Café Daughter a potent look at claiming one’s identity

Jenna Marynowski

There are a lot of great reasons to see Café Daughter,presented by Workshop West in collaboration with Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts, running at The Backstage Theatre until December 6.

Maybe because you want to be delighted by actress Tiffany Ayalik’s portrayal of not just the main character, Yvette Wong, but 12 other characters that playwright Kenneth T. Williams has woven into Yvette’s story.

Maybe it’s because you want to stare in awe at one of the most beautiful stages I’ve seen in Edmonton, with an unraveling upside down tipi designed by T. Erin Gruber that serves as the canvas for Erin’s projections and a gorgeous aerial view of Saskatchewan painted by Chantel Fortin.

Maybe it’s because you want to learn more about the inspiration for Yvette Wong and Café Daughter, Senator Dr. Lillian E. Quan Dyck, who overcame the laws, institutions and social attitudes that faced her as a Chinese-Cree woman and forged an inspirational trail of firsts and successes.

Café Daughter is a story of calling yourself back to your identity through memory. The play is a look backwards into the formative years and moments in the life of the fictional character Yvette Wong, who Kenneth T. Williams based on Senator Dr. Lillian E. Quan Dyck.

Set in the 1950s and 60s, Café Daughter takes place in Alistair and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Yvette’s father Charlie Wong, a Chinese immigrant, runs the café in Alistair with his wife Katherine, who is Cree. At the time, one of Saskatchewan’s laws forbade businesses run by Chinese people to hire white women, and so Charlie and Katherine’s relationship started through Katherine’s employment at the café and grew into love. We meet Yvette when she is 9 years old, placed in the slow learners class in her small town school because of her heritage and despite her excellent marks and love of learning. Faced by small-town racism and denial of her own identity coming from attending a residential school, Yvette’s mother tells her to never let anyone know about her Aboriginal heritage. Yvette listens to her mother’s instructions for her childhood, but eventually finds she needs to embrace both sides of her identity – Chinese and Cree. Café Daughter is built from Yvette’s memories between the ages of 9 and 16 that she looks back on as she discovers her Cree identity.

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