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‘The Dream is Now’

24 Apr

My father walked off a boat in 1923 and checked in at Ellis Island. He was a black man. His path to citizenship couldn’t have been easy. But he wasn’t forced to hide in the shadows, worrying that he might be deported to Barbados. He was able to pursue his dream and become an American journalist.

Alejandro Morales, Ola Kaso, Jose Patino and Erika Andiola have not enjoyed that privilege. They came with their families as children to the United States, the only country they know as home. They are the embodiment of the American Dream. They’ve been good citizens, great family members and excellent students. Yet their dreams have been deferred by an America that refuses to fully embrace them.

Morales, Kaso, Patino and Andiola are the subjects of a new documentary The Dream is Now, which chronicles these young people’s efforts to earn their citizenship.

Morales has wanted to be a Marine since eighth grade, but he can’t without a Social Security number.

Patino, who graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in mechanical engineering, works low-skilled construction jobs because he can’t get hired as an engineer.

Kaso wants to become an oncologist and was accepted to the University of Michigan, but her future was put on hold while her family’s status was reviewed. During a routine meeting with immigration officials, she was handcuffed to a chair in a basement hallway of a detention center for several hours.

, who has met with everybody from Sen. John McCain to White House adviser Valerie Jarrett as an advocate for the Dream Act, was granted permission to work, but her mother was put on a bus headed for Mexico — in chains.

The film is part of a movement of the same name launched by Laurene Powell Jobs and her organization, the Emerson Collective. Produced by award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, The Dream is Now, also places their struggles in an historical context. It’s the next battle in the civil rights movement.

Recently, the Associated Press changed its stylebook to include this proviso: “Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.”

I appreciate the spirit of the AP’s decision. Words have power, and that’s the point. But what I would appreciate even more is for America to stop criminalizing our children.

And yes, Morales, Kaso, Patino and Andiola and other “Dreamers” are our children.

Watch the film
. Join their movement.

Malvina Augusta Alkins

21 Dec

In a post last week, I noted that I found it interesting that the death of Malvina Alkins, my father’s mother, was featured in an obituary in the Barbados Advocate, the nation’s oldest newspaper. Turns out, her death was noted in three Barbados papers, the Advocate, the Herald and  the  Observer, which employed her other son, Noel Alkins. My father included these obituaries in his “Dottings” column on Sept. 5, 1936. In the two weeks preceding that column, “Dottings” featured guest columnists, which suggests that perhaps he’d made it back to Barbados.  Though the Advocate item mentions that Mrs. Alkins had lost her husband just a month earlier, none mention his name. I found a death record for a James Alkins, who died June 30 of that year. More on him later.

The New York Age, September 5, 1936

Alkins, All-kins, Ray, Wray

16 Dec

I have spent the past two days scouring Bridgetown historical documents. I’ve been to the Barbados Museum and  Historical Society – twice; the courthouse, the national archives and the public library. At the courthouse I found the death record for my grandmother Malvina Alkins (pronounced “All-kins”) and learned that she died of apoplexy on August 13, 1936. She was widow and the person responsible for contacting the funeral home was Noel Alkins, my father’s brother, whose profession in his mother’s death record is listed as a printer. I didn’t find much in the national archives. No birth record for an Ebenezer Wray  – which I have been told by everyone from taxi drivers to archivists is a really rare last name. And there are not many people with the name “Ray” either.  A the library, I found the obituary for Malvina in the August 15, 1936 issue of the Barbados Advocate, a daily newspaper. it reads:


Mrs. Malvina Alkins

“We regret to chronicle the death of Mrs. Malvina Alkins of Brittons Hill, which took place on Thursday last after a brief illness. Just the day before Mrs. Alkins suffered a paralytic stroke and passed to the Great Beyond next day, just one month after her husband. Her mortal remains were laid to rest yesterday in the presence of a large gathering, which bore testimony to the wide respect she had earned. ”

She leaves to mourn her two sons, one of whom is on the staff of The New York Age and the other employed in the office of a local newspaper. We  tender them our sympathy. ”

It’s a brief item, but considering there were not many obituaries in the paper, except those of  fairly prominent  officials, businessmen and their relatives, I was pretty impressed. I  searched  the pages of The Advocate for the entire month of July to see if there was an obituary of a Mr. Alkins, but could not find one.

