The Huie Kin Family's Dynasty of Diversity Huie Kin made his way from China to the United States in 1868. He later married Louise Van Arnam, overcoming opposition from her Dutch-American family. Their descendants form a clan that celebrates the Great Melting Pot.
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The Huie Kin Family's Dynasty of Diversity

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The Huie Kin Family's Dynasty of Diversity

The Huie Kin Family's Dynasty of Diversity

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Every summer weekend, thousands of extended families gather together to eat, compare notes and admire adorable offspring. Each of these families is epic in its own way, but today we look at unusual one that recently gathered in Bethesda, Maryland.

NPR's Neda Ulaby attended that family reunion, came back with this story.

Unidentified Man #1: First of all, welcome everybody to the 2006 Huie Kin family reunion. Let's have a family cheer.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

NEDA ULABY reporting:

About 200 people are clapping the fluorescent-lit hotel conference room. They're wearing big smiles and color-coded nametags explaining their genealogical place in this family jigsaw puzzle.

Ms. DOROTHY ROSCOW(ph) (Attending Family Reunion): Irving Chang is a red, you can see, and he's the oldest generation alive. The blue is my generation. And then the green is our children's generation, and then the yellow is their children's generation.

ULABY: Dorothy Roscow of Houston, like nearly everyone here, descends from Huie Kin, who in 1868 emigrated from China at age 14. He just missed the California Gold Rush, but Kin was hired by an Oakland woman who taught him English and converted him to Christianity. Kin worked his way through college in Pennsylvania, and as a young minister was sent to found New York City's first Chinese Christian church. In 1889, he fell in love.

Mr. VICTOR CHANG (Attending Family Reunion): He went to ask for the hand of one of his prayer partners, Louise.

ULABY: Louise Van Arnam is Victor Chang's great-grandmother. The match mortified her Dutch American family.

Mr. CHANG: The pastor of her home church basically said this marriage, this interracial marriage is going to destroy her family and there'd be no opportunity for her kids.

ULABY: At this point in the story, it's hard for Victor Chang not to cry.

Mr. CHANG: And she answered back, saying that we'll just leave it up to the Lord. And here we are, you know, 180 of us, and you know, really blessed.

ULABY: Among them is Susan Edith Bell, a 21-year-old, wavy-haired, Harvard graduate now with Teach for America. She says her great-great grandparents raised six daughters and three surviving sons to value public service and the life of the mind.

Ms. SUSAN EDITH BELL (Attending Family Reunion): His house became, in New York, at the time, a kind of center for Chinese intellectuals.

ULABY: Columbia and Yale Universities received dozens of Chinese scholars in the early 1900s, thanks to a scholarship program established after the Boxer Revolution. Six Boxer scholars married the six Huie daughters, all adventurous, athletic and educated at schools such as Columbia and Cornell. And they all moved to China with their husbands.

Ms. BELL: They really held to these values of service. And you know, they really were equals to the men who were their husbands, who are huge figures in China.

ULABY: For example, Bell says, one started China's rural reconstruction program. Another, known as the Bishop of Burma Road, aided refugees and American Flying Tigers during World War II. Others led China's top universities. The sisters developed Chinese YWCAs and advocated for education. They mingled with writer Pearl Buck and nationalist leaders like Sun Yat-sen and Madame Chiang Kai Shek in the turbulent years that led to the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Ms. BELL: You know, the Communists were coming in and trying to help the poor, but in a more violent and aggressive way. And I think that they believed the way to do it was through these Christian coalitions and these, you know, the YWCA, and sort of slowly increasing literacy. And they were making progress slowly, but it's true, the intersection of the times had just - it all kind of politically crumbled around them.

ULABY: After the Japanese invasions of the 1930s and during the Cultural Revolution, some of the Huie women fled China with their families. Others remained. The Huie men had all stayed in America and married Caucasian women. One became chief engineer of New York City and directed its civil defense during the Second World War. Throughout the family stayed in touch.

(Soundbite of drums)

ULABY: Bill Trig is a professional percussionist performing now at the family reunion talent show. Trig is one-sixteenth Chinese. One favorite family story recounts the time he was invited to play with the prestigious Tanglewood Orchestra. So was his cousin Paul, a concert violinist who is one-sixteenth Dutch.

Mr. BILL TRIG (Professional Percussionist): Paul and I look nothing alike. I am blonde, blue-eyed. Physically, we are as different as your listeners might imagine.

ULABY: A family reunion that year fell during a Tanglewood rehearsal.

Mr. TRIG: We approached Gunther Schuller, who was the director of the Tanglewood Festival, and asked if we could be excused for that day. And Gunther looked down at us from the podium, back and forth between the two of us, and he said, okay, if you two can explain to me plausibly why you are going to the same family reunion, I'll let you go.

(Soundbite of singing in foreign language)

ULABY: The talent show includes the family's oldest and youngest members singing together in English and Chinese, and skits with dozens of family members, like one where Huie Kin and Louise Van Arnam use a time machine to attend the family reunion.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #2: Hello. Hello. Are you surprised to see us?

ULABY: The patriarch and matriarch wonder how their descendents have carried on the family name.

Unidentified Man #2: Have you held fast to Christian ways, turning away from drink and gambling and the pursuit of loose partners?

Unidentified Woman #1: Not exactly.

Unidentified Woman #2: Well, have you lived modestly and dedicated your lives to the work of the Lord?

Unidentified Woman #1: Well, no, but things are pretty different these days.

Unidentified Man #2: Well, then have you married within the proud circle of your Oriental race...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: ...and sailed to China to serve your people, as best and as humbly as possible?

Unidentified Woman #1: No. We haven't quite...

ULABY: The Huie clan today actually includes a significant number of professionals dedicated to public service. A new generation is returning to China to work on issues ranging from micro-finance to public health. Reunion attendees traveled from China, Europe, both U.S. coasts, and the Midwest.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: A square dance is another staple of the Huie Kin family reunion, an unusual tradition in an unusual family of many faiths, many nations, and many colors.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #3 (Singer): (Singing) You know to get down, turn around, go to town, boot-scooting boogie.

SIMON: And you can see photos of this real American family and read excerpts from the 1907 book Reminisces of Huie Kin at npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing): Back to back you do and start left and roll once around that bring you to. You get back home. You swing your original partner out. Swing the girl and promenade to the boot-scooting boogie.

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