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Thank you Emily. It is truly an honor to stand here amongst such powerful and inspiring women. Thank you to the League of Professional Women for recognizing my work as a director and a director who has tried to be the change I want to see – by directing culturally diverse work and committing to telling underrepresented stories.
It’s such an honor to stand here to accept this award. Because I’ve been fighting to tell these stories on the American stage for the last twelve years. And fighting to create a new vision of “America” and “American.” Yesterday was the closing of Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady, inspired by the real life Afong Moy, the first Chinese female immigrant in America. Tomorrow I begin tech of Qui Nguyen’s sequel to Vietgone, a new play titled Poor Yella Rednecks, which tells the story of his parents, Viet refugees and their struggle to survive as – well -- poor, yellow, rednecks in El Dorado Arkansas. Both stories feature strong, powerful immigrant women who fight against a system stacked against them. At a time when the word immigrant is synonymous with degrading, humiliating, violent epithets, these stories couldn’t be more urgent. With humor, intelligence and revolutionary spirit, both stories humanize the refugee and immigrant experience. And in the telling of their stories, we weave another perspective into the fabric of American culture and history, righting what has been largely left ignored or vilified.
The fight for equity and fairness is something that has been deeply ingrained in me. And I can’t think of its exact origin of the passion to fight for equity and fair representation. Perhaps it originated from my growing up in a tiny town in rural Southwest Virginia and pushing back against the limitations imposed by race, class and gender. Maybe it’s a product of just being a woman – a person who has had to fight for a place at the table and learn the power of my voice. I also like to think it’s from being a 1st generation immigrant, fighting for visibility and equity, and staking a claim in this country in the culture and the history. Maybe in part it’s also from being really short and having to be loud and energetic out of necessity.
It’s really all those things. But really I credit the extraordinary women who raised me, my mother Jocelyn Divinagracia, my sisters, JoAnn, Gina and Tricia. They taught me by example how to fight in both big and small ways for justice in the home, our community and the world at large. They nurtured with generosity and love my fighting spirit and they helped cultivate my own voice so that I might use it for a greater purpose and within my art.
When I was growing up -- When I held ambitions, I wasn’t told I was aggressive or cute. Whenever I was forthright and direct, I was told I was confident, not difficult. When I was bossy or assertive, I was praised as a leader rather than some of the other unkind words that refer to me now when I exhibit those same behaviors. When I was angry and emotional, I was challenged to turn that into productivity instead of merely to “be nice” “be calm” and “get used to the system.”
Now that I’m going to be a mother myself, I think of this little one growing inside me and think of the opportunity I will pave for her or him. How I will nurture this little one to use her voice and nurture a fighter. The little peanut is expected significantly on July 4th. It’s what some may call America’s birthday. So I like that this little fighter may be born on the same day. And usher forth a new kind of America and new kind of revolutionary fight.
Thank you again for this honor. Thank you also to Brad, Chad and Seth who are here cheering me on tonight. And thank you all for believing in the impact of the stories I tell.