Ground One: Voices from Post-9/11 Chinatown 一度地: 九一一后的华埠声音

Two years after 9/11, MOCA partnered with Columbia University Oral History Research Office (OHRO), the September 11 Digital Archive (9/11 DA) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and New York University's Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute (A/P/A) to better understand the effects of 9/11 and post-9/11 policies on Chinatown/Chinese New Yorkers, and to provide an in-depth portrait of the ways in which the identity of a community hardly covered by the mass media following September 11, 2001 has been indelibly shaped by the aftermath.

New York Chinatown is a major hub for the Chinese diasporic community in the Americas. It serves to link Chinese not only to different regions of the U.S. and North/Central/South America, but it also serves to link New York City to the communities and economies of the Pacific. Although Chinatown plays an important role in connecting these vast economic and social networks, many Chinese Americans (particularly working class immigrants) are not able to gain access to the mainstream network of local economic and political systems.

Beginning in Fall 2003, MOCA interviewed (with support from The Rockefeller Foundation), 30 individuals who lived and worked in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The interviewees represented a diverse cross-section of Chinese Americans, including garment and restaurant workers, community activists, non-profit administrators, union organizers, healthcare and law professionals, senior citizens, and youth. Oral history was employed to understand how people perceived and responded to the tragic events of 9/11 in the context of their life histories. Several overarching themes were selected for this website: Personal Accounts of September 11th; Air Quality/ Health; Jobs, Language & Access; Garment Industry; 9/11 Relief; and Political & Civic Engagement. Presented here is an assemblage of voices from the perspective of a neighborhood just ten blocks away from Ground Zero.




Wing Ma, Male, Late 40s -- Garment factory owner

Interviewed by Amy S.

Q: Mr. Ma, people might be watching or listening to this interview fifty years from now; we’d like them to know a little bit about who you are and where you came from.


Q: So if you could please start out by saying where and when you were born, and tell me a little about your childhood and family, that would be great.

WING: My name is Wing Ma, actually, I have a middle name Guo Kua and in Chinese, we usually have the last name come first---it’s Ma Wing Guo, which means, my last name, which means “horse,” --- “ma” is “horse,” “wing” is “forever,” “Guo” is country, that’s what it means.

I was born in China in a very poor family. We were like---exactly my grandfathers, grandmothers, they are all like farmers in China at that time. After I was two years old, our whole family went to Hong Kong, and I actually grew up in Hong Kong, and when I was 18 years old, I came to this country for college. Ever since then, I stayed in this country---after I graduated, I stayed in this country and I got a job.

To begin with, I was an engineer, and afterwards I had my own business, and I was the owner of a garment manufacturing company in Chinatown here, but four years ago I closed my business because of the economy and also the competition between the offshore and the domestic---you know, we cannot compete with them, so I closed the business, and now I’m working for another business now.

Q: I’m going to take you back for a minute to start out. Do you remember anything about the trip from China to Hong Kong?

WING: Oh, I was about two years old. I remember a little bit. At that time, it was very unusual for people to, with documents, that’s going from China to Hong Kong. I got the document---my family, they got the document from China to Hong Kong, but the Hong Kong they do not accept us at that time, the reason being that there were a lot of refugees that went from China to Hong Kong during the late 50s and early 60s, and that’s why they could not handle too many people who come to Hong Kong at the same time, so our family have to have refugee status to get into Hong Kong. That’s all I remember.

Q: Did your mother or father ever tell you anything about how they made that decision to leave China?

WING: Actually, it was my mother’s decision, more than my father’s. My father actually went to Hong Kong before us, and then he went to the Philippines after he arrived to Hong Kong, and he worked there as a cook. My father was a cook back in China, years ago. He was a very experienced cook, so somebody in Manila hired him from Hong Kong to work over there, at that time, in the early 60s. So my father went to Hong Kong first, then, after about two years, my mother and my two other sisters and me, four of us, we went to Hong Kong afterwards.

Q: So what was your life like in Hong Kong?

WING: Hong Kong is a great city. I grew up. I like Hong Kong, but the only thing is, right now, I like New York better. I like New York better than Hong Kong now. It’s a great place to visit, but not a great place to live, to me personally. I like New York better.

Q: What kind of a place did you live in?

WING: In Hong Kong? Oh, we lived in---in Hong Kong, they don’t have like, they do have houses, but not as many like this country. But because of the limited amount of lands over there, we lived in high rises buildings, apartments, that was where we lived.

Q: Was it big, or small---

WING: Oh, small, it was about like, you have a 300-square foot apartment, you’re lucky, very, very, lucky.

[tape interruption]

Q: So, you were saying about that you were lucky to have an apartment in Hong Kong.

WING: That’s, as I said last time, when we had a discussion, my mother, she is a very tough and strong lady. She is like the head of the household. She make all the decisions, and they are good, prove to be good. (laughter)

Q: So was she working while you were living in Hong Kong?

WING: She works, at that time she has to take care of my two sisters and me, so she could not go out and work, she just took some home work that she can do at home.

Q: What kind of work did she do at home?

WING: Needlework.

Q: What kind of school did you go to?

WING: I went to Hong Kong, in the Catholic school, from primary to secondary. It’s a British educational system; they don’t have like grade one, two, three like this country. There are six grades in the primary school, and five grades in the secondary school, and then two years in the post-secondary school, three year colleges. Actually, it’s the same thing, because they have three year college, but they have two years post secondary, which is 12th and the 13th grade, they’re called.

So when I finished my secondary school, I took one more year post secondary, and then I came to this country for college.

Q: Did you like school?

WING: Oh, very much. I was a very good student. As a matter of fact, I had a GPA of 3.5 in college. And I have my master degree in engineering, too. My master degree’s GPA was 3.8.

Q: And, are you Catholic?

WING: Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’m not. I don’t have any religion, personally. I respect all the religions, but I don’t believe in any religion. I respect all of them, because they are all good.

Q: So, what kinds of things did you do for fun, growing up in Hong Kong? What was your daily life like there?

WING? You mean, when I was there?

Q: Yeah.

WING: At that time, there wasn’t anything like what we have now. We did not have any video game, we did not have any TV, at that time if you own a TV at home you are very luxury, you are like rich. But at that time, not to many people had a TV at home. So we just hang around with our school friends and play some kind of games of our own, you know, but at that time when I was in Catholic school, I have a lot of school friends that they are from other countries. So we learned English from them and they learned Chinese from us, which is a lot of fun. I love that kind of interchanging knowledges, which is good.

Q: And how about when you were a teenager, what sort of social life did you have?

WING: Very simple. Because I grew up in a family that is pretty strict. We are not allowed to go out, hanging around the street, by ourselves, so I usually stayed home, and we usually go out with our friends with the permission of my mother, or father, you know, so it’s like very simple. Usually we go out to the movies, or go to play some kind of a basketball, or you know, sports, that’s all. Pretty simple, and pretty enjoyable.

Q: What kinds of movies would you see?

WING: Some Western, some Chinese movies. At that time, there are a lot of movies from the United States too---they are in Hong Kong, so a lot of good movies I saw in Hong Kong, I’ve seen again here on TV, which is very funny.

Q: How did you make the decision to come to college in the United States?

WING: Because when I graduate from the secondary school, there were only two universities in Hong Kong. And when you graduate from a secondary school, how many students? Over a hundred thousand students, to go into two universities for about two thousand seats---the two thousand seats not only for the students in Hong Kong, but for overseas students, too. So you’re talking about only a thousand seats for a hundred thousand, more than a hundred thousand people. Less than one percent. So I could not make it. So that’s why I have to come to this country for college education.

Q: I remember you said that your father was a cook in the Philippines. Did he come and live with you all in Hong Kong at all while you were there?

WING: Yes. My father worked like ten months over there, and come to Hong Kong for two months vacation, and every year is like that.

Q: I remember you telling me before in our previous interview that you met him for the first time when you were eight.

WING: Yes. Because when I was about like a few months old, my father left China for Hong Kong, and then from Hong Kong to the Philippines. But when we arrived at Hong Kong, he was in the Philippines, so I didn’t see my father until I was eight years old. The first time he came there from the Philippines to Hong Kong was 1964, 65, something like that, so that I was like about eight years old, maybe less. That was the first time I met my father.

Q: What was it like when you met him?

WING: Oh, very exciting. In the Hong Kong’s Airport, at that time. Now, it’s, I’ve heard they have another, bigger airport now, so, at that time, it’s like dreaming, you know? It’s sort of very common at that time in the Chinese family, because parents, especially the father, usually they have to go out to work. It’s difficult to make a living in China at that time, so we usually stay home, and father work outside China, in Hong Kong, or in some other Southeast Asian countries, at that time Southeast Asian countries have a better economy than China. So they work there, and then they send money back to China. That’s very, very, usual at that time. But after we went to Hong Kong, we met each other, so we were, sort of, closer to each other. And we are lucky. A lot of people they don’t---they are not like us, they probably did not see their father for many, many years. It’s very, very possible.

Q: How did you feel then, when he had to go back to the Philippines, after you had met him for the first time?

WING: You mean, my father? Well, you know, at that time, I knew that he would come back in about another ten, twelve months, so you know, there’s a hope there, which is better than the first time that I had seen my father, eight years ago, which is too long.

Q: So, when you were getting ready to come to college in the United States, what were your expectations like about what your life here would be?

WING: I did not expect a very easy life, which I prepared for it already. I knew that to go to a new environment, to go to new place, you have to start all over again---it’s not easy. Which I managed to handle everything correctly, and because I was brought up in a family that had a very good---my family is very strict. My mother and mother they did not allow me to do this and do that. We are not in a Catholic family, but some of the Chinese way of teaching the kids, I think they are good in certain ways. I’m not saying that they’re 100 percent okay, but at least I was influenced by those thoughts. And I use the same thoughts that my parents taught me to teach my kids now. I don’t know whether they accept my teaching or not, but I at least I do the same thing now.

Q: Is there anything you do different now, than what your parents did?

WING: Oh, yeah. Because the kids now is a lot different from---the time is different. A lot different from what we were before. So it’s like, sort of they have more freedom than what we had before. Freedom in a way that my parents say something at the time, we could not say now. They could now. They can say no, to us. Which, you know, I have a very open mind. I am not like a very, too strict like my parents. But I still let them know that some Chinese way of educating and teaching the kids, the way that we are teaching them, is better than the Westerners. But I would say not 100 percent --- at least, passed down through our ancestors to now---has been proven to be good, so I think some of them they accept it, some of them they do not because they thought that’s, that’s ridiculous, that’s what they thought. I know (laughs) they think it that way.

Q: Can you give me some examples of things you do that part of the Chinese way of raising children?

WING: We punish them, we will punish them, like what you call---this country does not allow to do that. We hit them. We use the, what they call the ruler or something to hit their butts. That’s what we usually do. But, we try not to do that, because we thought that that wasn’t that good either. To me, personally, that’s not good. But at least, we had to let them know we have that kind of penalty for the kids before. But they thought that’s ridiculous. And we were not allowed to do that in this country. So I would say that sometimes you do need something like this to help the kids to understand rules and regulations.

Q: What are some other things? Can you think of any others?

WING: We teach them to pay respect to their elders, parents, grandparents, not only us, but people outside our families too. Which, in this country the educational system to me, personally I think that they do not teach this kind of moral thing than what we had before. They only teach them knowledges in terms of books, in terms of computers, in terms of mathematics, that’s it. They do not teach them how to live in the society, how to live with other people, how to face other people, that kind of thing. I don’t think they have enough education like what we had before.

Q: I wanted to ask you, when you were deciding to go to college here, were there any other options that you considered at that point, when you were finished with high school, besides going to college?

WING: No. I had a very strong will that I wanted to come to this country for college. That’s the only way---one way street. I never thought of other alternatives, because I love education, and I love coming to this country. Of all the countries in the world, I have considered, like Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada, I pick this country. I like this country better.

Q: Why?

WING: I don’t know why. Because I have a feeling that this country has a better education than other countries, which, when I saw, when I read from newspapers about the Nobel Prize people, a lot of them are from this country, so I was very influenced by those articles in the newspaper.

Q: Were there any other things you remember seeing that made you think that maybe life in America would be for you?

WING: Yes, because at that time, as I said, because my family was so strict, I at that time was a teenager, I need freedom. I want to be free. But, I wanted to taste the freedom in this country also, which I experienced for many years. I know that freedom is something but you’ve got to make good use of the freedom. You just cannot abuse it. That’s another thing. I want to leave my family. I want to be free.

Q: Did you abuse your freedom at all when you got here?

WING: No, not at all. I am a very self-disciplined person. When I say something, I will do it. When I promise somebody something, I will deliver the promise. That’s why I---well, probably this is the education from my family.

Q: Could you share some of your first impressions that you had when you came here?

WING: First impressions?

Q: The first day that you got here.

WING: Oh, the first day I got here. At that time, we stayed in Chinatown. And when I know America, this country on TV, on newspaper, it wasn’t like that. There’s a lot of high-rise buildings, you know. It’s a very advanced country. How come the buildings in this country is so old, and a lot of the buildings are like---we didn’t even have that in Hong Kong. We had better living conditions than a lot of the buildings here, a lot of the apartments here. And, it was like, to me it’s like a totally different thing as what I have read in the paper or on the TV, so it was not a good impression to me when I first came here. But after I find out that a lot of the buildings had been---for so many years because of the zoning problems, because of the---a lot of restrictions, you’re not allowed to do anything. That’s why they keep the way it was.

But in Hong Kong it’s different. Buildings that they are older than 20 years, they knock down and build high rises, more space for people, so a lot of the buildings in Hong Kong are newer than here.

Q: Did you know anyone when you first came here?

WING: My sister was here at that time. I came here, I lived with my sister for a few months, then I moved to New Jersey because I studied in New Jersey.

Q: So your sister and her family and friends, did they give you any advice about what you’d have to do to make a life for yourself here? Do you remember any conversations you had with people when you first got here about Chinatown, or about life in the United States?

WING: At that time, when I first came to this country was 1976, there wasn’t too many Chinese at that time, as compared today. There’s like ten times more than ’76, so it was more quiet than what we have right now, less people than what we are right now. It’s not exactly like what we are right now. What I’m saying is, it’s not like Hong Kong. Now, it’s like 90 percent like Hong Kong. Before it’s like, it’s like Chinatown, really a Chinatown. A lot of things I’ve seen is very, very, funny as compared to same things that we had in Hong Kong. Many people still live in that way. It’s different from what I’ve seen in Hong Kong, so it’s very funny.

Q: Like what?

WING: The bowls are thicker. We had the very beautiful bowls that we would have the rice, to eat on. The bowls. They’re very thick, and it’s very Americanized. Something that, in daily life, that we use is different from what we are using in Hong Kong.

Q: So what was college like for you?

WING: Difficult. I work and study at the same time, and so, pretty tough to me. But I, as I say, I have a very self-disciplined for myself, so I manage to finish my college in three and a half years. I have no problem.

Q: What did your parents think about you doing coming here?

WING: When I told them that I’m coming to this country, they said okay. They give me permission to come here.

Q: Did you keep in touch with them after you were here?

WING: Oh, yeah.

Q: How did you keep in touch with them?

WING: I wrote them letters. At that time, telephone wasn’t that popular like what we have right now. It was very expensive to call international calls. It’s like three dollars per minute at that time. It’s very expensive. So, only call---I only call my parents on the phone during Chinese New Year’s, just once a year, because it’s too expensive. I write, I wrote them letters.

Q: Why did you choose engineering?

WING: I was a science student. In Hong Kong, when you are in Form Three, or Form Four, that’s tenth grade, you have to decide whether you go to arts or science. I picked a science subject, so that’s how I got into engineering field.

Q: Did you enjoy studying that?

WING: Oh, very much. I love engineering fields, I liked engineering courses. I was a mechanical engineer. I worked as a mechanical engineer for five years before I start my own business.

Q: So it sounds like you were very busy during college. When you did have a little bit of spare time, what did you do?

WING: I didn’t have much spare time. When I have spare time, I study, I work, I enjoy my college life very much. It was tough, but very rewarding to me, you know, because I got my degree, I find my job. Everything works out fine to me.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you, or that was unexpected about your life here?

WING: Like what? I---

Q: Anything, anything about you know, what American people were like, or what---school?

WING: In school, nothing surprised me. Actually, the first two year of the school, in the college, was not that hard to me, because a lot of the subjects I learned before in Hong Kong. The third year, we had the major subjects, that’s the year that’s the toughest year. Third year. Junior is the toughest year for me. Senior is a lot, is a bit easier, because the major subjects are what we studied before applied to the labs and everything, so Junior is the toughest year. A lot of new subjects to me that I never learned before. Mechanical engineering subjects. That’s the year that I spent a lot of time studying.

Other than that, nothing special. Nothing surprised me. But about my business, it surprised me that the government is not supporting the industry. They are using---I think they betrayed the industry because they used our industries to trade some other business or some other thing from other countries, like they are selling high-tech to other countries, and in returning they let them import the garment to the country. It’s good and no good, you know?

Q: So you’re married, is that right?

WING: Yeah.

Q: How did you meet your wife?

WING: I met my wife in Hong Kong. She---my wife is my brother-in-law’s niece. So we are, like, we knew each other when she was in Hong Kong, when we met each other. So, when she came to this country, then we met again and that’s how we got married.

Q: Did you keep in touch before she came here?

WING: Very rare, because I was so busy, and I didn’t have time to---I only wrote letters to her like three times, and that’s it.

Q: Did she come here with the idea that you would get married, or did you sort of---

WING: No, she just came here, and then we met, and then, no we did not expect that at that time.

Q: So what was it about her that made you want to marry her?

WING: Oh, my wife is a very strong-willed lady. She is pretty, she is nice, she is hard-working, she works together with me when we had a business together, and she almost like managed the whole business for me internally, so I have time to do externally.

Q: When you were working as an engineer, what kinds of work did you do?

WING: Design engineer. I worked in three different companies. The first company, called the CE-Lummus in Bloomfield, New Jersey. It’s a company that builds lots of petrol chemical plants, and I’m working in the mechanical engineering department of that company. And the next company I work for is a machine design company, designing spot welding machine. The third company I work for is a filter company. They make a lot of filters. It’s one of the largest filter company in this country, called the Pall Corporation, in Long Island.

Q: Why did you switch from job to job?

WING: If you don’t switch, you don’t get paid better, at that time. You have to---either you have to find a job that pay you better, or, if you stay there, you don’t---the raise each year that they pay you cannot catch up with the job that you switch. If you switch a job, you get a better pay.

Q: So then you opened your own business, after five years of working as an engineer?

WING: Yes.

Q: What led you to make that decision?

WING: When I had my third job, I was laid off by that company, and engineering was very good at that time when I was graduated from college. After wards, it just went down. Most of the engineering firms are laying off people, so I was one of them, so that’s why. I got laid off at that time, so I was without job for like about nine months. And during the nine months I drove, like, a black car—they call it the limousine---I drove a black car for nine months in order to make a living, you know. That was before I opened up my business.

Q: How did you get into---could you say a little bit about what kind of business it was?

WING: It’s a garment manufacturing business. I opened up a factory in Chinatown, and I hired like about, at that time, when I just started I hired about fifty, sixty people. And before I closed my business, I hired more than 100 people.

Q: How did you get the capital to start a business?

WING: My brother-in-law helped me. He helped me---he was in the business at that time, in the garment business before me. And he started his business in 1977. I, when I got laid off, he said if I want to be in the business he would help me. So he gave me the capital to open up the business.

Q: What was the garment industry like at the time that you got into it?

WING: At that time, it’s a lot easier. When I say easier, it’s, there were not too many competitions from offshore. Everything you did was domestic. Not everything, I would say 95 percent are domestic. Only like rarely to from the imports. As compared of today, 99 percent are from imports. Only one percent are domestic. Maybe I’m exaggerate a little bit, but it’s close---it has to be very close to that.

Q: What sorts of things did you make?

WING: I make women’s clothing. Sportswear. Skirts, pants, you know, those are the items that I made. And I made those items for Sears, for JC Penny, for Wal-Mart or Kmart. A lot of big chain stores. And those big chain stores now they bought from offshore. So we’ve lost a lot of business domestically.

Q: Was it hard to find workers?

WING: In the beginning, yes, when I just started, in like, 85, it’s not easy to find workers, because not too many new immigrants. In the ‘90s, starting from the ’90s, when there are a lot of new immigrants coming from China, coming from Hong Kong, coming from a lot of Southeast Asia countries, then it’s a lot easier to find workers. What I mean, easier to find workers, doesn’t mean that you can find a good worker. Good worker is difficult to find still. Luckily, about 80 percent of my workers, when I closed down my business, they will stay with me. A lot of them are with me for more than ten years. They are very nice to me, and I’m very nice to them, too, I believe. (laughs) We had a very good relationship. Otherwise they would not stay with me for so many years.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about the people who worked for you?

WING: Mostly ladies, because they are doing needleworks---

WING: ---a few men doing some kind of physical work. That’s why my wife is taking care of the inside work. It’s easier to let girls talk to girls, right? So I went outside and got the business.

Q: Were your workers unionized?

WING: Yes. We were actually a union shop. All our workers are union members. We belong to, at that time it was ILGWU---International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Now it’s called UNITE, Local 23-25.

Q: Did you ever have any problems, any labor problems, during that time you had the business?

WING: Internally, no. Externally, yes. Not because of our workers, but because of the external problems, like the union problem, the, some kind of outside influence as, not because we had a problem, we never had a problem. I have---most of the time I have enough work for my workers, I pay them well, I pay them on time, I have no problem with them, and that’s why they’ve been with me for so many years. A lot of shops, not because they are not good, but because a lot of times they could not do the paperwork and everything accordingly, so a lot of the workers they may not like the shops. That’s why. I would say, 99 percent is the management of the business. If you manage your business well, everything’s fine. It doesn’t really matter you are union or non-union, or, you know, anything.

Q: So what do you think it was about your shop that made 80 percent of your workers stay with you?

WING: Stable. I have a very stable work supply for them, and I have, I pay them very stable. I don’t pay them like, this week something, next week something. Everything is like, on a very good track. So, if you have a good system, everybody will follow. That’s how I think.

Q: So what was an average wage? Do you remember what your workers would make when you first opened in the 80s?

WING: Let’s see, I have to think. At that time, in ’85, I believe the rate was three dollars something, I don’t remember exactly, and then four dollars something, and then---right now, it’s about six dollar ninety cents per hour or seven dollars, something like that. Don’t quote me, because I’ve been out of business for four years now. Probably now it’s about seven dollars an hour. Union rates. The federal rate is $5.15 an hour. State rate is $4.75.

Q: So you didn’t pay by the piece, but by the hour?

WING: We pay by the piece, but we convert the piece to hour, so they got paid more than that.

Q: Why did you end up having to close the business?

WING: I could not compete with the importers. Let me give an example. For a piece of, let’s say for a pair of pants like this. If I have to make it here, just the labor alone may cost you, let’s say, five dollars. If you buy a pair of pants from China, from Sri Lanka, from India, from whatever Southeast Asian country, five dollars is including everything, with the material. How can I compete with them? With us, just the labor alone is five dollars, so we have no way to compete with them. The only thing, the only reason that there’re still some shops still around because we have what they call the quick-response system. We can make something that the offshore people cannot do. Time. We have a shorter period of time to finish something that the manufacturers want us to do, which the offshore manufacturer could not do it. Like we can do it in something, two or three weeks, or even a week. If you do something offshore, you cannot make it in about three months. You know, so that’s the only advantage we have. That’s why there are still some shops around.

Q: You were president of the Garment Manufacturers Association---

WING: I was.

Q: Twice?

WING: Two times.

Q: How did that come about?

WING: It’s an association that gathers all the---our member actually is the shop owner. We have, like, every year we have a function, an annual dinner or gala, we exchange some information, and we have meetings every month, like I’m going to the meeting later on. They still have me as a board member because they want me to have some input to the Association, which I appreciate them.

But every year we had a fundraising, not actually a fundraising, we just get some money to maintain the association, and that’s it. We are not making money from that dinner or anything. And people are participating very well, every year. Even though, right now, the economy isn’t that good, they are still supporting the Association, because this is the only association in garment industry locally in our community. There were a few before, but they could not last like what we last. Our association is like, 45 years now.

Q: What were some of the things that you had to do as the president? What were some of your duties?

WING: We negotiate the contract every three years with the union. We try to get the best benefit to our association members, as well as the workers. It sounds like very contradiction, but it’s not. The reason being that the workers actually, we face them everyday. Even though they’re union members, we want to get the best benefits out of the union for them. And as an association president, we have like a lot of board members, then we have a negotiation team, to negotiate with the union every three years about the contract. And we go to some other association or some other states to get some resources back to New York. That’s what we’re doing.

Q: How would you do that?

WING: We have a lot of like Garment Industry Development Corporation. They have an office down on Centre Street. We work very closely with them, and even though we have a contract with a union, we work very closely for the union to try to get some work back from other states, or back from offshore, which did help a little, but not very successful because bottom line is price---we cannot compete with offshores. But at least they will give us something to do here, and if they need something very, like quick response, they would stay with us. They would not go to some other places.

Q: What sorts of things were you negotiating with the union over, during the time that you were president of the Garment Manufacturers Association?

WING: Mostly on the benefits for the workers and what the shop owners, our members--- Health benefit is the most important thing, because every member, every union member, that is, every worker in our shops, they need health benefit, which is getting more and more expensive, and they could not, a lot of their workers could not afford it. And now, a lot of the workers has to co-pay, which is a very heavy burden for them, which I, when I was president of the association, I tried to have the union make them not to do the co-pay, but very unsuccessful, and now they try to have the shop owner do the co-pay for them, which is very unfair to the shop owner either, because it’s very expensive overhead for the shop owners. We’re talking about, about two hundred some dollars a month per worker. It’s very expensive.

Q: Where was your factory specifically located?

WING: Not too far from here. Located on Mott Street. Now the building has been converted to a medical building. Half of it, not the whole building. Because that building is like two buildings, but they have a big building by knocking down the walls years ago, it’s a very old building, and over 10,000 square feet per floor. I was on the third floor. Now they have half of the building became a professional building, and the other half is still garment manufacturing. And I don’t think they have any more lease, and they are only working like month to month.

Q: When you closed the business, what happened to the people who were working there? How did they react?

WING: Some of my workers, they cried. They would never have thought of me closing down the business, because I had been supplying a very stable work source for them, so they, the money had been very stable for so many years. They never thought of going out to work for some other people. So, it was a tough time for a lot of the workers, too.

Q: Do you know what kind of work they were able to find afterwards?

WING: Afterwards, some of them work for other factories, some of them changed their professions to become, how do you put it, medical help or something like that, I don’t know what they call it, they have to be trained by the CPC (Chinese-American Planning Council) or Manpower, to become qualified for this job.

Q: Nurse practitioner?

WING: Something like yeah, home helper, or whatever, to help the seniors.

Q: Do you ever see any of them?

WING: Oh, yeah. Even now, I met a lot of my previous workers on the street. And they still want me to open up again, but I say I cannot do it. Not because of me alone, just because of the economy, because of the competition, that we cannot compete with the offshores. So I couldn’t do it.

Q: How did you decide that that was the moment when you needed to close the shop?

WING: At that time, when I closed my business, I still make money. I’m not losing money, but I figure out if I still want to do it, I make some projections. I will be losing money maybe in about six months. So I said if I keep on doing this for another six months I will be losing a lot of money. So I would rather do it now than six months later. So, which, I think I make a very good decision. Right now a lot of people are, a lot of the shop owners are crying for what they are doing. Not because they don’t have work. Sometimes they have work, but no workers. Sometimes they have workers, no work. It’s very difficult to make the adjustment.

Q: What were your options, then, after you closed the factory?

WING: I was looking for some other business, but at that time, when I closed my business, it was in 1999, and the economy was going down. At that time, the economy wasn’t look good, I did not decide to do anything yet, so I like, stayed home for two years, did not do anything, I just see which is the right way for me to go to. Which business is going to be better for me to get into. So, about a year and a half, two years ago, I started to work again, but not business. I’m working for another business now. Liquor industry.

Q: And what do you do?

WING: I was working as a sales rep for a distributor, but right now I’m working for a supplier.

Q: And how did you pick that?

WING: I like liquor, cognac, very much. That’s how I got to know a lot of the people in the industry. And they referred me to some of the job openings over there. I find it a pretty interesting industry.

Q: You’ve been involved in the community in all different kinds of ways. You talked about being involved in the Garment Manufacturing Association. Could you talk about some of the other things that you’ve done?

