Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Sapphires

OK, I've been M.I.A. It's not my fault, though!  I started a PhD program back in August! I've moved to a new state (I keep getting farther away from my home: the Northeast), and school has kept me busy, to say the least. In fact, I should be writing a paper right now. It's finals time. But, I did want to write about this movie I came across on Netflix over the weekend...

Have you all ever heard of the Australian 1960s R&B group, The Sapphires? Yeah, I hadn't either. This film is loosely based on a real group of aboriginal women who started a singing group, and traveled to Vietnam to perform for the troops during the war.
The movie Sapphires

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The group members are made up of three sisters and a cousin (I think you can tell who's who by the picture). While the sisters were raised in their rural aboriginal community, the fair-skinned cousin was stolen from the family by the Australian government, placed in a program in the city, and made to assimilate to White Australian culture (apparently the process of removing children who could "pass" for White, and placing them into assimilation process was common in the early 20th century in Australia).
Two things really stood out to me in this movie. First, it was interesting to see how similarly the indigenous Australians and minorities in America were treated during this era. At one point in the movie, the girls went to perform at a talent show, and although they did a great job, no one in the White audience (except one little boy) clapped when they were done. They also lived in a reservation-like community, similar to Native Americans. Clearly colonists executed similar strategies across continents (but we already knew that).
The Real Sapphires

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Secondly, the star of the movie is actually a real life pop star in Australia. I had never heard of her before the movie, but I definitely googled her afterwards. Jessica Mauboy was a runner up on Australian Idol in 2006, then released a solo album the following year. She's kind of a big deal out there, she's had several hit singles and top selling albums. I like her music too (now that I know about her)! And what a pretty girl (she looks West Indian, but I'm biased #WestIndianGirl haha. She's actually of Indigenous and Indonesian hertiage, according to Wikipedia) Check her out:
Anyway, I've got to get back to this paper. Signing off,

Friday, July 19, 2013

This Is How You Lose Her

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I absolutely love Junot Diaz's prose. This is How You Lose Her is the Dominican author's third book. It is also the third time I've read his work and haven't been able to put it down (check out his books Drown  and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ).
This book is a collection of short stories that center around a young Dominican man, and his complicated romantic or familial relationships with the women in his life. As someone with Caribbean heritage, who grew up in a working class family in the New York tri state area (Diaz grew up in New Jersey), I found myself identifying with and laughing at some of his protagonists' thoughts:
"While Rafa's hair was straight and glided through a comb like a Caribbean grandparent's dream, my hair still had enough of the African to condemn me to endless combings and out-of-this-world haircuts. My mother cut our hair every month, but this time when she put me in the chair my father told her not to bother." (pg  126)

"Only a b&%$h of color comes to Harvard to get pregnant. White women don't do that. Asian women don't do that. Only f&%$king Black and Latina women. Why go to all the trouble to get into Harvard just to get knocked up? You could have stayed on the block and done that s&%t." (pg 198)

But I don't want to suggest that the only people who "get" Diaz are those who are from an island and grew up in the inner city.  I truly think his work is relatable on a universal level, as it is down to earth, honest, and always entertaining. Presently, Diaz is a creative writing professor at MIT. I can only imagine that he's one of those "cool" professors with the fun class.

Are you a Junot Diaz fan? What do you think about his books?

Signing Off,

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

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Hey All! As I might have shared in a previous post, I had the privilege of traveling to Ghana last summer thanks to a fellowship through my MBA program. I spent a month there, traveling the country, visiting historical sites, and working on a business project. All of it was amazing and life-changing. Who would've thought I'd get the chance to visit the Mother Land. I look forward to going back one day (sooner, rather than later, I hope). But while I was there, I visited the bookstore in the Accra Mall, and picked up this book. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for the last year, but I finally decided to pick it up and read it. I'm glad I did.

Ama is a story about the Atlantic slave trade that occurred between the 16th and 19th centuries, wherein Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and British slave traders enslaved millions of Africans, transporting them from the west African coast to the US, Latin America and the Caribbean. In the new lands, the slaves were sold to a plantation owner, given a new name, forced to quickly learn a new language, and put to work for the rest of their lives (which were not very long, given the hard labor, lack of sleep, abuse, and poor nutrition).
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Ama focuses on the story of one girl's journey, from a free young woman in Ghana to a slave in Brazil. Her original captors are a adversarial group of Africans who invade her village while most of the people are away at a funeral (she stayed behind to watch her baby brother). As her captors sell her to different owners throughout the story, they re-name her as they see fit. Her birth name was Nandzi, then she becomes Ama, then Pamela, then One-Eye (you'll find out why in the book). Because she's sold to so many masters before even leaving the African continent, she learns several languages, and becomes a useful interpreter to her European enslavers. Although she finds favor in their eyes in this respect, she also clashes with many evil men, and is raped and beaten many times, as well.

