Contributor Anastasia Kim reviews East West Player’s reading of Udaya Kanthi Salgadu’s Letters From My Mother.
As the first month of the new year comes to a close, I applaud the efforts of those who were, and still are, involved in the campaign to raise or heighten awareness of human trafficking and modern day slavery.
Last Thursday, January 20, 2011, my friends over at East West Players (EWP) invited me to a staged reading called Letters From My Mother written by Udaya Kanthi Salgadu and directed by Shaheen Vaaz. In collaboration with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), the East West Players managed to throw a wonderful exhibition spotlighting a heart wrenching yet inspiring story of courage, tenacity and hope brought forth by a mother’s love.
Letters From My Mother is story about a young, Sri Lankan high school graduate named Sripa who had to endure 26 months of forced labor in the United States. With the promise of a consistent salary that she’d be able to send back to her family underscoring her decision to leave everything behind, Sripa soon realizes that her life in the United States isn’t exactly what she’d envisioned. Without a way to contact her family, and not a single cent to her name, Sripa finds herself enslaved to the iniquity that is human trafficking. However, despite the bleakness of her situation, Sripa endures with great fortitude owing to her mother’s letters to her, and the care of an inquisitive neighbor, who later helps rescue her. As a storm gathers in her confidence, Sripa relinquishes fear, and in its stead, she embraces her mettle. Sripa takes her life back.
Thanks to the wonderful cast of talented actors such as Anjali Bhimani, Tamlyn Tomita, James Kyson Lee, Camille Mana, and many more, I saw quite a few teary-eyed members of the audience that night. The cast painted a realistic portrayal of what it must have been like to be in our playwright’s shoes, and we were definitely drawn into the story.
After the reading, a post show discussion panel followed suit where we were made intimately familiar with our real-life Sripa. The playwright, Udaya Kanthi Salgadu, who wrote Letters From My Mother based on her own experiences, was perhaps introduced much later to put the focus on the consequences of human trafficking rather than singling out the victims of it. She was remarkably cheery that night given the topic of her play, and stuck around to meet and greet the viewers. It was wonderful to see that she’d melded her experiences, courage, and resolve to showcase a powerful message not only relatable to victims of human trafficking but people across the board. It was amazing to see her speak from a position of resilience and accomplishment rather than from a position of victimization and weakness. This was her first play, and I hope that while she is on the path to becoming a valued nurse in our community, she will continue to share her words of wisdom with all of us.
There is an estimated 12.3 million people who are enslaved around the world today, according to CASTLA.org. It is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the 21st century. Although organizations and volunteers alike are putting forth great effort to impede its growth, human trafficking will not go away without a fight. Please help join this cause in stamping out human trafficking. Go to CASTLA.org and find out how you can help. Freedom and equality isn’t just black or white anymore. Let us fight to give everyone an equal hand at what they rightfully deserve.
– Anastasia Kim