Ali Murphy interviewed Steve Lee for the Disability Visibility Project™ at StoryCorps San Francisco on October 2nd, 2014. In this clip, Steve talks about the discrimination he faced as a child born with a disability, and how art later served as a means of showcasing the intersection of disability, colonialism and race. Text transcript of the clip below.
[Music 01 starts: slow hand drumming]
Steve Lee: Um so, after my dad moved, and my mom moved to Hong Kong, I was born. And, I was born with a disability. And, at the time, because they had just moved to Hong Kong, they didn’t really trust the doctors over there. And, the doctors — I don’t have a typical case. So, they didn’t know what to do with me. So, after a couple of months, they took me back to China and see what the doctors or nurses would say. And they pretty much just told my parents either — some told them just put me next to a trash can, or [laugh] the humane ones would tell me to put me in the orphanage.
[Music 01 ends]
But my mom really didn’t want to do that.
[Music 02 begins: Sound of voice counting down from 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and blast off, which transitions into funk music]
There were many schools that didn’t want to take me, because they didn’t want to take the responsibility, or if I fall down somewhere, I might sue them. So, at the time, there was a social worker that my mom got in touch with her, and she told us, “Oh, there’s some schools for the disabled.”
[Music 02 ends]
The thing is, the school was really, really far from my house. It would take like 2 hours, at least, to go back and forth. 2 1/2 or even 3 hours.
After I went to high school, um, we had our teacher, he’s so big in installation art and all that back then. Um, so I joined his project. So we made a lot of artwork, and put them in the schools.
[Music 03 begins: fast plucking of electric guitar strings]
Oh my gosh, let me tell you. Our artwork upset so many people. I put a sign saying, “Wheelchair and dogs are not allowed.”
[Music 03 volume increases and then decreases]
This sign used to be in a lot of colonial embassies and hotels back then, and then they would say, “Chinese and dogs are not allowed.” It was made famous by a Bruce Lee movie. Basically he just kicked the sign, punch, break the sign. So, a lot of us know the sign, so I want to use that concept to say that the society we are living in, everywhere, you know, we can’t go everywhere, because it’s like putting a sign saying, “Wheelchair and dogs are not allowed.”
[Music 03 ends]
Immediately, oh my god, once I put that sign up, there was people condemning me, so many kids.
Imagine, I put that sign in my school’s only elevator! [laugh]
I remember my sign didn’t even last more than 2 days. There was a faculty walked in front to my desk, and tore my sign up [ripping sounds], like that. Right in front of me. [laugh]
I love that sign. That was one of the best work I’ve ever made. Because it’s what I believe in. And it’s fun for me to do, because — I think, because I guess it’s always in me. I want to tell stories, or — whatever message out there, I want to get it out. I want to let people know about this weird world that we’re living in.
[Music 02 begins]
I guess it’s a tough way to learn, being an artist, quote “artist.” [laugh]
[Music 02 ends]
Music 03: Máscaras – NewYorican (NewYorican by Máscaras is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License)
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Disability Visibility Project™ (2014, October 2). DVP Interview: Steve Lee and Ali Murphy. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p4H7t1-N9B
A photo featuring Steve Lee and Ali Murphy, taken on October 2nd, 2014. Ali Murphy is on the left, wearing a blue denim jacket and gold hoop earrings. Ali appears to be white with long blonde hair and blue eyes. She is smiling. Steve Lee is on the right, wearing dark framed glasses and a white collar shirt. He is Asian/American with short dark hair and dark colored eyes.
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project™ by Geraldine Ah-Sue and Alice Wong with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com