A significant portion of the book is dedicated to her time at a Dutch slave castle on the coast of Ghana, where she becomes one of the Dutch men's concubine (she actually develops feelings for him). Reading this part reminded me of the Dutch slave castle in Elmina that I visited while I was in Ghana. The fortress is still standing and in decent condition, given it's age. It also still has an eerie feel: while standing in the slave dungeon last summer, I couldn't help but wonder if my own ancestors had stood on this very spot. I was the first person in my family to return to Africa since my ancestors had been stolen away. I felt like I had come full circle, and was coming back to Africa to pay my respects to those who had come before me. It was an emotional experience for me. One of my White classmates made a comment about how sad African history (specifically the slave trade) is, but after I thought about it for a bit, I felt proud. When you have the opportunity to look at the slaves' living conditions, and hear about their mistreatment first hand, you realize how strong, mentally and physically, someone had to be in order to endure and survive that. So many Africans died (or committed suicide, understandably) in the process, but I wouldn't be here had my ancestors not survived. How did they do it? Just to know that I come from a line of exceptionally powerful people is inspiring to me. If they can overcome that, imagine what I can accomplish in my own life today...

My photo collection: Elmina Slave Castle entrance, Ghana
 My Photo Collection: Elmina Slave Castle rooftop, Ghana
 My Photo Collection: Elmina Slave Castle entrance to male slave dungeon, Ghana
My Photo Collection: Elmina Slave Castle "The Door of No Return', Ghana

Do you read books about your ancestry? What makes you most proud? Have you read Ama? Although I bought it in Ghana, I see it is available here in the US, too.

Signing Off,

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Went to Sleep Snoop Dogg, Woke Up Snoop Lion

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So have you heard of Snoop Dogg's Lion's new documentary, released earlier this year? Well, it's on Netflix now, and being both a fan of Snoop's, and a descendant of Jamaica who respects Rastafarianism (I actually reviewed a book about the religion here,) I had to watch it. (I also just came back from a trip to Jamaica, where I went on Bob Marley tour, led by a group of Rastas). While it's true that Snoop has nothing to prove to me or you, I must say, I'm not convinced.

According to the film, his reasons for converting to Rasta (actually, I'm not even clear if he's actually converted), seems to have stemmed from experiencing the violent deaths of some of his closest friends, and realizing that some of his music perpetuated this kind of violence. He says he decided to make music that focused on love and the struggle, which was akin to the type of music Bob Marley created back in the day. Oh, and let's not forget that he's a heavy weed smoker, which is something Rastas engage in, as well, so I guess that equals a perfect fit? Not quite.

Snoop's doc is so heavily focused on the deaths he's seen, and the weed he likes to smoke, that I was left with a bunch of questions at the end. What else about Rastafarianism attracted him? Has he embraced the ital (all natural) food that Rastas eat? Has his family converted too? If not, how do they feel about it? All we really hear from his family in the film is that his daughter, Cori, feels like her dad is a happier person. Most importantly, and most integral to the religion, has he embraced Jah Rastafari as his god? AND, how was he able to smuggle all of that weed from LA to Kingston on the plane? LOL

Not to tear the doc apart, but I can't say it was enlightening, or particularly thorough with respect to the religion. Weed smokers might love it. On the plus side, it does sound like he's come up with some great reggae-inspired music through this "reincarnation" process.



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Are any of you all Snoop Dogg Lion (I keep forgetting) fans? What do you think about his reincarnation? Have you been able to catch this doc on Netflix?
Signing Off,

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Booker's Place

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"Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story", is a 2012 follow up documentary to an NBC special that aired in 1965 entitled, "Mississippi: A Self-Portrait". The man who directed the 1965 documentary, Frank De Felitta is the father of the man who directed the follow up, Raymond De Felitta. The original film focused on interviews with White and Black residents of Mississippi, who talked about how they view relations with their counterparts of another color. While the Whites made comments like, "the negroes love living here", a Black man named Booker, a waiter at a Whites-only restaurant by day, and an entrepreneur who owned his own resturant (Booker's Place) by night, honestly shared his experience. His assessment seemed fair: some of his White customers were nice, some weren't, but he confessed that he took it all in with a smile, because this was something he had to endure in order to make money to pay for his daughters' education (I honestly got emotional when he said this. He shared that he basically had to sing and laugh and overlook insult in order to keep his job, all to make sure that his children had a bright future.  I guess alot of our grandparents had to do this). It was also notable how Booker put on his act when the camera man asked him to do his typical routine in which he sang the menu to customers. Essentially, he had to put on the mask of the stereotypical jolly Black man for his customers, but when he spoke in a regular tone to the interviewer, the viewer can tell that he was quite intelligent, with goals and aspirations like any other human being (clearly, since he was a business owner, himself). Other Blacks who took part in the film withheld their opinions on life in Mississippi, which was probably wise.

Imagine the uproar when the special aired on television, and the Whites in Greenwood, Mississippi saw good ole Booker complaining about the way some of his customers treated him.  It seems that they felt that he was making the town look bad, and so he became a target. He was attacked and his restaurant was ransacked. He survived all of the above until several years later, a Black man shot him. Did the town's powers that be pay this man to shoot Booker? Was it all a conspiracy? Or was it pure coicidence that someone had finally "taken care" of him?

