I am a new American, an immigrant of ethnic Chinese origin, from Singapore. I grew up when my country was still a British colony. My ancestors, originally from China, came to South East Asia as part of the great Chinese diaspora, in search of a better life. Then it was my family’s turn to leave to find a better life, a life without racial turmoil, or race riots and fear of Chinese communism as the British got rid of all their colonial possessions. They settled in Australia, but I continued on – to Oxford, England, then to Canada and America, sponsored by a Polish Solidarity member who had jumped ship in New York and who knew what it was like to be without a country. Immigration is in my DNA, it seeps through every pore in my body. On September 5, 2017, President Trump, with one stroke of his pen, revoked Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), upending the lives of DACA recipients—Dreamers—in the country that had become their home. I had to act.
I Am A Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams is my response to this revocation. At the time, I was working with Jorge Sosa, a new American like me, who came from Mexico. He’d been commissioned for White Snake Projects 2019 opera, MONKEY, A Kung Fu Puppet Parable. I asked if he would put MONKEY aside to work on a new opera on immigration. He agreed.
Dreamer explores the relationship of two immigrant women, Rosa, who is a Dreamer from Mexico, and Singa, an ethnic Chinese from Indonesia where the Chinese were persecuted for being Chinese. The two women have taken parallel paths to America: Rosa’s family fled the drug cartels in Mexico and Singa’s family, racial persecution in South East Asia. Both families seek a better life. Yet their futures in America are predetermined by their economic status in their home country. Rosa comes from a poor farming family; Singa, from a wealthy business family. Wealth is able to buy lawyers, education, and legality – the much-prized green card.
As we developed Dreamer together, Jorge and I realized that we have different viewpoints which are shaped by our different heritages and it is these differences that contribute to making Dreamer so richly nuanced and complex on many levels. Jorge is passionate about exposing the negative “myths” about Mexicans – that everyone is a drug dealer or rapist or another form of low-life. I’m passionate about exploring the myth of the “model minority,” to try to understand my life’s journey of breaking free of the passivity, obedience, and dependence that have been inculcated in all Asian women (and men) through our culture’s stories. I’m beginning to understand that my immigrant journey is also my psychic journey of shedding the negative parts of my heritage. Every immigrant has to remake themselves as they discover that there is no way back, no matter how uncomfortable it is to move forward in a strange land. In the course of remaking ourselves, we take the best values that our new homeland has to offer.
I’ve learned so much from my attempts to make America my home, about transformation, about openness, about dislocation. Dreamer is one way I can give back.
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