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Momona Tamada Read by Malia Baker

Momona Tamada is a young Japanese Canadian actor best known for her dazzling performance in The Baby-Sitters Club. Momona reaches audiences with her magnetic performances and passion for advocacy.

Get to KNow Malia Baker

Meet actor and activist, Malia Baker. Malia narrated the story of Momona Tamada who is Malia’s co-star in The Babysitters Club. In this interview, Malia shares what it was like growing up mixed-race in Vancouver, Canada as well as her experience with complex regional pain syndrome. She also takes us behind the scenes of The Babysitters Club!

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Deborah Goldstein with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Alexis Stratton and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Malia Baker. Joy Smith was our executive producer. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!

Transcript

As Momona Tamada looked around the set of her favorite television show, her lips curved into a smile. She could hardly believe she was here!

Momona was decked out in a white blouse, leopard-print pants, and bright red slippers, lounging in a plush chair next to an old-style landline telephone. She’d never used a landline before. Like most of her friends, she used a smartphone. But she had to act like she knew what she was doing.

And… action! the director called. The cameras were rolling. Butterflies flitted through Momona’s stomach as she waited for her cue.

BRRRRRIIIING! 

Momona ran across the room and grabbed the telephone. “Hello,” she said brightly. “Baby-Sitters Club!”

I’m Malia Baker. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us.  

On this episode, one of my all-time BFF’s, Momona Tamada: a Japanese Canadian actor and dancer best known for her dazzling performance in The Baby-Sitters Club, her passion for increasing representation, and her commitment to racial equality.

Momona called Vancouver, Canada, home, but her parents had immigrated from Japan before she was born. Until Momona and her little brother Hiro started elementary school, they only spoke Japanese at home. And in summers, Momona visited family in Japan, including her beloved grandmother. 

Being in Japan was magical for Momona. She loved the feel of the smooth paper as she and her grandmother folded origami animals together. Momona also got to eat delicious Japanese baked goods and sip on ramune soda that made her mouth tingle. Most of all, she treasured being near her grandmother and practicing her Japanese, connecting to this place that was so far from Canada physically, yet so close in her heart.

Momona loved her life in Vancouver too. It was just completely different. At many of her friends’ houses, they didn’t have to take off their shoes at the door or speak multiple languages. Momona wasn’t sure how to fuse her two worlds together. When her parents spoke to her in Japanese, Momona started answering in English. She felt confused about who she was and which culture she identified with more. 

Still, there was one place where Momona felt thoroughly and truly herself—on stage.

When Momona was four years old, her parents signed her up for tap dance lessons. She tied up the ribbons of her tap shoes and was soon tap-tap-tapping across the dance studio floor. She loved the rhythms she made as she shuffle ball changed and flapped her feet. She loved dancing with other kids too. And she wanted to learn more styles of dance!

So, she signed up for jazz, ballet, lyrical, modern, and hip hop dance! She felt powerful as she leapt and pirouetted across the floor. And the more she practiced, the stronger she got. She felt at home on stage, and she danced like it was her destiny; the spotlight almost as bright as her radiant smile.

Momona’s life soon became very busy. She auditioned for performances and traveled a lot for dancing. She even performed at the opening ceremonies for the British Columbia summer games!

One day, Momonoa took a new kind of leap — and tried out for an acting role! 

Acting was like an adventure for Momona. She had so much fun pretending to be someone else and imagining herself in completely different worlds. She truly immersed herself in each character, and people started to notice. She found opportunities to audition for bigger and bigger parts.

It was challenging to find leading roles as an Asian actor though. Even though it was the 2010s, a lot of TV shows and movies in Canada and the United States focused on white characters and were written by white people. Often, Asian actors were cast as sidekicks or stereotypes.

Momona was still very young, but she was determined to play characters who felt real and to do work that felt meaningful.

Then, when Momona was 12 years old, she was invited to a very important audition. A book series that she loved, called The Baby-Sitters Club, was being made into a TV show. Momona knew exactly which role she wanted: Claudia Kishi.

Claudia Kishi was an artsy fashionista who also happened to be Japanese American. She brimmed with confidence wherever she went, and she was determined to be herself, no matter what.

Momona felt so connected to the character of Claudia already. Both Claudia and Momona were artists. Both of their parents had immigrated from Japan. And both of them loved candy.

Claudia also meant so much to Momona because she’d never seen a character who was like her before. Now, Momona had the opportunity to be this character. It was the role of a lifetime—and she would not pass it up.

