• Wonderful photo essay on Chinese-Americans of the Mississippi Delta (from the NYT)

    For decades, the Chinese-American community has been an integral part of the Mississippi Delta, the rich farmlands south of Memphis, Tennessee.

    That surprises people who don’t know the area, just as the presence of a Jewish community in the small towns does.

    Now, the area’s population has shrunk because of large farms, expensive equipment, and good highways. Walmart and Amazon played their part, too.

    The Chinese and Jewish communities have shrunk disproportionately, as they children have become professionals and moved to the cities. There are still vibrant Chinese-American and Jewish communities in the South, just not in the rural Delta anymore.

    We are fortunate, though, to have two recent documentations of the Delta’s Chinese-American community when it was thriving.

    The New York Times has just published a long piece, combining photos and text, with lots of references to Clarksdale, Greenville, Marks, and other towns.

    The link to that piece is here. (I wish to thank Robert May, formerly of Clarksdale, now of Chicago, for letting me know about it.)

    I have not included the fine pictures from that article here since they are copyrighted by the photographers. Take my word, they are worth viewing.

    Please note: the NYT photo essay is different from the documentary film, Honor and Duty, I mention below and mentioned in an earlier ZipDialog post. Pictures from the film are the ones to the right.

    UPDATE: My friend, Vernon Shelton, says that Taylor Pang, whose photograph appears in the article, was one of his students at Delta Academy in Marks.

    The only additional point I would make about the NYT piece is that the headline is wrong. It says the Chinese-Americans were/are “neither black nor white.” I think that misunderstands the historical social divisions of the region, which, unlike South African apartheid, only briefly had any intermediate category. In the days of Jim Crow, there were black schools, churches, and restaurants, and there were white ones.  Groceries, clothing stores, and drug stores were mixed-race. Basically, if you sat down, it was segregated. If it was recreational, it was segregated. If you stood up, it wasn’t.

    The Chinese-American community were, according to the film, given an intermediate category in the 1920s and 1930s, but after that, they were clearly “white.”

    That was true when I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and I wrongly assumed it had always been so. They went to the white schools and churches, dated white classmates, went to Ole Miss long before James Meredith desegregated it, and so on.

    Oddly, the families almost all owned grocery stories, just as the Jews owned clothing stores. The children of both groups became accountants, eye doctors, lawyers, and the like, rather than taking over their parents’ businesses. Many moved to Memphis, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Austin, and other cities, mostly Southern, were the opportunities and cultural life were richer.

    What I learned from the film is that they were not always considered white in the Delta. Nor were they considered black. They had an intermediate position, even in law. That ended during World War II when they joined the military.

    The story of how the Chinese-American community of the Delta evolved is told in a fine, new documentary film by E. Samantha Cheng, a New York news producer who stumbled on the subject. Here is a brief and very thoughtful interview with Ms. Cheng (link here), who clearly admires the people she profiled. Her film is entitled Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese, and I highly recommend it.

  • A fascinating–and very fair–documentary on Mississippi Delta’s Chinese families

    Had a wonderful afternoon in Chinatown, the highlight of which was a 90-minute document film on the Chinese-American families of the Mississippi Delta.

    For an overview of the film and a trailer, click here. The film is non-political and mostly features interviews with Chinese-Americans from across the region, hundreds of photographs, plus a few comments by blacks and whites who knew the Delta Chinese all their lives.

    If you grew up in the Delta, as I did, you’ll know all the places and some of the people interviewed–and still learn a lot.

    I didn’t know, for example, that Jonestown and Sledge had the first two Chinese-American mayors in the United States. I didn’t know that Chinese-Americans were generally not allowed to attend “white high schools” in Mississippi until WWII. Before then, they built their own school in Cleveland, MS, to educate their kids.  I didn’t know that, until the Communists took control of China in 1949, many men from the Delta still visited their ancestral villages to find a bride and bring her back to the U.S.

    The film has three segments:

    • Part One 1870 to 1940
      How Chinese first came to Mississippi told in the context of the period. The what, where and why’s they came and stayed.
    • Part Two 1941-1945
      Chinese WWII veterans and their families share stories of the war and its impact on their lives in the Mississippi Delta.
    • Part Three 1946 to Present
      How Chinese have influenced the social and economic fabric, custom and culture of Mississippi.

    It was great to see interviews with friends like Cedric Chinn and Pap Pang and several others I know well.

    It was great to hear Bill Luckett, Ed Kossman, and Sparky Reardon.  talk about their experiences. Sparky, now-retired Dean of Students at Ole Miss, talked about working with Chinese-American students 30 years ago to create a social organization. He spoke of how wonderful it was to see them return for a reunion with children who followed in their footsteps at Ole Miss.

    The film was made by an experienced New York journalist, E. Samantha Cheng, and is skilfully put together. (It is available as a DVD on this link.)

