I recently attended the play, The Chinese Massacre (Annotated), written by Tom Jacobson and directed by Jeff Liu. If you haven’t already seen it, go! It is playing over at Circle X Theater Co. There are only three more showings left this weekend! And it’s always good to support community-based theater. Plus, you can bring wine and beer inside the theater.
Historians and journalists have presented the events during 1871 that have come to be called the “Chinese Massacre” in many ways, most commonly as the last chapter in Los Angeles’ “wild west” story, just before U.S. whites aggressively asserted so-called “law and order.” As a recent article in the LA Weekly demonstrates, it is popularly known as LA’s first race riot, and continues to be sensationalized in present-day dime-novel style. If we think of “race” in terms of US-based cultural constructions of race, it may have been LA’s first race riot. But considering the history of Spanish colonization before the United States occupied this land, and then the fact that the United States still occupies this land, the events of 1871 are a much more complex and part of a longer trajectory of imperialism and violence.
It is an important marker in the historical experiences of Chinese in Southern California — an especially violent anti-Chinese event. Between 18-22 Chinese men and boys were killed, mostly by lynching. Those who were indicted for their murder were both white and Mexican. It is also an important marker in the transition from Spanish-Mexican to U.S. rule. Of course I could go on and on, but you’ll have to read my book for that! (If it ever gets published…if I ever finish writing it…)
The play was excellent! Although some of it was fictionalized, the main story about the 1871 events was really well-done. And I think some of the fictional parts were necessary for the audience to understand what was going on historically at the time. Tom Jacobson brilliantly includes insightful annotations, with information about source materials as well as key information about LA and the region that help the audience to contextualize the story. Not only that, but he also notes the connections to other “race riots” in LA history, notably the Zoot Suit Riots and the Watts Riots, as a way to encourage the audience to think about the larger history of rioting in LA, even if in vastly different historical moments. Jeff Liu took great care to make sure accents and representations were well and justly executed. I wish I knew more about theater, or I would say so much more and I would say it much more elegantly.
Go see it!