s classic 1957 novel No-No Boy.
No-No Boy released their debut album “1942” in 2018, but it has since evolved primarily into a Saporiti project.
Saporiti followed it up in 2021 with the album “1975,” which featured considerable vocal, musical, and production contributions from Emilia Halvorsen. The album title referred to the year Saigon fell.
Similar to “1942,” Saporiti explored his own family heritage and connected that heritage to the. experiences of those in WWII Japanese internment camps. He linked this history to modern-day immigrant detention centers and refugee camps.
One of the album’s highlights is “The Best Goddamn Band In Wyoming” which relates the story of a 1940s Asian American swing band that perseveres in the face of bigotry.
No-No Boy’s latest single “La Banda Más Chingón en Wyoming” is a mariachi reworking of that tune. It features Mariachi Los Broncos, whose bandleader Jessie Vallejo was drawn to the parallels between the Japanese internment camps and the detention centers set up at the U.S.-Mexico border that are filled with Latin American migrants.
The new arrangement adds an element of exuberance in the face of adversity. The harrowing reality is balanced with the optimism that the human spirit will conquer and still find reasons to sing.