Twenty Years after Slavery in LA: The Stage Reading of the Play Fabric

(Photo Slideshow)

The Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) and The Pasadena Playhouse presented Henry Ong’s play, Fabric, on August 6th and 7th to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the landmark El Monte slavery case where seventy-two Thai nationals were freed from slavery. The theme for the 20th anniversary commemoration is “The Road to Freedom: A Journey of Resilience and Hope.”

“Fabric is a heartfelt, moving play about a shocking event in the history of Los Angeles,” added Chancee Martorell, Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center. “We are grateful to playwrights like Henry Ong who, through their work, focus on issues of social significance—in this case, highlighting an atrocity that took place in our own backyard.”

“It was a pleasure and honor to work with the Thai CDC to celebrate the strength, resilience and courage of the El Monte slavery case survivors, and to help educate the community on how to address human trafficking,” said Gerlie Collado, Project Manager and Community Organizer of The Pasadena Playhouse. “We were fortunate to support this reading as part of a four-year initiative funded by the Wallace Foundation that is focused on engaging and serving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. We look forward to working collaboratively with the Thai CDC and other groups well beyond this initiative”

“All of us involved in Fabric are truly inspired by the complexity of the overall narrative of how the Thai garment workers are freed from slavery.” said Henry Ong. “Art is such a powerful tool in illuminating the human condition; in this case the resilience demonstrated by the workers, held in captivity.”

On August 2nd, 1995, the Thai CDC, along with state and federal agencies, helped liberate Thai nationals from the first case of modern-day slavery in the United States. Seventy-two Thai nationals fell victim to what would later be known as human trafficking. In the summer of 1995, no one had heard of human trafficking and modern-day slavery, let alone knew how to combat the crime and assist its victims. Thru the efforts of Thai CDC, the civil, immigrant and workers’ rights organizations that Thai CDC brought together, and key players within various state and federal agencies, it gave the nation’s first modern-day slavery victims the emergency relief and resettlement assistance they needed while grappling with a system of laws and procedures that weren’t designed to tackle what has become one of the largest and growing illegal industries in the world.

Thai CDC went on to pursue justice for the workers bringing them redress and restitution. The case spawned an anti-trafficking movement that led to the founding of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking in 1998 and the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by the United States Congress in 2000.

Since the discovery of the El Monte Case, Thai nationals have been a primary target of traffickers resulting in Thai CDC’s involvement in not only the first modern-day slavery case but other precedent setting cases in US history: the first case prosecuted on “psychological coercion,” the case to receive the first T visa, the first male labor trafficking case, the first case of winning justice through civil means, the first cases of trafficking through legal means, and the largest human trafficking case.

To honor twenty years of work combatting human trafficking and the El Monte Thai garment workers’ spirit of human resiliency, Thai CDC has reflected on the past to plan for the future by commemorating this historic event through a month long program in addition to the stage readings of the play, Fabric, that also included:

• A Museum of Tolerance exhibit of quilts made by Thai trafficking survivors, on display through August
• An Anti-trafficking symposium at the Museum of Tolerance already held last Wednesday
• A benefit concert by Thai pop sensation Boyd-Nop already held last Sunday

The month-long commemoration will conclude on August 28th when the Los Angeles City Council welcomes the Thai CDC to Council Chambers for a formal presentation recognizing their work to fight human trafficking.

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