Members and staff of CAST discuss human trafficking and slavery during a panel discussion at the January 2010 reading of GIRLS FROM AFAR. Courtesy of East West Players.

Folks in art and entertainment get a bad rap. They’re thought to be self-absorbed, prima donnas who luxuriate in their own self-importance. And for the most part, that’s true. But the art-farters are no more pretentious and no more apt to live unconsciously than any other group of people. Those in real estate and banking are just as capable of selfishness as selflessness. A&E’s are just in the spotlight, and their shortcomings are further illuminated than others.

Of course, I didn’t ask the creeps who dinged my car or flag down those who failed to stop while I walked across the street regarding their artistic endeavors. So I have little statistical data to back this up. But the next time someone litters or cuts in line, I’ll be sure to inquire.

We all have a capacity for cruelty and evidently display that aptitude frequently, in multiple and varying ways.

Isn’t that sad?

And even more so, some don’t even realize either the magnitude or the presence of their cruelty.

I dwell on this quite often.

So when human beings demonstrate their humanity, I’m moved. Even if it’s the slightest action such as offering to get something off a high grocery shelf or sending a thank-you note, my eyes well up. Watching TV shows like What Would You Do? and Undercover Boss is very draining on me and my shirt sleeves.

And I’m moved by the collaborative work that East West Players is doing with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and Japanese American National Museum. For the second year, a reading will be presented that highlights the topic of human trafficking and slavery. Udaya Kanthi Salgadu’s play, Letters from My Mother, was developed in the East West Players David Henry Hwang Writers Institute with the support of CAST, based on the playwright’s true life experience. A speaker at last year’s panel, Salgadu was given a scholarship to attend DHHI.

LETTERS FROM MY MOTHER tells the story of Sripa, a young Sri Lankan high-school graduate who endured 26 months of forced labor in a household in the U.S. With only her mother’s letters to keep her going, and a neighbor whose inquiries lead to her rescue, Sripa finds strength, bravery, and finally the power and self-confidence to become an advocate for the abolition of human trafficking.

For the second year, January has been declared National human trafficking prevention and awareness month by President Obama. According to CAST, 12.3 million people are enslaved around the world today, and as many as 17,000 are trafficked into the United States every year. Los Angeles is one of the top three points of entry into this country for victims of slavery and trafficking.

Anyone who is interested in learning how to become a modern-day abolitionist can do so by volunteering, donating or learning more about the issue by visiting

We may all have a capacity for cruelty, but we also have the capacity to overcome cruelty, whether it be our own or of others.


A Staged Reading with James Kyson Lee, Tamlyn Tomita, Camille Mana, and more to be announced. Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 7:30PM at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum in the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy; 111 N. Central Avenue; Los Angeles, CA 90012; 213-625-7000 or email

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