Saturday, September 18, 2010

San Francisco Fringe Festival: Paper Angels

"Paper Angels" written by San Francisco writer Genny Lim 30 years ago still resonates in today's immigrant communities, whether that is new arrivals from Asia or refugees from places like Haiti. Produced by the New York company, Direct Arts, directed by Victoria Linchong, the work looks at the immigrant detention camp on Angel Island (having its 100th Anniversary this weekend as well) which is described as "a larger Alcatraz," a place which was "the Bay Area's primary quarantine and 'disinfection' station, as the immigrant processing and detention center known as 'the Ellis Island of the West,'(

History haunts the island which is now a park, I can imagine the spirits of the Chinese who were once detained there laughing at how soon the tables turned on America now their home country-- China, now owns America.

Unlike Ellis Island where Europeans just outside NY were processed within hours of their arrival, even Chinese immigrants who were guaranteed admission, like students, were denied. Men and women spent days, even months, in the camps.

In Lim's play we see people who have been at the camp for over a year. What doesn't make sense are all the returning men who have been in America for 30-40 years. Familiarity should have brought with it some clout, but nothing helps shorten the processing time except money--bribes.

Laws supported this unfair treatment--the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882–1943, where "the intent of American law was to restrict severely and otherwise impede the entry of Asians—not merely ‘to distinguish between those individuals allowed to move freely and those who were not’ (McKeown 2003: 377). Just like Alcatraz too, Angel Island imprisoned Chinese immigrants, later POWs during WW2. (Robert Barde and Gustavo J. Bobonis's Detention at Angel Island 377).

"Like a bigger Alcatraz, Angel Island is an 'away' place for the city, now a park, but formerly as a site for activities undesirable in the midst of the city" (

Performed at dusk or about 7:30, the seats were all filled when I arrived. Locals sat on the fixtures, planters and the ground. When the play started there were no seats, and the creative people seated behind me had to stand as well to see.

I heard different languages spoken as old timers reflected on Lim's story, her father and mother and sister's story, as well as the story of so many on and off the stage that evening.

Multimedia projection served as a backdrop, often explaining or putting into context Lim's work. I loved the camaraderie among the men and women, both able to find pleasure and support in each other's company.

Listen to an interview with the playwright, Genny Lim at www.blogtalkradio/wandas-picks (Sept. 17, 2010). She was the final interview of the morning show at 9:30 AM. The interview is an hour.


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