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*Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord* Plot Summary

By Dominic Mallari, PCS Intern

In March 2020, Kristina Wong performs her comedy show Kristina Wong for Public Office at colleges in California. The next day, her performances and future projects are canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like everyone else, she finds herself stuck at home, in Koreatown in Los Angeles, CA. Being unable to perform, Kristina turns to a new passion project: sewing masks for people to wear to protect themselves from COVID-19. She notes how being Asian (she is a third-generation Chinese American) and wearing a mask make her a target for hostile strangers.

The demand for her masks continues to rise, so Kristina recruits her friends and family over Facebook to help with sewing and distributing masks. She names the Facebook group the “Auntie Sewing Squad” (not realizing at first that their acronym is A.S.S.), and gives herself the title “Sweatshop Overlord.” She emphasizes how A.S.S. wants to be obsolete since a government agency was supposed to do this work, and that they would prioritize serving the most vulnerable of communities. She jokes about winning an award for their efforts — the “Pandemmy.”

As anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests erupt in the United States, Kristina finds a cyst in her labia, later diagnosed as a Bartholin's cyst, and gets treated, although running into many difficulties along the way due to hospitals being filled with COVID-19 patients. Later, she observes Black Lives Matter protests in her neighborhood and pays tribute to George Floyd. The Aunties start to sew for the NAACP in the hometowns of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as for street medics who tend to peaceful protestors and black communities.

After losing members to burnout and others needing to find paid work, Kristina puts out more recruitment efforts, including inadvertently developing a summer camp for children, the “Baby Aunties.” She finds out that Tufts University is teaching about A.S.S. in their Public Health and Asian American Studies classes. Their membership eventually rises up to 800 Aunties.

Kristina talks about the fires raging through Oregon and California, and how the homemade masks aren’t suitable for protecting people from the smoky and sooty air. The Aunties buy KN95 masks below cost to be distributed to farmworkers and crop harvesters, many of whom are immigrants. 

Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Aunties make RBG-themed masks for the volunteers of the New Georgia Project, who register new voters in Georgia. They also receive a request from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which they decline because the hospital has the budget to buy their own masks and wants to exploit their free labor. Soon, following the 2020 election, Joe Biden is elected as the next president of the United States, and Kamala Harris becomes the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected vice president.

Many Aunties are afflicted by COVID-19, and Kristina pays tribute to Corky Lee, the “unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate,” who died from COVID-19. Soon, Kristina and many Aunties become fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Atlanta Spa Shooting occurs in a long string of anti-Asian violence and harassment. Despite the COVID-19 vaccine being available, many people are refusing to get vaccinated or wear a mask and COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. The Aunties' outreach efforts increase.

Kristina goes to San Francisco to visit her parents in person for the first time in a year, riding a plane for the first time in almost two years. She and her family attend self-defense classes with Grandmaster Herbert because of the increase in AAPI hate crimes, and she finally meet in person with many people who have been involved with A.S.S. or have been beneficially impacted by them.

Masks are available everywhere and for cheap, so the Auntie Sewing Squad decides to retire from sewing masks. On September 25, 2021, they have a retirement party in a Los Angeles public park, where 70 LA Aunties congregate and 50 more from around the country watch the stream online. Over the past 504 days, they made 350,000 masks. The Aunties gift Kristina with a quilt, which they have secretly been putting together for several months. It has squares representing each Auntie's time in the Auntie Sewing Squad, which Kristina recognizes as a beautiful symbol of their legacy.

Portland Center Stage is committed to identifying & interrupting instances of racism & all forms of oppression, through the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, & accessibility (IDEA).

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