From Harlem to Shenzhen: One Jamaican-Chinese Woman’s Quest to Find Her Family

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-09-16 21:29Z by Steven

From Harlem to Shenzhen: One Jamaican-Chinese Woman’s Quest to Find Her Family

The Wall Street Journal
2014-09-02

Debra Bruno

Growing up in New York’s Harlem, Paula Williams Madison knew she had a Chinese grandfather, even though she had never met him.

When people found out, she says, most of them would make comments such as “Really? You don’t look Chinese.” Others would laugh. Even so, she always intended to track down her mother’s father and learn the full story of her multi-ethnic Jamaican-Chinese family.

By the time she found them, her tiny American family had expanded to about 400 living members and a family tree that goes back 3,000 years. A new documentary tells the story of that journey and the discovery of a family that today extends from Shenzhen, China, to Kingston, Jamaica, and Los Angeles, California.

Ms. Madison, 62, spent much of her career at NBC, and retired a few years ago as an executive at NBC Universal, one of the first black women to achieve that rank. She says she waited until retiring to pursue her dream of reconnecting with her Chinese family.

Before, “I did know a handful of my cousins,” she says. “Now there are about 40.”

Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China,” directed by Jeanette Kong of Toronto, a fellow Chinese-Jamaican, tells the story of Ms. Madison’s quest. After slavery ended in Jamaica in 1838, the country sought immigrants to do the work slaves had performed on sugar plantations. By 1920, 4,000 of those immigrants were Chinese. Ms. Madison’s grandfather—a Hakka Chinese man from Guangdong province originally named Lowe Ding Chiu—was one of them, moving there in 1905 at age 15…

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New Rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue ‘a Pioneer’

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Religion, United States, Women on 2014-01-28 18:44Z by Steven

New Rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue ‘a Pioneer’

The Wall Street Journal
2014-01-17

Sophia Hollander

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl Is Daughter of a Korean Buddhist Immigrant and an American Jew

Growing up as the daughter of a Korean Buddhist immigrant and an American Jew in Tacoma, Wash., Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl said some family members always wondered: Could she ever be fully accepted as a Jew?

Any lingering doubts were eliminated last week when the congregation of Midtown’s historic Central Synagogue voted her to succeed Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, 71, when he retires later this year. Her appointment will take effect July 1.

Rabbi Buchdahl, who is 41, will become one of only a few women—and likely the only Asian-American—leading a major U.S. synagogue. Central Synagogue boasts 100 full-time employees and an endowment that exceeds $30 million.

“She really is a pioneer,” said Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, president of the Wexner Foundation, which develops Jewish leaders in North America and Israel. “She represents a new generation of women.” According to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the largest rabbinical organization in North America, about 30% of Reform-movement rabbis are women.

Her appointment comes at a critical moment for American Judaism. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that the number of U.S. adults identifying as Jewish has dropped by half since the late 1950s. Fewer than a third of Jewish adults said they belonged to a synagogue, temple or other congregation…

…In addition to her unusual cultural heritage, Rabbi Buchdahl has been quick to blur other lines. According to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, she is one of only about a dozen people in the U.S. and Canada ordained as both a rabbi and a cantor

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Passing Fancies: Color, much more than race, dominated the fiction of the Harlem Renaissance

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Passing, United States on 2012-02-17 05:09Z by Steven

Passing Fancies: Color, much more than race, dominated the fiction of the Harlem Renaissance

The Wall Street Journal
2011-09-03

James Campbell

Harlem Renaissance Novels, Edited by Rafia Zafar, Library of America, 1,715 pages

Harlem in the autumn of 1924 offered a “foretaste of paradise,” according to the novelist Arna Bontemps. He was recalling the dawn of the Harlem Renaissance and was perhaps a little dazzled in retrospect—Bontemps was writing in 1965—by his memories of “strings of fairy lights” illuminating the uptown “broad avenues” at dusk.

A gloomier perspective is found in the writings of James Baldwin, born in Harlem Hospital in August 1924. His novel “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (1953) and his memoir, “The Fire Next Time” (1963), both evoke a Harlem childhood dominated by poverty, fear, brutality, with the dim torch of salvation locked in a storefront church. Baldwin scarcely mentions the renaissance or its principals in all his writings—despite the remarkable coincidence of his having attended schools where two mainstays of any account of the Harlem Renaissance were teachers: the poet Countee Cullen and the novelist Jessie Redmon

…Any rebirth is bound to be bloody, and perhaps the better for it. Grudge, guilt and prejudice notwithstanding, the Harlem Renaissance produced a lot of good writing, some of it worth reading eight decades later. Almost all the novels chosen by Rafia Zafar for the Library of America’s two-volume collection contain scenes of interest, even when the interest is mainly sociological. (The exception is George Schuyler’s 1931 “Black No More,” a far-fetched, burlesque yarn about passing for white that might have been omitted in favor of Van Vechten’s “Nigger Heaven.”) The predominant theme of the majority of novels here—to the point of obsession—is not so much prejudice as plain color. Bigoted white voices are heard, but light-skinned blacks expressing distaste for their darker neighbors speak louder. As the heroine of Nella Larsen’s “Quicksand” (1928) observes: “Negro society . . . was as complicated and as rigid in its ramifications as the highest strata of white society.”

The most arresting tale, in this respect, is “The Blacker the Berry” (1929) by Wallace Thurman, in which poor Emma Lou Morgan, daughter of a “quite fair” mother, realizes that her “luscious black complexion” is despised by those around her, many of whom can pass for white. Emma Lou’s “unwelcome black mask” has been inherited from her “no good” father, who had “never been in evidence.” Ill-treatment from white students and teachers at school is bad enough; but when Emma Lou gets to Harlem, the humiliation turns to cruelty. She tries to rent a room from a West Indian woman. “A little girl had come to the door, and, in answer to a voice in the back asking, ‘Who is it, Cora?’ had replied, ‘monkey chaser wants to see the room you got to rent.’ ” Emma Lou remains, for the time being, homeless. When she shows her admiration “boldly” for an “intelligent-looking, slender, light-brown-skinned” man on Seventh Avenue, he “looked at her, then over her, and passed on.” Far worse are a group of Harlem youths who notice Emma Lou powdering her nose near the same spot…

…It was the same sigh, rather than crude shame, that led Jean Toomer to describe himself on his marriage certificate of 1931 as “white.” His exquisite sequence of prose episodes and poems, “Cane” (1923), is the earliest of the books gathered here. It requires but a sampling of Toomer’s humid Georgia prose to induce in the reader a different quality of intoxication from that brought about by the rough beverages of McKay, Hughes and Schuyler: “Karintha, at twelve, was a wild flash that told the other folks just what it was to live. At sunset, when there was no wind, and the pine-smoke from over by the sawmill hugged the earth, and you couldn’t see more than a few feet in front, her sudden darting past you was a bit of vivid color, like a black bird that flashes in light. With the other children one could hear, some distance off, their feet flopping in the two-inch dust. Karintha’s running was a whir.”…

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