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News

Paula Madison talks about history of Hakka in America

Anthony Alvarez

Paula Madison

An discussion with Paula Madison about the Hakka diaspora in the new world.

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Paula Williams Madison and her brothers Elrick and Howard grew up in Harlem, raised by their immigrant single mother Nell Vera Lowe.  Paula and her brothers didn't look like most black people in Harlem. They had no relatives there. There was something different about their facial features. "My mother looked Chinese," Paula says. "I grew up knowing my mother had Chinese ancestry." 

The family story was that Paula's mother was born in Jamaica and that her maternal grandfather's name was Samuel Lowe, a Chinese shopkeeper in Kingston, Jamaica. She hadn't seen her father Samuel Lowe since she was 3 years old. In order to fulfill a promise to their mother to connect to her estranged father's people, Paula and her family embarked on a journey to uncover their ancestral roots.

Finding Samuel Lowe”, Madison’s book and documentary film by the same name captured her search. Her research led her to a Hakka Conference in Toronto, Canada. And as luck had it the co-chair of the conference was Dr. Keith Lowe.

“I said ‘Oh my god you are the only Chinese Jamaican I have ever met. And you have the same last name as my mother,” Madison recalled.

Dr. Lowe had not heard of Madison’s mother but agreed to email his family. He received a reply the following day and shared it with Madison. “My uncle says Samuel Lowe was his father.” The family story was, one day Samuel Lowe left Kingston and went home to China and died. The story, as with many family stories, was not complete.

Paula found out that many Chinese-Jamaicans had come from a group of North Chinese who had been driven from their homes to South China. They were called the "Hakka" and every four years the Hakka descendants held a reunion. Only a couple of months after her search began, she and her brothers hustled to attended one of those reunions in Toronto, where they met with a group of Hakka who pledged to help her find her Chinese family.

Her new Hakka friends told her there were only two villages in South China where you would find the Lowe name. One of those towns was a village called Niu Fu, the other seemed like a natural fit-Lowe Swee Hap, a Chinese city that included the family name. Her Hakka friends began contacting relatives in China and within a matter of weeks, the lines were connected. She found that she was related to a cadre of previously unknown aunts, uncles and cousins living in Shenzhen, China.

In August, now only five months after she began her search, Paula made the trip to China to meet her lost family. She returned to China in December 2012 with her brothers and 16 family members to piece together the lost family stories.

Her Chinese kin greeted her warmly and told stories about Samuel Lowe. The family was surprised to learn that Paula's mother was likely Samuel's oldest daughter and would have held a high place of honor had they known of her.

In Chinese culture, villages sometimes keep family stories. The stories, that go back centuries, are written in a document called Jia Pua.  Paula saw her family's Jia Pua that stretches back three thousand years to 1006 B.C. and there was, of course, no mention of her mother, or of the black Chinese-American family she raised. Not once in three thousand years has the document added footnotes or backdated additions. But Paula Madison insisted on accuracy. "You know I wouldn't rest until that happened," she said. Nell Vera Lowe's name was added to the village history book.

There was a reason Paula Madison had a lifelong gnawing need to know her past. She comes by it naturally. The gates of Paula Madison's ancestral village of Lowe Swee Hap in Shenzhen, China are topped with a sign with three words. "Family, Education, Prosperity."  Note, that the word "family" comes first.

And that is why the second New York Hakka Conference is named "Extending Our Hakka Family."

Because this conference aims to build upon traditional Hakka narratives from the heartland by including innovative ways of telling stories of Hakka family with diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural features gathered from places around the world, particularly that of the Afro/Caribbean and South America.  Having formally acquired the status of “perpetual outsiders,” new generations of Hakkas will seek to gather accounts of positive relationships with native hosts and even explore cooperative “ventures” with former less than friendly “Punti” people.  Thus, the conference will be held directly across the street from Tsung Tsin Association and the Hakka Associations which are outsiders in the predominantly Taishan (Punti) New York Chinatown.  Furthermore, the conference will address current issues and concerns about Hakka studies, with the goal to encourage former English speaking “Hakkaologists” to update their research and continue to contribute to the ongoing global Hakka identity formation.

Corky Lee discusses Tales of the Golden Spike

Anthony Alvarez

Corky Lee, American Legion Post 1291

Corky Lee believes that some of the railroad workers might have been Hakka and if so, they would they would have been omitted twice. 

The 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad will be celebrated in 2019.  The contributions of Chinese to this massive undertaking are largely omitted and unrecognized by US history. The renowned Chinese American photographer, Corky Lee will talk about the annual trip he leads with descendants of Chinese railroad workers and many other adventure seekers. He also will share his iconic photography taken for the reenactment of the railroad’s completion with staged Chinese workers, many of them descendants of the original workers.  He will also present the preliminary travel plan for the 150th anniversary celebration.

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Corky Lee is a second-generation Chinese American. He grew up in the borough of Queens, New York where his father was a welder turned laundryman and his mother worked as a seamstress.

