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Archive for March, 2012

God and the right to marry

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

People of faith have a history of denying certain groups of people the right to marry.

Mildred and Richard Loving

Mildred and Richard Loving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not all that long ago, in 1958, Virginia authorities arrested Mildred and Richard Loving and banished them from the state. Their crime: she was black; he was white. “Almighty God,” the judge said, “created races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents….The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The first law preventing marriage between races was established in 1664 by the Maryland colony, which was concerned about the number of white servant women marrying slave men. Would their offspring be slave or free? Over time forty states banned some form of interracial marriage. Lower courts upheld these antimiscegenation decrees on grounds that making laws about marriage is a prerogative of the state; natural law dictates that the races not intermarry; non-whites are physically and mentally inferior; and marriage between people of different races threatens the order and peace of the community.

Not until 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, did the Supreme Court strike down (unanimously) these statutes. “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” the court opinion stated.

Today few Americans oppose interracial marriage on the basis of God’s disapproval. Did we decide that God is more tolerant than we thought? Or did we misunderstand God’s intent?

Now the target is gays and lesbians. Scriptures against homosexuality are not as clear as many claim. I’ll let theologians argue that point and hope they cite other scriptures, such as ones saying we are to stone rebellious sons to death (Deut. 21:18-21).

For those of us who are straight, our lives daily intersect with gay women and men. They are our sons, our daughters, our colleagues, our neighbors, our friends. We know them to be active citizens, hard workers, conscientious parents, devout Christians. Many in long-term loving relationships want not just the legitimacy of their relationship to be recognized by the state but also the same legal protections heterosexuals take for granted. These include property rights, inheritance, insurance coverage, parenting rights, and life and death decisions.

It is time to grant our fellow citizens full legal rights. Including the right to marry.

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman. Currently she is seeking a publisher for Before it was Legal: a black-white marriage, 1945-1986.

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Radio Interview at WLUW

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Live interview with Katy Hogan and Michael James

A last minute request for an interview with Katy Hogan and Michael James at WLUW, 88.7 FM brought me to the live program at Heartland Cafe early yesterday morning. Most of the tables at the Café were taken by diners when I arrived. Lisa Smith, producer of the program, was busy solving some technical problems before the one-hour program went live.

The setting was casual, and the sound of conversations among the diners, accelerated by the noises made by small children, made the place full of life.

“How can you get all the side ‘sound track‘ out?” I asked. I have done many radio interviews about my book and the film based on my book. But I had never been in a place that the surrounding sound appeared louder than what came out on a stage when interviews would be conducted.

“No problem,” Michael said. “We use sound filters.”

I watched diners eat or chat when the first person talking about local elections was being interviewed. I was a little concerned when my turn was up.

The Harold Washington Library in downtown Chic...

The Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. Taken by Douglas Kaye, 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since it was a “last minute request,” Katy and Michael had not had any time looking into the film, which, in a way, served well in giving me a chance to give a brief introduction about the film and the book Mulberry Child. The interview felt like a chat, and we went on to cover the upcoming screenings of Mulberry Child at the Gene Siskel Film Center from March 30 to April 5. I was proud to announce the partnership of the Film Center with the upcoming Chicago Public Library‘s One Book, One Chicago program in showcasing the film. Toward the end, Michael even brought up the film website., ” Michael repeated after me, so listeners could take it down and check out all the information on the film.

Lisa Smith was motioning to us that our time was running out. We brought the conversation to an end. I was surprised to hear the loud applause from the diners. I turned to look at the room and was touched to see so many people were clapping their hands while looking at us. I was worried no one was going to pay much attention when I walked on to the stage.

I passed a few postcards of the film to the people sitting in the front. I said goodbye to Lisa Smith before the finish of the program, as I had to rush to an 11 a.m. appointment.

A woman with a small child in her arms stopped me at the door.

“Thank you for sharing your story,” she said. “Could I have a postcard?” she asked. “I’d like to share it with my friends.”

I walked away, feeling glad I had come to the interview.