It took a couple takes for Momona to get her recorded video audition to a place where she was proud of it. She sent it off feeling hopeful. But then weeks went by without a peep from the show’s casting team. Momona figured that they were passing on her, until she found out she’d gotten a callback!

Next up was a live video audition. Momona put her whole heart into performing as Claudia, trying to channel the character’s bouncy energy and confidence. And she nailed it! But would she make it to the next round? Finally, Momona was invited to an in-person audition.

As cameras rolled, Momona and four other young actors – including me! – performed a few scenes together. Momona felt like they clicked so well together — it was like they were already the closest of friends.

After the audition, the casting team called the whole group back in. Apparently, there had been something wrong with the camera so they would maybe have to re-do it?

But it wound up being a trick! They were called in to hear the best announcement of all:

“You’re the cast of The Baby-Sitter’s Club.” 

Momona froze, the words ringing in her ears. Could it be that out of the thousands of people who’d auditioned they actually picked her???? And then Momona and—all of us, really—started screaming and jumping up and down with joy.

Momona was beyond thrilled to begin filming—and to become Claudia Kishi. As she read the script and memorized her lines, she thought often of her grandmother, whom she hadn’t seen for a while.

Her grandma actually visited Vancouver right before filming was to begin. Momona was so happy to see her. After all, she was one of Momona’s favorite people.

Ohayo!

Each morning, Momona greeted her grandmother in Japanese. And each night, she said goodnight in Japanese, too. 

Oyasumi.

But throughout the day, Momona struggled to understand what her grandmother was saying. Momona stumbled through her responses, the Japanese words rusty on her tongue.

Her heart ached even as her grandma still smiled at her and cooked with her. Momona knew her grandmother loved her. But she wanted to be able to talk to her—to really talk. To share her feelings and ideas and not question her abilities with Japanese.

As her grandma boarded a plane back to Japan, Momona made a promise to herself. She would practice Japanese. She wouldn’t forget that part of herself and her family. And one day, she would be able to talk fluently with her grandmother again.

Momona studied her Babysitter’s Club script, flipping through the pages. She saw that Claudia struggled with some of the same things in her family. Momona was like Claudia, and Claudia was like her. And realizing that, Momona knew just how to make Claudia come to life.

The Baby-Sitter’s Club arrived on TV in the summer of 2020, and it was a huge hit.

People loved Momona’s performance, and they praised the show’s representation of Japanese American culture. From shots of shoes lined neatly inside the Kishis’ front door to a scene where Claudia makes Japanese food with her grandma, the new show helped bring this fictional family to life.

And after watching season one, fans begged for more.

But it was 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping across the globe, and film productions had ground to a halt.

At the same time, there was a lot of fear and misinformation about COVID. Because the first cases of COVID originated in China, there was a rise in discrimination and even violence against Asian communities in the United States and Canada.

Momona sometimes felt scared for her parents and worried that someone might hurt them. But Momona refused to let hate and fear hold her back. 

She proudly spoke out about her Japanese heritage and the importance of telling stories by and about people who looked like her. She redoubled her efforts to learn Japanese. And she educated others on how to stand up for and alongside Asian communities.

It wasn’t easy. Momona felt like representing Asian characters like Claudia was more important than ever. She did so many interviews, and she put a lot of pressure on herself. Sometimes, it was too much, and all the attention made her feel anxious. Plus, she deeply missed seeing her friends and making art together —in person.

Momona had to learn how to take breaks from the news and activism so she could find calm for herself and do soothing things like bake, draw, or share meals with her family again.

Then, in late 2020, Momona got some great news: Season two of The Baby-Sitter’s Club had gotten the green light. Momona was headed back to the set to start filming again. 

That first day back on set felt amazing. After being separated from her castmates for so long, they were together again. They were filming a sleepover scene, and as she sat around Claudia’s bedroom, playing and giggling, it felt like a real slumber party.

She was here, with her friends, having fun, and making something that mattered.

The joy of creativity and connection was palpable. 

Momona continues to be a great source of ingenuity and hope. She’s helped bring to life an iconic fictional character who means so much to generations of young people—and especially Asian kids. 

And Momona credits the character of Claudia with making her more confident and outgoing, too. She’s learned the power of her own voice, and today, Momona is not afraid to speak up and out about what she believes is right, from Asian representation to mental health awareness.

Momona doesn’t know what the future might hold, but wherever she goes, she’ll carry Claudia Kishi with her in her heart. And she will never forget the importance of creating origami animals next to her grandmother, connecting her past to her present and future.