Interview> Theater heals migrant women
Under the mounting stress of the modern age, "healing" has become the most appealing buzzword to people of all ages. This has brought with it various therapies designed to relieve the tensions of everyday lives. However, for migrant wives who struggle to adjust to patriarchal Korean society, healing is just another luxury they simply cannot afford. For this reason, a theater troupe has emerged as a soulful shelter for "wounded" migrant wives since it was formed in April to offer them an opportunity to try out their artistic talent. "Saladboom" provides various programs including one-month percussion classes for migrant women, who are fleeing from abusive spouses aimed at offering them psychological healing through music. Up the narrow and steep stairs of the group's theater in Mullae-dong, west of Seoul, there were a small band of women sitting behind drums of different shapes. Their hesitant hands on drums at the beginning of the class, however, began to generate a more confident sound. And at the end of the three-hour class, it filled the small room. "These people need a let-out. Whether it be music or a play, they need something to let out their energy," said Park Kyong-ju, founder of the theater group. Park, a fine art graduate from Hongik University, says she started to pay attention to migrant issues, because she has been there, too. When she went to Berlin to study art film in 1993, she said she was shocked at the sight of neo Nazis. Germany was in the chaotic aftermath of its unification and she was the first Asian to be admitted to the school. "In one incident, an assistant teacher slapped me on my wrist because I touched a mouse. Even though I was accepted with the best score and knew well about computer programs, she assumed that a person like me from a less-developed country would mess up the computer," she added. Her five-year experience as an ethnic minority drove her to open a website in Korea in 2005, to air the grievances of minorities in our society ― immigrants. And the troupe "Salad," a figurative reference to a salad bowl, seeks to compare ethnic diversity to a bowl of salad. Her dream of helping immigrants came to fruition in 2009. "When I first joined the troupe, I was emotionally very feeble. Almost every day I cried. I felt hopeless. But, after I stood before an audience and received applause, I started to look at myself positively," said Lorna de Mateo from the Philippines. Lorna is now one of the lead actresses of various performances put together by the theater. She starred in "Yeosu - Beginning, Middle, and the End," an experimental piece based on the true story of a fire that engulfed the Yeosu Foreigners' Detention Center in February 2007. Not only do these plays give the actors some place to show off their talent and release their energy, it also offers a chance to go beyond cultural differences in a very communicative way. Park said she cannot forget the night she staged "Yeosu - Beginning, Middle, and the End," in front of teachers of multicultural education in Cheongju in 2011. "When it was over, some teachers covered their faces with paper they were holding, swallowing tears. Most of the audience cried along with all of the actresses. I saw emotionally overwhelmed people leaving the place," recalled Park. She said because of the experience of audiences and actors becoming one and shedding tears with one heart, she has the energy to continue. The play is one of the series "Disrespected Deaths," in which Park deals with migration and death. They tell the stories of Korean miners dispatched to Germany who eventually died in the mines there, immigrants dying at the detention center as a result of a fire outbreak, and a migrant wife who was brought into Korea through a marriage brokerage against her will. Park, after seeing reports of the fire on her website, went to the funeral of the deceased ten migrant workers. In the process of interacting with the victims and their families, she learnt of horrific stories that were not reported by any of the conventional media. "I wanted to tell the truth of the accident and the untold stories behind it. So I started to write the script," said Park. On the night of its premiere, victims who survived the accident stood onstage and talked about their tragedy for the audience, while Park's investigative documentary video was shown on a screen.