Jessica Huang worried that too few people knew about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the first law meant to stop a specific ethnic group from coming to the United States.
So, as playwrights do, she decided to write a play about it.
“It was this 61-year span of time where Chinese people were not allowed to immigrate,” said Huang, a 30-year-old, multiracial playwright. “So I just thought it was very surprising that we don’t talk about that more.”
Doing research at the Minnesota History Center, she came upon the oral history of Harry Chin and his daughter, Sheila, who now lives in Waseca, Minn. Through years of interviews with Sheila — plus a bevy of books and documents — Huang learned the story of how Chin came to the United States. How his Chinese village raised money to purchase papers claiming he was the son of a U.S. native, making him a so-called “paper son.” How for months he was detained and questioned, eventually making it to Minnesota. How for decades, he and his family grappled with the personal consequences of U.S. policies.
The resulting play, “The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin,” directed by Mei Ann Teo, premieres Saturday at the History Theatre in St. Paul and runs through April 9.
About the photo: Song Kim plays Harry Chin in "The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin," which premieres Saturday. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis