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Actress Christina Chan Addresses Human Rights Issues in Her Performance of "Unbinding Our Lives"

March 29, 2013

Actress Christina Chan talks with students after her one-woman performance on Wednesday.

Actress Christina Chan talks with students after her one-woman performance on Wednesday.

Actress Christina Chan challenged some students preconceptions when she visited their classes at Cheyney University on March 27.  She was on campus for her one-woman performance, Unbinding Our Lives, at Dudley Theatre and prior to her performance, she visited two African American Studies classes.  She opened her classroom conversations with a question. “Have you heard about the Chinese Exclusion Act? It deals with human trafficking and abusive labor policies. It’s like slavery. It happened here in America.”  

The classroom visits were a good preview for her hour-long program later that evening.  The slight Chinese woman filled the stage with riveting portrayals of three Chinese women who had been wrenched from their homes on another continent and brought to America against their will.  
 
The first, Ah Xun, described herself as a wild and stubborn young girl living in a mission in San Francisco.   Her happy childhood in China ended when she, one of many daughters in a poor family, was sold and taken to America.  Traumatic as that was, she made up her mind to live and also to help rescue other young girls from bondage.  “Although many girls killed themselves by not eating, I refused to be afraid,” she declared. 
 
Mary Tate, a suffragette and advocate for educating Chinatown’s children, was the second personality to take the stage.  Mary had been given away as a baby and never knew her family. Growing up at the San Francisco Ladies Relief Society she learned that knowledge is the door to economic opportunities. “Girls had no skills to earn a living. They lived far away from their families and had no friends.  They were very vulnerable and at the mercy of the men that kept them as concubines.”  That conviction inspired her campaign to make education available for girls.  
 
Le Loi Lethoi, a rugged old woman, recalled her story next.  “Father called me his golden treasure.”  But when he was sold into indenture and the household began to change, Leloi’s mother began to slowly unbind her small feet – a very painful process – so that she would be able to walk. Through the course of her life, Le Loi was sold, captured by bandits, escaped, and came to America during the gold rush. Because of social prejudices, the Chinese all lived in San Francisco's Chinatown.  For a time, she was a prostitute, then a personal servant – a concubine – who worked in a saloon. “They called me China Polly.  One day Johnny Bemis won me in a poker game.” Eventually he married her, although she confessed that it probably wasn’t legal because whites couldn’t marry Chinese. But they made a life together. Now old, she could grow vegetables in her garden, and was a midwife for all the friends in her community and was at peace with her life. 
 
Following the program, students gathered at the edge of the stage to share their observations and ask questions about the issues Chan had raised in her performance.Travonya Kenly, a regular Arts and Lectures program attendee, was drawn to the program because of her interest in China and future plans to work in China.  Ms. Kenly is teaching herself Mandarin and eager to have contact with all aspects of the Chinese culture. She was surprised to learn that Chinese immigrants had been just as repressed as African Americans.  "I would not  have thought that Asians would have been hit as hard as we were.  It was never in my mind that other races experienced discrimination in this country. Chan's program was outstanding."