An African American Woman Finds Her Chinese Roots

Paula Williams Madison

Paula Williams Madison grew up in New York with a half Chinese, half Jamaican mother, Nell Vera Lowe. Her mother’s Chinese father, Samuel Lowe, went to China in 1933 when Nell was 15 and never returned to Jamaica. Nell left Jamaica for New York to start a new life, but her Asian features set her apart, which contributed to her feeling of loss and loneliness.

Nell Vera Lowe, Paula Williams Madison’s mother

When Paula retired, she decided to fulfil her childhood promise to her mother and find her grandfather. Her search into her family history took her from New York to Jamaica to China. Following a lead from a paternal cousin, who noted the significant Chinese-Jamaican community in Toronto, Paula attended a conference about the Hakka, a Chinese minority who is known for migrating overseas. There she found the first clues regarding what happened to her maternal grandfather. In just a few months, she found herself on a plane to China to meet her Chinese relatives. Once there, she found genealogical records for more than 150 generations. Her documentary and memoir, “Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem” are based on her journey to discover her roots.

Samuel Lowe, Paula Williams Madison’s grandfather

 

Selected sources:
The Root, A Black Woman’s Search for Her Chinese Roots“, August 14, 2014.
Los Angeles Sentinel, “Retired Black Exec Finds Her Chinese Family,” January 20, 2016.

Two New Blasian Reality Show Stars Debut Today!

A new reality TV show featuring two blasians premieres Monday, September 3 at 11 PM ET/PT on Oxygen.  The ethnically diverse cast of Oxygen’s Girlfriend Confidential: LAincludes Eva Marcille (Puerto Rican / African American), Nikki Chu (Jamaican / Chinese / Canadian), Denyce Lawton (Korean / African American), and Kelly Marie Dunn (Korean adoptee).  The new series follows these beautiful and successful friends, as they help one another navigate the tumultuous waters of love and celebrity life against the backdrop of the Hollywood entertainment industry.

Eva, Nikki, Denyce, & Kelly

Nikki Chu is a high-profile design diva.  She is a dynamic interior and product designer and practices her love for art with her own company, Nikki Chu Design.  She is considered the virtual “it girl” of style.  The name “Nikki Chu” is synonymous with all that is fabulous.  Nikki Chu is a brand in which luxury has no limits and her style is in a class of its own.  Her flare for interior design has been showcased on E! Entertainment, HGTV, VH1, and the Fine Living Channel.  Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Nikki is of Jamaican Chinese heritage.

 Nikki with her mother and father. 

Actress Denyce Lawton is best known for starring in the series, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.  She has been the face of many advertising campaigns and has a number of television and film credits.  Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lawton is the middle child of three children, with an older half sister, who is full Korean, and a younger brother, who is also Korean-African American.  Her parents met when her father was stationed in Seoul with the US Army.  As a child, she lived a military life, traveling around the world.  She has lived in Germany, Kansas, Japan, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Washington, DC.

 
Denyce with her mother and father.
Denyce’s “Made in Korea” tattoo
Selected Sources:
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “Interview – Denyce Lawton“.

Blasian American Olympians

As we commemorate the end of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, let us recognize blasians who have represented Team USA throughout the history of the Olympics.

Tai Babilonia
Figure Skating

Tai with her skating partner, Randy

With partner Randy Gardner, Tai Babilonia was the 1979 World Champion and the gold medalist at the US Figure Skating Championships in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980.  Randy and Tai competed in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics.  They were medal favorites at the 1980 Winter Olympics but were forced to withdraw due to an injury to Gardner.

Tai Babilonia was the first figure skater of African American descent to win US and World titles.  Her mother was African American, and her father was part Filipino and part Native American (Hopi Indian). 

Sheila Hudson
Track & Field

Sheila Hudson (Korean-African American) dominated the triple jump in the US for years.  She started competing at age 10, took a two-year hiatus from competition when her family moved to Korea, and returned to track and field in high school.  She represented the United States at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  Sheila was the only American to reach the finals in the first Olympic triple jump competition for women and finished 10th.  

Tora Harris
Track & Field

Tora Harris was a four-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Outdoor Track & Field All-American (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002) and an NCAA Indoor All-American in 2002.  Harris was the number 1 ranked high jumper in the United States, according to Track & Field News, in both 2002 and 2006 and was among the top 10 every year from 2001 through 2009.   He was a member of the United States team at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

His mother, Susan (Su-Chen), is Taiwanese, while his father, who passed away in 2000, was African American.  His parents made him take Chinese lessons when he was young, and he attended first grade in Taiwan.  Tora speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.  His language skills made him very popular at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China, where he won a bronze medal.

Selected Sources:
* Tai Babilonia, Official website.
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “Prominent People – Sheila Hudson“.
* USA Track & Field, Tora Harris.

Blasian Olympians Worldwide

Ding Hui
Volleyball
CHINA

In April 2009, the Chinese Volleyball Team announced the 18 members of the men’s national volleyball team for the 2012 Summer Olympics.  Among them was Ding Hui, the first black athlete on a Chinese national team.  While Ding is the first mixed-race athlete to play on a national team, a number of foreign players play in China’s professional football and basketball leagues, and foreign coaches have worked with China’s national teams.

Nicknamed “Xiao Hei” or “Little Black”, by his team mates, Ding Hui is the son of a South African father and a Chinese mother.  A native of the east China city of Hangzhou, he speaks Mandarin and the Hangzhou dialect.  He is a Chinese national and was raised by his single mother, Yu Jianxiu.  Ding never met his father, who left China before he was born.

