Blasians in the Congo

In the 1970s, the Japanese had operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) to invest in mining projects in the mineral rich region of Katanga.  This area is known for its abundant deposits of copper and cobalt.  According to the US Geological Survey, the Katanga province in the south of Congo contains 4 percent of the world’s copper and a third of its cobalt reserves.

Over a ten-year period, more than 1,000 Japanese men worked in Zaire.  The Japanese businessmen had relationships with local women.  Some of these relationships resulted in children.  Due to Japanese taboos on interracial progeny, the Japanese fathers did not allow their children to live.  The children were often killed by doctors or by the fathers themselves.  The surviving children of these Japanese/Congolese relationships have formed an association and are now seeking compensation and closure from the Japanese government.  The Japanese have not yet responded.

Today, the Chinese run the furnaces where minerals are processed.  The Congolese government granted mineral concessions in Katanga province to a consortium of Chinese companies in 2008.  Six billion US dollars was invested in the construction and rehabilitation of roads and the construction of two hospitals and universities.  An additional three billion US dollars was invested in mining operations.  Approximately 90% of Katanga’s processing plants are owned by Chinese nationals.

As another Asian country capitalizes on the wealth and riches of this small African nation, there exists the possibility of mixed race relationships and the potential of another generation of blasians in the Congo.  Hopefully, they will have a happier story to share.

For more about mixed race people in the Congo, check out the FRANCE 24 story on “Katanga’s forgotten people”.

Blasian Reality TV Stars

Lou Jing – who gained fame as a reality show contestant in China – got me thinking about Blasians on reality TV.  There haven’t been that many.  While Asians are rare, half Asians are few and far between.  Half-African American, half Asian reality stars are even more infrequent.  There have been three blasian reality stars – Melissa Howard, Lisa Wu, and Kimora Lee.

Melissa on Real World (2000) and with her daughter (2011).

Melissa Howard (Filipino-African American) became the first blasian reality star in 2000 on MTV’s Real World: New Orleans.  She went on to appear in other reality TV shows, including Real World / Road Rules Challenge and Battle of the Network Reality Stars.  Now Melissa Beck, she is married to Glassjaw guitarist, Justin Beck, and has a daughter, Shalom Mazie.

Melissa’s parents – Maurice “Shorty” & Narcisa “Mercy” – at the MTV Studios
Lisa Wu appeared in the first two seasons (2008-2009) of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.  Her mother is of Afro-Caribbean descent, and her father is Chinese.
                               Lisa Wu’s parents

Previously married to R&B singer Keith Sweat, she was married to NFL linebacker Ed Hartwell, while on the show.  They divorced in 2011.

Lisa Wu and her sons Jordan, Justin, & EJ

Kimora Lee – better known as a model and former wife of Russell Simmons – has starred in the reality television series, Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane, since 2007.  The most famous blasian reality star, she details her daily life with her three children and her husband, model/actor Djimon Hounsou.

Kimora and her mother, Kyoko Perkins

With a Korean-born Japanese mother and an African American father, Kimora was often a target of bullying and teasing as a child because of her height (5’10” by age 10) and her mixed heritage.  Her mom enrolled her in modeling classes when she was 11 years old, and Kimora was discovered at the age of 13.

Kimora married mogul, Russell Simmons, in 1998.  They officially separated in 2006.  She has been with Djimon Hounsou, a Benin-born Oscar-nominated actor, since 2007.

Kimora and her children, Kenzo, Ming, & Aoki

While there are many who view reality TV as a less-esteemed genre of television, it can be an excellent platform to share varying perspectives and provides exposure to different types of people and ethnicities.  Reality television is a unique opportunity to potentially see and connect with people who have similar stories.

Selected Sources:
* Melissa Beck, http://melissabeck.tumblr.com/
* The Real Housewives of Atlanta, “Lisa Wu Hartwell”, http://www.bravotv.com/the-real-housewives-of-atlanta/bio/lisa-wu-hartwell
* Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane, “Kimora Lee Simmons”, http://www.mystyle.com/mystyle/shows/kimora/castbios/index.jsp