Asian-American Lawyers Act Like '22 Lewd Chinese Women' : Code Switch A cast of lawyers and a federal judge in New York City perform dramatic re-enactments of historic trials involving Asian-Americans. Their latest production, 22 Lewd Chinese Women, focuses on a 19th-century Supreme Court case with parallels to present-day immigration debates.
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Asian-American Lawyers Act Like '22 Lewd Chinese Women'

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Asian-American Lawyers Act Like '22 Lewd Chinese Women'

Asian-American Lawyers Act Like '22 Lewd Chinese Women'

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This week, a nontraditional courtroom drama made its debut - not on Broadway but in Kansas City, Missouri, at an annual convention of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. A group of New York lawyers and a federal judge reenacted a historic trial involving Asian-Americans. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang sat in on a rehearsal.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: High up on a 38th-floor conference room at Cadwalader Wickersham and Taft, lawyers are running through testimony.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: For what purpose did you come to California?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Through Translator) She came here to marry husband. She's engaged to be married.

WANG: They're not preparing for court. Instead, they're headed to the stage.

DENNY CHIN: On August 24, 1874, after a 30-day voyage from Hong Kong...

WANG: This dramatic reading brings back to life a Supreme Court case from the 19th century. "22 Lewd Chinese Women" is the latest dramatic reenactment by the Asian American Bar Association of New York. The case focuses on a group of Chinese women traveling without husbands or children. They were deemed, quote, "lewd and debauched." And California law at the time banned them from entering the U.S. unless each paid $500 in gold. The state law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1875. Lauren Lee is a regular cast member in the reenactments. In past performances, she's played...

LAUREN LEE: An exotic dancer. I've also played Supreme Court justices, and this time I'm playing the trial judge.

WANG: Which means she gets to wear a black robe. But for the most part, costuming and sets are minimal. Past reenactments include a trial that began in 1949.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Iva Toguri) Greetings, everybody. This is your number one enemy, your favorite playmate Orphan Ann on Radio Tokyo.

WANG: Iva Toguri was accused of treason for broadcasting propaganda on Japanese radio during World War II. GIs knew her as Tokyo Rose.

CHIN: There was a lot of unfairness in the way the proceedings were handled.

WANG: Judge Denny Chin serves on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He's sentenced former financier Bernie Madoff. And on the side, he helps to write and narrate the reenactments, along with his wife.

CHIN: She wants to cuts my parts and I want to cut her parts.

WANG: How do you work it out?

KATHY CHIN: He says that I always win, but it's a great deal of fun.

WANG: Attorney Kathy Chin says weekends and vacations are often spent digging through old newspaper accounts, court transcripts and other historical documents to piece together scripts. So, these aren't dusty, old court cases?

CHIN: No, this is a lot about building awareness of how history does repeat itself. So many of the themes that we treat in these reenactments are still very relevant today.

WANG: And these reenactments may be coming to a stage near you. Chin says they've already received inquiries about their latest script from college theater departments in New Jersey, North Carolina, and Kansas. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.


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