Settling in in Hong Kong

Updated: 2015-02-14 09:17

(HK Edition)

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Reggie Martin arrived in Macao as a top-ranking hospitality professional 15 years ago. It was a long way away from his hometown in Chicago and his growing-up years, when a black person such as he, would be afraid to cross the street, let alone travel all the way to the other end of the world. It's been "a great ride", says Martin, now a senior manager with Sands China Ltd and a rallying point for a lot of new African-American migrants to Hong Kong and Macao. He is happy to play the ex-officio point person to the State Department and offer assistance with settling in for those who might need it.

Settling in in Hong Kong

The celebration of International Black History Month in Hong Kong - a series of events to underscore and promote better awareness of the black identity, continue until Feb 14. Martin believes it is the perfect opportunity to build and foster a community of blacks in Hong Kong, where a black person still may draw the occasional stare. Hong Kong's importance as a strategic and commercial center in Asia cannot be underestimated, he says. "It is here we would like the black persona - its image, character, profile and values - properly represented."

While Black History Month has been, traditionally celebrated in Hong Kong by the US Consulate, this is the first time the ambit has been widened by including blacks across cultures - including the Afro-Caribbean, European, Latin American and African. The moving force behind this paradigm shift in outlook are John Bowdre and Raushanah - a young couple from Memphis, Tennessee, who work in finance and lead a forum called Global Citizens' Community. "The overarching narrative defining the black man is very narrow and very stereotypical," says Bowdre, hence the primarily self-funded, endeavor to extend what began as Negro History Week in the US in 1926. It subsequently became known as Black History Month (1976) - giving it a broader, international dimension "by encompassing people from the entire black diaspora".

Black History Month has earned its share of criticism on the grounds that it is exclusivist, racial and sees black history as separate from American history.

"But black history in America is not quite the same as American history," says Terri Appel, a healthcare professional, originally from New Jersey and based in Hong Kong since the last 18 years. "The two are intertwined but the paths are quite distinct. Our stories, our experiences, and the many professional and creative expressions of that experience are worthy of celebration."

The importance of telling and disseminating that story, of course, cannot be underscored.

"Celebrating Black History Month," she says, "falls in line with celebrating Chinese New Year, Diwali, Carnival and Christmas. It's reflective of the diversity and multiculturalism in Hong Kong." Black History Month, she says, adds another "element of diversity to Hong Kong's cultural calendar".

(HK Edition 02/14/2015 page6)