Essence and the Mulatto Traveler: Europe as Embodiment in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-11-26 00:13Z by Steven

Essence and the Mulatto Traveler: Europe as Embodiment in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

The Journal of Transnational American Studies
Volume 4, Number 1 (2012)
15 pages

Jeffrey H. Gray, Professor of English
Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey

Originally published as Jeffrey Gray, “Essence and the Mulatto Traveler: Europe as Embodiment in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand,” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 27, no. 3 (1994): 257–70.

This 1994 article by Jeffrey Gray originally appeared in the journal NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction (Duke University Press). An early foray into transnational American Studies, Gray’s analysis of the role “Europe” plays both in the narrative and in the life of the author herself begins with a discussion of the object of art—the self as exoticized, distanced other—imagined and displayed against the carceral black body in the American imaginary, an imaginary that holds the protagonist, Helga, hostage to an indeterminacy represented by her mulatto status. Gray argues that the “quicksand” of the search for essence, whether located in the body or in the eyes of others, eventually dissolves the protagonist’s sense that a change of place can change the truth that essence does not exist. Gray references the shared observation among African American international celebs (Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Josephine Baker—whose 1973 interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is cited) that “being different is different” in Europe, yet that otherness is finally also not an experience of self, which the narrative (and perhaps the author’s life as well) proves to be endlessly deferred.

Read the entire article here.

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Josephine Baker: A Chanteuse and a Fighter

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Media Archive, Women on 2012-11-23 20:07Z by Steven

Josephine Baker: A Chanteuse and a Fighter

The Journal of Transnational American Studies
Volume 2, Number 1 (2010)
18 pages

Konomi Ara
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

This excerpt is from her newly-published biography of Josephine Baker, “A Fighting Diva.” It tells the intriguing story of Baker’s travels to Japan, her close friendship with the Japanese humanitarian Miki Sawada, and her adoption of a pair of Japanese orphans. Even after she achieved celebrity in France, Baker’s experience as a Black American led her to develop an antiracist philosophy at a worldwide level, and she combined political militancy in the public sphere with a personal commitment through the formation of an international multiracial household of children, the “Rainbow Tribe.”

Introduction: The Adoption of an Occupation Baby

Over half a century ago, in 1954, an African-American known as ‘The Amber Queen’ visited Japan. She was Josephine Baker (1906–1975), the dancer and singer who had
leaped to fame in Paris in the 1920s. The newspaper Asahi Shinbun described the feverish welcome she received on her first visit to the country:

“The amber-skinned singer Josephine Baker arrived from Paris on an Air France flight into Tokyo Haneda Airport at 9.40pm on the 13th. She has come to give fundraising performances for the abandoned mixed-race children of the Elizabeth Sanders Home in Oiso in Kanagawa Prefecture. The airport was thronged with many fans, including young women and black American soldiers, who had flocked in spite of the fine rain. Dressed in a black suit and a blue overcoat, Mrs Baker was greeted in the lobby by the director of the Sanders Home, Mrs Miki Sawada, the First Secretary of the French Embassy Monsieur Travis and the Daiei Studio actress Noboru Kiritachi among others. When two children from the Sanders Home, seven-year-olds Toshikazu Sato and Misao Kageyama, presented her with a bouquet, she gave the half-black boy and girl affectionate kisses on the cheeks. When she greeted all who had gathered, her voice was unexpectedly youthful for a 47 year old: ‘This is my first visit to Japan. Nothing could make me happier.’ She then headed for the Imperial Hotel with her pianist Milos Bartek and two others.” (14th April 1954)

As the article states, the purpose of Josephine’s visit to Japan was to give charity performances in support of abandoned mixed-race children. She had been invited by her friend Miki Sawada, the director of the Sanders Home, who was caring for the children known as ‘Occupation Babies’. The proceeds from Josephine’s performances around Japan would fund the construction of a boys’ dormitory at the Elizabeth Sanders Home, Baker Hall, and it still stands today although its use has changed. Josephine’s name and her words are carved at the bottom of a pillar on one of the corners of the building.

