Eliza GoingContributing Writer
Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni performed her well-known one-woman play challenging the construct of race, “One Drop of Love,” on Sept. 18 and 19 in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre. In this show, she not only tells the story of her own experiences with race as a multicultural woman, but she also gives a taste of many different incidents experienced by people of varying ages, backgrounds and cultural identities through the ups and downs of their most intimate relationships.
The play is presented in two formats. In one, DiGiovanni plays a variety of different characters talking conversationally about their experience with race; in the other, she jumps through U.S. history as a census taker. A projector lights up a simple white screen with the year and race section of the corresponding census.
With the year 1790 broadcast on screen, DiGiovanni begins the show by walking through the audience and animatedly counting the members of an undefined group of people: “Okay, we have you, you and you! So that’s three … Not you, and not you, but here’s another one! We got four!” After making a round through the theatre, she explains that she counted nine free, white men, and then she goes on to count all the free, white women and all the slaves, including herself.
Periodically throughout the rest of show, a newer year and census are projected onto the screen, expanding to reflect the growing collection of officially recognized ethnic categories: Mulatto, Hindi, Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Other. She continues to label audience members according to their classifications of race for the given time period, even asking for a “show of hands” on some of the more ethnically ambiguous ones. When several people agree that one particular woman should be labeled as white instead of Indian, she exclaims, “You know your own kind!” to nervous, pins-and-needles laughter.
Tying the census into the play introduces a political component that connects the stories of racial injustice to a tangible account of the government’s inattention toward racial or cultural identity. Only in 2010 did it become possible to check more than one box on the census. “I’m glad she connected the personal and the political in this way because, to me, they’re inextricably linked, and one can’t talk about one without the other,” Elizabeth Haas ’17 said.
Transitioning to a more personal note, DiGiovanni beautifully embodies a number of different characters’ experiences with cultural and racial identity, as well as racism, political injustice and survival.
One of the most compelling stories she tells involves her father, originally from Jamaica, and her European husband, Diego. When she gets engaged to Diego, DiGiovanni fears her father will disapprove, as she hadn’t seen him talk to a single white person besides her mother since the two of them divorced.
Even after DiGiovanni and her fiancé decide to have the wedding in Jamaica for her father, he doesn’t show much interest, deflecting the conversation to topics like the weather and, “Did you see the game last night?” But when he doesn’t come to the wedding, their relationship suffers a hiatus and they are distant for years until DiGiovanni’s grandmother, on her deathbed, tells DiGiovanni to call her father and make amends.
Now, on the phone with her father for the first time in years, DiGiovanni doesn’t know what to say. She asks about the game last night and the weather, but she mostly clenches her teeth on a more pressing question. “Dad, did you not come to my wedding because I married a European?” The words suddenly slam hard into the receiver.
Her father assures her it wasn’t about Diego or his background, but rather that he “wasn’t bold enough to face” going back to Jamaica and seeing all the family he has lost over the years. Seeing her father admit his vulnerability was enlightening for Fanshen, and having this uncomfortable conversation brought them closer than they had been in years. A recording of this phone conversation plays over a slide show of pictures of DiGiovanni and her dad. “I’m so happy about our new relationship,” she says, crying.
The story of healing her relationship with her dad exemplifies the way uncomfortable conversations need to happen to create change. “If you’re not uncomfortable when you’re talking about race,” DiGiovanni mentions in the Q&A session after the show, “you’re doing it wrong.” Progress comes from acknowledging the tension we feel when we look around at the faces of people who were just labeled as slaves or as white by popular vote.
Despite countless sickening, racially-charged injustices flooding the news every day, DiGiovanni said she isn’t worried about the younger generation when it comes to issues of acceptance, diversity and love. “The people in the position of power in the dominant culture decide what change looks like.” It’s only a matter of time.