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Meeting with the Asian Group of IWA in Chicago

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

With Members of the Asian Group of IWA in 2009, photo provided by Susan Hanes

It felt like meeting old friends again when I walked into Heather’s large apartment in Hyde Park last Monday. More than 20 women from the Asian Group of the International Women Association (IWA) gathered at Heather’s and invited me to talk about Mulberry Child movie. I was their guest speaker three years ago, talking about the book Mulberry Child. I was pleased to see a few familiar faces.

It took the combined effort of a small group to set up the large screen and make the computer “communicate” with the projector.  We cheered to Kuri, the group’s leader who read the menu and made us follow instructions step by step. As I was about to start my talk, I heard someone call me “Jian Ping” in perfect Mandarin. In this Asian Group, the majority are Americans interested in Asia. I turned to find my friend Yuan in the audience and reached over to give her a hug. Yuan came all the way from Glencoe with her friend Diane. I was delighted and touched.

With Same Group Last Week photo provided by Susan Hanes

In the cozy semi circle in Heather’s dining room, I talked about mother/daughter relationship and the impact of the process of producing the film on my daughter and me, and our relationship. Many people in the audience interjected their experiences and asked many questions. The talk and discussion lasted for more than two hours.

Susan, one of the group members, took a few photos, and even compared them to the ones she took three years before.

“I do not think that I have ever heard so many questions following an IWA presentation; I believe we could have spent the rest of the day listening to all that you had to say,” Susan said.

I felt a strong connection with this group of women. On the way home in Janice’s car, along with two three other members, we continued our heated discussion, including topics on our cultural differences and values. As it was last time, their interest in and comments on my story touched me deeply and compelled me to do more examination and reflection on my life experiences.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been turned into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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Mourning the Loss of a Dear Friend

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

The last time I talked with Jay Chen, founder and publisher of Asian Fortune, a monthly newspaper based in the Washington D.C. area, was December 2011. He said he might attend the Detroit Auto Show, and if so, would swing by Chicago. We talked about getting together. He didn’t come, and shortly before the Chinese New Year, we exchanged a couple of emails, wishing each other a happy Year of the Dragon.

I was so shocked and saddened to see the frontline news announcing his passing when I opened the latest issue of Asian Fortune today. Jay had been sending me a copy of his monthly newspaper ever since we met in 2009, and I had told him more than once that Asian Fortune was the only newspaper I read from cover to cover. I could still hear his hearty laughter coming through the phone line.

Jay wrote to me after my book publicist sent him a press release on the publication of Mulberry Child back in 2008. Not only he published the release in his paper, but also assigned a freelance reporter to interview me and published a featured story soon after. We met in January 2009 when he made a stop in Chicago after attending the auto show in Detroit. We had dinner in Chinatown and shared our growing up experiences in China. I gave him a copy of my book when we parted. He accepted the book, but told me politely that he would not read any book about the Cultural Revolution.

He called me two days later, telling me a snowstorm got him stuck on his way back to Washington D.C. in a small hotel in the middle of no where. Having nothing else to do or read, he opened my book.

“I couldn’t put it down,” he said in his booming voice. “I cried,” he added after a pause.

Jay was ten years older than me and lived through the Cultural Revolution, experiencing and remembering a lot more about the absurdities of the time than I do. His comments meant a great deal to me.

We became friends afterward. He introduced me to several Asian organizations and a few of his friends. He was genuinely happy that I wrote the book and wanted me to share my story with more people.

In May of 2010 when I gave a commencement speech at Loyola University Chicago, he congratulated me and released a cover story on my speech written by Jing Zhao, a freelance writer and friend.

“How many copied would like to have?” he called me after the release of the coverage in his paper in June.

“How about 50?” I asked timidly, thinking that might be too many.

“I’ll run some extra and send you 500,” he said without hesitation.

True to his word, 500 copies of the June issue came in the mail in 4 large boxes! I was very touched by his generosity.

We talked over the phone from time to time, or exchanged a few brief messages here and there. He told me he went to China for a month, following a Buddhist master and learning to do meditation. He said he liked taking long walks and kayaking by himself. He was tall for a Chinese, and I often imagined he must look great in his kayaking gears.

I was expecting to see him in Chicago or Washington D. C. sometime soon. At 61, he passed away prematurely, “the result of a brain aneurysm”. I couldn’t make sense of it and couldn’t believe it was true.

I read all the coverage on his passing and his funeral in the paper and online, absorbing all the praises people said about him, which resonated well with my feelings and impression of him—a generous, friendly visionary and a key player in the Asian community.

I’ll always remember and miss him.


About Face

Monday, March 5th, 2012


By Ellis Goodman

We live in a society that worships youth.  The 18- 34 demographic is the target audience of television, magazines, newspapers, movies and of course fashion.  Worshipping at the “fountain of youth” in this modern age has created a multi-billion cosmetic surgery industry.  Elective surgery that was used for nose jobs, breast enhancement reduction, and other surgeries for medical reasons, is now almost casually used for having “some work done” (facelift), tummy tucks, cellulite reduction, butt-raising, and fat extraction – ugh!

My wife sometimes watches “Desperate Housewives” on television, a program that doesn’t hold much fascination for me.  However, the other evening when she was watching, I could not help but notice the three lead actresses were hardly recognizable from the Hollywood beauties that I had known for many years previously.  Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, and Marcia Cross have all had obvious face lifts.  In my observation, Teri Hatcher a beautiful woman with a wonderful figure, now seems to have a frozen expression on her face and nothing moves above her lips.  Felicity Huffman’s face has been drawn back so dramatically, it appears she can hardly move her lips and her whole head looks lopsided.  Marcia Cross, the beautiful redhead, has been transformed into a China doll and one feels that if she were to laugh or move unexpectedly, numerous cracks would appear.  Even the beautiful Vanessa Williams has “had work done.” 

These actresses of course are not unique.  They’re following the current Hollywood trend, where every actress over 40 believes she has to look 30!  This follows the fashion that today states that today’s 50s are yesterday’s 40s; and 60s are yesterday’s 50s.  Over the past fifteen or twenty years, there has been a mad rush for every actress over 40 to “have work done.”  To my observation as a male film buff, none of these actresses have really benefitted from the surgery.  Maybe they feel they look younger, but in effect, they have eliminated all character from their faces.  Some are worse than others.  Cute little Meg Ryan, for instance, now has the plumped up lips and china-plastered face that makes her look totally robotic with no connection to her former self.  Nicole Kidman “had work done” far too young.  Suddenly she doesn’t look like Nicole Kidman anymore. 

You can continue down the list with a sigh of sadness – Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, cute little Marisa Tomei, and even the “Queen” herself Dame Helen Mirren.  I’m sure Hollywood insecurity drives these actresses to feel that they must reach for a youthful look.  But for the most part, what they think they may gain looking younger, they lose in expression and character.

On many occasions, this elective surgery turns out to be disastrous.  You just have to look at poor old Joan Rivers.  Is that a face from which the old voice, personality and jokes come from?   Surgery is not to be taken lightly and can even be life threatening.  A friend of ours who went through the process ended up with a blood clot that nearly caused her death.  Another friend was so badly mauled during the surgery that, despite many lawsuits, she now has permanent scars for all to see.

I visit the Southern California Desert on many occasions and there large billboards advertise the names of cosmetic surgeons who apparently can perform miracles.  It seems that everybody in that area gets “freshened up” nearly every year.  The results are either horrific, funny, or just downright sad.  A 70-year-old woman with a 40-year-old face but hands and body that are clearly in their 70s, just does not work.  I think I read that film production companies are also taking a tougher line.  Apparently some are calling for auditions by actresses in their “natural state.”  No facelifts allowed.

One can only pray that this fashion or fad of elective, self-destructive surgery will pass.  There is nothing wrong with aging gracefully.  George Bernard Shaw in one of his beautiful descriptions said of a lady of the time, “She had reached the age where a beautiful woman had become magnificent.”  Perhaps our Hollywood actresses should look at the current British series “Downton Abbey” and observe the magnetism of untouched Maggie Smith, not only in her exquisite acting, but also in the character of her face and appearance.


Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: