Hear me now. Photo courtesy Chapman University
Hear me now. Photo courtesy Chapman University

Racism With Feeling

Say it with feeling: Nigger. Wetback. Chink. The three great American ethnic stereotypes (the Injuns, as usual, get short shrift). Ugly, vile words. Now imagine these words repeated over and over, again and again, faster and faster to howls and applause. No, it's not the start of a meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, but the opening and title of a wildly successful play crafted by three former UCLA students—yep, a nigger, a wetback and a chink.

In 2004, Rafael Agustin (the wetback), Miles Gregley (the nigger) and Allan Axibal (the chink but really a Filipino, so he's technically a Flip) spent a brainstorming session reflecting on the problems each experienced as minorities in America. Rather than weep and moan about it like so many college students, the three decided to write monologues about their experiences and debuted it that spring. The show quickly became a Los Angeles phenomenon and just recently began a barnstorming college tour that will visit Chapman University in between appearances in Cleveland and Pennsylvania.

Chapman has unfortunately closed Nigger Wetback Chinkto the public, and it's a damn shame. Using the beloved college lefty concept of reappropriation, Agustin, Gregley and Axibal use the play to reflect on the stereotypes that America's three largest minority groups face, whether good (big dick, hard worker, model minority) or bad (nigger, wetback, chink). Each actor is a natural comic who communicates his painful life experiences with an earnestness that doesn't depend on invisible violins to wrench tears from the audience. The show's best moments come from these monologues—Axibal speaking about considering a surgery that would make his eyes look less "Asian"; Agustin remembering an INS beach raid yards from where his illegal-immigrant family basked in the sun.

Nigger Wetback Chink is provocative in a feel-good, safe sort of way—more George Lopez than Carlos Mencia, more Steve Harvey than Dave Chappelle—and its cuddly approach to prickly issues sometimes keeps the show from pushing the incendiary borders established by its title. The show ends on a healing note asking for "dialogue" amongst the races—a good thing, but an idea that seems hopelessly quaint and Pollyanna-ish in this modern world of The Boondocks. Then again, it's a concept sorely needed 'round here: last week, Irvine police discovered anti-black slurs graffittied across the city's exclusive Turtle Ridge neighborhood. If Chapman cared about Orange County, it would open its doors to the public this Friday. Considering Chapman still draws a mostly white, mostly rich student body (full disclosure: I'm a Chapman alum), perhaps Nigger Wetback Chink might stave off another generation of wealthy racists by the very minorities they dismiss as niggers, wetbacks and chinks.



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