WING: I was---when Speaker Peter Vallone was the councilman of New York City I was one of the Asian American Advisory Council member of Peter Vallone. The job of that is to bring messages from our community back to the City Council. Tell them what we expect the city council to do, and what we want and what we need from the city. This is one of the positions that I had when I was president of the association. And I happened to know of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, and I find it is very educational and very good for the next generation to know about the Chinese heritage, and so I you know, support this Museum of Chinese in the Americas as well.

Q: When you were on the Asian American Advisory Committee for Peter Vallone, what sorts of issues were you dealing with? What sorts of messages did you bring to him?

WING: I remember at that time there was some street cleaning problem that we tried to bring it to the city, and some parking meter problem, because a lot of parking, there are, like, no place for the people to park in Chinatown, that will cause a lot of people not to come to Chinatown and have a lot of tourists not coming to Chinatown. So we tell the city to give us a lot of, more parking space, more people to direct the traffic, to make it easier for the people to come to here, and help the restaurant and help the other business to grow in Chinatown. That’s all. You know, most of the issues of the community.

Q: And were you successful in getting what the neighborhood needed?

WING: Sort of, yes. Pretty good. Like before, I would say before 1995 or something like that, Canal Street they allow to have people park there, and blocking the traffic. Yes. Now no more. You are not allowed to park on Canal Street. Even after seven o’clock. Which is good, I would say, because you can have a lot of traffic flow thoroughly, not staying there and polluting the whole community.

Q: You were also on the Community Board. Is that right?

WING: That was in 1993, I remember. I was on the CB Three, Community Board Three for about two years.

Q: And what was that experience like?

WING: We had vender problems, venders, you know the people that are selling, the, what they call the---a lot of the, maybe the souvenir on the streets so we want to group them together and put them in Roosevelt Park---is it Roosevelt Park? Yeah---and, but very unsuccessful, because they only been there for like about a few months, and then they have to be relocated or, so, I feel there is very too much politics involved, so I quit. I cannot tell them---I told them what it is; I hope they can follow my way of doing it, but I find out that it’s not that simple. Something that we cannot just say and they will do it, so I will say, it’s not something I can manage, so I quit and I’m not going to be a member anymore.

Q: So on the day of September 11, 2001, where were you? How did you find out what happened?

WING: I was home. That morning, I was trying to drive to work, and before I left, my sister called me. She said, “There is a plane hit the World Trade Center.” I said, “What?” And I turn on the television. I saw the smoke coming out from one of the towers that was hit, and then I watch the TV for like a few minutes---another plane, hit, hit the building. It’s like watching a movie, but it’s real. There was something that have a very big impact to me, because World Trade Center is like a landmark of our city. And I’ve been like New Yorkers, and I love New York. It’s like something that---I could not believe it, so--- I almost cried, you know? It’s like something I cannot accept. Two days, I watch TV, I didn’t go to work. Like, you don’t know what you’re doing, you know? It’s very, very, upset.

Q: What were you thinking about as far as Chinatown as you were watching that happen?

WING: The first thing I did was, I called a lot of friends in Chinatown. Tell them to leave as soon as possible. Because I have a lot of friends, they are working in Chinatown. A lot of friends that still have business in Chinatown. I tell them, don’t stay here, go home. I know there’s something---if something like this happen, it is terribly wrong. So, luckily, in the beginning, the phone still working. But after awhile, the phone was not working, and then, only the cell phone was working, and after a while---even the cell phone is not working! So it’s very, like, to me it was like the end of the world at that time. Very frustrating, very, very upset. A lot of my friends, they could not get home on time, they had to stay in Manhattan for like another day before they could go to their home. It’s like, Chinatown was like totally paralyzed. Not only Chinatown, but even up to, the whole Manhattan, whole New York, even the whole country, for that two day was like doing nothing.

Q: You have children, right?

WING: I have two children.

Q: Two children. How did you explain to them what had happened? How did they find out about it?

WING: Oh, they knew it through school. School, I think they have television, and the teacher, you know, tell them what happened.

Q: How did they feel about it?

WING: First they---I don’t really know how they feel, but what I know is the kids are very patriotic to the country. That’s what I understand.

Q: What do you mean by patriotic?

WING: Patriotic to the country? What I mean is like my son, he is very Americanized. He’s like, you know, everything is USA, so that’s why, it’s very, it’s a lot of impact to these kids, too, because it’s something they’ve been seeing, they’ve been there before, and now no more. I would say the kids are also very upset about that too.

Q: Do you feel patriotic?

Q: So you mentioned that your son was feeling very patriotic, or is a patriotic person. How about you, are you patriotic?

WING: Yes. But when I just came to the country, and I, to me, it’s---everything was new to me, but as time goes by, I’ve been in this country for so many years. I’ve been like, personally I’ve felt that I already naturalized to this country, and that’s why I think---and I’m an American citizen now, so I think I am a patriotic person. But I don’t know if the country look at it to me that way too, you know? I don’t think they think it that way. But, I don’t know. But as far as I’m concerned, I think I am very patriotic to the country.

Q: When you say that you’re not sure if the country thinks of you as patriotic, what do you mean by that?

WING: Because, well, as I said, this is an immigration country. Everybody, except the Indian, the red Indian, they are the domestic local people. Everybody came from outside countries, like Irish, Scotland, England, or European country, Asian country, everybody come from all different places. But the people that control this country now, they---only controlled by a small group of people. Whatever they think is right, is right, is wrong is wrong. So, of course, I think it’s more up to them to think whether you are really a patriotic person or not. It is not up to what I think. It is up to them. That’s what I mean.

Q: Did September 11 effect or change the way you feel patriotic at all?

WING: It make me more patriotic than before. Because I think they should not---I mean, the people that they attack the World Trade Center, they should not do that. This is nothing to do with the innocent people. If you are not agree with the government, you fight with the government, not with the innocent people, which I think it’s just very, very, wrong, very, very bad thing that they have been done.

Q: You own real estate in Chinatown also, is that right?

WING: Yes.

Q: How did you first start getting into that?

WING: Because I want to diversify my investment, to begin with, so when I was in my garment industry business, I tried to diversify my investment in real estate in Chinatown, and at that time I did not have any, like intention, or anything like---just wanted to do some investment, that’s all. And I found out that right now that prove that to be a very good investment, because all the real estate has been growing tremendously in the last two-three years, especially in early 2000, the year 2000. It’s like booming. And right now it’s still good, but not as good as like a year ago. As far as the rental concerned, after 9/11 I was totally affected by the incident of 911. Because all my tenants moved out gradually, and my building was like vacant for more than twenty months. And little by little, I had my new tenants back, and right now, I only have 60 percent of my building rent. I still need more tenants. But I still have to pay my real estate tax, I still have to pay my---everything. I applied for some assistance from the government. All I got is about six thousand dollars. Not even one month of my mortgage payment. I pay my mortgage like about twelve thousand dollars a month.

Q: Where did you apply for the assistance?

WING: I applied through the one on Williams Street. I forgot the name of it. There are two places where you can do some application. One is on Williams and one is on Rector (Street). I did it through the Williams Street.

Q: How did you hear that you might---that the government, or that different organizations, were giving out aid?

WING: There are a lot of non-profit organizations, they give out brochures, they had some information that they give out on radio, on Chinese radio too. So I called and find out I am qualified for this. So I went to get an application and applied for it. But I didn’t know that, that’s the only, only like six thousand I got for over twenty months suffering.

Q: How did they come up with that figure?

WING: They said two percent of my income. That’s how they got that figure.

Q: When you went to apply for the aid, what was the place like, were people friendly and helpful, or was it really difficult to get through the paperwork?

WING: They were very friendly, very helpful. But the only thing is, the decision, and the amount of money to be qualified for who, and for what, you know, that’s not decided by those people. That is decided by somebody else. And by looking at those applications, you don’t really know whether these people are really the sufferers or not. That’s what I thought. I told them that I lost a lot of income because of that, and they only say that because you are not---as a landlord, you are not really a business over there, I thought, that’s wrong, because I do business in the real estate business, this is business. They said it’s not. So, they said only qualify for about two percent of my total annual income. That’s how they got the figure.

Q: I have to change the tape.

Q: You were talking about the aid that you got after September 11. I’m curious---the friends that you have in Chinatown, business people that you know or individuals, what sorts of stories have you heard about being trying to get aid?

WING: Not that many, because I wasn’t involved too much about this, but I heard the people that they live in this area, residents, they get more than I got, as a business person. I don’t know how they justify it, who is going to get more or less or how much. I really don’t understand how they get a figure like this, and for our business, and, that you lost in this period of time. We are not asking for more---we are just asking for, like, for example the real estate tax---I just want them to give me like some time to pay. I paid, like about two weeks late; they charged me the interest for two hundred dollars and change. They still charge me for that. Not because I don’t want to pay, but because I had a hard time to pay at that time. I have no tenants, and I have to get the money from someplace else. Out of my own pocket. So it took me a while to, you know, to do this. It was like a very hard period of time for me at that time.

Now it is a lot better, because I have my new tenants over there, and everything works out okay. At least I don’t have to lose money. I’m breaking even now. But I got to make up something that I lost for the twenty months that I have my building vacant at that time. So it’s very, very difficult. I hope the government can do something to those business owner in the area. And I’m from south of Canal, which is the secondary major damage area. And there is something that I don’t understand which is I don’t understand why they don’t give us, like my new tenants, give us some leeway or some assistance to my new tenants, because my new tenants are opening up a business over there, and they have to go to Department of Building to apply a lot of license, or you know, doing the renovations, things like that, and the Department of Building they give them a lot of hard time. I really don’t understand why they do that. They are bringing business to this area, and make it prosperous again. And they try to give them hard time---what kind of a psychological thinking is that, you know? I think this is too bureaucratic. That’s it.

Q: You’ve been involved in politics before, and you know, trying to get the community’s concerns heard by the government. Did you ever consider complaining, or trying to change the way they were dealing with the aid?

WING: I don’t think I, as a person, can do anything about it. But I did talk to a lot of non-profit organization people, that I know of, but it doesn’t seem to be like any successful. I only just talked to them, you know. I just talked to them about if cases like what I have maybe a lot of people, have a very similar situation like what I have, so what should we do? Nobody could give me an answer.

Q: Who did you talk to?

WING: I talked to people from CPC, you know, those local non-profit organization. They supposedly have to help those local community people.

Q: Who were your tenants before September 11?

WING: Before September 11 I had people---my tenant, one of my tenants is Pearl Paint, they use my place as a office and warehouse, and I have a second and third floor was garment industry, garment factory.

Q: And now?

WING: And now, my first floor is a restaurant and bar. Second floor in a training center. Ironically, it’s a place for people to get job re-training, after the effect of the 9/11. This is the institute that you have to go to. One of the institutes. And the third floor is artists that is making sculptures, those sorts of things, for big companies.

Q: How do the rents compare?

WING: About the same that I rent before, because the situation wasn’t that good. If I insist to get more rents, I don’t think I would rent it out today. So I lower my rent like tremendously. A little bit better than before. That’s all. But I give them a lot of free rents, a lot of---many months. Like, some of them I give them like six, seven months free rent, in order to get them to stay here. You have to do something, otherwise, I don’t have any advantage.

Q: What kind of a restaurant is it that’s opening?

WING: The owner is three partners. One of them from India, one from Turkey, and the other one, I never seen them. He is in Florida, and he is in garment importing business. (laughs) So they are opening a restaurant and bar over there, because that’s the area I think it’s very good for the, they call it TriBeCa, it’s very good for the yuppies, to stay, hanging around after work, and happy hours. So I think it will be helping the area to become more prosperous again.

Because right now, right after 9/11 was like a dead city, nobody wants to go there. Now, people start to, little by little, going back to the TriBeCa area again. I can see that, you know? And during the off hour, like from five to seven, a lot of people kind of stopping by a bar, having a drink, or have something to eat over there, very good, you know the environment is getting better and better. That’s why I think the Housing Department has to give the tenants not only mine, the people who want to do business over there, some kind of help, and not give them too much hard time.

Q: And where exactly is that building?

WING: I’m sorry?

Q: And where exactly is that building?

WING: The building is on 52 Walker, two blocks south of Canal. (coughs)

Q: Want some water?

WING: No, I’m fine. Probably because of the air.

Q: What do you think the government or non profits could have done better, to help the people in Chinatown and businesses in Chinatown after September 11?

WING: I don’t want to have any offense to anybody, but they could have done a lot better job than this. There’s a lot of money out there for, to help the people, for people that has been suffered from 9/11, but I don’t think the money has been allocated correctly. A lot of the money has been wasted, and a lot of the money has been sitting there, doing nothing. Because---I don’t know, whatever reason, either bureaucratic, or something, they just do not want to give it out. That’s why, by the end of the deadline, they want to rush the money out to whoever that is qualified, even though they are really not qualified.

Something like, in my situation, I think I should get at least something to compensate, or some kind of grants, or some kind of, you know, loans or something, to help me for this hard period of time, but I didn’t get anything. Or, I get something, but it’s not enough for me to maintain a month, so from my own opinion is they should really do something more personal, instead of just give them a very brief review and they giving out the money. I don’t think that’s correct. And I heard a lot of cases, a lot of instances that they have to get the money back from the people that they gave it to, which is something that they did not do in the right place to begin with.

Q: The first phase was giving out aid to people. Now there’s all this money coming into New York for reconstruction. If you had some of that money to use in Chinatown, what would you do?

WING: For the community?

Q: Yes.

WING: To improve the business, you have to do something like advertising and make to clean up the streets, to direct the traffic better, and have all the restaurants, all the business people to participate. A lot of campaigns: this month is for restaurant, this month is for banking, or this one is for finance, or you know, different business center has a special for a month, right? And I don’t think you have to spend a lot of money to do something like this, because those business people, if they participate, I think they will be very willing to give some money too. So between the government, and the business, and the community people, they can participate into the program with the help of the non-profit organization, I think they can do a good job. Each month have something different for the whole year, and then have some advertising, not only to attract the local people, but to attract tourists from out of state, even out of the country. It would help to boom up the---not only in this area, but the vicinity area as well, like Wall Street. Less and less people come into New York because of the tax, because of the instance of 9/11. You have to bring back the people to come to this area, to this city. Right after 9/11 the hotel rate was so low, now it’s slightly picking up again.

But before 9/11 the hotel rate was very good. I heard they were booking like over 90 percent in the whole city, so you see the difference. And between that 9/11, the two years, a lot of business went, out of business, a lot of restaurants or some other business, they are totally gone. Now, you give them a chance to come back again, you give them a chance to do business again. You need to help them. I think the city, the federal, the state, they should do something, not only to New York, Chinatown, but to the whole city.

Q: Do you think there are any organizations, or even any individuals in Chinatown who could organize or lead or advocate for something like that?

WING: It’s---I believe it’s not individual, or one organization or two organizations to do it. It’s a group effort. Everybody has to participate.

Q: I was asking you about who in Chinatown could possible lead or organize an effort to do some redevelopment or whatever, and you’re saying it has to be a group effort.

WING: Yes, but, I’ve got to add something with the two largest organization. Not non-profit, but they are the community organizations. One is called the CCBA (Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association), and the other one is the American Fujianese Association. These are the two biggest community associations in Chinatown. And they have a lot of influence to many people here. And I think they should do the lead of the functions that we just mentioned.

Q: Would you ever consider getting involved with something like that?

WING: If possible, yeah. I’d be involved, not a problem. I would do my best.

Q: I remember you talking in the first interview we did about how a lot of the people who were here when you first came were here to make money and get out and weren’t really involved in the community. You, who came at that time, have done all kinds of community work. What is it about you that makes you get involved in that way?

WING: A lot of people they don’t live in this community. They only work here. They only make money from the community, and then they leave. I’ve been living in the community for many, many years, and before I move, the reason I move is because I need my kids to live in a better environment. Just me and my wife, we didn’t care about that really. I live in Chinatown for more than fifteen years. And then, I believe that if you are making money from a community, not only here, whatever community that you’re living in, you should give back something to the community, in terms of money, in terms of work, in terms of charitable functions or anything, anything that you can possibly think of, I think you should do something, work something, pay back to the community, because what you are making, the money is from the community, so this is, as I said before, something like our education from Chinese way. You do something you’ve got to pay back something to, you know, whoever helped you.

Q: Why do you think Chinatown hasn’t gotten the same amount of money or attention as other neighborhoods that have been effected by September 11?

WING: They did not get as much money like the other neighborhood? I really don’t know, but I think probably there are too many chiefs, no Indians. Too many people applied for the same money, and nobody like of the leader of the community to do the same thing. So it’s not focused enough. Too many people doing the same thing. They just can’t give the money to---certain money to this association. They’ve got to give it to all of them. So that is why the money is like spread out.

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about some of the reasons why you aren’t so actively involved in politics now as you were in the past?

WING: At that time, I was in the business, and I thought, I hoped that politicians, politics and business, should go hand in hand in order to make your business better, in order to make your community better, in order to help the people in the community better. Yes. Sometimes they will help. But a lot of politicians they change every four years. Sometimes they can help you, but after four years, they can’t do anything, because they are not in the position anymore. So it makes me very frustrated sometimes.

Like I was the advisory council member of Speaker Vallone before, now Speaker Vallone is no longer with the city council. So whatever that we built up before is waste. So I think it’s like very difficult to have a good follow through thing to make the community better. So if you have to do something like this you have to have like a group of people, professionals to do it full time. It’s a full time job. It’s not something that we are doing it part time, can manage or can achieve for the community.

Q: Did you find that politicians, while they were in office, were responsive to the needs of Chinatown?

WING: It depends on the individuals. Some do, some don’t. Some politicians are good. Some politicians they are only looking for votes and money. Some politicians they really do the job. I would say it all depends on individuals.

Q: I wonder if you could think of any specific examples of challenges that you faced, or that you saw in getting involved in politics and getting your voice heard that way?

WING: Like what?

Q: Any specific instances where there was something that you, or an organization that you were working for were trying to achieve and weren’t able to.

WING: Yeah.

Q: What were some of the obstacles? What was hard about it?

WING: We had a hearing in City Council about the garment industry, about five years ago. I was involved. As a matter of fact, I was one of the speakers. Our executive director, me, and president at Brooklyn Apparel Association, a good friend of ours. We had a hearing at City Council, talking about the garment industry effecting the economy, and everything, to the community.

And we make this arrangement through a city councilman, Jerome O’Donovan. He was the councilman from Staten Island, and he used to be committee chair of economic development for the city council; that’s why we want him to do something for us, which, he is a very responsive person, that he respond to us, and he arrange a hearing for us. We appreciate that. And I don’t know whether it will help to other government officials to understand more of what we say, but at least we did something. This is one of the major things that we achieved.

Q: Can you think of any instances where you weren’t able to achieve what you were trying to do, or you weren’t able to get a response from politicians?

WING: This is not, one or two politicians can help. This is like, something that I think the decision by the top country people, like, maybe the congressman, or maybe the senators, that they make all these decisions. So whatever that we said, or whatever that we told them during the hearing, they just used it as a record. And, you know, the people that make the decision when they look at it, they may only not agree with what we have been saying to them, so I don’t know whether it helps or not, but at least we did something to get their attentions----that’s all we want to do, that’s all. I know it’s difficult to get their attention, but at least we did something right.

Q: And when was it that you did that?

WING: About five years ago, at City Council.

Q: What do you think the future of the garment industry in Chinatown holds?

WING: There is no future in this industry at all. What I mean is, because there is no comparison between the labor price in this country and the labor price in all the South American, Caribbean, Asian countries. We cannot compete with them. There will be less and less people working in the industry, domestically. There will be more and more people working for importers. So, I would say this is like a sunset industry. There will be still some people staying in the business. As I said before, the reason why they stay is because they need people to do domestically for some quick turn-around goods. So, maybe five percent of what we have right now.

Q: I know that the garment industry has been for a long time sort of the backbone of the Chinatown economy. What do you think will fill that void, what do you think will happen to Chinatown? How’s it going to change?

WING: Well, Chinese people are very flexible. They have the garment industry, they work for the garment industry. If the garment industry’s gone, they will do something else. I don’t see any problem. But the only thing is, they need some---in transition state, they need some help from the government, to, let’s say, as I said, like the other professions, they need some kind of a training in order to get the license or whatever to go to the other professions. I think, we will survive, but it will be better for them to survive if the government can give them a little bit of help.

Q: What other kinds of help do you think the government might be able to give, besides training?

WING: Create more jobs, you know. Let’s say, if there are some other industry that they need to help from the government, help them. For example, the tourist industry. This is one of the main sources of income for the whole community. So, give them a little bit of help. Give them a little promotion. I think, you know, if you have more tourists come to New York, we pay more tax to the government, so it’s like, it’s not a one-way street, it’s a two-way street. The government will make something, and the people will make something, so I think it’s a good idea.

Q: We were talking a little bit before about patriotism, and what it means to be patriotic, to you, and I’m curious, as an immigrant, during a time when immigration sort of had a bad name, or there were a lot of changes in immigration policy in the United States, making it harder for people to come here, did you feel that any of those public sentiments impacted on you, personally?

WING: Oh, yeah. Even though I’m a citizen, I think we are like a secondary citizen. We are not like the same level of a citizen as those people that originated in this country, or they were born in this country, because we are naturalized. At least, from what I think is our education, from Chinese education, telling us that if the country did something to you, you have to be, you know, good to the country. I’ve been getting an education from this country, and I think I’ve learned a lot and I got a lot from this country, I need to pay back to the country. That’s what I think patriotism is.

Q: Did you ever feel, sort of, less welcome after September 11, when people were feeling---I think America felt a little bit more closed right after that, to some people. Did you feel that at all?

WING: Yes. They are more---closer than before, and people are like more willing to help each other than before. Especially right after 9/11. The NYPD people, they are much, much nicer than before. I had a feeling, they don’t just give out summons and like that. They will let you go, sometimes. It’s like a thing, a feeling and environment that you never had here before. Never! At that time, it’s like people are very willing to help each other. People can do whatever people want. There is no boundaries between ethnic groups. At that time, it’s like one of the best times, in terms of human relationships.

Q: How about since then, has that changed at all?

WING: Changed back to the before 9/11 environment. Well, at least we know that all human beings can do something like what I said before. It’s not something that they were born to that.

Q: Have you ever thought about running for public office? For elected office?

WING: I don’t think I’m qualified for that. It’s good to give a lot of advices or a lot of my opinion to the elected officials. I don’t think I can be one of the officials to run the---you know, I’m not interested in that.

Q: Have you ever supported particular campaigns, or particular---?

WING: A few. We supported quite a few City Councilmen. We support (Governor George E.) Pataki when he, second term, when he ran for the governor, we support councilwoman Kathryn Freed our local councilwoman, when she ran for councilwoman, and when she ran for, what was the position, I forgot---public advocate. She lost. This time, she ran for one of the judges. I don’t know whether she won or not, but I vote for her. I believe she won. Another one is Jerome O’Donovan. We supported him financially, because we are not in the district, and we supported Mark Green, when he ran for mayor. What else? We supported (Rudolph W.) Giuliani, and we supported (David Norman) Dinkins.

Q: When you say, “we” who are you talking about?

WING: Our association.

Q: The Garment Manufacturers Association?

WING: Yes. Because I am not doing those jobs as an individual. We did it as a group of people.

Q: I remember you saying before that you had had some experience as part of the Garment Manufacturers Association in talking to politicians and deciding who to support and trying to let them know what your concerns were. Could you talk a little bit about those experiences now?

WING: Yes. When, I believe it was in 1986, was it ‘80? That’s the term that Dinkins running for the mayor position. There is another gentleman, he was the head of the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) before---I forgot his name. We supported him to run for the mayor. But he lost in the primary. The reason why we supported him is---ah, I remember his name: Dick Ratrich. Richard Ratrich. He ran for the position, our whole association supported him. He is a person that nobody know him at that time. But he was the head of the MTA before, commissioner of the MTA. We don’t know why we support him, because our president before, the former president, he said he is a guy that can help our community, he can help the voice of our community, if elected as a mayor, he will help us, that’s what he said.

At that time, I’m just like a new guy, in the political---I don’t know what I’m doing. But we supported him anyway. And, he lost but we had a very good experience, we know that if we want to support somebody, we have to be in a group, not as an individual. That’s the experience that we had. It was very successful, though, even though we lost.

Q: In what way was it successful?

WING: We had fundraising for him, and like over 800 people turn out. Which is very good. That means, we had our ability to arouse the attention of the community, which is one of the things that we learned at that fundraising. And from then on, we know better how to do a fundraising, and how to choose candidates to support.

Q: What do you think that the government could do right now to support the garment industry?

WING: It’s difficult. Because they already did something that cannot be changed. It’s like a one-way street. You cannot go back. For example, the government had the NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, they already have that, that hurt our industry. They have, what they call the 806-807 agreement, it’s between the Caribbean and this country. It’s cut in this country and make over there. So it’s also had a very bad impact to our industry.

So something like that they already did, and they already had this kind of agreement with a lot of countries. In return they have some other trade with them, for high-tech or for computers or whatever. But, I think if they want to help this industry, right now I think they have to at least give some percentage back to the people to do in this country. So that they can have better employment for a lot of people. This industry helps employ, when they are in peak time, over a million people in the city. Directly and indirectly related to the industry. Over a million people. Right now, maybe a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand? A lot less than before. Many big manufacturers, they went out of business. They were very, very, big before, but they are nobody now. It’s sad, but that’s the way history---it’s like a history. That’s the trend, of the history

Some industry goes down, some industry goes up, you know.

Q: I’m trying to think if there’s anything else we haven’t touched on. Is there anything that you would like to add?

WING: Just now you said how the government can help industry. We are not asking for a lot, we are asking for maybe five percent. If there is five percent, there will be enough for a lot of employment.

Q: A five percent increase in---?

WING: Not increase, maintain five percent of the, let’s say, a hundred percent for the import. A hundred percent, five percent. Bring it back to this country. Bring it back to New York. We will employ over a hundred thousand people. I’m serious.

Q: I remember one thing that you had said before that I wanted to bring up again, about the fact that so many people in Chinatown can’t vote, or don’t vote, and how that’s one of the challenges.

WING: There are a lot of people, as I said before, they work in Chinatown, but they don’t live here, so they don’t have rights to vote, maybe they have a right to vote in the place that they live. And a lot of people they registered to become a voter, but they don’t vote. I don’t know why. It’s probably because of the, the Chinese---historically we do not want to deal with the government. The Chinese people are very conservative. They do not want to deal with the government because they thought when you are alive, you don’t want to deal with the government. When you are dead, you don’t want to go to hell. Something like that, you know. So they don’t want to deal with the government. They thought if you deal with the government, something bad must be happen to you. Either you go to jail or you go to trial, something like that. That’s why they thought it’s a different country than China. This is a democratic country, and they never have time to adjust to this system yet. So that’s why you need a little education, and I think maybe in a few more years they will be more and more alert about this, and they already got a lot of information from some of the associations, some of the non-profit associations, too, like the CCBA, like the Fujianese Association, they give them a lot of education about why vote, something like that.

Q: Do you see the attitudes changing at all yet?

WING: Not much, but gradually, I would think so, because the second generation will have a different point of view than the first generation.

Q: One more question. I remember you said a little while ago that you thought the CCBA and the Fujianese Association were two organizations that might take the lead in organizing some development efforts in Chinatown. Do you think they could work together?

WING: Yes, why not?

Q: Do you see any challenges in their cooperating?

WING: Maybe there are some conflicts between them politically, because one is supporting Taiwan and one is supporting the mainland China. Their political ideas are different. But if you are working for the benefits of the community, I think they have the same goal. I don’t see any problem.

Q: Okay. Is there anything else you would like to add?

WING: Basically, you have covered everything.

Q: Well, thank you very much, for taking the time to come in and do this with us.

WING: Thank you. I don’t know if I’ve been any help to you.

Q: Oh, I think you’ve been a great deal of help. This will be very useful to a lot of people now and into the future.

WING: I hope so. I don’t know---

(end of interview)

Cambao de Duong, Male, 50s -- Manpower

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: I'm going to start by having you say your full name and where you are from.

Cambao: My name is Cambao de Duong. I'm from Saigon in South Vietnam.

Q: Can you tell us about your life in Vietnam?

Cambao: Yes. I was born in Vietnam to Chinese parents. I grew up, was educated and worked in Vietnam as a teacher in Saigon and in Kien Tuong. I also was a principal in Saigon, too. Also I taught in the School of Language of Teacher’s College until April 30, 1975. Because I was commissioned to the South Vietnam army, so it was good enough for me to be ordered to receive ten days seminar with the new regime.

Interview: Let's back up a little bit. You said that you were born to Chinese parents. That means your parents came from China, to Vietnam?

Cambao: Yes.

Q: And as Chinese living in Vietnam, is your life any different than an average Vietnamese person?

