StoryCorps Boston: Conversations About Race

StoryCorps Boston: Conversations About Race

(Images courtesy of StoryCorps; graphic by Jesse Costa/WBUR)

StoryCorps, public radio’s oral history project, came to Boston’s Museum of Science for a special exhibition, “Race: Are We So Different?” The interactive show presents a historical and scientific look at the concept of race, exposing both its wide-ranging effects on society and its limits as a purely cultural construct.

At the exhibition opening, visitors were invited to record conversations with loved ones about how the concept of race has affected their lives. Over the next several Mondays on WBUR’s Morning Edition, we’re presenting a series of excerpts from these conversations.

  • In the comments, you’re invited to share your story on the meaning of race in your life.

Conversation No. 8: The Persistent Problem of Race
Angela Paige Cook (Courtesy StoryCorps)

To close our series, we hear the next chapter of Angela Paige Cook’s story, when, as a young college graduate, she left race-torn Nashville, only to find a less overt form of racism in the North.

Conversation No. 7: A Dawning Awareness Of Race

As a young girl, Angela Paige Cook grew up insulated from racial prejudice, until it became obvious to her as a college student during the civil rights years. She’s interviewed by her husband, Joe Cook.

Conversation No. 6: Race: All In The Family

Half a century ago, multiracial families were unusual in this country. Pearl Torresyap talks with her daughter, Fay, about the challenges this Filipino-American family faced from within and without.

Conversation No. 5: What’s So Funny About Race?

Even when faced with racial discrimination, some people are able to take delight in cultural differences — and defuse prejudice with humor — like Anna Choi, a Korean-American, and her son, Sam.

Conversation No. 4: A Scientist Talks About The Meaning Of Race

John Quackenbush is a professor and researcher in genomics and computational biology. He discusses how his work shows both the biological limits of racial differences and a reason for their existence. He is interviewed by his wife, Mary Kalamaras.

Conversation No. 3: What Race Am I?

Children are often curious about racial differences between themselves and their schoolmates. But what’s it like for children in biracial families, who may differ in appearance from their own parents and siblings? That’s a question Rebecca Thomas Geary has for her daughter Sabine.

Conversation No. 2: Sisters Defy Categorization By Race

The children of Dominican parents, Orpha Rivera and older sister Kathleen Rivera Cruz grew up in Texas, where schoolmates were unable to identify the sisters’ race.

Conversation No. 1: An Educator’s Own Schooling In Race
Marilynne Smith Quarcoo, left, with her daughter, Esanam Quarcoo (Courtesy StoryCorps)

Marilynne Smith Quarcoo, who grew up in Roxbury attending public and parochial schools, is interviewed by her daughter, Esanam Quarcoo.

StoryCorps Boston is produced by WBUR’s George Hicks.

Race: Are We So Different?” continues at the Museum of Science, Boston, through May 15.

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit organization. Its mobile recording booth travels the country recording conversations among loved ones. The recordings are archived at The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, and excerpts can be heard weekly on WBUR’s Morning Edition.

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  • Steven

    I’m not from Boston but I’m a long time Red Sox fan and I love WBUR. This story comes under the ‘ Are we so different? ‘ heading. Ind 1977 I was a college sophomore attending Indiana University in Bloomington after having transfered. That fall was the first time I had been away from home for more than a couple weeks so I was a bit homesick but excited to be at college.I grew up in a college town in Maine so I had friends whose parents were from around the world but I had never had a friend who was not from an english speaking country. I was living in a dorm that fall and my roommate was a guy named Ming from Taiwan(at that time mainland Chinese were few in this country) and this was his third year away from home. Ming was a serious math student who had a good sense of humor,which I enjoyed, but he liked to be seen as a tough guy. He was very fit and his regular workout included vigorous exercises with nunchucks. Clearly not a person to mess with.
    I came back to our room after class one morning and Ming, sitting at his desk, had Smetana’s Ma Vlast playing on his tape machine and was crying as he was looking at his family photo album. I quickly when back in the hallway feeling stunned.
    I don’t know if I’ve shared this story before. One of the advantages of age is that knowlege and experiences can ultimately migrate to their true place of prominence in one’s life. The image of Ming sitting over the photos of his family is still clear to me 35 years later. And I can’t think of that incident or even my old friend without getting emotional. The story has deep meaning for me. I came to have great respect for the students who came from around the world or crossed color lines to live with us in the dorm. Gary ,Indiana was as far as China for some.
    Ming and I had obviously had the good fortune of a music education on opposite sides of the world, probably taught in different languages. I didn’t even know the name of Ma Vlast or it’s composer Bedrick Smetana but I knew it was music about loving one’s country and it had done it’s job with a vengence that day. That event taught me as much as any experience in my life about the universality of music and culture as an expression of our universal humanity. I hesitate to say it but it excludes nobody when I say I feel an afinity for people who look like Ming and I know a heart very similar to his beats in us all. We are not so different.

    • Hcchu

      This was so touching – I know the music and I am also an “immigrant” from Taiwan though I was only six years old and came with my family. My father was a cultured man and played classical music at home on weekends when we were little and I know how powerful music can be. I would wake up to whatever selection he had put on without knowing what the music was but felt “enveloped” by it. It will be fifty years ago this November . Though I am thoroughly American, I still remember the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land back in the ’60′s in Tulsa OK where we were so foreign they even wrote an article about us for the Tulsa Tribune!

  • IndianAbroad

    I really enjoyed listening to this program. As an Asian Indian, I have often been confused with being Latino in Hartford Connecticut and as Native American in rural Wisconsin! My experience of being non-white in the US has been much more positive than it has been in the UK, where I have been living for the past three years. I have probably encountered more racism in England in 3 years here than in all of 7 years in the US. Coming to England made me realize that race is not just about skin colour or ethnicity, it is about the dominant group’s perceptions of minority groups. In the US, people of African-American ancestry are treated worse than Asian-Americans in many parts of the country. In England, there is no concept of the ideal ‘minority’. If you are not white, you probably have the same risks of being discriminated against regardless of what tone of brown/black you are.

  • Joan Asinas

    Like your story of the american nurse marrying a Filippin0 Dr., I was an or nurse in the 50s, Married a young Filippino neurosurgical resident. Only difference is that I was Jewish , American and he was a Filippino catholic .When we met in the O.R. I knew it was love at first sight. When I told my Mom
    and Dad that night that I met the man I was going to Marry , Dad asked if he was a nice Jewish Boy. “Dad he doesn’t look Jewish”! My Dad refused to walk me down the aisle, my family (the Jewish side) disowned me. We have ben married for over 45 years, have four beautiful successful children. There were many instances of racism faced by all of our children. His parents were not happy that he was marrying an american, even worse when they found out that I was Jewish. Our family is happy, well adjusted and none of our children or grandchildren have any racist attitudes. That is the best thing to come out o our marriage. I would do it all again in a heartbeat! Our lives have been very interesting and never dull!

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