I stumbled into China when I was eleven or twelve. O-lan led me. I was intrigued by her quiet strength, her small stature and big unbound feet. A voracious reader, I couldn’t put Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth down. I had never heard tales like the ones she told of this silently courageous woman in rural prerevolutionary China, a woman who led her husband and family to landed prosperity. Many of the themes the book touched—although I didn’t know it at the time—were those that would occupy me during my entire life: poverty, gender relations, women’s rights, urban migration, revolution, war and peace, human trafficking, and of course, love, life and death.
As a journalist and editor and just plain human being, I’ve thought about these issues on another continent—Latin America. I lived in a Dominican neighborhood in New York and perhaps it was inevitable that my Spanish-speaking neighbors would lead me down a path of reality that was stronger than the still vivid call of the fictional O-lan.
In the late 1960s, the two continents came together in the guise of my neighborhood restaurants, La Nueva Victoria and La Caridad, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, delicious and cheap eateries set up by Chinese-Cuban exiles (Katherine López writes about such restaurants in this issue on p. 40). It was my first inkling that the two continents were connected by large diasporas. Later I was to discover that these diasporas extended to migrants from other parts of Asia, especially Japan and Korea.
In the process of putting together this special issue on Asia and Latin America, I’ve discovered so many other relationships, ranging from earthquake threats shared by Japan and Chile to trade relations, cultural exchanges and infrastructure goals. When I read Ernesto Londoño’s recent piece in the New York Times describing a US$50 million satellite and space mission control center built by the Chinese military in Argentina’s Patagonia desert, the development seemed light years away from the rural world of O-lan or even my favorite Chinese-Cuban eateries. But thinking of the article and the Chinese imaginary of The Good Earth in context gave new meaning to the somewhat clichéd description of the relationship between Asia and Latin America as South-South. It’s not just about geography: it’s about history.
Just as Pearl Buck looked upon O-lan from her perspective as the daughter of a white U.S. missionary to China, we see the evolving relationships between the two continents through the prisms of our own experiences. This ReVista includes Asian, U.S. and Latin American scholars looking at each other’s worlds; it includes many co-authored pieces that bridge the two continents. As in almost every ReVista, we’ve tried to build bridges between art and business, the humanities and science, the current and the historical.
Dear reader, read on. But before you do, I want to say thanks to those who have contributed to keep ReVista going, and especially to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism class of ‘70, which funded our 2017 Best of ReVista photography contest (see the winners on p. 110 ). ReVista belongs to all of you readers and contributors; remember to keep your addresses updated and your suggestion and donations coming.
P.S. Your editor knows Asia is a huge continent and that some areas of Asia are not represented in this issue as thoroughly as we’d hoped. We look forward to more Asia collaborations in the future!