Cambao: I think it did not make any difference, because in the area we lived, there was a mix of Chinese and Vietnamese. So we did not have language barriers, so everybody treated everybody so nice.

Q: So at home what language did you speak, and what did you study in school, also?

Cambao: At home, normally we speak our dialect -- that's Chao Chow. And sometimes we use many other languages, like Vietnamese. Sometimes we use Cantonese. However, in school, I went through three school systems -- Chinese, French and Vietnamese. Mainly Vietnamese and Chinese. In Chinese school I learned Mandarin, and in Vietnamese school, of course, I learned Vietnamese.

Q: So you do not feel any different than a Vietnamese person in Vietnam, and your friends, your colleagues, were all different people. All Chinese and Vietnamese.

Cambao: Yes. We lived together and I taught many years in the Vietnamese school. And I taught Vietnamese literature. I speak fluent Vietnamese, fluently, like any Vietnamese. So no one can treat me differently.

Q: So growing up in Vietnam during wartime, did that have any affect on your life at all?

Cambao: Surely. Because of the wartime, I was called to join the army. I received one year's training there. And because at that time I became an officer, a lieutenant, and so after 1975…. I mean, April 30…..I was ordered to get into a re-educational camp.

Q: Some of our viewers may not know what happened on April 30, 1975.

Cambao: April 30, '75 was the day South Vietnam collapsed. And the North Vietnam took over the South. It became one country after that. And the people living in the South had to suffer with the new regime policy and, because of that, a lot of people escaped from Vietnam. I believe about two million people escaped from Vietnam after that.

Q: So immediately following April 30, 1975, as a Chinese person living in Vietnam, did that have any impact on your family or your personal life at all?

Cambao: It impacted on my personal life because many reasons. One of the many reasons is I was in the army. The second reason was, I am a Chinese descent, and the third reason, I have a high educational background.

Q: Which army were you in?

Cambao: I was trained in Thu Duc, an Army Reserve Officer training school. Actually, I did not fight at any time.

Q: You were in the southern Vietnam army, not the northern Communist.

Cambao: No.

Q: After '75, then what happened?

Cambao: I was sent to the new regime concentration camp for re-education. That was a struggle. I had a hard life there. I stayed there more than three years. I had to struggle with many kinds of difficulty such as without food, and sick without medicine. And it caused me, from a strong man, it make me weaker. I lost a lot of weight. I lost about fifty pounds.

Q: And how old were you at this time?

Cambao: I was about 32 when I was in the camp.

Q: And you had already formed your own family?

Cambao: Yes. I just married for about four months. And I had to leave my wife. My son was born when I was in the camp.

Q: So how do you think your wife felt at the time?

Cambao: Of course she suffered. And I respect that she was able to stay to wait for me. Meanwhile, many people take the chance to escape from Vietnam. She had many opportunities to leave, but she stayed there to wait for me.

Q: Why do you think you survived those three years in the re-education camp, when so many people did not?

Cambao: I strongly believe that I did a lot of good things for people. I did not do anything to harm any people. As an educator, I taught my students not only become people with good knowledge, but also taught them to become good people, in order to serve society sooner or later -- even the new regime. My students understood me, and they believed me.

Q: Do you think you learned anything about your own strength at the time?

Cambao: I learned one thing: that you believed at certain thing, and you did the right thing, you’d get it.

Q: After you were released, three years later, how did you live your life?

Cambao: At that time a lot of people, as well as teachers, escaped from Vietnam to other countries. And Vietnamese needed teachers. So the new regime, the so-called Viet Cong, they released me to go back to teach in a high school. I became a high school teacher again and taught for three years.

Q: Is your whole family with you in America now?

Cambao: I, and my small sized family. My direct family, my relatives are still there, my brothers, sister, and nieces and nephews are still there.

Q: And how did you come to America?

Cambao: I had a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law living in America. They sponsored me. Meanwhile, I tried to find my way out. I tried many years, by boat. But I was unsuccessful. So I decided to wait for their sponsorship, and then I was lucky, because the United States government figured out I served in the South Vietnam government, so they allowed me to come to this country very soon after my application.

Q: And since coming to America, have you had the chance to go back to Vietnam at all?

Cambao: No. Totally not.

Q: Would you like to go back?

Cambao: I want to, but not at this point.

Q: So then you came to America in what year?

Cambao: I came to America at the end of 1983.

Q: And where did you go?

Cambao: I came to New York City immediately.

Q: And why did you decide to stay in New York City?

Cambao: There are some reasons I decided to settle in New York City. Because, first, I have a relative living in New York City. Second, I believe that New York City is the capitol of the world, and with that…

Q: So you came to New York City in 1983? You were not a refugee.

Cambao: I am a refugee.

Q: You are considered refugee status?

Cambao: Yes.

Q: But you came over….there's a program…what is it called?

Cambao: It's called ODP -- it stands for Orderly Departure Program. However, I had to stay in a Thailand refugee camp Panat Nikhom for a period of time, until the end of 1983. I came here because I have a brother-in-law living in New York City. And possibly I believe that (because of) my background the United States government accepted me as a refugee.

Q: So then you decided to stay in New York City.

Cambao: Yes.

Q: Why?

Cambao: There are some reasons. The first reason, I have a relative living in New York City. Secondly, I believe that New York City is the capitol of the world, and it is a diverse city with people … the city with people who come from all countries of the world. And I believe that we can avoid being discriminated (against). And finally, I believe in New York City it is easy for me to find a job.

Q: And was it easy for you to find a job?

Cambao: Yes. I just came for a short time and I found my first job, in Midtown.

Q: How did you find your first job?

Cambao: I was referred by an employment service agency to try some interviews, but was not successful. And I eventually found the first job as a food deliverer in midtown Manhattan. With, of course, very low pay -- $3.00 an hour, lower than minimum wage. That, I know. However, I needed to survive and feed my family. I had to take any job, with any pay. Luckily, besides salary I also got tips, so I could survive on that.

Q: How did you feel going from a very educated man who worked in many languages being a teacher, to being a middle-aged delivery boy in New York City?

Cambao: I understand, because without a job I cannot feed my family. So I had to accept even what many people consider a lower level job, with very low pay. I believe that I start with lower level, entry-level job, and later on I will find better work when my English gets improved.

Q: How much English did you know when you first came here?

Cambao: When I first came I knew very little English. So I had to attend an ESL class at the YMCA. I attended the ESL class for about six months. During that time I delivered food, I had the opportunity to talk to people. Even (though) my vocabulary was limited, but I believe I could speak fluently at that time. So when I found my second job, it was helpful for me to go through the interview.

Q: Before you actually came to America, what were your ideas of America? What did you think would be here waiting for you?

Cambao: At the beginning I didn't think about coming to the United States. I know France better. But I had no choice. So I come here. I know it is the land of the free. That’s what I love. Also, this is the country with the opportunities -- I found that that's true. I have no regrets for coming to this country.

Q: When you got here, even working as a delivery person, you still believed that this country had opportunities for you.

Cambao: I understand that I'm a newcomer. People don't know me. Whenever they know me, they will hire me for a more appropriate position. It proved that when I worked for a restaurant for a short period of time, the restaurant did not provide health insurance, of course. And then I tried to find a job with health insurance coverage. When I planned to resign from that restaurant they wanted to transfer me to a full time position. I forgot to tell you that my first job was part-time. How many hours I would work per day depending on the need of the restaurant. Some days it was about four hours, some days longer.

Q: And how long did you stay at that job, and how did that take you to the next job?

Cambao: I stayed on that job for more than two months. And then on some occasion I knew that there was an opening in a non-profit organization in Chinatown. So I went to apply even I didn't know, at that time, how to take a subway train to Chinatown.

Q: So as a person in 1983 New York had many Asians. So do you feel Chinese, do you feel Vietnamese? Is this an issue for you at all?

Cambao: It didn't bother me for thinking of myself as a Vietnamese or Chinese. Even before then I thought about that. However, after that I believe I found something -- it doesn't matter. No matter, Vietnamese or Chinese, it's one human being thing. So I treat all kinds of people no differently...I also hope people treat me no differently. No matter what color or what their educational background or what ethnic base.

Q: So if I were to ask you, Mr. Duong, where are you from, what would your answer be?

Cambao: I would say I'm from Vietnam. And when people ask me, who are you? They mean what country are you (from) I may say I'm a Chinese-Vietnamese.

Q: So then your next job was for….?

Cambao: I started to work in a non-profit organization with the lowest level position. It was called 'intake specialist'. It is to help people to fill out application forms. The kind of program I worked for is the refugee vocational training program. And, you know, that's after the stage of the boat people. A lot of Vietnamese and Cambodian and Laotian, they settled down in New York City. So that agency needed someone who not only can speak English but also can speak Vietnamese and Chinese, and know their culture, in order to help them. So I was hired to work on that position. But soon they found that I was an educator, and they allowed me to substitute some courses, like an accounting course. Even though I didn't know what accounting was, I spent time to study, I taught very well, and I was promoted to the skilled instructor position. And then they asked me to teach computer. I had to learn more knowledge about that. It made me decide to go back to school. And then I earned my BA degree in computer science from Hunter College.

Q: And why do you enjoy teaching?

Cambao: Oh, I love teaching, because when I was young, I dropped out from school for one semester. My principal, the person who cared about all the students, their education -- and because I was an excellent student in that school, I always ranked number one in the school -- and he came to my family and he talked to my relatives and my uncle allowed me to go back to study again, and he didn't charge any tuition, because I was the excellent student in that program. I look at him as a good example. He helped a lot of people. So I decided I want to be a teacher. And that's why I attend the Teacher’s College in Vietnam. And my whole life in Vietnam, I spent a lot of time teaching.

Q: So the next job you were also teaching refugees.

Cambao: Yes.

Q: Do you think your background made you a better teacher?

Cambao: The first thing is my background. Second thing, I committed to help other refugees. I know how hard it is for a refugee's life, like myself. Everybody has to stand on your own feet. So I tried, through my experience, I tried to help others do not fall into the same trap as I did.

Q: At this time were you living comfortably in New York, would you say? Making an okay living?

Cambao: I believe so, yes.

Q: How long did you stay at this job?

Cambao: I stayed at that agency for more than seventeen years. I was promoted many times when I was there. From skill instructor, to program coordinator, to resource developer, to program director, to agency coordinator, and then to the agency deputy executive director.

Q: As director, did you try to implement any changes?

Cambao: Yes, I did make a lot of changes. Because, for me, color, and any background, is not so important. I'm thinking we're all human beings here. And because of that, I brought in a lot of funding to serve not only concentrated on Asians, but also serve the non-Asian population, too.

Q: So your work is in Chinatown at this time.

Cambao: Yes.

Q: What does Chinatown mean to you? Is it just a workplace, or is this a place where you feel at home? Do you feel connected to other people like yourself?

Cambao: I feel Chinatown is a very wonderful place. It's warm. Even if it's not so clean, okay, it's a good place for people to visit, to work, and especially for people who like to eat here.

Q: Tell me a little bit more about types of people you work with. Seventeen years is a very long time to stay in one job. What kept you there for so long?

Cambao: I said Chinatown is a wonderful place. Besides, I can use my skills and knowledge in teaching. And also I am able to help many newcomers. Including social services people. I forgot to tell you, besides computer science, I also received an MSW from NYU. And I am able to help people to change. When people face the difficulty with child abuse problems, I know the ways to handle it, and I can speak their languages. So I advise some people to avoid their children taken by the Administration for Children Services.

Q: When you first came, were there any organizations that you joined that helped you assimilate into American life?

Cambao: No, none at all or I don’t know about. I joined many associations to volunteer to serve people. I think I'm mature enough to help others except having language barrier. I know this country’s culture very well, too.

Q: Where did you learn about the culture?

Cambao: I learned from books, I read a lot in my country. Of course they were in Vietnamese or Chinese. So when I came to New York I found that New York was not like whatever I cannot cope with.

Q: And in this time… Can you give me a better idea of what Chinatown was like when you arrived, at that time? In the 80s.

Cambao: I see, first thing, the population even it was crowded, but in the small areas. At that time, I believe, there was about 70,000 Chinese in Manhattan's Chinatown…. here…. compared to Cho Lon in the south part of Saigon in South Vietnam. There was about 700,000 Chinese there. So for me, it was very small. At that time I saw that the Chinese in Chinatown here is an old generation. They speak either Toishanese or Cantonese. And I saw Chinatown is about from south of Canal to Worth Street to Center Street.

Q: Let's try to get a better sense of Chinatown in 1983. When you came.

Cambao: '84, actually.

Q: '84.

Cambao: I came to Chinatown in mid-March in 1984. I didn't know Chinatown until that day. I thought Chinatown was a small place, but warm. It's a wonderful place for people to visit, to work here, and to eat here. I see the population, it was crowded in Chinatown. But I learned from census data in the ‘80 it was about 30,000 Chinese in Chinatown, in Manhattan, compared to Cho-lon a part of Saigon in South Vietnam before 1975, there were 700,000 Chinese there, so I saw that it was a small town. However, I saw it's a good place for me to work here because I can meet people who speak my languages, including people who speak Vietnamese in Chinatown. Even at that time I saw only three or four Vietnamese grocery stores in Chinatown. And on Mulberry Street here, two were here. And one was at the corner of Bayard and Mulberry. And beside I see Chinatown in a positive way. I also see the negative way. It was dirty. And many times we heard about people who have committed a crime, including gangsters in Chinatown. They have different names, and also at that time they started to have Vietnamese gangs, too. It was just starting.

Q: Would you say you had a sense of belonging here? You felt comfortable in Chinatown?

Cambao: Yes, I felt very comfortable to work with my co-workers. Even if my co-workers are black or white, but the majority of them are Asians, including Chinese majority of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China. We also had Asian workers from Singapore, from the Philippines, from Korea.

Q: Did you visit other cities in America, or you decided that you were going to stay?

Cambao: I visited many other cities on occasions when I attended seminars or conferences in other cities. I went to the west coast; I went to the north, to the south, to many states and cities. However, I found New York City was probably the city I liked the most because of many reasons. Here, I can see anything I want to see, but many other cities do not have it.

Q: Did you experience any discrimination, because in the early 80s there was still a lot of feeling about the Vietnam War. As a person from Vietnam did you personally experience any prejudice or discrimination?

