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Interview with Various Broken Trail's Cast Members

US ASIANS:  Please tell us about any historical findings of Chinese enslaved prostitution in the Old West and why you decided to document this specific issue.

ALAN GEOFFRION: I was inspired by the true life story of Donaldina Cameron and of her courage to stand up against social injustice. She rescued over 3,000 young women who were brought over to America to be enslaved in brothels at mining camps to work as prostitutes. The leading causes of death for these women were suicide, homicide, and then disease. Many did not live more than 5 years after them came to the United States. To help these young women escape from ill fate, Donaldina helped create a shelter called the Cameron House, which still exists today. It is at 26 Sacramento Street in San Francisco.

I was not aware of the forced slavery before I got the role, and even a little embarrassed when I found out. It forced me to research the story. I had not known that even in the early 1800s, young Chinese girls were brought over to America and forced into prostitution in brothels and mining camps across the Midwest. It is an issue that still exists today, and after my research, it blew me away. Thousands of girls, possibly hundreds of thousands, were brought over here after being sold by their families without their say. Many took their own lives, died in "hospitals" (out of sight or out of mind) or were killed by the brutality of the camps. It was shocking ... young Asians are not educated about this. During filming, I realized that if I was born in a different time and different place, it could have been me. (Olivia Cheng)
US ASIANS: In the roundtable discussion (“Shattered Dreams and Broken Trail” with Robert Duvall, Olivia Cheng and Alan Geoffrion) behind a story of Chinese slavery that still exists in the United States, what was the most surprising things was discovered as the result of participating in the project? In addition, considering the different ethnic backgrounds involved with the project - which subjects were perceived/understood differently?

OLIVIA CHENG: It was amusing walking into the audition room and realizing that none of the non-Asians involved in casting had a clue as to what I was saying since I speak in Mandarin for Broken Trail. I definitely had deeply rooted concerns about whether this project would genuinely illuminate a realistic slice of Chinese history or simply reduce the Chinese women to two dimensional caricatures. Almost every negative stereotype in America regarding Chinese females stems from this period. It’s a complex issue to highlight and I’m proud to stand behind Broken Trail’s portrayal of the era. I truly feel the Chinese women come off as complex human beings rather than living props. And I really hope audiences will respond to Broken Trail as I have.

US ASIANS:  After discovering about the extreme racisms, hatred, the Chinese’s place in the social hierarchy and stereotypes that were attached to Chinese/Asians in the United States" - what are your thoughts on why Chinese communities weren’t aware/sharing these stories, the reasons behind this and its continuing effects that prevails today.

WELLY YANG - Learning AA History
"There's the ethnic studies types who know it all," he says, "but I had a fairly elite education and it wasn't until that education was over that I discovered a lot of this on my own. I didn't know the history of Asian immigration, that they weren't even allowed to immigrate for a quarter of the nation's history or something ridiculous like that. I had never even heard of that."

OLIVIA CHENG:  There are many people and organizations within the Chinese community who are committed to highlighting our people’s history in North America.

For example, Asian American author and human rights activist Iris Chang devoted her life to raising awareness about our past with her books The Rape of Nanking and The Chinese in America. I strongly recommend reading those books whether or not you’re Chinese.

There are groups like the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia that are committed to illuminating the injustices suffered by the Chinese. For more info, click HERE.

Here in Vancouver, I’m actually working on a series for Global Television to highlight the political movement in this city to seek financial compensation for Chinese Canadians who were forced to pay a head tax over half a century ago. I’m also in talks with a Toronto youth organization called “What’s the 411” to host a Canadian hip hop and performing arts tour to educate youth about Asian Heritage Month. I’m hoping it’ll work out.

Basically, I think there are many individual movements and efforts to ensure our histories aren’t forgotten. Unfortunately, those efforts haven’t consistently reached a mass audience even within our own communities. That will hopefully change with time and the right people becoming involved in education campaigns.

Iris Chang challenges commonly held and sometimes incorrect notions to reveal the breadth of the Chinese experience in this country.

Often stereotyped as a passive group, Chang shows how the Chinese in America actually have a long history of activism, from a week-long strike by Chinese railroad workers in the 1800s to the joint efforts of the San Francisco Bay Area?s Red Guard Party and the Black Panthers in the 1960s.

Chang also discusses the unique position of the small and little-known Chinese community in the Deep South, where for generations they have delicately straddled the racial divide.

Perhaps more unknown still is the frequency of intermarriage between Chinese men and women of all ethnic groups in the 19th century. In fact, a popular play of the time mocked Chinese-Irish unions.
For more info, click

Our screenwriters and crew did an excellent job researching the era and were very sensitive about respecting Chinese culture. It was cool to see how the wardrobe and production departments replicated our outfits and settings based on historical photos and descriptions. In doing my own research, I realized that each of the girls’ individual plot lines and outcomes are historically plausible and we’re pretty much composites of the countless Chinese girls who suffered in silence and died in shame. Plus, what I really love about Broken Trail is how the cultural divide that separates the cowboys and Chinese girls become a non-issue as both sides learn to relate to each other as fellow human beings. The language barriers and physical differences melt away as this odd group of travelers transforms into a family unit. I really feel the story transcends the obvious racial lines and at its heart is just a simple story about humanity and the gift of compassion.