So, I still don’t know where the name Wray or Ray come from, and I don’t know Mr. Alkins’ first name. Don’t know if he was my father’s stepfather or his father. But I have lots of New York Age columns to look through, and I imagine there will be some clues there.

One funny thing is that when I tell librarians, etc. that my father was born in 1897, they  ook at me in disbelief.

At the moment, I’m in the lobby of the Hilton Barbados, where a steel drummer is playing “A Christmas Carol” and “O Holy Night ” to a calypso beat and a Barbadian  man just greeted me with a tray of saltfish fritters. A rum punch is headed my way. All of this sifting through brittle, yellowed documents and squinting at microfilm has made me thirsty.

More to come.

Black airmen, then and now

21 Nov

Ebenezer Ray's grandson Lamman Rucker, "Black Angels Over Tuskegee" Photo:

In the middle of this column, under the heading “The Goodwill Flight “Ebenezer  talks about a goodwill flight to the Caribbean and South America that was undertaken by Dr. Albert Forsythe and C. Alfred Anderson. They were dubbed the “first transcontinental Negro flyers.”

New York Times obituary on Forsythe in 1986, said: “In 1933, Dr. Forsythe and C. Alfred Anderson became the first black pilots to complete a cross-country flight, traveling from Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J., to Los Angeles. The flight, along with trips to Montreal and the Caribbean in 1934, was made in an attempt to break down the color barrier in aviation.”

An obituary of Anderson, who died in 1996, recalled: “He and Forsythe made the first land plane flight from Miami to Nassau in 1934. They island hopped throughout the Caribbean, to the Northeastern tip of South America. They overflew the Venezuelan straits and landed in Trinidad as national heroes.” It described Anderson as a mentor to Tuskegee Airmen.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, a pioneer black aviator and respected instructor at Tuskegee Institute. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I also found a 1933 Time magazine story about their trip.

The itinerary did not include a visit to Barbados, which was a disappointment to those, including my father,  with connections to the island.  The column and the letter make it sound like the pilots were black Americans, but according to his obituary, Forsythe was born in the Bahamas. Perhaps there was a little bit of Caribbean rivalry.

The connections here are a little uncanny. Lamman Rucker, Ebenezer’s grandson, is co-producer of  Black Angels Over Tuskegee, a play about the Tuskegee Airmen. Lamman, who plays Elijah in the production,  is a founding member of the company, The Black Gents of Hollywood, an all-male ensemble devoted to redefining the images of African American men in entertainment.

The cast of "Black Angels Over Tuskegee"

In a few weeks I’ll be headed for Barbados, my father’s birthplace. I’ve been there only once, back in 1984 and only for a couple of days. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the place, perhaps beginning the journey of finding family. It is interesting that while in his thirties, my father’s emotional connection to the island still seemed very strong. My impression was that later in his life, by the time he was married and living in Pittsburgh, that connection seemed to be lost, or at least frayed.
I can’t tell whether “The little Englander” my dad  quotes is him or someone else. (Editor’s update 8/3/11: It’s possible it is his brother, Noel, who worked at the Barbados Advocate.) Perhaps I can find the archives of the Barbados Advocate while I am there.

The New York Age, January 12, 1935

The West Indian Federation of America; an athletic center in Harlem; Anthology of the Negro

27 Aug

I thought my dad had said that Nancy Cunard’s book, the Anthology of the Negro, was out of reach financially for most blacks. After Cunard offered her book at half price, Ebenezer says it was worth the full price. Anyway, he continued to express his objection that the book was banned by Caribbean governments such as Barbados.  I’m going to see if I can find a copy.

The New York Age, November 17, 1934

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