Asian Monologues returns for a third year
On Saturday, students and faculty came through the mist and rain to attend the third production of The Asian Monologues, a performance piece created and directed by Sydney Mercado‘19. The show was held in the black-box Bunge Theater, filled to the brim with an eager audience. The spartan set, a microphone against a black curtain, was fitting for a show that would prove to be honest, specific, and effective.
The crowd cheered as Mercado took the stage unceremoniously, walking simply to the microphone and welcoming everyone to the show. Mercado eyed the audience as she introduced the show, outlining her expectations for the audience with an intensity in her gaze that was welcoming, but assertive. It was acceptable to leave at any point in the show. If you were white and feel discomfort, guilt or sadness, you must examine why. The show will not be described as “powerful.”
The Asian Monologues was composed of six separate monologues written and performed by each of the six performers. Linh Thi Dieu Nguyen‘20 began the show with a piece entitled, “Asian Monologues.” Nguyen explained the ways in which participating in the show previously has helped her to think about the ways in which she can speak about her identity as an Asian person.
Next, Zhengyue Li‘20 performed “China,” a stunning and exacting exploration of the ways societal roles are changed fundamentally between cultural contexts. Li described the alienation she feels around her white American friends. Despite being a naturally talkative and confidently successful person, she is quiet with them.
Li talked about how American culture is highly individualistic, whereas Chinese culture places more emphasis on the collective. Everyone should play their role and play it well. For Li, part of living in America has been discovering that she is gay. After dating her non-binary partner for a year, she came out to her parents, described as homophobic.
Her parents did not accept her, and her mother announced at the same time that she had advanced lung cancer. In China, Li said that she pretends to be straight and has helped support her family as her mother is treated for her illness.
The collectivistic and individualistic mindsets clash in both cultural contexts. Her American friends, she said, do not understand that her parents will never accept her, and that she will never forgive herself for coming out to them.
Wry and unflinching, Li delivered the monologue with an impressive precision, moving conversationally through a variety of intersecting topics and stories. “China” seemed to express the ongoing difficulty in reconciling individualist and collectivist understandings within both contexts, and the many roles she plays in both. Li ended it abruptly, pained, seemingly signaling that there is no clear or easy solution for her.
Jiming Song‘19 performed, “A tale of two cities,” in which she described the ways she adjusted to living in Shanghai after moving there from Shenyang. In Shenyang, most dishes are salty, whereas in many are sweet in Shanghai. The language varies greatly between the two cities, and Song had to learn to understand it.
Eventually, Song moved back to Shenyang, and was surprised by how hard it was to adjust to the city she had once felt most comfortable in. She explained that, because of her relationship with the two distinct cities, she does not know what to tell people when they ask her where in China she is from, so she just says that she is from China.
Hannah Yee‘19 performed, “thank u, next.” She spoke about what it’s like to be fourth generation Chinese. Even though her grandparents were born in America, she is still asked where she is “really from,” and is complimented on her English.
Yee said that she used to feel ashamed to be Chinese. Going to a high school where 60% of her peers were Asian helped her feel more comfortable in her identity. Her decision to come to Beloit has been a challenge in its own way. When Yee arrived, only 1% of Beloit College was Asian-American, a total of thirteen students. Yee said frankly that this has been alienating, and that white people at the college cause Asian students pain. Her friends and boyfriend are white, and as such can’t fully understand her experience or the microaggressions she is subjected to.
Yee’s monologue was characterized by resolve. She said that she does not regret coming to Beloit, and that being here has helped her appreciate her identity and reconnect with it. Yee announced that she will be participating in a San Francisco based program that will allow her and other students to learn more about their Chinese heritages, culminating in a trip to China, where Yee will be able to visit her family’s original village.
Yee said that she is excited to bring that history back with her to her family, and that all falling leaves return to their roots.
Two professors also took part in The Asian Monologues. Professor of Anthropology Jennifer Esperanza’s monologue, entitled “Schooled,” told a story about how she used to fool her parents into believing made up American customs, since many immigrants rely on their children to translate language and cultural norms.
Around Christmas, when Esperanza was eight, she told her mother that they had to leave out chocolate chip cookies and milk for Santa or he wouldn’t give her a Barbie townhouse. She was heartbroken when her mother bought moon cakes instead, setting out a mug of tea and not milk. She believed Santa would not give her the townhouse because he would be disappointed that they hadn’t left him the right food.
In the morning, Esperanza got the townhouse and, to her surprise, Santa had eaten the moon cakes and drank the tea. Esperanza said her mom taught her about the value of her own culture.
Professor of History Ian Nie ended the show with the loose and casual monologue, “I hate titles.” His family arrived in Hawaii the same day it was naturalized as the 50th U.S State, but were forced to wait eight and a half hours in the airplane hangar because Vice President Richard Nixon was visiting at the same time and officials wanted to keep them away from him.
Nie moved to Beloit with his family soon after. During an exercise in school where the students had to vote for Nixon or JFK. Nie didn’t know much about either candidate, but was the only one who voted against Nixon in his class because of his experience at the airport.
The Asian Monologues was a production strengthened by its commitment to honest expressions of individual experience. Willing to be uncomfortable, yet also seeking to share, Mercado’s production succeeds in creating a show that is vulnerable, but emotionally precise. Each monologue stands on its own and as part of the ensemble, the format itself illustrating that there is no one Asian experience. Stunning and true, The Asian Monologues triumphs again.