    It ends with the photo I blogged about recently: Pap Pang being honored at Vaught-Hemingway stadium at halftime for his 100th birthday.



  • Remembering a beloved figure in the Delta, “Pap” Pang

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    I just learned that L. K. “Pap” Pang has died, aged 105. Generations of Mississippians knew and admired him.

    Born in Marks, educated partly in China (as his father wished), he lived most of his life in with family in Clarksdale. He will be buried in Marks, next to the extended family he loved so much. His brother, Andy Pang, and brother-in-law, Noah Chinn (married to Pap’s sister, Gene), ran our town’s best grocery, the King Store.

    Pap was Mississippi’s oldest WWII vet, and, as everyone knew, a dedicated fan of the Ole Miss Rebels.

    One of the high points of his later years was being honored at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on his 100th birthday, surrounded by family and friends. He was recognized there again, on Veterans’ Day, when he turned 105.

    A full obituary is here.

    After a rich, full life, may he rest in peace.


  • How to Know When You’ve Left the South and Arrived in Manhattan: Two Tales

    Tale #1: My own story begins with the tallest building of my youth, the McWilliams Building in Clarksdale, Mississippi, about thirty miles from my hometown of Marks. It was 6 or 7 stories and proudly bore the name of its owner. It was, I’m sure, the tallest building for several counties around.

    When I visited New York for the first time (something I did in high school with my family), I was like most kids from small towns, amazed by the forest of skyscrapers, many with famous names.

    But what struck me most was walking down a side-street in Midtown, looking up at a 60 or 70 story building, and noticing that its name was only its address. That told me: “Buildings this tall are so common here that they don’t always get a special name.” They might, of course, but the fact that many did not told me how commonplace they were.

    Tale #2: I thought of that today, reading the obituary for a New York Times’ reporter, Roy Reed. He was from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and one of the paper’s lead reporters during the Civil Rights Era. The paper turned to him frequently when they needed a reporter who knew the South. (Obituary here)

    Over the years, he wrote several books, but I was particularly intrigued by the title of his memoir, Beware of Limbo Dancers.

    His story about that title is much like mine about the McWilliams Building, a variant of “you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

    The title, he wrote, came from a message neatly written on the inside of a door in a bathroom stall in the old New York Times building on West 43rd Street.

    “This was a style of wit that I had never before encountered,” he wrote. “I suddenly knew that I was a stranger in town — not unwelcome, just a stranger.’’ –New York Times



  • Simple acts of human kindness

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    This, from the checkout line at Walmart in Clarksdale, Mississippi, sent to me by a friend.

    It was one cashier’s simple, human, humane response to an older customer, flustered and embarrassed that he had to pay for his groceries with pocket change.

    As Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger headline puts it:

    Walmart cashier’s inspirational response reaches people everywhere

    So far, that post has been shared over 40,000 times.

    And I’m glad to share it with you.

    Many thanks to Robert May for sending this.

  • Biloxi School Board pulls “To Kill a Mockingbird”

    The classic was part of the standard 8th grade lesson plan.

    But, you guessed it, some people felt “uncomfortable.”

    Not exactly a powerful pedagogical argument, but it more than suffices in today’s hypersensitive environment.

    Kenny Holloway, vice president of the Biloxi School Board said, “There were complaints about it. There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” –Biloxi Sun Herald (link here)

    Being “uncomfortable” was more than enough for the delicate sensibilities of the school board.

    Comment: Hey, Kenny, you and the board made history.

    In Biloxi’s long and storied history, you are the first recorded snowflakes.



  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, August 5

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Special Counsel Mueller’s office ask White House for docs on Mike Flynn; doing a full investigation of Flynn’s financial dealings, especially those with Turkey (New York Times)

    Taking money from Turkey or any foreign government is not illegal. But failing to register as a foreign agent is a felony, and trying to hide the source of the money by routing it through a private company or some other entity, and then paying kickbacks to the middleman, could lead to numerous criminal charges, including fraud.

    Prosecutors have also asked during interviews about Mr. Flynn’s speaking engagements for Russian companies, for which he was paid more than $65,000 in 2015, and about his company’s clients — including work it may have done with the Japanese government. –New York Times

    Comment: Besides Flynn’s vulnerability, the thing to note here is that Mueller’s office appears to be illegally leaking confidential investigation materials to the NYT.

    Venezuela’s march toward complete dictatorship continues (New York Times)

    Hugo Chavez’s successors are rewriting the Constitution to give themselves total power.

    Predictably, the economy is collapsing, people are trying to flee, etc.

    Comment: Sean Penn had no comment.

    US proposes even tougher UN sanctions against North Korea (Channel NewsAsia)

    Vote expected Saturday in UN Security Council after a month of negotiations with China. It will be the 7th set of UN sanctions on North Korea.

    The [proposed] measures that include a ban on exports of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore, as well as seafood by the cash-starved state. . . .