Cambao: Probably not because I was a Vietnamese. In answer to your question -- discrimination -- I have this kind of feeling like people look at me like a homeless person, because I went to pick up the old winter coats for my family and myself, the bus driver did not allow me to get into the bus. My educational background taught me that I had to let elderly, females, and children get into the bus first. I was the last one. And the bus driver, he closed the door when I put my foot at the bus step. Luckily, many other people were so nice to yell at him, "Let him in." Because I carried a garbage bag, a black one, to put my clothing that I had just received in that and he thought that I was a homeless guy. So he didn't allow me to get in. I believe he did not know if I'm Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese or Japanese. We all look similar.

Q: How did that make you feel to have to go and get free clothing -- was that the Salvation Army? Is that the kind of places you went to?

Cambao: I believe that's associated with the United States Catholic Charity (USCC). My caseworker at USCC told me the address and I went there to pick it up. I believe that's not the Salvation Army.

Q: So when you got to America, what was your financial situation? Were you able to bring any money over? Or you came with nothing?

Cambao: I came with nothing. But I got assistance from the USCC. That's government money. (They) assisted me through that agency. Each member of my family received two hundred dollars assistance at the beginning. So that two hundred dollars released me temporarily the first time I came to this country, and then I started to work and make my own living.

Q: But where did you live when you first got here?

Cambao: I lived…I shared an apartment with my relative in the upper west side of Manhattan.

Q: So the government did not help you as far as finding housing or put you in a home.

Cambao: No. Not at all.

Q: Did that form any impressions about the land of the free for you?

Cambao: I wanted to be independent. If the government could help me at that time, I appreciate it. I believe that that kind of policy changed. The government could not help me so much. So I had decided to stay on my own.

Q: So Chinatown in 84, you said, was very crowded, and there was a lot more crime. And through the work you do, at the time, did you personally and professionally try to make any changes in Chinatown?

Cambao: I believe I did. I did a lot at that time besides my job. In my job I was able to help the young people from Vietnam to enroll in our program. When I became a program director, actually, I did not work so directly with them. I didn't need it. However, I still worked very closely with them, I provided private counseling in my office and make them aware that to concentrate in starting to look for a new job is better than getting involved with any activity that is not legal. I also participated in many associations. I was a co-founder for the Greater New York Vietnamese American Community Association, as well as the Indo-China Sino-American Senior Citizen/Community Center. And through these two agencies…. I forgot to tell you, I also am the co-founder of the Vietnamese Magazine that I can write and put the message for people to learn about the community, and about Chinatown, too. And through two agencies and one magazine I was able to help Vietnamese people to get funding to enroll in one program called (the) Youth Leadership Development Program. The funds come from the New York City Department of Youth Services, at that time. And Mayor Dinkins at that time had an impression on me after I spoke at a citywide conference sponsored by the US Department of Justice in New York City. And he supported my point of view -- we have to help the newcomers, especially young people, to know, to give them the direction where to go. And for the Senior Center, the Indo-China Senior Center, I set up a place for people to come to read newspapers, to share information, to play chess, so they won't feel so lonely. And I know that many elderly from Vietnam only can speak certain Chinese dialects, they cannot integrate into many Chinatown senior centers. Let’s say that downstairs here we have the Chinatown Senior Center. Our people from Vietnam, they came in there, they could not speak the language people use down there. So the Indo-China Senior Center could help people who speak the same languages have a place to come to rest and, to eat and to play. And the government recognized our work, and after I submitted certain proposals, these two agencies received funding to run the certain programs. And that helped the government did not have a negative look at the Chinese community, especially the Vietnamese community, the smaller one here. And I would like to mention that during the Chinatown had the Born to Kill problem, the Asian community in general -- the Chinese and Vietnamese community was invited to participate in many conferences and meetings, even at the police headquarters. And I learned that one bad exercise called Saigon Mission was established at the 5th Precinct. You know the term 'Vietnam Rose' is used to imply venereal disease during the Vietnam War. 'The Vietnam Rose' is used to (sounds like) involve Vietnamese about the disease when the American soldiers have sex with Vietnamese ladies. So I had the feeling that Saigon Mission is the other unfair way to treat Vietnamese in Chinatown here. So I strongly raised my voice to against the use of that term. Eventually the police headquarters agreed with me and give the order to precincts and captains that they had to take the name out. That's one. And I participated in some other activities. Such as I served as an advisor to the Board of Education’s chancellor. At that time there was one story about the Amerasian who was 15. His story was aired on Channel 13. A young boy, 15, came to the United States and was adopted to live with foster parents. And he was sent to attend the ninth grade in a high school. Meanwhile, he was discriminated against in Vietnam because he was an Amerasian. He looked like an American, and he was mistreated in the Vietnam school system. He only had two years' education in Vietnam, and he came to this country and he was enrolled in the ninth grade. So he could not understand and he dropped out. He became a gangster in the Born to Kill. I learned that through his caseworker, and I learned that through the Channel 13 article. So I raised my voice in a chancellor council advisory committee meeting. I said it clearly that providing education to the newcomers, to immigrants and refugees, it needs to be based on their educational background rather than on their ages. And I believe that the chancellor at that time agreed with me. And now the newcomers will be tested before they are enrolled into whatever level in the city. And also, the city education system continues to provide the bilingual education to newcomer children. I also, with some friends, established the Shuang Wen (dual languages) School. Now it is located at the end of East Broadway at Grand Street. PS 134. And it was a very successful school; it has run for five years. And this year for the fourth grade citywide reading test, it was ranked number four in the whole city. And early in this fiscal year the US Department of Education secretary, Dr. Paige, went down to visit that school. I believe that even the newcomers, when we spend time and participate, we can make a difference.

Q: Many of our teachers, when they first come to America, tend to work very hard to earn enough money to live. Why do you think you have invested so much of your time to do community involved volunteer work when you could be working for money for your family?

Cambao: I did work very hard. Sometimes I did more than one job. And I worked in the evening time and I worked during weekends. We were paid cash. I went to New Jersey to help people, my friend who sells watches, one day. They paid me fifty dollars per day. I believe that education and social services are two factors that can change our society. So I committed myself when I thought I was ready, and I believed I was capable to do those things, so I participated, and joined many agencies.

Q: And have you encountered any difficulties in your work?

Cambao: Yes, I do. Like I did not pay attention so much to my ethnic background, but people did not think that way. The Vietnamese, they treated me like: "Oh, you are Chinese." Probably Chinese people, I strongly believe, they treat me like a Vietnamese. And of course, Americans, they don't treat me like an American. Okay? If some say to me (call me) politely like an Asian American, that is I appreciate it. But many times they say that 'you are Vietnamese' or 'you are Chinese'. They don't say, 'you are Asian-American.' I hope I can join in and hopefully the young generation will do more things to help to change people's image on prejudice on this issue.

Q: How?

Cambao: I don't know how. But I believe that if you don't try, you won't get it. That’s my point of view. We try, and then see if we can change or not.

Q: So even in a city as diverse as New York City, do you think there is racial harmony in this city?

Cambao: Racial harmony -- we raise a question in this way. It depends on how we define 'harmony', in what way. If we say that, sometimes we have arguments because ethnic differences are normal for me. I don't want to jump to conclusions, like in certain cases people so easily jump to conclusions of discrimination. Like a color discrimination or whatever discrimination. I didn't jump to that unless we have evidence.

Q: I'm going to jump forward a little bit.

Cambao: Okay.

Q: To September 11, 2001. Where were you at that time?

Cambao: I was in Chinatown, here. I witnessed the two towers collapse, and I was very sad. And that time, when the second tower was hit by the plane, I believe that from my own experience of living through the Vietnam War, I believe that's not an accident. I did order that my staff and students at the agency I worked at – it’s about two hundred people -- to leave the agency to go home. However, at the top, I have a boss, the executive director -- she came in after me. She used the intercom to tell me: "That's an accident." I told her, "I believe that's not an accident. That wouldn't happen twice." And she said that we could not let everybody go home because if the government or the funding agencies checked, what could we do. I was unable to answer her question at that time, because I believed people lives are more important than the other, so I let the staff and students leave the agency. Some staff members were stopped by her on the staircase and had to come back to the agency and stay late on that day. I had to stay until about two. And then have lunch in Chinatown. I had no train to go home. I came home very late. I think that day was a very sad day. And you can see after that the country, especially the cities, the economic situation, went down. Many people lost their job. And we faced more difficulty as a social service agency. Many people came to us even they were not eligible for our services. But still, I had to spend some of my time to help them. And working in Chinatown, it was much near my home compared to my current job site, I usually came home late, because I had to spend more time to serve my clientele here.

Q: And on an impact level, did September 11th impact your job?

Cambao: Yes. It made my job harder. Because, like I said before, more people came to me, even they were not eligible for our service.

Q: As an agency, did you try to find ways to get more resources and to get more money to help our people?

Cambao: Yes. Besides running my own program, where I oversee the agency and some parts of the operations, for a certain time we have to spend some time to look for funding. And I was able to get for the agency an additional $300,000. I received a check from Chicago. One foundation called McCormick Tribune Foundation, they gave our agency $300,000 to serve the people impacted by 9/11. They saw our program was one of the top programs. We had been selected to receive their funding. And also at the same time my boss had a connection with a federal government agency, and we got additional funding to serve the people.

Q: Do you think your personal background, all the difficulties that you have personally experienced, has prepared you for situations like this?

Cambao: I strongly believe so. Because I lived through the Vietnam War, so I have to be sensitive to hear the sound, to see the things, in order to avoid being hurt during the Vietnam War. And also more than three years living in the new regime -- South Vietnam new regime -- in a concentration camp, it prepared me to face the difficulties.

Q: Did you want to leave Vietnam if your life hadn't changed the way it did after 1975?

Cambao: Of course I did not want to. Even the change of '75 events, I still strongly believe that it's a good place to live, and to utilize my knowledge to help people. But the new regime did not accept me. They didn't want me to stay there. So I had to leave.

Q: You felt that you had no choice.

Cambao: I had no choice.

Q: Do you feel you have lost your home, in a way?

Cambao: Financially, that's true. I lost a lot of property there. I lost many homes there. I owned land and homes over there. That's why I came to this country. I didn't buy gold, like many other Asians and Chinese would buy gold. They can use gold to buy a boat to escape from Vietnam. I did not have that.

Q: When I say 'home' I don't mean just a house or property, but a sense of belonging because you have two generations of your family had been in Vietnam. It was like you lost your country, in a way.

Cambao: That's true. Thank you for understanding about that part.

Q: So have you rebuilt a home in New York City?

Cambao: In terms of 'home', that's true.

Q: Do you feel you belong here, you feel comfortable here, you will stay here for the rest of your life and future generations?

Cambao: At this point, my answer is yes. I don't know what will happen in the future.

Q: So tell us about your work presently.

Cambao: Okay. Currently I work for a Jewish American association. It has established a new branch in Brooklyn and I was hired last year to run the branch in Brooklyn. It's an employment placement service agency. We help everybody until the end of last year. Because of funding shrinking, now we can only help people on public assistance.

Q: I know that your job is no longer in Chinatown, but it's almost twenty years that you've been part of this community. What are some of the biggest changes that you've seen here?

Cambao: Actually, nineteen years. I've been in this country nineteen years. I've seen changes, a lot, in Chinatown. Even though I am not working in Chinatown, but I still come back to Chinatown. I volunteer to serve on the board as a president of the Eastern Vietnam-Cambodian-Laos-Chinese Decent Association. I usually go there to oversee the books and to provide services to elderly and needy people. So I see things change compared to the time I came to Chinatown in March of 1984. I see the population change. A lot of people come from Fujian to come to Chinatown. And I learned through the census -- 2000 -- that I participated, and I found that there are a lot of undocumented residents living in New York City. They're living here, but working in other cities, or out of the city. They must have the place to live in Chinatown. As I know you may have paid attention to the newspaper a couple of days ago. At 81 Bowery, the fourth floor, one floor is about two to three thousand square feet. More than a hundred people live up there. Okay. First the population changed. Of course the language changed too. In the past, Toishanese and Cantonese were spoken in Chinatown. But now, Fujianese and Mandarin gradually were used in many places. I've seen more stores open, and the area of Chinatown was expanded to the north of Canal. A lot. However, it was not much on the south of Canal. And to the west on Canal, it was expanded to Broadway. There's a big change, and one positive change I like very much -- Chinatown is cleaner compared to the past. I would like to acknowledge the Cleaning Chinatown Committee, led by Danny Lee, Eva Tan, Bill Lam, and many other business people in Chinatown here. And I see a lot of positive things in Chinatown here. Now they even still have gangsters, but they are not so active like in the past. So the crime rate went down consecutively in the past five years. More than five years.

Q: Do you think Chinatown, as a neighborhood, received less funding for things like sanitation, and traffic, than other areas? It is obviously very crowded and still dirty, compared to other areas of Manhattan.

Why do you think that is?

Cambao: Because we didn't raise our voice strong enough for people to hear, especially to the elected officers. They thought that we did not have this kind of need. Some agencies did apply, but they were not strong enough to make the funding agencies believe that Chinatown has this kind of need.

Q: Do you think Chinatown as a community and the residents of Chinatown speak up to make changes for the community, or are they more worried about themselves?

Cambao: Frankly, I see they are not united to the level as I expected to make the community strong and make the funding agencies believe they represent for the Chinatown community, to fight for the Chinatown community's benefit. Some agencies just care about their own agencies’ operation, and they try to get the funding for the services they provide, not for the whole of Chinatown. That's easy to understand. Because they specialize in their field, they fight for their field money. I hope that Chinatown in the long run will have some leader to put everybody together and make it strong like I experienced in the Chinese community in Vietnam. They were so strong. When they wanted to do some things, the leaders said something and no one turned it down. But here it seems everybody was a leader, and it seems that we have no leader.

Q: Is it really possible, when you have so many different groups in Chinatown -- as you said, there's now the Fujianese, you have the Cantonese, the Toishanese, there's many, many different groups -- who would this leader be?

Cambao -- At this point I see one positive thing happening in the Fujianese (community). They were so close to it. They started to provide service to their community, let’s say ESL. This is a good thing. Did you see any other agency provide it beside a non-profit organization? It's not happening to the other ethnic group -- I mean the other like dialect speaking groups. Only the Fujianese. I see that happens to their community and because of that some people (certain level of government representatives) cared and came down to visit them. And whenever the elected officers need money, they will come to them. And it's a two-way direction. If they support certain people, of course in return they can get something from them to support their community.

Q -- So because of the proximity, we know that Chinatown suffered huge business losses after September 11th. Do you think now, two years later, Chinatown is back? Is business back to usual as before September 11th or still in the rebuilding stages?

Cambao: On the surface I see the restaurant business has come back. However, I don't think the garment factories, the other main business in Chinatown, have not come back yet.

Q: Will they come back, do you think?

Cambao: According to my understanding, even (though) I'm not in that field, because of the trade issue the central government has signed certain agreements with foreign countries, I don't think this garment factory industry will come back to New York City, here, especially Chinatown. In the United States the cost of labor is more expensive compared to send the clothing making to Mexico or to China. So I don't think it will come back. Some people need to think about a change in the services in Chinatown, here, or the model of business in Chinatown, here, in order to make Chinatown become a more wonderful place for people. To attract tourists to come here is one of many ways.

Q: Can you really see a future where Chinatown is unified, with all the different groups have a strong leadership? Or that they could put their differences aside and work towards the greater good of the community. Can you really see that happening?

Cambao: I don't see one leader. But many leaders can work on the same goal, or for the same project, even though they have different points of view. But for the benefits of the whole community they can work on a project, and then we can work with many leaders, not only one leader.

Q: Do you have any goal to run for any office?

Cambao: No.

Q: Why not?

Cambao: My age and my health do not allow me to do so.

Q: But if not for your age and your health, would you consider it?

Cambao: I think I'm more suitable in the social service field. Two weeks ago I just went to talk to a group of parents at PS 69, and today I have many other schools that want to invite me to talk to parents. So hopefully that can help the newcomers to know the America better, and then they can make themselves…adjust themselves…to fit into this country. And this society.

Q: When you look back at your life, do you think you are an American success story?

Cambao: I don't think so.

Q: Why not?

Cambao: Many people define the 'success story'….you have to…in Chinese term for Mandarin: (explains in Mandarin -- Four things. You need to have a house. Have a car, have a wife, and children.). I only have two.

Q: Okay. (Voices overlap here).

Cambao: Four things. You need to have a house. Have a car, have a wife, and children. I only have the last two. I didn't have a house. I didn't have a car. I don't define success by that way. I believe I can live comfortable and I treat people the way I hope people will treat me. In this term, I'm so happy to see that happen to me. For instance, I lost my job. Partly I believe that the way I demonstrate myself, people…not everybody likes me. And myself, I follow the philosophy that I'm not here to please everybody. I think the right thing is right, and I will do that. And after I lost the job, many people who know me, they call and they share and they offer me…let me know information to get a new job. And I found that a lot of people did that for me.

Q: So when you look back at the years you've lost in Vietnam, your golden years, in your thirties, when you were in the education camp, very difficult years, are you bitter at all?

Cambao: Of course. I don't want to mention that thing, because it brings the sad memories back to me.

Q: So what do you think is most important for you to pass on to your children?

Cambao: I told my son and my daughter to be an honorable person, and also you need to think about what you promise to people. When you promise something, you need to keep your word. These are the two things I passed on to my children. And I strongly believe at this point…I thought my son was able to handle this. I don't know about my daughter yet. I hope that when she graduates from college and when she goes to work and faces real life, I will see what happens to her.

Q: Is there anything that I have not asked you that you want to tell us?

Cambao: I have a lot of things to tell but I don't think it's appropriate to put in here.

[End Interview]

Selina Chan, Female, 53 y.o. -- Nurse, St. Vincent’s Hospital

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: It is December 15. I am sitting with Selina Chan of St. Vincent's Hospital. If you can, just for the record, say your age and your full name, both in English and in Chinese.

Chan: My name is Selina Chan. I was born in 1950, okay, so I'm fifty-three years old. [Repeats in Chinese].

Q: You don't need to do everything in two languages, but I just wanted to get your Chinese name.

Chan: Sure.

Q: Can you tell me where you are from?

Chan: Original, I was born in Shanghai. Then I emigrate to Hong Kong. I was practically grow up in Hong Kong. Then I come to the United States in 1975.

Q: At what age did you go to Hong Kong?

Chan: At my age nine. Nine years. So I was born after that Communist party coming to China. So we didn't have a difficulty time to go to the Hong Kong at that time. So because my father was in Hong Kong so luckily we can apply the visa and went to the Hong Kong at that time.

Q: So in 1959 you legally went to Hong Kong?

Chan: Legally leave China. It's not legally enter to the Hong Kong. It looks like the old history about the boat men, I go for the same thing at that time. I legally leave Shanghai, go to Macao, and take the boats, and escape to the Hong Kong.

Q: And why was your father already living in Hong Kong at the time?

Chan: He's a sailor.

Q: A sailor?

Chan: Yeah. He working in the ship. So that's why, when the time happening, so he was actually down in the Hong Kong side. America. So he never went to the China. I was born after then, the Communist party.

Q: So 1949. It was already ten years since the Communist take over. So what was your life like in China? Do you remember?

Chan: Yeah, I do remember. Well, you know that childhood life is always memorable. And actually, I was in China, we have not really that bad because we do have getting the money and the things sent back from Hong Kong. So we really should say that we do live quite comfortably. Nothing look like what we read as life in China.

Q: So your father was always traveling. He was not in Shanghai much.

Chan: No.

Q: And why did he not want to return to Shanghai but wanted to take the family out of Shanghai?

Chan: Well, the main thing is that he was working with the Holland Shipping Company, okay? So if he leave the job, and he went to the Shanghai, it would be not easy for him to get a job. That's first of all. Second of all, you know, it would be much, because our other family member look like my cousin, my aunt, my uncle, they all immigrate to go to the Hong Kong. So that's why decided we leave the Shanghai and go to Hong Kong.

Q: So it was not because of political reasons?

Chan: No, no, no, no. Nothing at all like that.

Q: So your family didn't go through a lot of hardship after 1949?

Chan: No. Yeah. We should say we are very lucky on it.

Q: So then your entire family - that means, you, your mother, and all your siblings, went to Hong Kong?

Chan: I only have my mother and me, only. So after we went to the Hong Kong my mother give birth to my brother. So it was only two of us.

Q: So you went by boat.

Chan: Yes.

Q: Tell me about that journey. Did you pay somebody - how is that done?

Chan: Well, actually, it's - we went to the journey twice. The first time we went to the boat, was hiding underneath of the boat, and turn around the captain, he is a drug addict, so he keep on busy taking the drug and not sailing the boat. So we were caught by the police, actually. I went to the Macao, we stay in the jail for overnight. So next day my father come over to Macao, get us out. So the second time we pay even higher price to get a more reliable captain to escape to the Hong Kong. So I always remember where we have the whole boat, everybody was stuck in the bottom of the ship, so a lot of people was throw up and vomiting, sea sick. So I was only nine years old, and my mother was six months pregnant. She have really difficulty time to walk. I was guiding my mother. And we need to climb the mountain from one side of the mountain, climb the mountain and go into the other side, get into the second boat, and we went to the Hong Kong.

Q: This is in Macao, you're talking about. Now how many people were on this boat, about?

Chan: Is about hundred peoples. Is about hundred peoples. So when we went to the Hong Kong, we were stopped by the police. Okay, actually, the people is grouping us together, me and my mother and two other old couple. We are grouped together. So four of us. So when the police stop us, the police usually would go to the youngest one to ask where you come from. So I was just nine years old. I just can able to answer, say, 'Well, I come from Hong Kong.' So they said, 'Well, where you going?' I say, 'Well, we going to have lunch with my grandparents.' So the police let us go. This is way back to 1959. So we could able safely to get to my father's place.

Q: But you only spoke Shanghai-ese at the time.

Chan: Well, I stay in the Macao for a month to wait for the opportunity to go to Hong Kong. So I pick up the language in Macao for Cantonese.

Q: Do you remember how much you paid for the journey from Shanghai to Macao and then Macao to Hong Kong?

Chan: Yeah, I think at that time we pay close to $3,000. That's 1959. It's quite a lot of money.

Q: Three thousand U.S. dollars?

Chan: No, no, no. Hong Kong money. But still is quite a lot. This is 1959.

Q: So you were sneaking out, basically. It's not legal.

Chan: Right.

Q: But then once you got to Hong Kong, then your father already had a house there?

Chan: Apartment. For there, for us.

Q: And what status did you have there?

Chan: Well, it's still illegal. But later on, because after you live in Hong Kong certain amount of year, you can apply for the residency in Hong Kong. So I do basically have my school training - education - in Hong Kong. Until the high school. Then I went to the nursing school in Hong Kong.

Q: So your father continued to work as a sailor. Often out of Hong Kong.

Chan: Yes.

Q: And you lived with your mother and then, soon, a younger brother.

Chan: Yes.

Q: And what about the rest of your extended family? Where did they go?

Chan: I don't know. We have a lot of cousins that live in Hong Kong also. But I still have a cousin in Shanghai, and also my grandparents in Ningpo. That's my mother's side. So we still went back to China to visits.

Q: Did you understand what was happening at the time? Were you afraid?

Chan: No. Not really. Maybe it's my personality. I'm always looking to have a new adventure, and to see what's going on, on the other side of the world. So to me it look like - it happen very naturally. It's not that much scaring going on. Even the captain of the ship, he say, 'For a young girl look like this, you are very brave. You are not scared at all.' Because a lot of people were so scared in the boats. And I did nothing. And actually, when the time we climb the mountain, I lost my mother. Because she was pregnant, she's difficulty to walk. So they are really rush us, so I have to follow the crowd, move very fast, then turn around - I cannot find my ma. So I'm able to go back and find my mother, until my mother go to the other side of the island.

Q: This is in Macao. When you first land, and your boat land on one side and you have to get on the other side.

Chan: Right. Right.

Q: So what do you think give to you all this strength for a young person?

Chan: Well, I think it's the same thing. I will say that I always like to see - I always like to take advantage, to see what is the new things outside the world. That's why I want to see - when I was in Shanghai, I'm always dream, how is my father's life in Hong Kong? Okay. I remember when we took the train to go to Canton, then we need to take the other train to go to the Macao. And my father saw the way my mother walk, and he told me, he said, 'I don't think both of you can get to Hong Kong very safely. I'd better buy the return ticket to go back to Shanghai.' I told my father, I said, 'No. No matter what happened, I want to go to Hong Kong. Take a look on Hong Kong, what's it look like. And finish my dream.' So my father say, 'I'll wait until you sleep at the night time, I tie you up, put you in the train.' I say, 'Fine. I'm not going to sleep the whole night.' I didn't. I sit there whole night, wait for the next day to get the other train to go to the Macao. And it's personality, I should say that.

Q: Now why did your father not go back to Shanghai and get you? Was that possible at the time?

Chan: Because if he go back to Shanghai - he did go, because it's too many hours for the train - so he did went to the Canton to get us. And he went to the Macao for us together. He make all the arrangements, put us up in the hotel in the Macao, then he went back to Hong Kong.

Q: So in 1959 in Hong Kong there were lots of Shanghai-ese at that time.

Chan: Yes.

Q: Lots of people from China.

Chan: Yes.

Q: Pretty much everybody illegally.

Chan: Yes.

Q: So are you able to go to school?

Chan: Yes, I did went to the school. But in the beginning always have hard time, because my Cantonese is not that great. And also I don't know English at all, so I do have a difficulty time for a couple - one years. The second year I'm doing very well already.

Q: And what school did you go to?

Chan: It's only very small private school. It’s in Hong Kong. Is very easy to get in, a one flight school, those kind of set up. It's not a big school system like now.

Q: Was it a bilingual school?

Chan: They have English class, but it's not that much. Most of the subject is in Chinese. Or in Cantonese.

Q: So you learn English as a second language, from a language course, basically.

Chan: Right. It's very little.

Q: And where in Hong Kong did you and your mother live?

Chan: We live in the Kowloon near Hunghom.

Q: Hunghom?

Chan: - yeah, near the trains - but later on we moved to the Kwung Tong.

Q: And how often did you see your father?

Chan: He came back home every three months, when the ship is arrive in Hong Kong. And he's still working for the ship company.

Q: So your father financially supported the family?

Chan: Yes.

Q: Your mother worked?

Chan: No. With my mother's physical condition not that great. So he most of the time, it look like, every month he have money - she stay in the hospital. She doesn't feel well. So I'm home taking care of my brother, and sometimes we have housekeeper, some time we don't.

Q: So what was your life like? Did you feel welcome in Hong Kong? Did you like it?

Chan: Yeah. I do.

Q: You didn't have problem adjusting?

Chan: No. I'm the person is very easy to fit into new surroundings. So I don't have no difficulty time at all.

Q: Okay. So you are obviously a nurse today. When was the first time in your life that you think you might want to go into medicine?

Chan: Well, way back to when my mother was in the hospital. She do get mistreated by the nursing staff, okay? I did told her at that time - I was in the senior high school - I said, 'Look, don't think you are big shot, can treat a patient like that. Give me couple of years. When I come back I would going to show you what is a good nurse about.' So that's what I make up my mind I want to become going into nursing school.

Q: Do you think somewhere in you, you wanted to help your mother?

Chan: Yes. I did. But unfortunately my mother pass away.

Q: Before you graduate, finished? So you went to nursing school in Hong Kong.

Chan: Yes.

Q: And did you like it right away?

Chan: Well, not really you like it right away. I always remember, because my last name is Chan, every single time, alphabetically - A,B,C - I'm always on the first one in the class. So whenever is new opportunity and new war and new place you need to go, I'm the first one to go. So we went to the nursing school what we call Nethersole - in Hong Kong. So at the time, I was asked PTS, that means first newcomer, after three months they sent me to the GYN unit and after then they sent me on the night shift in the pediatric unit. The only thing we know is wash and change the diaper, and feed the baby. Then after the pediatric unit they sent me to the operating room right away. I went into the operating room, I was completely shocked. I don't know nothing was going on, even that they said, 'Oh, this is appendix surgery.' I would just look at patient's body - where is the appendix? Because we haven't gone into anatomy yet. I don't know what's going on. We do, in the beginning, do have a hard time. So I really think, is that really the job for me? But I did promise my mom I want to be a nurse. To serve the other people. So I did go through. It's not that easy, but you get it over.

Q: You didn't want to be a doctor?

Chan: When I come to the United States I do have a couple opportunities. They do offer me scholarships and everything, go to the medical school. The thing is, when I come to the United States, I make sure my father quit the job, stay home. I need to send the money back to my father and my brother. So economically I cannot afford. Even I can get a scholarship for myself, then what happen to my father and my brother? They cannot just starve to death waiting for me to finish my medical degree. So sometimes you have to see the balance. So it's okay, you know? The nursing is the same thing as the way to helping the other people, the same as medical doctors.

