December 3, 2021

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A Playwright Has a Message: Anti-Asian Hate Isn’t New

A Playwright Has a Message: Anti-Asian Hate Isn’t New

On Sunday afternoon, a pigeon flew by means of a efficiency of “Covid Crime,” a one-act play happening at a Manhattan intersection, the place yellow taxis whizzed by towards the backdrop of a halal meals cart.

The present, written by Lionelle Hamanaka and directed by Howard Pflanzer, was unfolding in Richard Tucker Park, a tiny cobblestone triangle on the Higher West Facet. It was extra of a studying than a staging — its seven actors sat in metallic folding chairs, as did the viewers of about 50 individuals.

“I noticed this TV protection of a girl being assaulted on a bus with an umbrella. She was an older girl, an older Asian American,” Hamanaka stated final week, earlier than the play. “I assumed it might be fascinating to see how the neighborhood’s affected by it. As a result of we see the skin story, however we don’t essentially see each case.”

In the beginning of the pandemic, the coalition Cease AAPI Hate — AAPI stands for Asian American Pacific Islander — fashioned and commenced its personal tally of such assaults. From March 19, 2020 to June 30, 2021, the group acquired 9,081 reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans throughout the USA. That quantity was not only a mere statistic to Hamanaka, who’s Japanese American.

“My mother and father had been within the focus camps, and naturally that brought on an excessive amount of hardship for our household,” she stated, referring to the internment of Japanese People throughout World Warfare II. “My grandparents each had companies, and so they needed to promote them in a single week. They needed to pack up all their issues and depart. And that leaves a scar in your thoughts.”

So Hamanaka, a playwright and onetime jazz singer who describes herself as a senior, funneled her frustration into artwork. She’s written a series of performs about Covid-19, together with “Covid 10,366,” in regards to the April 2020 spike in Covid-19 deaths, and “The Spitter,” a couple of grocery store dispute over masks sporting. However that is the primary time she has addressed the current rise in anti-Asian American hate crimes in her work.

Hamanaka seen that a lot of the organizing surrounding the #StopAsianHate motion in New York was happening in Manhattan’s Chinatown, the place about 33 percent of the population recognized as Asian in 2019, in response to the N.Y.U. Furman Heart, which research housing and concrete coverage.

She wished to carry the motion to her neighborhood, the Higher West Facet, the place about 10 percent of the population recognized as Asian. “Then the people who find themselves there have to go searching and take a look at Asian People in a barely totally different approach,” Hamanaka stated. “‘Like, ‘Have I excluded them? Do I deal with them as a foreigner?’”

“Covid Crime” was offered by Crossways Theater, a bunch fashioned in 2018 by Hamanaka and Pflanzer. It goals to develop playwrights that replicate the variety of their neighborhood.

“The concept is to carry the viewers nearer to those points,” stated Pflanzer, 77. “Get them to interact and take part in understanding and being conscious of this essential subject of anti-Asian hate in our communities.”

Within the play, the character Dr. Leo Chan (John Bernos) arrives house from a shift at Bellevue Hospital. He lives together with his mom, Chunhua (Hamanaka), who’s asleep on the sofa in the lounge.

“It’s simply me, Ma,” Leo says. Chunhua grunts, and he notices a bandage on her head.

“What’s that?” he asks. “What occurred?”

“Girl hit me with umbrella,” Chunhua says.

“The place?” Leo asks.

“On a bus,” Chunhua replies. “She say I carry Chinese language virus to New York. Now everyone dying.”

Bernos, a Filipino American actor from Ann Arbor, Mich., drove 9 hours to New York for “Covid Crime.” After the efficiency, an viewers member requested him in regards to the hardest a part of the position.

“I’ve had my share of getting an individual inform me to return to China,” Bernos stated. “It wasn’t cool. So I feel the toughest half is having to dig again into that reminiscence and face that once more. It’s all the time powerful.”

Although the play revolves round Chunhua’s assault, it additionally options Dylan Omori McCombs as Corky Lee, the one character within the play primarily based explicitly on an actual individual. Lee was a Chinese language American photographer, journalist and activist from Queens. (He died in January at age 73 after Covid-19 problems.)

“The unhappy half is that, the extra I researched him as a lot as I may, the extra I actually wished that he was somebody that I had realized about in my historical past textbooks,” stated McCombs, sporting a hoodie that learn “Not Your Mannequin Minority.” “He clearly is of the caliber of somebody that might be very a lot worthy of that.”

“Covid Crime” ends on a rally set in Chinatown’s Columbus Park.

“We’re right here right this moment due to the assaults towards Asian People,” Lee says. “That’s been information within the pandemic, and the information is my enterprise. My images are proof that we exist — that we do a number of issues.”

The efficiency was adopted by a neighborhood discussion board. Shirley Ng, a neighborhood organizer on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Jacqueline Wang, the top of promoting and communications at Welcome to Chinatown, each spoke to the small crowd.

“Identical to the play, many seniors will come house and never know what to do,” Ng stated. “They may’ve gone to the police precinct or known as 911, however there’s all the time this concern that they could get turned away, as a result of they don’t have somebody who speaks their language, or there’s simply this concern of stepping in and never realizing — what’s the course of?”

The fund, a 47-year-old nationwide group primarily based in New York, works to guard and promote the civil rights of Asian People — together with encouraging seniors to report any hate crimes that will happen. Welcome to Chinatown, based final yr, is a grass roots initiative that helps Chinatown’s companies and amplifies its voices.

“One other factor coated by this play is that, while you don’t know somebody — you don’t seem like them, you don’t communicate their language, you don’t know their tradition, you don’t eat the identical issues — it’s very easy to simply label them as ‘different,’” Wang stated. “That’s one thing not new to the pandemic, however one thing that was exacerbated and highlighted.”

Within the final act of “Covid Crime,” Dr. Leo Chan speaks a typical Chinese language phrase. “Now we have a saying, ‘Swallow bitterness.’ Depart that behind. Gained’t work as of late!”

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