    The draft text would also prevent North Korea from increasing the number of workers it sends abroad, prohibit all new joint ventures and ban new investment in the current joint companies. –Channel NewsAsia

    The proposal would also blacklist the regime’s Foreign Trade Bank but would not prohibit shipments of oil to North Korea.

    Comment: The EU, Japan, and South Korea have supported US efforts.

    My guess: These sanctions will not stop Kim’s pursuit of nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan “casts doubt on Pres. Trump’s plan to cut legal immigration” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

    To quote Ryan:

    With baby boomers leaving the workforce, we’re still going to have labor shortages in certain areas and that is where a well-reformed legal immigration system should be able to make up the difference. –Paul Ryan interview with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    Comment: ZipDialog has noted that the proposal to cut the number of legal immigrants is separable from the proposed new point system, focusing on higher skills and English language. Big business does not want the total numbers cut, and Ryan’s comments suggest those concerns have resonance.

    Nissan workers in Mississippi overwhelmingly reject high-profile unionization bid from United Autoworkers (New York Times)

    In a test of labor’s ability to expand its reach in the South, workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi have overwhelmingly rejected a bid to unionize.

    Out of roughly 3,500 employees at the Canton-based plant who voted Thursday and Friday, more than 60 percent opposed the union. It was an emphatic coda to a years-long organizing effort underwritten by the United Automobile Workers, which has been repeatedly frustrated in its efforts to organize major auto plants in the region. –New York Times

    Experienced workers make $26 hour there, well above average wages in the state. Detroit wages are a few dollars higher. Nissan’s contributions to employees’ retirement accounts are similar to those of Michigan automakers, according to the NYT.

    Comment: The majority of plant workers are black, and the UAW had contributed heavily to civil-rights organizations as part of the organizing effort.


  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, April 21

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     ISIS terror in Paris’ Champs-Élysées

    Comment: Why would Islamic terrorists strike so close to the election, in such prominent spot? What’s the logic?

    They surely know it will increase support for the most hardline anti-Islam candidates. They must calculate that such candidates will strengthen their own radical basic in poor, bitter, poorly-integrated areas in France and across Europe. That is, they want to drive a wedge between French Muslims and the rest of the country, hoping the Muslims will then side with ISIS.

    The high-profile attack also signals strength to their supporters around the world. They are saying, in effect, that we may be losing their territorial Caliphate in Iraq/Syria, but we can still cause death and destruction to the Infidels. Of course, all non-Muslims and perhaps even Muslims who are not in ISIS are infidels.

    Meanwhile, Europe itself is in the midst of a cultural, political, and organizational crisis, besieged on several fronts with no clear leaders and confusion over what to do about Islamic immigrants, Russia, the EU, and Turkey.

     US intel agencies reexaming leaks, could indict Julian Assange and WikiLeaks (CBS)

    They are also engaged in a major hunt for the sources of multiple devastating releases of information, some to WikiLeaks, some to news outlets.

     VERY prominent financial exec says there are “some warning signs [in the economy] that are getting darker” (Bloomberg)

    The comments came from Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager (over $5 trillion). Fink stressed how much depends on corporate earning and political action in Washington.

    The stock market needs validation that U.S. corporate earnings will stay strong and that the policies of President Donald Trump regarding taxes, regulation and infrastructure will advance in Congress in order to move higher, Fink said.

    “If we don’t have earnings validated in these higher P/Es [price/earnings ratios] we could adjust downward 5 or 10 percent from here,” Fink said. “If the administration does succeed on some of these items then the market will then reassert itself going higher.” –Larry Fink, interviewed by Bloomberg News

     Fine piece on the Mississippi Delta blues, local food, and other attractions in Clarksdale and points south  (Jackson, MS, Clarion-Ledger)

    It comments on the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood, Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, and a lifelong favorite of mine, Chamoun’s Rest Haven (Lebanese food) in Clarksdale.

    Comment: The omission of Abe’s Bar-B-Q is a serious error of omission that should be corrected immediately by the Clarion-Ledger.

    People don’t go to Abe’s for the view or white table cloths. They go for some serious pulled-pork sandwiches.

    In other Mississippi news: Gov. Phil Bryant vetoes a budget line-item spending $50,000 on a PR campaign telling people wild hogs are dangerous. His point: they are dangerous, but you should already know that unless you are an idiot. He was more polite.



  • Remembering a GREAT Journalist: Bill Minor, who reported on Mississippi civil rights

    Those were hard years–and dangerous for straight-up reporters, as Bill Minor was.

    After seven decades of reporting, including the James Meredith enrollment at Ole Miss, Bill Minor has died at age 94. He began covering Mississippi politics in 1947, reporting on Theodore Bilbo!

    The Jackson Clarion-Ledger has a wonderful remembrance, including interviews with Bill.

    That is particularly moving to me since the Clarion-Ledger was on the wrong side of these issues in the 1960s.

    Two Tweets are worth adding: