Family Ties and Bridging Cultures

Los Angeles, CA

Paula Madison

“My parents emigrated to Harlem from Jamaica in 1945 but my parents split when I was three. We lived with my biracial mother; she had a Chinese father and an African-Jamaican mother.

“When I was six years old, I realized that my mother was so sad because she didn’t have a family. Her father left Jamaica to return to China with a second wife and some of his children from his first wife; she was left behind because my grandmother didn’t want her to go with him.

“So I promised myself that I would find her father. I knew little about him: that his name was Samuel Lowe and he was a Hakka Chinese descendant. He was a shopkeeper in Kingston with a dry goods shop and he met my grandmother there.

“When I had my first job at 21, I learned that retirement age was 65. I decided that I would retire at 58 so I would still be young enough and have the time to go find my grandfather.

“When I retired in 2011, I reached out to my relatives in Jamaica. I found out that the Hakka people have a conference in Toronto every four years—and there was one happening in a few months. I found out that the conference co-convenor’s surname was Lowe—same as my grandfather! Eventually, through emails to Hong Kong and the mainland, we found out that his uncle was my grandfather’s son!

“Six weeks later, I flew to Shenzhen, China to meet my 94-year-old aunt, my 88-year-old uncle, and some English-speaking cousins. I had prepared documents, pictures, and newspaper clippings for them to see when I met them, finally. And I had to think about what it meant for me to connect with my grandfather’s family. My husband, in his protective way, had asked me, ‘When you find these Chinese people in your family, what do you want to happen?’ What do you mean, I asked him. ‘Paula, do you know you’re Black?’

“It had never occurred to me that they would not accept us because of race—because the woman who loved us, took care of us, and protected us had a Chinese face!

“And I was right. When I met my (Aunt Odessa) she held my hand and said, ‘Bring everybody home. Bring them all here. Our blood has been apart for too long and now that we’ve found each other, we’ll never lose each other again.’

“I’d always thought that, when it comes to race, there’s more that we have in common than we don’t. And when I found my family, meeting more than 300 of my grandfather’s direct descendants in Guangdong, China, that August of 2012, I knew it to be true.”


This story was originally published in 2016 via AARP x NextDayBetter storytelling campaign.


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