I was a Guest Lecturer at Binghamton University (SUNY) recently, where I presented to a History and English departments multidisciplinary course called “Chinese in the Americas.” Professor Lisa Yun, a noted historian and author of the landmark book “The Coolie Speaks-Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves in Cuba,” presided. My film “From Shanghai to Harlem,” (on Youtube) was shown as a vehicle to drive discussion about lost history about the Chinese in the Caribbean.
My mother’s (Trinidad and Guyana) Chinese-Caribbean “coolie” ancestors are featured in my film. Some of them were ‘Shanghaied’ to the Caribbean from Hong Kong by the British government shortly after the African Slave Trade was abolished. But we all know by now that slavery was not truly abolished. Slavery continued to be practiced using Chinese and Indian workers in place of the African enslaved people. The mostly Asian students in the Binghamton University class were surprised by these family stories. The students were also interested in my African-American paternal family’s escape from Mississippi after a lynching and eventual arrival in Harlem as part of the Great Black Migration.
Professor Yun’s students asked some amazing questions that ran the gamut — from queries about light-skinned-white privilege; daily life of a mixed-raced person; the value and power of women’s oral histories; to comparisons between Chinese indentured “coolie” workers and African enslaved people. One student wanted to know why I didn’t keep my family story a secret! And yes, some of my relatives are angry that I discuss these stories in public!
I was filled with gratitude to be able to meet Professor Yun and her young inquisitive students who were open to learning and greatly contributed to an important discussion. It is dialogues like these that inspire me and so many others like me to keep digging for more true American-Diaspora stories! We hope to follow-up the class with an outing to a New York Chinese-Caribbean restaurant and a museum exhibit.
To book me and my film for future university guest lectures, send email to Hello@YoNarrative.com or call 646-530-1056.