However, Josephine had a more important personal reason for her visit: she was going to adopt a child from the Home. Indeed, upon her arrival at the airport she asked Miki: “Where is my child?” and she was keen to meet the boy whom it was already agreed she would adopt. So Miki changed their plan, which was for Josephine to meet the child, Akio Yamamoto, three days later at the Elizabeth Sanders Home in Oiso, and instead took him to the Imperial Hotel the very next day. In the evening edition of Asahi Shinbun on the 14th, there is a photograph of a smiling Josephine holding Akio alongside an article headlined: “The First Meeting with Little Akio”.

Josephine subsequently visited the Elizabeth Sanders Home and adopted one more boy on the spur of the moment. Thus, the first two of Josephine’s 12 adopted children from different parts of the world and different cultural, religious and racial backgrounds, who would become known as The Rainbow Tribe, were from Japan. The youngsters would spend their childhoods at Josephine’s chateau, Les Milandes, in the Dordogne region of southwest France…

…This home for infants was founded in February 1948. The institution, which became well known as a home for mixed-race children, was a major project started by Miki Sawada. This eldest daughter of the Iwasaki family of the former Mitsubishi conglomerate, who had a privileged upbringing and who married the diplomat Renzo Sawada to become Miki Sawada, was moved by the problem of mixed‐race children in the wake of the War and decided to provide for such abandoned youngsters herself.

At its inception, Miki could not have imagined that the Home would turn into such a large-scale project with such longevity; but well over 1000 children subsequently arrived at and left this nest. Even today, the Home, a little altered, at any one time is home to almost 100 children whose birth parents have not been able to take care of them. Although the Home is no longer caring for ‘Occupation Babies’, the humanitarian spirit that forms the basis of its nurturing philosophy has not changed. One of the most powerful connections Miki formed was with the internationally famous African American performer Josephine Baker. Baker, who visited Japan for the first time in 1954, adopted two boys, Akio Yamamoto and Teruya Kimura, from among the mixed-race children known as ‘Occupation Babies’…

Read the entire article here.

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Nation Drag: Uses of the Exotic

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-11-23 16:09Z by Steven

Nation Drag: Uses of the Exotic

The Journal of Transnational American Studies
ISSN 1940-0764
Volume 1, Issue 1 (2009)

Micol Seigel, Associate Professor of African-American and African Diaspora Studies
Indiana University

In Uneven Encounters, the forthcoming book from which this article is excerpted, Micol Seigel chronicles the exchange of popular culture between Brazil and the United States in the years between the World Wars, and she demonstrates how that exchange affected ideas of race and nation in both countries. From Americans interpreting advertisements for Brazilian coffee or dancing the Brazilian maxixe, to Rio musicians embracing the “foreign” qualities of jazz, Seigel traces a lively, cultural back-and-forth. Along the way, she shows how race and nation are constructed together, by both non-elites and elites, and gleaned from global cultural and intellectual currents as well as local, regional, and national ones. Seigel explores the circulation of images of Brazilian coffee and of maxixe in the United States during the period just after the imperial expansions of the early twentieth century. Exoticist interpretations structured North Americans’ paradoxical sense of self as productive “consumer citizens.” Some people, however, could not simply assume the privileges of citizenship. In their struggles against racism, Afro-descended citizens living in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, New York, and Chicago encountered images and notions of each other, and found them useful. Seigel introduces readers to cosmopolitan Afro-Brazilians and African Americans who rarely traveled far but who absorbed ideas from abroad nonetheless. African American vaudeville artists saw the utility of pretending to “be” Brazilian to cross the color line on stage. Putting on “nation drag,” they passed not from one race to another but out of familiar racial categories entirely. Afro-Brazilian journalists reported intensively on foreign, particularly North American, news and eventually entered into conversation with the U.S. black press in a collaborative but still conflictual dialogue. Seigel suggests that projects comparing U.S. and Brazilian racial identities as two distinct constructions are misconceived. Racial formations transcend national borders; attempts to understand them must do the same.

Read the entire article here.

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