Saturday, June 23, 2012

Donaldina Cameron
Fierce Compassion: The Life of Abolitionist Donaldina Cameron, by Kristin and Kathryn Wong

Can one ordinary person truly make a difference? In turn-of-the-twentieth century San Francisco Chinatown, Donaldina Cameron did just that. Fighting against racism, gangs, and her own self-doubt, Miss Cameron freed thousands of Chinese slave girls from prostitution and dealt a huge blow to human trafficking.

From Scottish ancestry and born in New Zealand, Donaldina moved north from Southern California to 920 Stockton Street to teach sewing for a year, but ended up staying for forty-six. She also became an advocate for the Chinese living in America and traveled to many cities speaking on the topic.

This biography by a mother-daughter writing team captures readers' imagination and takes them to the streets of Chinatown exploring not only Miss Cameron's life, but the lives of the many girls and women she saved. Most were tricked or coerced into prostitution or sold as house slaves by desperate parents in China. The book portrays their struggles to escape slavery and adjust to life as free women.

Kathryn (r) and Kristin (l) Wong, Authors
Today, a hundred years later, human trafficking again has risen to the forefront of the public eye. Fierce Compassion is must-reading for anyone interested in modern-day slavery, Chinese-American history, Christian biographies, San Francisco Chinatown, the Presbyterian Church, the abolitionist movement, inspirational stories, women's issues, Donaldina Cameron House and more.

Friday, March 16, 2012

GCB: Hell Hath No Fury

On March 11th, I watched the second episode of GCB. In the first episode, the protagonist, Amanda Vaughn, played by Leslie Bibb, seemed to be the only positive major character in the show set in a mainly Christian community in Texas. I was hoping the second episode would introduce more positive Christian characters. I missed the first five minutes, but viewers did get to see some of the major characters change for the better.

Heather the realtor, played by Marisol Nichols, finally accepts Amanda's apologies and befriends her, even openly defying Carlene. Cricket the businesswoman advises her daughter Alexandra, played by Alix Gitter, to be nice to Amanda's daughter Laura, played by Lauran Irion, and not throw mud on her in a mean girl ritual.

The strained relationship between Amanda and her mother Gigi, played by Annie Potts, is explored. Gigi is portrayed as a prudish, self-righteous Christian and Dallas socialite whom Amanda had vowed she would never be like. But Amanda finds herself in the same situation with her daughter, when Laura vows never to be a mean girl like her mother was in high school.

The wacky characters introduced in the first episode seem to be getting rounded out. Hopefully, as the show progresses, all the characters will become more developed and show both good and bad characteristics.

GCB: Soap Opera or Real Life?

On March 4th, I watched the first episode of GCB, a new soap opera on ABC. Surprised? I don't normally watch soaps, but I was curious to see how network television would portray Christians. Leslie Bibb, as Amanda Vaughn, a former mean girl, returns home to a suburb of Dallas, Texas, after her husband dies in a car crash. Kristin Chenoweth's character, Carlene Cockburn, now the queen bee in her town and at her local church, who had been mistreated by Amanda in high school, plots revenge, all in the name of God.

To say the least, my gut reaction to the characters and situations was that I was highly offended. I don't know any adult Christians who would act the way Carlene and her gang would act or say the things they said ("Cleavage makes your cross hang straighter"). The characters seemed to be no different from the exaggerated negative stereotypes that are portrayed in the majority of mainstream television and movies, if Christians are seen at all.

Nonetheless, I asked myself, "Instead of bashing the show, what good can come out of it?" I thought about how African-Americans were first portrayed on television as maids, butlers, and negative stereotypes. But now they play important roles and star in shows (although lately the number of them has waned, but that's another topic). Perhaps for Christians, this is a start. There have been other shows in which Christians were portrayed as "the good guys," such as Touched by an Angel and Father Dowling Mysteries, but not in a while. Hopefully, GCB will open the door for more shows and movies with positive Christian characters (and not more stereotypes.)

Another thought: Soap operas are not real life, but lend themselves to over-the-top characters. To have drama, you need conflict, hence, the highly exaggerated Carlene. The pilot introduced Carlene's friends, Jennifer Aspen, as Sharon Peacham, a former beauty queen who is now overweight, Marisol Nichols as Heather Cruz, a successful real estate agent, Miriam Shor as Cricket Caruth-Reilly, a strong-willed businesswoman, and Annie Potts, as Amanda's mother Gigi Stopper. Each of these women has her own problems.

It will be interesting to see if some of these negative characters will change and exhibit good characteristics.