by Marie-Reine Velez

1869 Advertisement for Afong Moy

Go back to where you came from…

This phrase that has flooded the news recently, makes me feel sad, among other feelings. Like, really sad. Because it calls into question our origins, our diasporas, our sense of belonging–as people of color, as immigrants, and as descendants of immigrants. It erases our different histories in this country, our struggles and our celebrations, and what people have gone through to get to this point in time.

This phrase sets a frame around people of color as not belonging, with no history and no home here in America; when the reality is that we have deep roots in this country, regardless of how long we may have been here individually. We own businesses, we vote, we marry, we do good things and bad, we make our lives here.

The story of The Chinese Lady begins in 1834, and the play is based on the story of the first Chinese woman to set foot on American soil–bought and brought to New York as a museum curiosity, as an object to be observed and wondered at. And with that very specific frame of othering this woman, I can’t help but think about how that “first impression” of Chinese women, influenced how mainstream Americans viewed and may continue to view Asian and Asian American women.

What I love about The Chinese Lady is how it explores and imagines Afong Moy’s experience as an object on display, and her journey from being that object to being something, someone, more than what people originally saw. And then there’s the question of representation: what did it mean for this woman to represent a whole country, and all by herself?

These are the questions and the stories that deeply move us as producers, and as people who love theatre. We have this wonderful opportunity to bring together amazing, talented, and dedicated artists, and their vision for this work needs your support. We aren’t able to do this without our community, so please donate to Artists at Play and our campaign for The Chinese Lady.

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