I thought I was White until I learned my mother’s secret. The census helped me tell my family story.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Census/Demographics, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-12-27 21:52Z by Steven

I thought I was White until I learned my mother’s secret. The census helped me tell my family story.

The Washington Post

Gail Lukasik

Gail Lukasik’s mother, Alvera Frederic Kalina, in New Orleans circa 1942. Kalina was born into a Black family in New Orleans but spent her life passing as White. (Family photo)

The first time I was grilled about my racial identity, I’d just given a talk to an all-White audience at a suburban Chicago library.

“What are you, anyway?” a woman asked. Her blunt tone put me on edge.

I’d just related my mother’s story of racial passing. How she and her New Orleans family were designated as “Negro” during the Jim Crow era, how she moved north to Ohio, married my White, bigoted father, and hid her mixed race from him and eventually us. Looking back, there were small clues, like she always wore face makeup, even to bed.

I’d told the audience about my journey of finding my mother’s birth certificate and discovering her racial secret when I was 49, confronting her — and her swearing me to secrecy until her death. Then 18 years later, I found my mother’s lost family, thanks to my appearance on PBS’sGenealogy Roadshow.”…

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BOOK REVIEW: “White Like Her” by Gail Lukasik, Reviewed By C. Ellen Connally

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-08-03 02:22Z by Steven

BOOK REVIEW: “White Like Her” by Gail Lukasik, Reviewed By C. Ellen Connally

Cool Cleveland

Former Clevelander and author Gail Lukasik named her recently published memoir White Like Her. Subtitled My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing, Lukasik tells the story of her mother, Alvera Frederic Kalina, who changed her racial identity from black to white when she married in 1944 and moved to Cleveland. With that move, she abandoned her black family and racial heritage and in her mind, became white like the man she married.

Alvera hid her secret from the world until her daughter made the discovery when she was tracing her family tree. Her mother’s birth certificate and that of her grandfather and other relatives ,along with census records, showed that her mother and other relatives were black. When confronted with such concrete evidence, Alvera refused to admit her mixed-race heritage. In her mind, her life as a black person was over when she married and left New Orleans, the city of her birth. She begged her daughter not to reveal her secret. For 17 years, until her mother’s death, Lukasik continued her research but did not reveal her findings outside her immediate family.

Stories of passing — a term used to define the process of abandoning one’s cultural identity and adopting another — are traditionally associated with a light-skinned black person who assumes a white identity. People of color living as white have been the theme for many literary works in the late 19th and 20th century. Clevelander Charles W. Chesnutt, a black man who could have easily passed for white, wrote a significant number of stories about black people passing for white around the turn of the 20th century. Many of the stories take place in Cleveland which he fictionalized to be Groveland, Ohio…

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The Secret Album reveals how a powerful truth changed a family forever

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2019-05-22 21:03Z by Steven

The Secret Album reveals how a powerful truth changed a family forever

The Garage
HP (Hewlett-Packard)

Patrick Rodgers

A novelist learns about her mother’s long-held secret by search for what’s missing from her family photo albums.

The Secret Album is part of HP’s original documentary project, History of Memory, which celebrates the power of printed photos.

We treasure family photos not only because they illuminate the past, but also because they can offer up an alternative narrative to the stories we tell — and retell — about our identities.

This is true for author Gail Lukasik, who was just as captivated by what was left out of her parents’ snapshots as by the faces and stories they portrayed. Growing up in suburban Ohio, Lukasik puzzled over why there were so few pictures of her mother’s side of the family. In the stack of family photo albums, there were only a handful of black-and-white prints of relatives from New Orleans, where her mother, Alvera (Frederic) Kalina, had lived in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. “I felt very close to my mother, but she had a certain mystery,” she says. “When I used to ask her about that she’d say, ‘Oh I just don’t have any,’ which I thought was strange.” Her mother’s guardedness about her own family’s origins were yet another layer to their already complex relationship…

…It took Lukasik two years to confront her mother, and the encounter didn’t go well. “I had never seen her so afraid,” says Lukasik, who tells the story in her memoir, White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing. “She said, ‘Promise me you won’t tell anyone until after I die.’”…

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Secret heritage

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-11-12 04:32Z by Steven

Secret heritage

The Herald-Argus
La Porte, Indiana

Matt Christy, Staff Writer
Telephone: (219) 326-3870

Secret heritage
White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing” is on book shelves now and available for check-out at the La Porte County Public Library.

Author tells story behind new book

Looks can be deceiving.

To look at a photograph of Alvera Frederic Kalina, you wouldn’t know the secret she was hiding. Hiding from her husband, hiding from her children, hiding from everyone but those she cut all ties to when she left her New Orleans roots far, far behind.

Alvera avoided the sun. She had no photos of her family. She was obsessed with makeup, even wearing it when she slept.

“I can’t even imagine the fear she lived with, which I later understood was why she did (those mysterious things),” said Alvera’s daughter, author Gail Lukasik.

Lukasik is a mystery writer, but her newest book “White Like Her” is a mystery of another sort. Unlike the female driven detective novels Lukasik is known to pen, “White Like Her” tells the story of a true mystery, one Lukasik — not one of her fictional protagonists — unraveled. It was the mystery her mother made her swear to carry to her grave.

It began with Lukasik wanting to know more about her mother’s father, Azemar Frederic. She knew nothing of her grandfather and when asked, her mother would only say her parents divorced when she was young and her father didn’t raise her.

“The one time I asked her if we could visit New Orleans, where she grew up, she said it would depress her to go home, so I let it go. But in the back of my mind I always wondered about Azemar Frederic. What did he look like? What did he do for a living? What kind of man was my grandfather?” she said.

The answers would shock her and would change everything she thought she knew…

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