Engaging the Arts

Describe an experience of cultural difference, positive or negative, you have had or observed. What did you learn from it?

The second high school play I acted in was a curiosity, a documentary production written and rehearsed at the same time. The OMI Project was an attempt to document the history and culture of the combined district of the Ocean View, Merced Heights, and Ingleside (OMI) neighborhoods that surrounds my high school. Because the OMI is San Francisco's most ethnically diverse district, we knew race would figure prominently in the play. Indeed, we dug up interviews about baseball legend Willie Mays' troubles with buying a house in an all-white neighborhood, and the neighbors' reaction to school desegregation. The history of the district's demographic changes was an important component of the play's narrative, but we needed some method of showing the OMI's modern diversity.

That's where Mr. Lawson came in. Lonnie Lawson is a soft-spoken 72-year-old African-American man who was president of the OMI homeowners’ association at the time the play was written. He has lived through the OMI’s transitions from a White working class, to a predominantly African-American, to a majority Asian, and now to a multi-ethnic gentrified neighborhood. Playing him in a verité style, evoking his downtempo speech patterns, vaguely rural accent, and whispered...

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