April 6, 2012 | By Yvonne Lim Wilson
Tired of always seeing the Asian nerd, the kung-fu master or the ever popular Asian doctor? Local actor/producer Leng Wong is working to create a space for Asian Americans to tell their own stories, from their own perspectives.
With a mission to promote original works by artists of Asian descent or works about the Asian American experience, Wong founded Asian American Arts Collective (AAAC) in 2011. The goal is to provide a consistent outlet for Asian American expression.
“Even if I stand here and don’t say a word, people come with expectations about who I am,” said Wong, speaking of the stereotypes of Asian Americans. “It’s great to be represented as a doctor on TV, but what if that doctor has a drinking problem? The reason why I’m in the entertainment business is to challenge perceptions on what it’s like to be an Asian American.”
The first project of AAAC is to present a performance art showcase, entitled Lucky Chaos, whose motto is: “Create Art, Create Identity, Create Possibilities,” which summarizes Wong’s goal to provide a space for Asian Americans to tell their own stories and shape their own identities.
With its debut, Lucky Chaos is presenting five works, including two plays, two short films and one set of improvisational works. All works are written/directed by Asian Americans; eight of the nine performers are Asian American.
Headlining the set is “Cheese,” a funny and touching play by local writer Irwin Tang about a Chinese-American family dealing with generational differences. Conflict erupts when the thrifty father brings home government issued cheese, ruining his wife’s elaborate dinner. The children don’t understand his thriftiness, but begin to empathize as we see scenes from his childhood during the war in China.
Other works include:
“Forgotten Trail” by Sharanya Rao. A reflective and melancholy play about a South Asian woman who finds a tricycle during a volunteer clean-up session Town Lake finds a tricycle. This triggers memories from her own life.
“Clay” by Sushma Khadepaun-Parmar. A short film about letting go, narrated through a South Asian lens. Beautiful visuals. Work-in-progress.
“Post Racial” by Tim Tsai. A short film about a screenwriter dogged down by political correctness. Viewers see the writer’s story continually being reworked on screen to make it more politically correct to hilarious results.
“Love, Chaos” a series of improvisational works conceived and directed by Leng Wong. Performed by the LC FIVEE, exploring identity and self-expression. Every performance will have different outcomes, depending on the performers.
While these works all express something unique about the Asian American experience, they can also be appreciated for their universal messages of family, childhood, love, loss, culture, identity and self-expression.
“Some of us have had a previous life [in a different country], and somehow we mesh those values and experiences and make it work,” Wong said.
Wong has already received a lot of excitement and positive response from the local Asian American community. When asked why something like this so needed, Wong cited a study where violence against Asian Americans have become more brutal.
“They see us as a homogeneous group, as if we’re not human,” she said. “That is the biggest danger, not seeing you as an individual, even if it’s mostly a good perception. At the end of the day, I want people to see us as individuals and it’s hard to do that if they don’t see us as complex human beings just as we are.”
Wong also cites the higher-than-average suicide rates among Asian Americans, adding that self-expression is a major obstacle for Asian Americans.
“It’s the same thing that makes us a ‘model minority’ - it’s self-reliance,” she said. “If I have a problem, then I’m not going to talk about it and just deal with it. If I would talk about it, express it through art, then I would involve others in my pain. It’s not something we are used to doing.”
Asian American voices expressed through these works and showcasing them all together in one evening is something to celebrate. Come support this new arts project!
“Cheese and Other Oddities” will be performed at Salvage Vanguard Theater Friday and Saturday evenings, April 13 to 21. For details and tickets, visit www.luckychaos.com.