YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsWva

Playwright speaks out against stereotypes

April 02, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Cherylene Lee never thought of her Chinese-American heritage as something some people would hate.

But when Chinese-American Vincent Chin was beaten to death in Detroit in 1982 by two unemployed autoworkers who thought he was Japanese, she began to think otherwise.

When the two killers got three years of probation instead of jail time, she felt her country had let her down.

"I felt very betrayed as an American," Lee told a group of about 40 students Wednesday night at Shepherd College.

Lee was commissioned by the Contemporary American Theater Festival to write a play about Chin's death.

The play, "Carry the Tiger to the Mountain," will debut at the festival on July 10.

Lee and CATF Producing Director Ed Herendeen were at the governor's mansion in Charleston, W.Va. on Sunday as part of Gov. Cecil Underwood's "One West Virginia" racial unity initiative.


Lee said she wanted a play to deal with racism in an emotional way, not create a legal drama about the Chin case or about the economic situation of the unemployed autoworkers.

Chin was a draftsman working for an engineering firm and was celebrating at his bachelor party with friends at a Detroit strip club when a brawl erupted with the autoworkers, who chased him five blocks before beating him with a baseball bat.

Lee, a fourth-generation Chinese-American, said she wanted to write a play centered on Chin's mother, Lily Chin.

Lily Chin became an activist against racism after her son's death but moved back to China, upset about the outcome of the state and federal cases against her son's killers.

"Lily Chin said it many times in her public speeches: 'Skin is different, but hearts are same,''' Lee said.

Lee said that people of color and women have to fight stereotypes.

As a trained geologist, she once chaired a meeting about installing an innovative waste treatment center at Walt Disney's Epcot Center in Florida. One of the first people to arrive at the meeting asked her if she was there to make the coffee, Lee said.

She said very few female playwrights get their works produced, though she often sees writing classes and workshops filled with women.

Herendeen said that of the 26 plays produced by the theater festival, 15 were written by women.

The Herald-Mail Articles