Asian American History and CU Denver’s Night at the Theater

November 14, 2022

This semester, CU Denver’s Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) Operational Team and the Office of Advancement collaborated with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) for a special performance of the award-winning play The Chinese Lady, written by Lloyd Suh and directed by Seema Sueko. The play is a fictionalized account of Afong Moy, the first known Chinese woman in America who was featured as the marquis attraction of an exhibit. The play highlights untold and marginalized stories—and at times painful experiences—of Asian Americans in U.S. history.  

The evening began with a reception in the CU Denver Experience Gallery, an exhibition space on the campus of the DCPA that is managed and operated by the College of Arts & Media. Sixty members of the CU Denver community, including students, alumni, faculty, staff, and supporters, converged in the gallery to learn about the pilot programs presented by the AANAPISI Operational Team and CU Denver’s commitment to becoming the first Equity-Serving Institution in the nation.  

Soyon Bueno, director of Asian American Student Services (AASS) and chief organizer of the event, expressed what the play meant for her office and as a life-long member of the Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Denver: “It is rare for students and the Denver community to have an opportunity to watch a play written and directed by Asian Americans, with an all Asian American cast, and a story that focuses on an Asian American woman,” Bueno said. “The play was a valuable cultural experience for students as well as educational, as students learned about the history of the first Asian woman immigrant in the U.S, Denver’s anti-Chinese riot in 1880, and the long history of anti-Asian legislations and violence.”  

The DCPA provided the CU Denver community with discounted tickets to the play and featured alum Annie Guo VanDan (MBA, Health Administration, 2012) as the moderator of a post-performance discussion. During the conversation with the cast, VanDan generated lively conversation through thought-provoking questions about the role of language, identity, and the immigrant experience. “In the last line of the play, Afong Moy asks, ‘Do you see me?’, which is so relevant to the long experience of Asian Americans, who feel unseen and unheard,” VanDan said. “Our stories are often untold as our community is underrepresented in most spaces, so it was affirming that evening to see a packed house of Asian Americans in the audience, watching Asian Americans performing on stage. There was a strong sense of connection and deeper understanding of the Asian American history and experience.” 

The success of The Chinese Lady will lead to more engagement events to help connect members of the AAPI community at CU Denver.