By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"This trip too important," she says.
By 10 a.m. Sunday, the group has re-created their photo opportunity in the heart of New Orleans' bustling river walk tourist district. Under a pavilion located a block off the French Quarter, the group erects its banners and torture photos. After connecting the microphone, Dakun Sun reads a statement about the persecution in China for the benefit of a newspaper reporter. After him, Amy Lee and Danielle read brief summaries of their lives.
The rest of the group fans out on the sidewalk, distributing leaflets. "SOS! Urgent," Joy says, offering fliers to anyone who passes. Some people refuse to make eye contact with her, but others are drawn to the images of torture.
"Oh, how hideous!" says one lady. Two teen-agers step up to the posters so they can read the accompanying text. "They exercise and they get beat up for it?" one asks. Another man says, "They're having the Olympics there?"
A few feet away, a singer seated at the edge of the pavilion stops playing his steel guitar and glares at Joy, who is standing in front of his tip box. "You gonna work this spot in front of me?" he asks. "I gotta make a living, and I was here first."
Joy wheels around, smiles and hands him a flier. "SOS! Urgent."
"Listen," the guitarist continues, "you're working right in front of me. It's very rude, and you're not even asking for tips."
"Oh," Joy says, "very sorry." She walks a few steps away and resumes leafleting. The guitarist, scowling, resumes playing. As the morning passes, the guitarist's agitation grows. He frequently stops playing and scowls at Joy. Occasionally, however, he reads bits and pieces of the flier. Later another man lumbers over. "Those assholes set up by me," the guitarist tells him. "They're being persecuted in China. I'm beginning to understand why."
Joy is aware that the guitarist is trying to earn money, but she is not bothered by his attitude.
"What I am doing now is the righteous thing. What I am doing now is saving people who don't know the truth," Joy says. "The moment you know the truth, your heart changes."
Joy was introduced to Falun Gong in 1997, a year before she and her husband left China for Austin. Back home, where Joy was a high school chemistry teacher, her doctor informed her that she was incapable of having a child. After she started practicing Falun Gong, she became pregnant. To Joy, Falun Gong gave her a miracle and changed her life for the better. It has also brought trouble.
At the University of Texas, Joy performs her daily exercises on campus. Earlier this spring, Joy was startled when she found a photo of herself, taken while she was practicing, posted in the laundry room of her apartment complex. The words "evil cult" were written across the photo. Joy does not know who put the flier up, but she suspects it was either a Chinese student who believes the government's propaganda or, worse, representatives of the government itself. Either way, she got the message: Although she and her husband are Chinese citizens, they cannot safely go home.
"Imagine when I go to the airport. Do you think the police will let me into China?" Joy says. "They will stop me. Arrest me."
Dakun Sun takes a break from reading his statement. A shy person, Sun says Falun Gong has given him the energy and confidence to speak publicly--a skill he applies every day. Since Falun Gong was outlawed in China, Sun spends all his free time, including vacations, attending Falun Gong seminars in Texas and elsewhere in an effort to raise public awareness.
"I volunteer because I feel obligated to do that. Sometimes my friends will say, 'You are changed. Previously, you just did your regular work, and now you are quite active. Are you interested in doing political work?' It's difficult to explain," Sun says. "If there was no persecution, I would not be active. I would live my normal, peaceful life. I would go to work and to the mall with my wife."
The statement jars a memory. Earlier, Sun said his wife does not practice Falun Gong. At first she practiced, Sun says, but after it was declared illegal in China she became afraid and quit. Now, his activism is causing stress.
"It is not a happy, good change for my wife," Sun says. "She is concerned about my health. She complains, quite often, 'Why do you keep doing this?' and 'When are you going to stop?'"
Perhaps Sun is afraid that Falun Gong is a door through which he has forever passed, but his wife will not? He laughs. He doesn't find the question funny; he is simply embarrassed. A week ago his wife moved out. They did not separate on angry terms, but their marriage is in doubt. Sun says he is sad but not afraid of the outcome: Either she will return or she will not. Sun says, "This is a test."
By 1 p.m. the guitarist is fed up. He puts down his guitar and turns to face the rest of the Gongers, who are sending out righteous thoughts under the pavilion. "Hey," he says, grabbing his crotch, "meditate on this!"