Nineteenth century San Francisco had Ah Toy. Twentieth century El Monte, Calif., had Aunt Suni.
Ah Toy, a daughter of joy on the Barbary Coast, was queen of the underworld, specializing in smuggling and prostitution. Even Niccolo Machiavelli thought she was tops with political intrigue. It is Aunt Suni, ringleader of a 7-member Thai family that enslaved 72 Thai nationals in a barbed-wire enclosed apartment complex, however, who is villianized in Los Angeles playwright Henry Ong’s “Fabric,” a dramatization of the 1995 Thai garment workers’ slavery case.
No, the Civil War did not end slavery in the United States. Neither did the bust-up of Aunt Suni’s operation. But the Company of Angels presentation of “Fabric” does bring to light an ongoing problem in the United States (think Florida tomato growers) and the world.
In 1995, El Monte law enforcement officials found the Thai nationals–lured to the U.S. with promises of achieving the American dream (same old story)–living under conditions of forced labor and slavery, some for as long as seven years. The Thai enslavers, including Aunt Suni, were caught at the scene. The story made national and international headlines as the first case of modern-day slavery since the abolishment of slavery in the United States.
Of course, that was a barrel of baloney. Women, young girls and both female and male children were kept as sex slaves before and after the Civil War, Ah Toy being a prime example of a successful madam who preyed on the prejudices of white American males.
Even though slavery continues in many forms in the United States, it’s still good to see how justice can prevail if we only had enough money and manpower and fortitude to hunt it down and scratch it out.
“Fabric” is presented by Company of Angels inside the Black Box at The Alexandria in downtown Los Angeles, and will run through August 8.