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Why an Asian-American in Scotland Is Mourning Nelson Mandela

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I am mourning for Nelson Mandela, though it may not be obvious why I feel a connection to the great Mandiba. The dignity and humanity he exemplified to the world is a model we should all strive for. Not too long ago, I interviewed Mandela's grandson, Kweku Mandela, for an article in a business magazine. Kweku runs an organization called Africa Rising, which supports young African entrepreneurs. Like his own multifaceted grandfather, Kweku is also a filmmaker. He mentioned that he was working on a documentary about his grandfather. "It's really something focused on my cousins and myself asking questions to my granddad that we always wanted to ask him -- his life lessons and the trials and tribulations of his life," explained Kweku.

As the conversation with Kweku went on, I could tell we were both thinking more and more about Nelson Mandela since reports of his hospital stays and his fragile health were already becoming more frequent. Kweku's film sounded more like a keyhole to an inner world, to a reality where the formidable Nelson Mandela could be anybody's grandfather, passing down nuggets of wisdom learnt from his hard-fought lessons in life. In many ways, he is a grandfather to a nonracial society he envisioned for the world.

Kweku shared some of the things they spoke about:

He talks about a combination of things. He said that for him, basically stepping down as first-term president was such an important thing. He felt it was his way of setting an example. Some leaders take that to heart. But I think in life, all you can do is try to set an example and hope your community and the people around you will take something away in some small way. Originally when I was asked to do it by my family, I was reluctant to do it. I knew it was something that was extremely close and extremely personal to me. I'm always reluctant to tread that space.

Why, you might ask, would a Taiwanese-American living in Scotland feel any connection to Mandela? When I was growing up as one of the few Asians in a predominantly white, small Catholic New England town, a "KKK," standing for Ku Klux Klan, sign was graffitied at the end of the street I lived on, in front of a Jamaican family. Every day on the school bus and in the school hallways, I was getting punched, spat at and getting my hair pulled for simply not being white. I longed for a bigger world out of the close-minded town I was confined to.

One day, a white Jewish South African boy, Steffan, arrived in our Massachusetts high school from an apartheid South Africa. I think all the kids were fascinated by this prim, proper boy with a crisp, foreign accent. He told me that Asians would drink from the black water fountains and go to the black bathrooms. When asked why his family moved from South Africa to America, he said that his Jewish ancestors had left Europe at the start of World War II to escape the Holocaust. What whites were doing to blacks in South Africa reminded them of the unjust racism they had fled from in Europe as Jews.

I realized that one day, I would get away from the small town I was in. And there were worse horrors happening to minorities in other places.

After my interview with Kweku, I had a feeling he might decide to visit his grandfather. In an indirect way, I felt like a little part of my spirit would get to visit Mandela as well.

Kweku's documentary is simply titled Mandela and in post-production phase. "What we made was actually quite unique and I'm looking forward to sharing it with the world," said Kweku at the time. Now that Mandela is no longer in this world, the world is anxiously awaiting more wise morsels from his legacy.