My name is Zhang Zhiying and I am an immigrant from China. I come looking for opportunities, and I disdain Evelyn Nesbit. I am horrified that my first impression of America is a scandalous place, filled with whores and women in next to no clothing, doing nothing useful with their lives. (Though I am unwillingly impressed by Houdini and inspired by his story as an immigrant who rose.)
I start the musical money-driven; the conversation I have with Brea’s character in Success is based on trying to get into the big tall building to live, trying to sell what I have in my suitcase. I am determined and confident in my abilities, though frequently angry and frustrated that no one here speaks my language (Wanda’s character disappoints me because she is actually Korean) and no one is willing to help me. I also begin, like most others, a racist. I have been told of the dangers of the black people, and I dislike the way they talk, smell, and move. They seem like a rough crowd to my immigrant eyes. I admire the white people, though none of them are friendly to me when I try to ask directions. I warm up to African Americans a bit through talking toBrea, though that conversation is more about my dreams of money than anything else. In the end, as opportunities seem to close around me and America isn’t actually as receptive to me as I’d hoped, I seek refuge with the Harlem crowd and Brea and her father (Justin) adopt me. Brea and the women of Harlem continue to be my friends throughout the musical; but I laugh and talk withBrea at Coalhouse’s night club and copy her dance moves. My usually stern character loosens up in the night club and with theHarlem women.
By the end of the musical, I am fully part of the Harlem group. I feel just as possessive about the men as the other women do, and try to keep them from joining Coalhouse—though I suspect they are up to something and accuse several of them before they actually go. I am as relieved to see them come out of the library as any of the others.