Marking the one week anniversary of the tragedy in Atlanta, the Obie Award-winning advocacy group for Asian American performers released a statement today, drawing a line between systemic exclusion and the dehumanization that led to last week’s atrocities:
We, the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, stand in solidarity with our fellow artists and AAPI organizations and the rest of the world to mourn the loss of 8 lives on March 16th, 6 belonging to women of Asian descent. We say their names to honor their lives and emblazon their memory in our minds.
Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33
Daoyou Feng, 44
Xiaojie Emily Tan, 49
Hyun Jung Grant, 51
Paul Andre Michels, 54
Yong Ae Yue, 63
Sun Cha Kim, 69
Soon Chung Park, 74
We also honor
Pak Ho, 75
Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84
Noel Quintan, 61
They are but the latest victims in an alarming rise in violence against Asian Americans, particularly Asian women, over the last year. As an arts advocacy organization, we recognize that harm to anyone in our community affects us all. We also watch as the media continues to center the narrative of the shooter over the stories of the victims whose lives were so tragically ended. On March 17th, Atlanta Cherokee County Sheriff insisted that racism had not been proven in association with these crimes. We resoundingly reject this notion, given that all three spas targeted were owned by Asian women. The burden of proof should not be placed on the victim nor should our community have to demonstrate how the targeting of immigrants and the hyper-sexualization of Asian women has led to this tragedy.
In our own industry, we have witnessed this same white supremacist narrative in the form of the exotification, dehumanization and erasure of Asian men and women on America’s stages. Words matter. Representation matters. The perpetuation of hideous and inaccurate stereotypes, only seeing our stories via a White lens, and removing us from the American narrative through exclusion are all directly connected and have their ramifications. They dehumanize us to the point that some believe we are expendable enough to further erase with cold blooded murder. History is remembered by the stories that we tell and if our stories are silenced, so are we.
Our work at AAPAC has shown that our narratives are consistently minimized and overlooked. The victims of this tragedy were all at work, trying to earn a living during a time of duress and take care of their families who relied on them, but American storytelling rarely depicts Asian women as working members of our society, if they depict Asian women at all. Our stories rarely make it to the stage at all. Preliminary findings from our upcoming Visibility Report show that in the 2018-19 New York season, Asian American actors were cast in just 6.3% of all available roles; Asian American Playwrights, composers, librettists and lyricists made up just 4.9% of all writers produced and Asian American directors helmed only 4.5% of all productions. The Asian American theatre companies who have consistently been nurturing API artists, telling the stories that uplift and empower us and have been centers of healing and community are vastly underfunded in comparison to the larger, predominantly White theatre companies.
Theaters cannot stand by and continue to be complicit in this violence. We know all too well that statements are empty without action, so we ask the following of all NYC theaters: How does your theater erase Asian stories? How does your theater contribute to problematic narratives that add to a culture of violence against the Asian community? How will you commit to the Asian community, not as a reflex in a state of emergency, but as foundational to the work of dismantling white supremacy? What will you do?
The mission of Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) is to expand the perception of Asian American performers in order to increase their access to and representation on New York City’s stages. AAPAC publishes the only publicly available annual statistics report on racial representation in the NYC area of its kind, and has been a leader in discussions and forums on diversity with artistic institutions and the Broadway community. In 2020, the company was given an Obie Award for advocacy in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion. www.aapacnyc.org