Track­ing the spirit of the Hakka Chi­nese

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By KELSEY CHENG in Toronto for China Daily

With thick, curly brown hair and a dark com­plex­ion, Paula Wil­liams Madi­son (aka Siu Na Lowe) of­ten had trou­ble ex­plain­ing her Chi­nese lineage — prob­a­bly be­cause all she knew about it was that her grand­fa­ther was Chi­nese.

That was un­til she at­tended the Toronto Hakka Con­fer­ence four years ago. There she dis­cov­ered a vast net­work of con­nec­tions that even­tu­ally helped her find her long-lost grand­fa­ther and his 300 de­scen­dants in China.

“The con­fer­ence is the only place where no one laughs when I say I am Chi­nese,” Madi­son said.

Born and raised in the Har­lem sec­tion of New York City, Madi­son is in fact a 151st gen­er­a­tion mem­ber of the Hakka Lowe clan. Her grand­fa­ther Sa­muel Lowe, along with many Hakka Chi­nese, came to Ja­maica in 1905 to work on a plantation. He re­turned to China in 1933 when his daugh­ter, Nell Vera Lowe, Madi­son’s Chi­nese-Ja­maican mother, was 3 years old.

In­spired by her Hakka heritage, Madi­son, af­ter re­tir­ing at the age of 58, started to re­search her roots. She learned about the Toronto Hakka Con­fer­ence in 2012 and signed up, not knowing what to ex­pect.

“I had never seen my grand­fa­ther and I didn’t have a lot of in­for­ma­tion about him,” Madi­son said. “But from the gath­er­ing in 2012, I learned enough about the Hakka peo­ple, I met enough Hakka peo­ple, and I found Hakka peo­ple who were will­ing to help me — in­clud­ing a cousin — Keith Lowe. We didn’t even know we were re­lated when we came!”

More than 100 guests from nearly 10 coun­tries in­clud­ing Ja­maica, Trinidad, the US, Aus­tralia, In­dia and Malaysia gath­ered at the Chi­nese Cul­tural Cen­tre in Scar­bor­ough for the fifth Toronto Hakka Con­fer­ence on July 1. The theme of the three-day con­fer­ence, which con­tin­ued at York Univer­sity, was the “bound­less Hakka spirit”.

The con­fer­ence is the only place where no one laughs when I say I am Chi­nese.”

“Hakka peo­ple are all over the world,” Madi­son said. “They are global peo­ple, and while we have an af­fec­tion for and affin­ity to the coun­tries we re­side in, it’s the Hakka cul­ture that unites us.”

Con­fer­ence co-founder Keith Lowe was born in Ja­maica, and while he knew he was Chi­nese, he didn’t re­al­ize he was Hakka un­til he came to Canada and met other Chi­nese peo­ple from dif­fer­ent prov­inces.

“All Chi­nese born in Ja­maica are Hakka from the Shen­zhen and Dong­guan area, and we are all the same,” Lowe said. “When I came to Canada, I saw a dis­tinct way of life. I’m dif­fer­ent — I’m Hakka.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hakkaol­ogy re­searcher Pa­trick Chen, since 1854, many Chi­nese first ar­rived in Ja­maica as in­den­tured labour­ers. By 1885, many of them had ac­cu­mu­lated enough wealth to start small busi­nesses, usu­ally gro­cery shops, and grad­u­ally ex­panded into other busi­nesses such as car­bon­ated wa­ter, co­conut oil, bak­ing and spices.

By 1957, the Chi­nese in Ja­maica were run­ning nearly 400 bak­eries and 200 restau­rants. The Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion in Ja­maica peaked at 11,800 in the 1970s, then de­clined as many left fear­ing a fi­nan­cial down­turn. Most went to the US, Canada and the UK.

The term Hakka trans­lates as “guest fam­i­lies”, re­fer­ring to the Hakka peo­ple’s ten­dency to mi­grate. Start­ing in 317 AD, there have been five ma­jor Hakka mi­gra­tions from the north­ern prov­inces of He­nan, He­bei and Shanxi to the south­ern prov­inces of Guang­dong, Fujian and Jiangxi, as the Hakka peo­ple up­rooted their fam­i­lies to avoid famine and civil wars.

For­mer Cana­dian Se­na­tor Vivi­enne Poy, a pa­tron of the con­fer­ence, be­lieves her mother’s Hakka spirit is within her.

“Hakka women were the only women in China that didn’t bind their feet,” she said. “They were in­dus­tri­ous, they worked along­side their men to max­i­mize their in­come and fought along­side their men in bat­tle.”

“We are al­ways mov­ing and wher­ever we are, we mix with the lo­cal peo­ple and we adapt the lo­cal traits,” Madi­son said. “When we blend in lo­cally, that doesn’t mean our cul­ture is sub­dued.”

Be­ing Hakka him­self and a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Univer­sity of Toronto, con­fer­ence co- founder Shui Loon Kong’s re­search on the Hakka was in­spired by his own fam­ily tree.

“I am hon­oured to be in the pres­ence of so many Hakka peo­ple, from so many dif­fer­ent places — not just ge­o­graph­i­cally, but also racially and cul­tur­ally,” Kong said in an in­ter­view.

In his key­note speech, Kong iden­ti­fied two key el­e­ments of the Hakka spirit: hum­ble­ness and fru­gal­ity.

“Be­ing hum­ble means also car­ing for oth­ers and hav­ing an open at­ti­tude to­wards oth­ers,” he said. “Fru­gal­ity is de­fined in terms of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion — a re­spect for ma­te­rial and peo­ple, de­vel­op­ing both for a bet­ter fu­ture. Hakka peo­ple are prac­ti­cal, yet they aim high in life.”

Schol­ars some­times gen­er­al­ize and call Hakkas part of the Han peo­ple, he said. In fact, the Hakka are more like global cit­i­zens.

“Since the be­gin­ning, Hakka peo­ple have been a sym­bol of hu­man­ity, as they be­lieve liv­ing in har­mony with other cul­tures and eth­nic groups,” he said.

Many Hakka- Cana­di­ans have be­come lead­ers, en­trepreneurs, ed­u­ca­tors and pub­lic ser­vants, in­clud­ing for­mer gov­er­nor gen­eral of Canada Adri­enne Clark­son, who was the first HakkaCana­dian to be ap­pointed to the po­si­tion.

Shaun Chen, the first Hakka to sit in Canada’s Par­lia­ment, re­ceived the Hakka achieve­ment award for his con­tri­bu­tions to Canada, where his par­ents came to set­tle in the 1970s.

“I am truly hon­oured,” Chen said. “Be­ing a HakkaChi­nese- Cana­dian has al­lowed me to have a global perspective on so many things. To have this room full of dif­fer­ent Hakka di­as­po­ras from Asia and from the Caribbean is truly sym­bolic of the Hakka spirit as well as the Cana­dian spirit. I’m very proud to be a part of that.”

To most of the guest speak­ers, the most im­por­tant at­ten­dees of the con­fer­ence were the young chil­dren who came along with their par­ents and grand­par­ents.

“You are what we are here for; you are the next gen­er­a­tion of us,” Madi­son told the youth in the room. “Our grand­fa­thers and great­grand­fa­thers did ev­ery­thing, so that you could have every op­por­tu­nity to be ex­cel­lent. So wher­ever you’re go­ing, we are go­ing with you.”

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