Lee’s interest in photojournalism was first sparked in 1970 while he was in junior high school when he saw a well-known photograph that commemorated the 1869 completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The picture showed railroad workers posing on and around two trains, one from the Central Pacific and one from the Union Pacific Railroads, symbolizing how the tracks united the Eastern and Western United States. Lee was struck by the fact that there were no Chinese workers documented in the picture despite the fact that thousands of them had worked and sacrificed their lives in its construction. From this moment on, he was devoted to making the accomplishments of Asian Pacific Americans more visible.
The main goal of Lee’s work is to chronicle and explore the diversity and nuances of Asian American culture overlooked by mainstream media and to make sure Asian American history is included as a part of American history. In a quote from Asianweek he said that photography has a distinct purpose ‘…every time I take my camera out of my bag, it’s like drawing a sword to combat indifference, injustice, and discrimination, trying to get rid of stereotypes.’

Lee’s documentation of Asian Americans ranges from a chronicle of everyday life to capturing monumental historical events such as the struggle for civil rights. One of Lee’s most significant achievements came in 1975, when a photo he took of a Chinese-American being brutalized by the police appeared on the cover of the New York Post. That day, Mr. Lee recalls, 20,000 people marched from Chinatown to City Hall to protest police brutality. He also chronicled the furious protests by the Asian American community in the aftermath of the Vincent Chin murder trial in 1983 when the two laid-off Detroit autoworkers who had murdered Chin in the mistaken belief that he was “Japanese” and had “stolen” their jobs, were freed without facing a single day of jail.

Lee’s work has been widely recognized and has had a profound influence, shaping American perceptions of Asian American society. In 1988, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins dedicated May 5th to honoring Lee’s body of work. Lee was honored a second time with May 7, 1993 being announced as “Corky Lee Day” to again commemorate his fine work on behalf of the Asian American community.
Lee’s work has been featured in Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Associated Press, The Villager, and Downtown Express. His photographs have also been featured in various exhibitions throughout US cities and college campuses.

Corky Lee went to Promontory Point, Utah, where the original railroad photograph that had inspired him to become a photographer had been taken. In a bid for what he called “photographic justice” he reshot the picture with 400 Chinese Americans from all across the country, correcting their absence from 133 years before.

The workshop will be held on SUNDAY, August 6, 2017 at THE YUNG WING PUBLIC SCHOOL, 40 Division St., NY, NY 10002 from 1:30 - 2:30 pm in the Auditorium.

Havana Chinese Cemetary Workshop with Dr. Keith Lowe

Anthony Alvarez

Dr. Keith Lowe, PhD

Dr. Keith Lowe discusses his workshop "Havana Chinese Cemetery Project" at NY Hakka Conference 2017. The idea for this joint project came from a visit to Cuba in January 2017 by Dr. Keith Lowe, Dr. Bayer Jack-Wah Lee, Jook Leung, Howard Williams, Jared Lee and Paula Madison. While visiting the Chinese Cemetery in Havana, they saw remains of thousands of deceased Chinese Cubans which presently are in bone boxes bearing their names and home villages. The boxes originally were created to be sent back to China to be buried in the person’s home village.

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Throughout his long career, Dr. Lowe has remained committed to education, multiculturalism, and community service. He is currently on the Board of Directors of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, as well as an advisor to the Canadian Multicultural Council - Asians in Ontario. In 2000, he organized the Hakka Conference which was held at York University with resounding success. Recently, he organized a symposium, in association with The Bata Shoe Museum, entitled By Leaps and Bounds: Images of Chinese Women since Foot binding. He is a past president of the Ontario Multicultural Association, and the author of several studies on multiculturalism and anti-racism. Dr. Keith Lowe is chair and co-founder of Toronto Hakka Conference.

The workshop will be held on SATURDAY, August 5th at 21 Pell Street Manhattan Chinatown Community Center from 9:45 - 11:45 AM.

Conference Program

Anthony Alvarez

This conference aims to build upon traditional Hakka narratives from the heartland by including innovative ways of telling stories of Hakka family with diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural features gathered from places around the world, particularly that of the Afro/Caribbean and South America.  Having formally acquired the status of “perpetual outsiders,” new generations of Hakkas will seek to gather accounts of positive relationships with native hosts and even explore cooperative “ventures” with former less than friendly “Punti” people.  Thus, the conference will be held directly across the street from Tsung Tsin Association and the Hakka Associations which are outsiders in the predominantly Taishan (Punti) New York Chinatown.  Furthermore, the conference will address current issues and concerns about Hakka studies, with the goal to encourageformer English speaking “Hakkaologists” to update their research and continue to contribute to the ongoing global Hakka identity formation.

Read More

From Harlem to China

Anthony Alvarez

Paula Madison being interviewed by NTDTV.com

Paula Madison being interviewed by NTDTV.com

In order to find her lost Chinese family members, Paula Madison begins her journey to China. Watch her story at NDTV website.

My childhood was spent in Harlem, New York, when I felt that my mother was always very sad, and she was always talking about the importance of family relatives.” I was wondering if our family had no relatives, and I understood that there was no family and relatives, and that was the reason for my mother’s sadness, so I decided then, and when I grew up, to find my grandfather.
— Paula Madison