At the Garrison Theater on Saturday Oct. 29, father-son duo Hao Huang and Micah Huang PZ ’13 performed “American Dreams/Asian Nightmares.” The performance was a combined musical and spoken word piece addressing the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The performance included Micah Huang’s creative partner Emma Gies PZ ’14, who also collaborated with him on “Blood on Gold Mountain,” and a musical guest on the Chinese flute.
Split into three parts — “Other Bodies,” “Other Minds” and “Other Futures” — the performance combined sonic art, traditional Chinese musical instruments and technology to paint an audiovisual portrait of the violence Asian Americans have experienced during the pandemic and throughout American history. Instruments like the guzheng and pipa accompanied sonic and audiovisual stimuli, making for an immersive audience experience.
In their spoken word portions, the performers also integrated tweets that contained slurs targeted towards Asian people tweeted during the COVID-19 pandemic and paid tribute to Asian Americans who lost their lives to hate crimes.
In a prelude to the performance over pre-recorded audio, Hao Huang explained the show’s purpose to the audience.
“Our purpose is not to make people feel guilty or to get angry … to develop empathy or understanding is to move beyond a sympathy that entails being sorry for somebody else, because I think for us true empathy comes from doing the work to understand our fellow human being,” he said.
The performance also explored an element of the Asian American experience of being “othered,” highlighted by the increase in hate crimes during the pandemic. In part three, “Other Futures,” Huang contemplated the nature of what it is to be the “other.”
“To be the other is to be a stranger, surrounded by a crowd of people who belong,” Haung said. “To know that everybody’s voices and stories take precedence over yours and wondering, what separates me from these people?”
The performance struck a chord with many members of the audience. Emma Liang SC ’26 saw the piece as vital to situating anti-Asian hate during the pandemic in the broader violence of Asian American history.
“Asian American history [and] California history is not something that’s very widely educated about and very well known. And this performance is an effort to combat that,” Liang said. “The retelling of these stories is a way to hopefully work towards not making the same mistakes again.”
Jenna Elliot SC ’25 found the piece vital in expanding upon violence that could easily be ignored.
“I also really appreciated all of the touching on all the things that happened during the pandemic,” Elliot said. “The language that started happening as a result of that … I remember reading about it but I think this was a different way to experience it to get a more complete, a better understanding.”
The performance’s rumination on placelessness struck Nancy Chen PZ ’24 as profoundly touching.
“I especially like [how] the professor came in [at] the end [and] he talked about a sense of homelessness or placelessness,” Chen said. “I feel like that’s definitely a thing for a lot of international students, especially Chinese students, because we’re in the middle ground between two countries, and it’s hard to kind of identify ourselves now.”
Liang also expressed how the piece inspired her to turn to her roots in moments of crisis.
“I’ve interpreted [part of the performance] as using music as something to turn to when turning to your roots in needing comfort and looking for hope,” Liang said. “And then that’s something I carried with me through the rest of the performance, and that might be a way of viewing that I can choose to carry with me and my personal day-to-day experiences … if and when I do experience violence on my Asian American background.”
“American Dreams/Asian Nightmares” found resonance with students and adults alike. Through celebrating Asian American roots to combat violence against the AAPI community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the performance encouraged togetherness in the face of hate.