Chat transcript with Ping Chong, author-director of ‘Native Voices – Secret History’

Welcome to our online chat with Ping Chong, author-director of ‘Native Voices – Secret History’.

The chat took place on Thursday, April 28, at 1:00 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: We’d like to thank Ping Chong for taking part in this chat today. Please feel free to ask questions during the chat.

But first, we’d like to welcome our guest and have him tell us a little about what he’s doing this week in Lawrence.

Ping Chong: This weekend is the Bert Nash Building a Better Community Summit and i was invited by the Lied Center to help facilitate dialogue between the Native American Community and the Non-Native Community of Lawrence. I have been making oral history performance projects across the country to encourage tolerance and communication among members of a particular community of different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds as well as provoke thought about the issues of difference or otherness. This would also include issues relating to gender, class, people with disabilities. So, the raison d’etre or the reason for this project is for all of us in our various communinites to see beyond the stereo types we might have of each other which unfortunately is a larger product of mass media ( tv, newspapers…) misrepresenting people of different ethnicity, race, religion, gender, class and people with disabilities.

So, in this particular version of my oral history performance entitled, Native Voices – Secret History, we are focusing on 5 Native Americans from 4 different tribes, Choctaw, Omaha, Dine, Kiowa.

Kim Lawrence: Will this performance be taken to a wider audience in the future?

Ping Chong: There is every hope that this production will have a life after this week. The Lied Center is looking into touring the production as part of their Statewide Outreach project. There are no specific plans at this time.

Barb, Lawrence: Is there anything you can share with us about what you’ve learned while in Lawrence?

Ping Chong, left, answers online chat questions from his audience. At right, Karen Christilles, associate director of the Lied Center, types in Chong's responses.

Ping Chong: I have learned that although there is a long way to go, in terms of interactions between the Native and Non-Native communities of Lawrence, there are at least movement and effort to correct the lack of communication. i,e, this Bert Nash Summit and the efforts of the Lied Center in building bridges between the communities.

Bob, Lawrence: What do you find most rewarding about the creative process in creating new works? What don’t you like, if anything?

Ping Chong: To create is its own reward. I think if more people would think of their daily lives in creative terms, whether they are plumbers or dentists or city planners or whatever. I think people would be less frustrated in their lives.

As to what I do not like …. insomnia created by the anxiety of creation.

Esther, Lawrence: I am an artist without a lot money. I love the wetlands. What can Lawrence residents do to make the front of Haskell U more attractive? Can we find people to plant trees, shrubs, etc. or would that be forbidden by BIA and Haskell U and would we need help from faculty staff etc. on what to plant or benches, paths, etc. to make it more attractive to visitors.

Ping Chong: Write your congressman.

Moderator: Since you’ve begun this project, what’s been the most surprising thing you’ve found about American Indian communities?

Ping Chong: Rather than what is surprising about what I have learned, I am more struck by the common humanity of the issues within the Native American community as well as its relationship to the outside world, e.g., discrimination within the culture itself based on skin color, a deep distrust of motives of the white community, and as a result an ambivalence towards interaction outside of the community – this is quite common in many minority communities because of their histories of discrimination in this country.

As for what I have learned, the fact that Native Nations are still plagued by a dysfunctional Bureau of Indian Affairs and the whims of congress in relation to their economic needs.

I think that it is also important to face the fact that there are also members within any cultural community in positions of power who are corrupt and destructive to their own communities.

Kim Lawrence: This production purports to be unique. Can you give a description of what people who come can expect to see?

Ping Chong’s “Native Voices-Secret History”

  • When:Thursday, April 28, 2005, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Lied Center, KU campus, Lawrence
  • Cost: $14 – $28
  • Age limit: All ages

Full event details

Moderator: Why is it important that this project be performed by the people you interview rather than actors?

Ping Chong: How is it unique? There has never been an oral history performance constructed in which narrative and the human voice is treated in such a musical fashion. Although the presentation is simply 5 people of different cultures telling stories about their lives and their cultural history, it is how I treat the aural aspects and how I weave the lives into a tapestry that makes it unique.

Ping Chong: As I have said earlier there have been 28 productions of Secret History, also known as Undesirable Elements over 12 years nationally and internationally. The performances have been without exception provocative and deeply moving for the audiences that have seen it. Its power comes from the fact that the people on stage are real people and the experiences they recount are real. It is both a communion with a community and a testimonial of lives lived. Actors put it at more than one step removed.

Moderator: We’d like to thank Ping Chong for being our guest today and for the questions that came in from our readers. “Native Voices Secret History” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday at the Lied Center. A panel discussion will follow the Saturday evening performance in conjunction with the Bert Nash Building a Better Community Summit.

Ping Chong: In closing, if we want to be responsible members of a community, and we should think about what this word “community” means, we should be open to experiences beyond our own narrow worlds. We can never gain insight and wisdom, if we remain only in our own worlds.