The girls were always going to be the secret weapon. When they come up on screen, you go WOW. I wanted to make sure they weren't relegated to some stereo-typical background characters. They seemed to like it. I told them, "I'm not a woman, nor am I Chinese. I try to keep the emotions in a gender neutral place. If you find something that is not quite right, come talk to me." And they did.
(Alan Geoffrion)

US ASIANS: Could you share what drives you to be in the entertainment industry, especially since this profession doesn’t have a high priority within the Chinese/Asian communities?

DONALD FONG: My interest is what drives me to be in the entertainment industry. I love acting. Whenever I get an opportunity to participate in a movie, a TV show or a stage production, I will put all my effort to perform my part as best as I can.

OLIVIA CHENG: It’s just what I’m good at and am passionate about. I’m a storyteller and whether I find an outlet for that gift through my work as a media personality or as an actor – I’ll do what I can. It’s not an easy path because of all the instability that comes with my career choices but bringing stories to life is what I do best. And I’ve seen the effect it can have on people when I help them find their voice to tell a story. It’s empowering for people to speak up about their experiences and it’s incredibly rewarding as a story teller. It’s all that keeps me going sometimes when I don’t know where my next paycheck is coming from and I’m banging my head against a wall wishing I had the chops for a regular job.

JADYN WONG: Change – my motivation in what I do as a performer is to ignite change. The greater desire is to create understanding and empathy for characters that are not simply fictional, but whom resemble the many lives that view them through film. Because this profession does not have a high priority within the Chinese community, I feel very ambitious to work and create a greater need to share and expand our presence in this industry.

VALERIE TIAN: I want to change the world and there's a lot that I want to say. I enjoy working, I don't want to do this just to be famous or rich for my own vanity.

US ASIANS: Gwendoline - considering your background, have you had many opportunities of performing with a fellow Singaporean native Corrine May – if so, could you share the details?

GWENDOLINE YEO: I'm so glad that you asked that. Corrine May and I are great friends. Her mother and my mother went to dental school in Singapore together. They were great friends since their early twenties and we lived a few blocks from each other. We lost touch, and years later, we found each other in Los Angeles. We were at the same performance once, where she played the keyboard and sang a beautiful song and I played a solo piece on the Chinese Zither. (Note: Visit Corrine May website at

At one point, I had to make the choice of where to focus... would it be acting or music? But not to fear, music is merely on the back burner. Now Corrine and I both live in Hollywood experiencing the American dream--she in music, and I, in acting. She has a beautiful album out and I have the opportunity to do work on Broken Trail and now I’ve become a regular cast member on a hit show like “Desperate Housewives.” She is a lovely woman and it warms me deeply to have a fellow Singaporean, someone who is kind and genuine, enjoy the kind of success that she so deserves.

US ASIANS: Recognizing your expertise in the Chinese Long Zither (gu-zheng), what are your views on other similar artists such as Karen Han, Twelve Girls Band, Jon Jang (jazz artist that incorporates the ehru) and others – along with their usage in projects such as Broken Trail and other projects that has a Chinese plotline/involvement?

GWENDOLINE YEO: I am always humbled in the presence of other musicians. I am an actress first, then a musician. I have a lot to share, but also, a lot to learn. I think what these other musicians have created is absolutely breathtaking and I cheer them on. With one strum on a Chinese instrument, the sound is distinctive--taking us back to the deep history of China. As an Asian American woman--I approach the eastern instrument of the gu-zheng with some of my western side as well. My music is merely an extension of me as a human being--a blend of both cultures.

Olivia Cheng on Being Casted
As an actress, it was like winning the lottery. To get to watch one of the Living Legends is an amazing experience - a lightning strike. It changed my perspective on acting. Robert Duvall brings something different to every take. He doesn't have a set reaction. He reacts, not acts. He plays off what the other actor brings. He taught all of us that acting is about being on camera and letting it capture what you are doing. Gwendoline Yeo was the most experienced. Jadyn Wong, Valerie Tian, Caroline Chan and I were very green

To Continue the Interview, click HERE
Visit the below-listed links for additional information on the various subjects that were discussed during the interview
American Cast Bios "Bound Feet" (Valerie Tian) Background Resources Community Issues
Community Support Current State of AA Women Suicides Diversity Donaldina Cameron
Gwendoline Yeo's Music Views Historical Footnotes Insights Behind the Characters Introductions
Iris Chang Lasting Impressions Parting Thoughts Personal Backgrounds
Project's Beginnings Project's Historical Research Review of the Program Role Models
Telling the Chinese Immigrant Story Why Show Biz? Working on the Set Working with Robert Duvall

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