Story of recent immigrant farmers "Vang" to be performed at Coe

Extra: Rod Pritchard, Director of Marketing and Public Relations
(319) 399-8605 or rpritcha@coe.edu

2014-10-01 10:49:50 - General

The story of recent immigrant farmers will be presented in the drama “Vang” at Coe College.  The play will be performed in Dows Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 9, beginning at 7 p.m.  It is open to the public at no charge.

Oftentimes, the public thinks of farmers as white males of European ancestry living in isolated rural areas, while perceiving immigrants as those who have slipped into the U.S. to take advantage of assistance programs. As a play about recent immigrant farmers, “Vang” dispels both of those stereotypes and opens discussion about how farming is done in the U.S. and how immigrants have become part of the larger agricultural picture.

Poet Laureate of Iowa Mary Swander, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Dennis Chamberlin and ACT Kennedy Center award-winner Matt Foss collaborated to create this drama called “Vang” (meaning “garden” or “farm” in Hmong). Swander and Chamberlin documented recent Iowa immigrant farmers. Swander wound their words together to form a verbatim play that captures the immigrants’ journeys to the U.S. Hmong, Mexican, Sudanese and Dutch immigrants all speak of their struggles, survival skills, and their intense desire to return to the land. Chamberlin took stunning photos of the immigrants in their greenhouses, farms and dairy barns. Foss added his theatrical brilliance to the production, bringing “Vang” to life on the stage. Michael Ching, past executive director of the Memphis opera, composed music to underscore the play’s message.

The immigrant farmers in this production came from four continents, speaking over six different languages, with multiple experiences of the world. In their own ways, they adjusted to life in America. Some of these immigrants came to the U.S. as refugees from war-torn parts of the world. Others came fleeing poverty in their homelands. Still others came with money, invited to join agri-business ventures. Many of these immigrants landed in the U.S. and took the only jobs they could find—in meatpacking plants and auto repair shops. However, all of these immigrants had grown up on farms and wanted to once again assume the livelihood that they had known in the past, the work that had formed the foundation of their cultural roots.

The entire play runs an hour and has two actors, male and female, who take on the parts of all eight immigrants. The play was written with a grant from the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities. Swander, Chamberlin and Foss hope to tour the play across the U.S. and Europe. The Coe presentation is sponsored by Coe Stars and the Committee on Diversity.