Actress and playwright Sue Jin Song is all too familiar with the everyday racism experienced by Asian Americans across the country.
“I was visiting a friend of mine in Irvine, in Orange County, and some white guy in a car was yelling horrible things at me…and doing the whole slanted eye thing. And he was a grown man,” Song says. “I thought, ‘Wow, I haven’t had anyone do that to me since I was a kid.'”
Song believes that such overt racism was “normalized and celebrated during the Trump years,” noting that it “was always there, but people are quite open and proud about it now in a way that they wouldn’t have felt they could a few years ago.”
At the same time, things have improved in the decades since Song was the only person of Asian descent in her acting classes at New York University, where “there were people, very liberal artists — very woke, they would have thought — but they were completely blind to the kinds of pressures that I had as an Asian-American actress.”
“When I would try to talk about my struggles with that, there was absolutely no interest in hearing about it. There was just none. There was a lot of talk about the Black/white experience, but not about the Asian experience. It wasn’t really acknowledged as being different. So that was really frustrating, but I think now people are getting a little more attuned to the fact that Asian Americans have dealt with discrimination as well.”
Song is currently starring in Women of Medea, a one-person play kicking off Constellation Theatre’s new season. Song portrays three members of a Korean-American family as well as the fairy tale heroes of the oldest girl, plus the infamous Medea from Greek mythology.
The play was inspired by Song’s love of theater. “I read the Greek play Medea in high school, and I was just horrified [and] really haunted by her,” says Song, who grew up in McLean, Va., the oldest of four children raised by Korean immigrants. She also only ever intended it to be seen in the theater — until the ongoing pandemic made that impossible.
“The beautiful thing about theater, but also the sad thing about theater, is that it’s so ephemeral, kind of like life — once it’s done, it’s done.” That won’t be the case with Children of Medea, captured by a videography team hired by Constellation. “Here we’ll have a living record, and there’s something kind of neat about that,” she says.
Children of Medea is available as video on demand through May 16. Tickets are $20. Call 202-204-7741 or visit www.constellationtheatre.org.
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