From Jamaica to China, a Journey of Identity

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - September 6, 2015

Exploring the new memoir Finding Samuel Lowe by Paula Williams

By Dana NIland
CJ Contributor

“Finding Samuel Lowe” chronicles author Paula Williams Madison’s search not only for her grandfather she never knew – the eponymous Samuel – but for a family and a part of herself that has always seemed missing.

As she states towards the endf her new memoir, “This is no longer just the story of my mother and her father– it is an important part of the sweeping history of two worlds, two countries, and countless lives.”

Despite holding close quarters in their New York City home, Madison felt a palpable distance between she and her mother, Nell, from a young age.

Nell was born in Jamaica to an unmarried Jamaican mother and Chinese father, Samuel Lowe, which made her an “outside child,” in her home-country, an identity she seems to carry even after leaving the island.

After her mother’s death, it is the unknowns about her past that seem to drive Madison passionately to reconnect with her Chinese family, to develop a greater understanding of her mother and herself.

With fascination and determination, she pieces together the genealogy and geography of her family, through anecdotes of stowaways at sea, emails from a long lost uncle, and, eventually, trips to both China and Jamaica where she is able to visit the site of her grandfather’s store, the family village, and the cemetery where her ancestors were laid to rest.

Madison even succeeds in bringing together over 150 relatives for her Aunt Adassa’s 94th birthday, even coordinating the journey from the U.S. to China for many of them.

Despite the years, cultural differences, and language barriers between everyone, they are all seamlessly bound by their shared path, and accept each other immediately as family.

Integration, Madison writes, “is a psychological process of consolidating often dissonant experiences and bringing them into harmony.”

She realizes this process not only in the relation between her relatives, but also within herself, as she delves into the heritage of the Hakka people, her family’s particular subgroup of the Chinese known for their strength, independence, and ferocity.

Not coincidentally, these were the characteristics with which Madison had always associated with her mother, a woman who unwaveringly sought a better life for her children, teaching taught them to stand up for themselves at any cost and to relentlessly pursue success.  When Madison learns that the three pillars of her Chinese family’s motto are family, education, and prosperity – in that order – the search truly comes full circle.

The stories of Madison’s ancestors are filled with hardship – from struggles in Jamaica during the Great Depression to the Communist Revolution in China – but through it Madison finds herself, her story, and a place on her long-lost grandfather’s family tree.

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