“Coming From Where I’m From” highlights the role of past experiences in shaping opinions

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ROSA CARAMAZZA/SAGAMORE STAFF

In this year’s Spring Play, “Coming From Where I’m From,” a group of students, played by juniors Maya van Overbeeke-Costello, Ta’mar Thompson, Lexi Danesco, Din Klein and seniors Dee-nah Wattana and Ourie Ophir-Azoulay meet to discuss an incident that occurred at their school.

A chorus of urgent voices and frantic bodies fills the Black Box as the stage lights flood the room in a bright haze. The five figures that stand in the light each clamor for the upperground in a heated debate.

This year’s spring play, “Coming From Where I’m From” is directed by Associate Dean Summer L. Williams. Written by cast and crew, the show tackles the difficult topic of race and aims to shed a light on the role one’s backstory plays in shaping their viewpoints on the world.

The play begins with a group of Burton high school students debating over what to do about the disruption of a race-related assembly. The play is pieced together by anecdotes about different characters’ experiences with racism and socioeconomic or familial hardships. Within those anecdotes were flashbacks to the students’ childhoods and their encounters with racism.

There were five major characters whose experiences the story focused on. First was Kim Barachai (senior Dee-nah Wattana), a Thai-American experiencing model minority stereotyping. The next character was Lulu Alderson (junior Din Klein), who consistently oversteps her boundaries as a white girl fighting against racism. Then comes Charlotte Morgan (junior Maya van Overbeeke-Costello), who believes that white privilege simply does not exist. The audience next sees the backstory of Jamie Richardson (senior Ourie Ophir-Azoulay), who hates school but loves the attention of his classmates. Lastly, Kamala Wright (junior Lexi Danesco), who learns the truth about racism from her parents at a young age.

The backstory of each character provides the context for their stance on how they react to the disruption of the assembly. The play unravels the reasons behind the conflicting opinions of the characters and allows the audience to if not sympathize, at least understand the position of the characters. “Coming From Where I’m From” managed to do this in a way that did not shame or present any viewpoints as wrong, letting the audience come to these conclusions themselves.

As we see in this show, microaggressions have huge impact despite innocent intent. One of the students, Jamie, is the class-clown of the group. His free and childish demeanor is revealed to be a mask that hides the truth behind his character, and the challenges he has faced in his role in his family. Throughout the play, Jamie is seen making jokes, laughing and not taking matters seriously. In the flashbacks of the other characters, Jamie and other participants make seemingly harmless jokes that do in fact upset the characters of color. The intent of the joke or comment that was said was never meant to be rude or hurtful but comes across that way anyway.

In one of the earlier scenes of the play, Kim goes over to a friend’s house for a party and the friend’s parents greet her at the door. They make small talk and the parents bring up how the friend is struggling in math. They turn to Kim and ask her if she will help their child with math. Kim quickly responds that she is having trouble in math herself and doesn’t think that she would be the best tutor for math. That interaction may seem to have little impact but the truth behind the words is more poignant. The idea of Asian-Americans being the model minority is a concept that hides the history of oppression and discrimination that Asian-Americans have faced.

The play also touched upon the concept of socioeconomic status and how there are different aspects of oppression. Charlotte, a Burton student who lives outside of the wealthier school district, was friends with another girl, Megan (junior Ta’mar Thompson), who lives in a large house within the school district. In one scene, Charlotte argues with Lulu that Megan, an African-American student, isn’t oppressed because her family was better off, and doesn’t deserve the benefits of affirmative action. Lulu quickly opposes that statement by explaining to Charlotte that because of Megan’s race, she is oppressed regardless of her socioeconomic status.

During the talkback after the show, the cast and crew created a dialogue with the audience about themes of the play and any remaining questions people had. One audience member asked about the inspiration for some of the interactions and issues the show discussed. The cast and crew, who wrote the script as a group, described their process of taking personal experiences and stories about racism to create the plot of the show.

The characters were the students of Brookline High School, the racism and microaggressions in the play were all experiences of students at Brookline High School. The play incorporated Brookline High School and it’s students into the alluring and agile plot presented on stage.

Through such similarities, “Coming From Where I’m From,” demands change from our own high school students, yet forces an audience to take a step back and understand why their peers believe what they do.