While this is just one man's story, it definitely represents the experiences of many people during this era. What bothered me most is that this is a reminder that this kind of blatant racism and mistreatment occurred in a time not so long ago. What I liked best, though, was to see that his dream came true, post-mortem, in that both of his
daughters grew up to be educated and successful.

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Are you interested in documentaries that take place in the civil rights era? Did you even know about the original documentary about Mississippi that aired in the 1960s?


The Book of the Night Women

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"And if she [the negro] just come from the ship, more so be the difference. If the negro is a Igbo, sooner or later, she goin' kill herself. If she come from or born to an Angolan, then she goin' be lazy till her dying day. If she come come from or born to a Popo or Ibibio, then she goin' work hard and laugh and merry and thank God for massa. If she be Akan, her hand working as hard as her mind plotting. But the Lord help you if you get an Ashanti, what the White people call Coromantee. Not even massa whip can tame she."

The Book of the Night Women takes place in late 18th century, early 19th century Jamaica on a plantation, and centers on the story of a young, mulatto slave with blazing green eyes named Lilith. As Lilith's mother dies shortly after giving birth, Lilith is raised by an unrelated, uncaring slave woman ("Massa" is Lilith's father, so he's obviously not stepping in to care for her) until the head house slave, Homer, steps in and takes the girl under her wing. Lilith, hot-tempered and extremely stubborn (she has Ashanti blood running through her veins, after all), constantly clashes with Homer, but Homer doesn't give up on her.

While the book follows Lilith through her ups and downs on the plantation (her smart mouth and hard head get her in trouble more than a few times), the reader is also privy to a plan that Homer is leading for a slave revolt against their White oppressors. Homer, and the other women spear-heading the movement, are very powerful, as each of them dabble in Myal and Obeah (black magic), and even though Lilith is a thorn in their sides, they try to include her, because they recognize that same power within her. Lilith is torn about whether she wants to participate, as she knows what it feels like to murder others (I told you she's hot tempered). It also doesn't help that she's been carrying on a (somewhat) secret, romantic relationship with the plantation's Irish over-seer.

Kingston-born Marlon James, a literature and creative writing professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the book's author.

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While this book is not a quick read at 417 pages, it did paint a very clear picture of slavery in the Caribbean. The rapes, the murders, the maroons, the British plantation owners, the division between the fair skinned house slaves and dark skinned field slaves are all made real in this novel. It's also a bit dark, as black magic plays a huge role in the story. Given the fact that I love history, and my family is from Jamaica, I had to read this book. I think you should read it to.

Are you interested in slavery-era novels? Do you know of other good books that focus on slavery in the Caribbean?



For Anyone Who Had a Crush on the Popular Kid in High School

I wasn't the popular kid in school back in the day (do the popular kids grow up and start blogs about good novels and documentaries?), but Davie Jones, the protagonist in the novel 32 Candles brings unpopularity to a new level. The story takes place in small town, Mississippi, in the era of 1984's hit movie, 16 Candles. Davie, born to a negligent, violent and unloving single mother (it was quite disturbing when the author finally revealed information about her birth father), has such low self-esteem, that although she's borderline brilliant, she ceases to talk.  From her unkempt hair to her second-hand clothing, she has little chance of standing out (in a good way) in the typically fashion-conscious high school environment. Her mom's less-than-respectable reputation around town also doesn't help matters.

Suddenly, Davie has a reason to look forward to going to school when a wealthy (and beautiful by stereotypical standards- they're described as being a light-skinned, light-eyed African American family, although light doesn't equal beautiful) family moves to town, and the three children enroll at her school.  Davie quietly (obviously if she doesn't talk) develops an obsessive, engrossing crush on the brother, who, of course, is tall, handsome, kind, and the captain of the football team. Somehow, Davie gets an invite to the family's VIP, invite-only party, and after a completely mortifying experience there, she logically arrives at the conclusion that there is no way she can return to school, so her best bet is to leave town. She literally catches a ride with a random truck driver (which forces her to finally open her mouth and communicate) and heads to LA.

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Fast forward several years, and Davie has reinvented herself. And this novel wouldn't exist if she didn't, by chance, run into her high school crush, who has also relocated to LA, and doesn't recognize her. And she's not trying to reveal her true identity, either, but he's adamant about getting to know her. Davie jumps through hoops trying to conceal her identity, but as the saying goes, the truth always comes to light. It also helps if you hire a private investigator, which is what her crush's sister did. The information the PI reveals about Davie makes the reader somewhat second-guess her dedication to "Team Davie- The Underdog" as she sees a sneaky, under-handed, untrustworthy side of Davie that she didn't even know existed.  But by the end, Davie manages to win us over again.

Author Ernessa Carter, blogger at, wrote 32 Candles. Given the domain name, one must wonder how much she borrowed from real life in writing this novel, as I would probably use those exact words to describe the new, improved LA Davie. This is Ms. Carter's first book (she has also recently co-authored on a book called Better Than Good Hair), but since I couldn't put 32 Candles down, I eagerly anticipate her next novel!

As you can probably guess, I highly recommend this book. Given that I'm a grad student with lots of homework, and I still managed to devour this book in a couple of days, says alot!

Were you the nerd or cool kid in high school? How has that influenced the person you are today?

Have you read this book?