I hesitated to type a response to my friend back in the US, as the latest media reports of the virus situation over there — over 250,000 deaths and over 12 million confirmed cases — still circulate through my head. When I eventually type out that “Things are nearly back to normal”, a part of me flinches within, wondering if I just sent her the message equivalent of a gut punch. Is it ever polite to tell someone living in a bonafide disaster zone that it’s no longer a problem where you live? Even if it’s the truth?
I breathe a sigh of relief as she responds without any apparent annoyance, and I do my best to quickly shift topics to something else. But my guilt remains tenacious — the guilt that comes from living in a country that has nearly restored life to the new “normal”, as friends and family in the US, my home country, face a frightening surge of cases and deaths.
I wish my family and friends didn’t have to live with the threat of COVID-19 stalking them so close to home.
Wow, just wow. After a roller-coaster ride of an election day week (and a very long four years), I have been savoring this moment of learning that Joe Biden has been officially projected as the next president of the United States. And Kamala Harris will make history in the vice presidency as the first woman, the first woman of color, and the first child of immigrants to take office at that level.
But it feels a little sweeter knowing that, a little over 50 years since Loving v Virginia made interracial marriage legal across the US, we’re also going to see a woman who is part of an interracial couple and family in the office of the vice presidency. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, a black and South Asian woman, is married to Douglas Emhoff, a white man. It sends a powerful message to people across the country, if not the world, to have that kind of diversity reflected in the second-highest office in the US. I’d like to imagine that the Lovings are smiling down from heaven at this groundbreaking moment.
If you’re looking for a new vlog to watch on Youtube, check out Pooja and Robbie, a Chindian (Chinese and Indian) couple who does videos highlighting their multicultural family backgrounds (Indian, Chinese, Singaporean and American) and culture.
While recently watching the new PBS series Asian Americans, which premiered earlier this month, I learned about a fascinating couple — an Indian immigrant to the US named Moksad Ali, who married an African American named Ella Blackman in 1895 in New Orleans, USA.
According to Vivek Bald, an associate professor of writing and digital media at MIT with an interest in the South Asian diaspora in the US, Moksad Ali represents one of the earliest migrations of South Asian immigrants to the East Coast — people who were mainly Muslim men who hailed from the Hooghly region north of Calcutta and worked as silk traders.
Vivek: The peddler network in some ways has gone under the radar because that group was so transient. The majority of men who were peddling would come during the summer months to New Jersey to the seaside resorts and then make their way south to winter tourist towns. Moksad Ali was one of the earliest to settle in New Orleans.
Moksad Ali and the other peddlers, in order to sell their goods, they played up their South Asian-ness, their Indian-ness. They played to the fantasies of the exotic East that the tourists who they were selling to expected.
At the end of the day, however, they were dark-skinned men in a deeply segregated society. And the places were they were able to live, build homes, marry and begin families were within African American communities.
Moksad Ali settled in New Orleans around the same time as Jainal Abdeen and married a local African American woman, Ella Blackman. Ella’s family had come to New Orleans from other parts of the South in the years before and after the Civil War. Her father’s side came from Tennessee, her mother’s from Virginia. Moksad and Ella married in May 1895, when Ella was seven months pregnant with their first child, Monzure. On Monzure’s July 12 birth certificate, Moksad Ali listed his occupation as “silk merchant” and penned a clear but labored signature in Roman/English cursive letters.
In the series Asian Americans, Vivek Bald also builds on the story of Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman by speaking with the descendents of the couple, including in this exchange:
Robin (Descendant): I can recall my grandmother telling me a story about when they were small that her and her dad and mother went to New York on the train. The kids and the father was all allowed to sit up in the front of the train, but my grandmother had to sit in the back and she said, well, it wasn’t that she looked black. It was the fact that they knew she was black.
I said, well that’s odd because some of the kids’ skin complexion is darker than my grandmother’s. So, I thought that was really weird, but…
Vivek: Moksad was darker than your grandmother.
Watch a portion of the Moksad Ali-Ella Blackman story in this clip from the PBS series Asian Americans:
Or, view the entire segment on Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman in the first episode of Asian Americans (video only available to viewers in the US):
What do you think about the story of Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman?
This past weekend, we just heard that in Beijing, you no longer need to wear a mask while outdoors. It’s welcome news with the warming weather, which has made wearing a mask outdoors an often sweaty proposal. But it’s also a relief to me for another reason – I’ve started to forget my mask.
In the past month or so, at least once or twice a week I would leave the apartment and then have to turn back when I realized I had walked out of my apartment with a “naked” face.
(Side note: Isn’t it something that nowadays not having a covering over my mouth and nose somehow seems bizarre and even like a form of “indecency” when stepping out?)
Anyhow, if I had to speculate why I seemed to space on wearing a mask, I would guess it’s partly the weather, and partly because people in Beijing are worrying a lot less about the virus.
Now, I don’t take anything for granted when it comes to the coronavirus. China continues to register small handfuls of imported cases every single day, and parts of the country have seen small flare-ups in local cases. I know the virus still remains in our world, and as the experts here continue to caution, we cannot entirely let our guard down.
Still, it’s been over a month since Beijing saw any locally transmitted infections. Businesses are continuing to fling their doors open, schools are gradually welcoming students back, and you see more people out enjoying the blue skies and late spring breezes.
Even my office has eased measures to enter the building. We now need to just flash our QR code showing our health status (green for OK to enter) and pass by an infrared temperature checkpoint that takes only a second. If I can pull up the QR code while walking in, I barely even need to pause. It’s a huge step up from what we once had to do – stop while an attendant checked our temperature, and then sign in on a registration sheet.
Meanwhile, as Beijing is rising from the past ravages of COVID-19, my home country of the US is still very much under siege by the virus. I find myself caught in a kind of “Twilight Zone” existence every time I flick on the international news and get the latest updates about the US, where the people I love most in the world still live. Their lives have been thrown into a turbulence I could never have imagined nor wished for them, as they struggle with everything from furloughs and other employment unknowns to the specter of illness that has settled over their communities as the virus continues to spread.
And yet, the states where my loved ones live — which are still seeing new daily case numbers that either equal or exceed the total number of cases we saw in Beijing — are starting to reopen. It’s stunning, in the worst possible way.
When I go to my office, I don’t really worry that a coworker might be infected with COVID-19. My employer had even asked everyone in the company to stay in Beijing and not travel outside to avoid any potential risk of transmission.
Meanwhile, when my family and friends eventually return to their offices — which might have minimal or no screening measures in place, nor other policies to lower the potential for infection — they may not have the same peace of mind.
And chances are, it’s going to be a long time before they ever forget to wear a mask.
Has your area been reopening? How has it been for you?
More recently, the couple has built up a business selling blankets in a rainbow of brilliant hues — and is gaining a following for the beauty and quality of their Tibetan-style products.
How did it all come about? Kimberly has graciously written a guest post sharing the story behind Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blankets.
If you’d like to learn more or make a purchase, you can connect with Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blankets through WeChat (by scanning the QR code in the photo below) or through Facebook and Instagram.
As a foreigner living in a minority area in China, I have had the opportunity to enjoy traditional handicrafts around every corner. I’ve also had the chance to spend time with and observe other foreign visitors to the area. One thing we all seem to have in common is an admiration for traditional Tibetan clothing.
Having married into a Tibetan family has also taught me a lot over the years. I’ve been able to get to know people in my husband’s hometown and the surrounding area, see how their lives are, and watch the rapid changes happening there.
The idea for our Tibetan-style blankets came to me after realizing a few different things.
Even though the traditional robes Tibetans wear daily or for special occasions are beautiful and readily available for purchase, they do not make very good souvenirs or gifts for visitors. This is because there aren’t many opportunities to wear them once visitors go back home. I wanted to provide something similar to these robes that everyone can use, display and enjoy.
I have learned a bit about Tibetan tailors in my husband’s hometown area. Most are elderly; young people are not learning the trade. The culture has changed in recent years due to shifts in the economy and education. Now, instead of patching up old robes or asking tailors to make new ones, people buy new premade robes in shops. This means less and less work for local tailors.
By employing seasoned village tailors to make blankets in the style of their Tibetan robes, we can improve their incomes while providing useful and cultural home furnishings. It is our hope that our success will help Tibetans realize the beauty and value of their traditional crafts, and inspire an interest in preserving them for future generations.
At the moment, our main tailor Tsoko is working on the majority of our blanket orders. At the same time she is providing for her 80-year-old mother and middle school-aged son. As a single parent and sole caretaker of her mother, she is the only earner in her family. She has been working odd jobs to make ends meet. We are happy to be able to provide her with a more regular income and to reduce the strain on her family’s finances.
Because our blankets are so beautifully colorful, like butterflies, we chose to name our business Shema-lep, the word for “butterfly” in the Amdo Tibetan language.
Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blankets lets customers choose from a variety of colors, materials and sizes. All of the materials available are the same materials Tibetans use to make their modern-day robes. Now real sheep and lambskin blankets are available as well. We are pleased to be able to provide something that is both authentically Tibetan and beautifully useful in any home. We are looking forward to growing and helping more tailors in the future. We enjoy sharing Tibetan culture through textiles and stories. Thank you for reading our story.
A huge thank you to Kimberly for sharing this story! If you’d like to learn more or make a purchase, you can connect with Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blankets through WeChat (by scanning the QR code in the photo below) or through Facebook and Instagram.
Much like the Eiffel Tower’s dazzling light show, Paris glimmers in the eyes of many, with countless people dreaming of travel to this alluring French capital. Author Suzanne Kamata did, inspiring her to see Paris as a young woman, and now her teenage daughter Lilia wants her turn (“a girl after her mother’s heart” as Kamata writes).
But Kamata’s memoir Squeaky Wheels, built loosely around how the two eventually realize a once-in-a-lifetime mother-daughter trip to Paris, along with other travels, offers a very unique perspective. It’s one that goes beyond how Kamata is a white American woman married to a Japanese man, raising their bicultural and biracial children in Japan.
That’s because Lilia is deaf, so she communicates primarily through Japanese Sign Language, and also has cerebral palsy, which in her case has meant largely navigating the world in a wheelchair.
Like many mothers, Kamata has a fierce devotion to her daughter and she’s resolved to help Lilia realize her rosy-eyed dreams as much as possible, including travel. Getting there, however, means negotiating the less-than-ideal and even discriminatory accessibility issues that invariably arise when you have a wheelchair and sign language involved.
Kamata’s determination and sense of adventure, combined with honesty, vulnerability and a good dose of humor, make for an endearing narrator. And Lilia’s bright disposition (“She exclaims rapturously over butterflies, heart-shaped pancakes and the first cherry blossoms of spring”) shines throughout the pages. With the two together, Squeaky Wheels delivers a captivating journey that’s also eye-opening, inspiring and a delight to read.
In addition, Kamata effortlessly weaves into the narrative a fascinating look at Japan and Japanese culture, including as it relates to biracial/bicultural families as well as people with disabilities. Artsy readers will also enjoy the visits to museums, from Yayoi Kusama’s polka dot wonders to classic works by Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Rodin. And with France and Paris in starring roles, Squeaky Wheels serves up an irresistible story for anyone besotted with the City of Lights and its nation.
Yung Wing (1828-1912) stands out in history as the pioneering overseas Chinese student, the first from China to graduate from an American university (Yale, class of 1854). He also went on to champion higher education for his fellow Chinese compatriots by establishing the Chinese Educational Mission, which helped send other Chinese students to US schools (including Yale) for a period of time. And countless students, scholars and lifelong learners have benefited from his generous donation of over 1,200 books to Yale, which formed the heart of its celebrated East Asian library.
But Yung Wing’s life also stands as a tragic example of how Chinese exclusion brought about needless suffering — and in his case, the death of his beloved wife, a European American woman.
Yung Wing, who had become a naturalized US citizen in 1852, married Mary Kellogg, from the town of Avon, Connecticut. In a 1875 photo from their wedding day, Mary looks graceful in a long, flowing white gown adorned with garlands of flowers, just like any beautiful bride. (In his memoir, Yung Wing states that, much like the Chinese Educational Mission, it was one of his daydreams while at college to marry an American woman.)
Yung Wing and Mary Kellogg went on to have two sons together: Morrison Brown Yung and Bartlett Golden Yung. Yung said of them in his memoir My Life in China and America:
They are most faithful, thoughtful and affectionate sons, and I am proud of their manly and earnest Christian characters. My gratitude to God for blessing me with two such sons will forever rise to heaven, an endless incense.
Unfortunately, their marriage took place amid growing the anti-Chinese sentiment gripping the US — as Yung Wing described it in his memoir, “The race prejudice against the Chinese was so rampant and rank….” The era culminated in one of the most discriminatory laws ever enacted in America: the Chinese Exclusion Act, which passed in 1882.
…the Chinese Exclusion Act [was] overtly designed to impact and even destroy the existing Chinese American community. Yung’s citizenship was stripped, and when he traveled back to China to continue his work as a diplomat, he was denied readmission into the United States under the law’s bigoted pretenses. In a painfully blunt letter relying this decision to diplomat Charles Denby, Secretary of State John Sherman admitted that the exclusion “would on its face seem unjust and without warrant. … Nevertheless, … the department does not feel that it can properly recognize him as a citizen of the United States.”
This denial of Yung’s citizenship, and indeed of the fundamental truths of his half-century of inspiring and influential American life and work, profoundly affected his family and final decades of life. Deeply traumatized by their extended separation and by fears for Yung’s life, Mary passed away, leaving Morrison and Bartlett to be fostered out to family friends in New England.
Mary’s death came in 1886, which meant their entire marriage lasted only a scant 11 years. She would never live to see other indignities visited upon her husband, as TK Chu noted in the work 150 Years of Chinese Students in America:
[Yung Wing’s] life at old age was lonely (his children were working in China) and at times humiliating. He was asked to leave a boarding house when fellow boarders refused to share a dining table with him. After that he found his last residence at 284 Sergeant Street, Hartford; he entered his second floor quarters through a side entrance.
Today, I’m sharing a short story a reader shared about her white American daughter Jessica, who she introduced to a lovely young Chinese man that has brought happiness to the both of them.
Do you have a story about love or anything else you think would fit this blog? Have a look at the submit a post page and then contact me today with your ideas or draft submission.
My daughter Jessica is as American peaches and cream as you get, and James, who has been in the U.S. for two years, is shy, a little awkward, respectful, brilliant and just a bit goofy. He and my daughter share a love of cats, music, Volkswagen Beetles, and all things anime and “cute.” They text off and on all day and never run out of things to say.
Ordinarily I’d be a little reluctant to let my daughter, who is in her late teens, get close to someone four years older, but James is as innocent as she is (they’ve both never dated anyone before), and I got to know James pretty well over the past couple of years and actually introduced him to my daughter.
Right after I introduced them, a group of us went to dinner for my birthday. Jessica was very shy and withdrawn. And James, knowing that Jessica’s favorite music group is Owl City, arranged with the restaurant somehow to play only Owl City music the entire time. A couple of weeks ago he bought her Hello Kitty Converse shoes, and Jessica reciprocated by giving him no-bake cookies (which I got to make, since Jessica tends to burn things up when she cooks – LOL). Next came snacks from the Asian market that James determined were all “cute,” and banana bread (baked by me, of course) was Jessica’s next thank-you offering. I’ve told her it’s okay to accept these things from James as long as she remembers to show him kindness as well and not just accept gifts as her due.
I have no idea what will happen in the future, but I love this young man and how well he treats both me and my daughter.
I wish I could tell every young Chinese man out there, both in the U.S. and in China, not to give up hope; that there are, indeed, lovely young American women who think Chinese men are desirable and fun, girls who think these young men are exactly what a man should be. Girls who are wise enough to look at a person’s heart and character instead.
While Shannon might indeed claim the title of “Most Married,” in fact, many other intercultural and/or international couples straddling the East-West divide have also held more than one wedding ceremony.
Tying the knot across cultures and borders makes it that much harder to have all your family and friends together at one single ceremony. Travel costs and even securing visas can already get in the way of well-intended supporters who would love to watch a couple say “I do”. Plus, every country and culture has its own distinctive wedding customs and foods, often difficult to replicate outside those borders. And what about those of us who, say, grow up with a dream of getting married at home?
For all of these reasons — and more — many East-West couples prefer to organize at least two wedding ceremonies (and yes, sometimes even three or four)!
Whether you’re looking for wedding inspiration, a way to remember your big day, or a delightful diversion, here are two different examples of how East-West couples have chosen to walk down the aisle more than once.
Since the beginning we planned a double ceremony. We are both interested in each other’s culture and we like to learn and experience about it so having our wedding ceremony only in one of our countries would have meant missing something. Besides, we both have aging grandparents who could not travel. A double ceremony, one in Japan and one in Italy, was the perfect solution.
My husband’s family lives in Kyoto so it was natural for us to get married there. We choose Kamigamo Shrine because the Kamo river had played an important role in our story being the place where we strolled hand in hand for the first time on our first date. Again we were lucky because the shrine was already almost fully booked and we got the 12.45 slot.
I choose this village because it is the place where the priest who celebrated my parent’s wedding lives. He moved there some years ago and we kept in contact. He was overjoyed when I asked him to celebrate our wedding on January 5th 2017. He also helped us a lot because, since my husband is not Catholic, we needed to obtain a special permission from the Catholic Church in order to get married with a Catholic ceremony. My priest is so dear!
The couple also decided to sandwich their honeymoon between the two ceremonies (they went to Norway — Northern Lights and dog sledding!).
This blogger went on to chronicle every moment of each wedding ceremony, with lots of Instagram-worthy photos. In Kyoto, the couple organized the day a little differently to reflect their cultures and also accomodate guests from outside Japan. Here’s my favorite quote about their ceremony:
The ceremony lasts twenty minutes and ends with further blessings and prayers. We leave the wedding hall and walk to the inner shrine where we pay our respect to the god. In the meantime it has stopped raining. My father in law says it is the hare hito hare onna power. Hare hito hare onnameans sunny guy, sunny girl, my father in law likes to say that when me and my husband are together the sun always shines. The funny thing is that it is actually true almost all the time, we have always been lucky with the weather.
We didn’t exchange rings during the Japanese ceremony because we choose to do it during the Italian ceremony since the rings exchange originally is a western tradition. Our wedding rings are a gift from my parents and our Best Men. Usually inside the wedding rings there is the wedding date engraved but we got married twice and we didn’t want to choose one date over the other so we decided instead to write 二人三脚 (nininsankyaku) that means “two people, three legs”. It is a Japanese proverb and it describes two people cooperating and sharing responsibility to achieve a common goal. To us it is the perfect synthesis of what being a married couple means.
You can read both posts for a vicarious look into the ceremonies in Japan and Italy (and to ooh and ahh over the photos)!
If you’re an East-West couple, then shouldn’t each ceremony truly reflect your cross-cultural relationship? That’s the kind of reasoning that Katie at Adventures in Asia shared about her decision to have a Chinese-style wedding in the US and an American-style wedding in China:
My dream was to have an American-style wedding in China and a Chinese-style wedding in America. I thought this sounded fun and interesting! Until our wedding, none of my family had visited China before, so giving my relatives and friends a taste of my relationship and my life in China at our wedding in the U.S. was very important to me. I felt that doing cross-cultural weddings would express our cross-cultural identity as a couple. Doing our weddings this way would mean sacrificing certain customs – that is, I couldn’t have a truly and completely American wedding in China on a reasonable budget, and we couldn’t do all of the Chinese family traditions in America. That’s reality.
The Chinese wedding dinner usually includes a Western-style ceremony inserted halfway, complete with the bride dramatically entering in a white dress and the exchanging of rings and simple vows. This is sandwiched between the Chinese traditions of the bride and groom welcoming all the guests at the door (and receiving all the red envelopes of cash money), and the couple toasting each table of guests (after the bride has changed into a red dress or qipao). There is also usually entirely too much food stacked onto the tables, the parents give speeches, someone sings a song or performs a dance, and an emcee entertains with games and prizes. We tried to replicate this dinner at our States-side wedding and got decently close!
+We had our ceremony at the church where we attend, and as such we did not pay anything for the building, the officiant, the pianist, or the sound guy. In China, it’s all about who you know!
-Finding an officiant to marry us was surprisingly difficult. Most of the people we asked weren’t too keen on the attention of a Chinese-foreigner wedding. (For Chinese, the emcee usually narrates the vows, if they do them.) I wrote the entire script for the wedding myself (mostly inspired by traditional Western ceremony I found online), and my husband translated it.
+We were able to hire a company to handle the reception decorations (as mentioned previously). Our dining tables were outdoors with candles and dangling lights in the trees and dancing under the stars! This definitely would have been outside our budget in the U.S.
-Finding everything from candles to the flower girl basket in white, not red, was a constant struggle, but possible!
I recommend reading Katie’s entire blog post, which details everything from some of the initial challenges to their East-West engagements and both of the ceremonies.
For East-West couples who are considering two wedding ceremonies, what do you think is the best solution?
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