Ding Hui’s selection has stirred up some racial prejudices among his countrymen.  Commentators have noted that he has a “pleasant and perky nature” and is talented at “singing and dancing”.  On Chinese internet forums, he has been lauded for the “whiteness” of his teeth and the “athleticism of his genes”.

China’s black population is tiny.  However, the black population is growing rapidly.  One predominately African suburb in the southern city of Guangzhou is referred to as “Chocolate City”.  Since 2003, when China started pouring investments into Africa, there has been a significant movement of Africans in the opposite direction.   Hopefully, as China’s population becomes more diverse, future minority athletes will be recognized for their skills and performance, rather than their heritage. 

Cheltzie Lee
Figure Skating
AUSTRALIA

Lee was named to the Australian team, competing as one of the youngest Australians on the 2010 Winter Olympic team at the age of 16.  At the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, she qualified 18th in the short program, scoring 52.16 (her career personal best score), and finished in 20th place overall.  Cheltzie is working towards a spot in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Lee’s father is Chinese and was born in Bangladesh, and her mother was born and raised in Louisiana and is African American. 

Yvonne Kanazawa (金沢 イボンヌ)
Track & Field
JAPAN

Although Yvonne Kanazawa grew up in Sacramento and trained and coached at California State University, she competed for Japan.  “I was born in Japan.  My mom is Japanese.  So, I have Japanese citizenship only.  I’m not a dual-citizenship person.  So, I had no choice but to compete for Japan, and it worked out pretty well,” Kanazawa said.

Kanazawa is an eight-time national champion in the 100-meter hurdles with six records to her name.  In 1996, she became the first female sprinter in 32 years to make an Olympic team in Japan.  A Japanese record holder, Kanazawa again competed for Japan at the 2000 Olympics.  She was a semi-finalist at the Summer Olympics in Sydney and retired from competition in 2004.

Selected Sources: 
* Wall Street Journal: China,China Welcomes Chinese-African Player to National Team“, April 14, 2009.
* Cheltzie Lee, Official website.
* Yvonne Kanazawa, The Study of Racialism.

Blasian Americans at the 2012 Olympics

As we celebrate the beginning of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, let us recognize the blasians representing Team USA in London this summer.

CONGRATS TO LIA, KYLA, & PAIGE Blasian Olympic medalists for Team USA!

Lia Neal
Swimming 
Lia with her parents, Siu & Rome

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lia’s father, Jerome, is African American, and her mother, Siu, is from Hong Kong.  At age 17, she is the second woman of African descent to make the US Olympic swim team.

Lia competed in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the 2012 Summer Olympics.  She won the bronze medal on Saturday, July 28, with Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy, and Allison Schmitt, behind Australia and the Netherlands.  The team finished with a total time of 3:34:24, an American record.

To learn more about Olympic medalist, Lia Neal, go to her official website. 

Kyla Ross
Gymnastics

Kyla with her parents, Kiana & Jason

 

Kyla was born in Honolulu, Hawai’i and currently lives in Aliso Viejo, California.  Her father, Jason, is Japanese and Black, and her mother, Kiana, is of Filipino and Puerto Rican descent.  Her look reflects the multi-racialism of Hawaii.  “We call it the quadruple effect,” says her father.

Kyla earned the second-highest score on the uneven bars at the 2012 Olympic trials.  Nicknamed “Mighty Mouse,” Ross, 15, is the youngest person on Team USA’s gymnastics roster.  According to the Olympic format, each team selects three gymnasts for each of the four apparatuses in the final – balance beam, uneven bars, vault, and floor.  Kyla performed on the beam and the uneven bars.  On Tuesday, July 31, the US women captured the gold medal with an overall score of 183.596.

To learn more about Olympic medalist, Kyla Ross, go to her official website.

UPDATED
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 

Paige McPherson
Taekwondo

A native of Sturgis, South Dakota, Paige currently resides in Miami, Florida.  Born in Abilene, Texas, she was adopted when she was just four days old.  Her parents also adopted children from South Korea and Saint Lucia.  Paige is half Filipino and half African American (with a little Spanish and Japanese on her Asian side), and she likes to call herself “Blasian”.

Paige is looking forward to her first Olympics after defeating 2004 silver medalist Nia Abdallah to earn a spot on the 2012 roster.  Nicknamed “McFierce”, she is the youngest member of the US national team, having just graduated high school in January 2009.

Since turning 18, Paige has sought to connect with her biological roots.  She has an older brother, who she has already met.  She also has a half-brother and a half-sister, and she has spoken to her biological mother.  Paige plans to meet all of them after the Olympics. 

Paige represented the USA in the 67 kg women’s taekwondo event. In the preliminary round, Paige secured a surprise defeat over Sarah Stevenson of Team Great Britain, 5-1.  She went on to win a bronze medal by defeating Franka Anić of Slovenia 8-3.

UPDATED
Saturday, August 11, 2012 

Selected Sources:
* New America Media, Asian American Athletes Represent U.S. at 2012 Olympics“, July 25, 2012.
* Mas TaeKwonDo, Paige McPherson hopes to bring home a gold medal“, July 25, 2012.
* The Epoch Times,Lia Neal, Olympic Star Rising from Brooklyn“, July 5, 2012.
* The Madeleine Brand Show, SoCal gymnast Kyla Ross brings poise, nerves of steel to London Olympics“, July 11, 2012.

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