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The Huie Kin Family's Dynasty of Diversity

A recent gathering of some 200 people in a Bethesda, Md., hotel conference room is one of many family reunions taking place this summer. Their story began with one man's journey from China to America at age 14.

Huie Kin immigrated to the United States in 1868. He was hired by a woman in Oakland, Calif., who taught him English and converted him to Christianity. He worked his way through college in Pennsylvania, and was sent as a young minister to found New York City's first Chinese Christian church.

There, in 1889, he fell in love with Louise Van Arnam. Huie married her, despite her Dutch American family's opposition to the interracial match. Susan Edith Bell, a 21-year-old Harvard graduate now with Teach for America, says her great great grandparents raised six daughters and three surviving sons to value public service and the life of the mind.

The six Huie daughters ended up marrying Chinese scholars who had come to the United States on a scholarship program established after the Boxer Revolution. The daughters -- all adventurous, athletic and educated at schools such as Columbia and Cornell -- all moved to China with their husbands.

One daughter 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 such as Sun Yat-sen and Madame Chiang Kai Shek in the turbulent years that led to the founding of the People's Republic of China.

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 World War II. Throughout, the family stayed in touch.

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

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.