Q: Now, why did you decide to come to America - in '75, you said?

Chan: Yes. So the main reason we decided to come to the America was because my uncle was in the America. And then the other thing, even there I did not go for the hard time in a Communist country. There was some talking about the Hong Kong would go back to Communist. You heard it, the rumor was going on. And then my uncle, in the United States, he get a doctor to sponsor me to come over. So I say, okay, give myself a try. And I decided to come over.

Q: But Hong Kong would not be handed over to China until 1997. You had twenty-two years -

Chan: Right. But nobody can know what's going on. The other way is thinking about it. At that time they really want to send me to London, to go to nursing school. For the further education. But I saw the way there - London - English people treating the - they don't believe equal rights. I'm the kind of person who believe the equal right. So in the British system, looks like the bottom person talk to the nurse, if you are the ward assistant you doesn't talk to the nursing students. That's not my idea of the life. Instead of going to London I think my personality will be much suitable for the America. So I make up my mind I want to come to America.

Q: Where did you get this impression about English people? You study under Brits in Hong Kong?

Chan: Our nursing school have followed the British system. That's giving a little thinking about it, the way the British handling the job.

Q: Very proper.

Chan: Yeah.

Q: So who decided that you should come alone and that your father and your brother should stay behind?

Chan: Because, main thing, I was apply for the professional visa. It is not a family visa. So my father and my brother cannot come along. So my uncle is only the new immigrant, he cannot apply my father to come. And also my father was getting old. He's sixty years old already at that time, so maybe much better, easy, for him to stay in Hong Kong. I don't want him to go to the ship to work anymore, because you never stay home and you don't know what's going on. So

I decided to come to the United States, then I ask my father to stay home to take care of my brother.

Q: So '75, you came to where in America?

Chan: New York.

Q: This is where your uncle was?

Chan: Yes. So I never left the New York [laughs].

Q: What was your first impression of New York City?

Chan: Funny thing is, when I first time get to the JFK, my flight was five o'clock in the early morning. So our flight is one hour early, and my uncle, they thought the flight would be one hour delayed. They did not come to the airport to pick me up. Everybody left - except me. Also, I have two luggage before I get into the plane. So one of my friends work in the airport, so he told me, 'Okay, let me help you to put in luggage trunk.' So when I get to the JFK I lost the two luggage. And inside the luggage is a lot of things some of my friends ask me to bring over to United States for they family member. So to me, if I lost my own belonging, it doesn't matter. But lost someone else belonging, I'm quite nervous. So I was quite nervous at that time. And the whole airport is completely empty. Only I saw a black porter clean up in the JFK airport. I was getting very nervous. But good thing I do have some currency change, so I do able to ask the porter, 'Is there anyway I can find a phone?' So he do pointed to me where's the phone, so I made the phone call to my uncle. So they said it would takes them half hour to get to pick me up. So I stay in the airport for an hour, close to an hour, by myself. I was very nervous. I said, 'Gee, that is America?' You saw the face - like, I never saw that in Hong Kong. And I lost my luggage, cannot see my family member, and so big, the place is so big and so huge. I was sitting there, and doesn't no nobody. Alone. Quite nervous though.

Q: Did you speak English at the time?

Chan: A little, yeah. But just very nervous.

Q: So you were twenty-five at that time.

Chan: Yes.

Q: Were you done with school?

Chan: Yes, I did.

Q: But in America you need another certificate.

Chan: Right.

Q: Okay. So you sat at the airport. Before coming here, what did you think America would be like?

Chan: I'm type of person doesn't think that much. Just do it. You know? Sometime, if you want to think about every single details, what's your plan, sometimes the life is not exactly what you plan for. If you set up your mind, I'm going to go and get it, you actually will be much better get a result instead of have a plan and then there will be a lot of disappointment come take place. I just believe one thing - I want to go to United States, I want to work hard, to get my life straight together in America, put my feet on the ground.

Q: When you came, did you think you would stay here? Or did you plan to get education and work experience to go back to Hong Kong?

Chan: I do was thinking to go back to Hong Kong. Maybe ten years later, how to see as everything's going on there. I may go back to Hong Kong at that time. That's only original my thinking - just want to come to the United States to see what's happening.

Q: But you never moved back.

Chan: No.

Q: And in all this time, did you go back to Shanghai at all?

Chan: Yes, I did.

Q: When was that?

Chan: Couple years ago. I think it was the first time make up my mind I want to go back to Hong Kong. And Shanghai. I did went to Hong Kong quite a lot, but Shanghai I didn't go back for a long time. I went to travel to Russia. So some people look at me, 'Oh, you're Chinese. How's China look like?' I say, 'I ask myself. This is very good question. You ask me. I really doesn't know what China look like now - now that they - ' So after I come back from Russia I say, 'Look, I better go back to China. To take a good look before I went to the other country. So at least I know what is my own country looks like.' So next year I went back to Shanghai, and Beijing, Hangzhou, and Canton. I made a tour for three weeks, to take a good look on China. This is 1984.

Q: So thirty-four years after you left. Oh, I'm sorry, you left in 1959. That's not right.

Chan: Fifty-nine. It's about twenty-five years.

Q: What did you feel going back?

Chan: It feels - no matter what happened, still is your home town. You really feel very touching. I went back to see the place where I was born, where I was grow up, and, you see, I have my aunts still in Shanghai, so they come to the hotel to visit me. You know? And the other thing, at that time, China is not as open as now. They don't even have a public bathroom set up. That's the thing I really doesn't get used to. I went to my aunt's house, I can't get used to the bathroom system. I have to rush back to the hotel. But I still really feel like I'm very, very welcome in your own home town. It's a feeling nobody can take away from.

Q: Did you feel that way in Hong Kong?

Chan: Yes.

Q: And what about here?

Chan: In here - because, main thing, I work lot of time with American agency. I really feel like, no matter what happen, discrimination is there. Usually - I do remember I work for the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) union health center. They have a lot of multi-culture people. Even then I have ninety physicians under me. They will take a look and look at me and say, 'You don't look like an ordinary Chinese.' I turn around, ask them, 'What is the ordinary Chinese mean to you? Do they have a four letter in front of their forehead? Suppose whatever you say I need to say yes to you?' You know? I say, 'I'm sorry. This is not the way it's supposed to be.'

Q: This is in the seventies and the eighties? When did you experience this?

Chan: This is the seventies. The end of the seventies. Okay. They still thought, Chinese people are more humble. And whatever they say, we only say 'yes'. Either they are right or not. I'm sorry. It is not the way it is. I more believe equal. If you give me some guideline to do, it's not right. I have my right to speak up and to defend myself at the same. You are a professional - I'm a professional also. Okay. So why should you're on top of me? I need to follow whatever your guideline, and it's not right. That's what I believe.

Q: So did you encounter that very often, or was that once in a while you feel that way of these kind of comments thrown at you?

Chan: I should say that in the beginning, first couple of year. Then after a while, they know me. They will not do it to me anymore.

Q: Do you think because there were not as many Asians here at that time? In nursing?

Chan: Yes.

Q: And maybe in nursing there's not as many Asians -

Chan: It's not as many Asian and it's not as many people who are Chinese people will speak up for themselves. To defense on them. So it's a quite - from nowadays, until that time, it's a completely different pictures.

Q: Did it ever make you feel you wanted to go back to Hong Kong to be amongst Chinese?

Chan: Well, I don't think so. Because I may have been lucky that the other Chinese people. I could speak English. So, yes, the life if I go back to Hong Kong it will be much easier than here. But at least in here, I can protest some of the Chinese. I could speak up for them, and fight for some of the benefit for them. So if everybody selfish, so nobody will change the whole life.

Q: So how many years were you in school in New York?

Chan: I was - the main thing is, I have to send the money back to Hong Kong to support my father. I just go the evening time or the weekend time. I waited, did not go to the official school to get the training or anything done. Well, in the beginning, you say now the new immigrant is not easy. The old time we are not that easy. I work in the garment factory, I work as housekeeper, you know? Wherever I can put hands on to make moneys, I do that. As long as I don't do any robbery, any illegal things, I'm so proud of myself. Because whatever the money I make, I use my own hands to make the money and support my father and my brother.

Q: And who did you live with in New York?

Chan: I did get myself a apartment, to live by myself. Down in the Queens.

Q: Where you still are today.

Chan: No. I do move couple times away.

Q: And today, where do you live?

Chan: I live in Queens. Main Street.

Q: Oh, Flushing.

Chan: In Flushing.

Q: A big Chinese community.

Chan: Yes. Yes.

Q: And then at one point did you join St. Vincent's in Chinatown?

Chan: I was working for the ILGWU union health center as a clinical director for sixteen and a half year. Because my CEO, he's a Jewish - he treat me very, very good, look like my father. And he teach me a lot. And when the time we changed and the CEO comes in, the whole policy changed. So he did tell me that. He say, 'Chan, I don't think will be a comfortable surrounding for you to work.' At that time he was sitting in one of the nursing homes, on the board, he say, 'Chan, maybe think about nursing home.' I say, 'Nursing home never is my cup of tea. I like a fast movement, I like the outpatient, I like the emergency room. It's not a nursing home for me.' He said, 'Chan, don't say the thing too fast. Give yourself a good opportunity to think about it.' So then, later on, when I saw the thing is not moving as the same way I was expecting, so I figure, 'Maybe is a right time for me to move.' But the nursing home was in the Bronx at that time. I was living in Brooklyn. My father was staying with me. He's eighty years old, already. So it's not real easy for him to move, to adjust to a new surrounding. Then I went to take my driving license - fortunately I pass my driving license - then I told him, 'Now I could take the job.' Because otherwise it takes me three hours to commute. I'll always remember, I bought a car the night before, the next day I went to the new job. I drive for one and a half hour, and then I cannot find the nursing home. I go for all the difficulty time on the driving. But I learn a lot in the nursing home. It's a Jewish nursing home - I'm the only Chinese people there. Then the only problem is, my personality, I'm more involved with the patients' care. Ten o'clock every night, I did not get home until eleven. And six o'clock, turn around, have to go to work again. I was so tired. I bump into couple car accidents.


So I decide maybe it's not the thing for me. And at the time, St. Vincent's has a job opening. My friend was retired and she wanted me to take over. And I went over to take the job in St. Vincent's. It was a very funny interview. I even told the director and the V.P. in St. Vincent, I'm not St. Vincent's style, because I'm more aggressive. I said, 'If you cannot take my attitude I think we should stop the interview.' Turned out they all agreed on it. Actually they made the arrangement before they said yes, I'm taking the job. I even take a salary cut, I take a job title cut. In the nursing home I was associate nursing director. It’s a 524 bed and also they promise me, the nursing director, as soon as she retired I'd be the nursing director. And is always in my dream, I want to set up a Chinese nursing home. To help the Asian community. So at that time I was very tired, and, you know, my health come first. So I do decided to leave the nursing home and come to St. Vincent's. But still, in the nursing home, they told me one thing: 'Selina, you remember, if it's money we can make out all the money you want.' I said, 'No, it's not the money. It is really my interests are still in the Chinese community, and also our patient set up.' And he told me one thing - 'If the thing doesn't work out, you know it's only one phone call away, you could get a job next day.' I said, 'Thank you for offering. I will remember.' But I did not went back yet. [Laughs] I went back for visit, I never went back to work.

Q: Was part of the appeal to work at St. Vincent's because of this location in Chinatown?

Chan: Yes. And also, you feel like, no matter what happens, I'm a Chinese. Deep in my heart I'm so proud of myself as a Chinese. I want to get back to Chinese community what I learned. Yeah, maybe I cannot do so much, but at least even I can serve. I can help one or two people I feel very happy.

Q: Ok, I’m going to step in another direction for a little bit. It sounds like you were studying and working a lot, for a long time. Did you have time for romance? Did you marry?

Chan: No. I'm still single. That's the big problem. Actually, one time I was working in the unions, the unions always pay lower, and my brother needed to go to college and I need the money to support. I've always had two job. I work for the union Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday I'm doing private duty nurse. Some of the patients that they like me so much I even work twenty-four hours a day. Looks like I'm working nine days a week, you know? So I really doesn't have no life for my private life.

Q: So you pretty much have devoted your lifetime to nursing.

Chan: Yes, I did. I did. Sometimes you feel good, if some of the patients give the remark, you really feel, 'boy, I make some people change'. I even have one private patient, is a Jewish man, he have a gunshot wound. When the first time I got this patient he really is from neck down completely paralyzed. Until the end, he is driving the van. Even he's still paralyzed but he could drive the van. I took him around, I took him to the theater, I took him to the movie, I took him to the diner, and we even went to travelling. So even himself, he said, 'You look my own family. Without you I cannot travel so much.' I even took him to his son's graduate from medical school, in Harvard, from Boston. I fly with him, and do everything. You feel very good about it, you know. Sometimes the reward is quite different. It's not that money can buy.

Q: Do you think if your mother was still alive to see your work, what would she say?

Chan: She would be so proud of me, you know. Because even, now I'm working St. Vincent, we understand Chinese. Our education level sometimes quite different. We doesn't have that much medical knowledge such as popular people in America. So some of the patients have a lot of difficulty time. I will do my best to help them. If you can help couple people, you really feel good.

Q: Okay. I'm going to jump ahead to September 11th. [quick discussion of length of tape left. NEED EDIT OUT]

Now give me an idea of the scope of St. Vincent's in Chinatown, what it is able to handle before September 11th. Give me the kind of - is it mostly an outpatient facility?

Chan: St. Vincent's Chinatown clinic was set up since 1976. At that time because of the new bride from China to come to the United States, and they don't have no health insurance so St. Vincent's come to what they needed for the OB Department. We set up a clinic in Chinatown to help the new immigrant mother-to-be. So that's our first beginning of the clinic in Chinatown. We're in the Park Row. We actually bought in the church, one of the small room in the back. And then after the mother was give birth to the baby, is a demand of the pediatric units. So we open up pediatric units and we move to the East Broadway. Then after the baby is growing up and the mother become older, then is a demand for us to open a general medical practice, and we move to our new location on the Canal Street and Elizabeth. So the St. Vincent history was changed. St. Vincent usually give quality care. They not really as high profile. They put a down, low profile, we don't have no advertising in Chinatown. Only by the patients' mouth. So a lot of people in Chinatown doesn't know St. Vincent's that much. I remember at the 9/11 time I went to - because my god sister went to China for the visit. She contacting a big tour, leading them to the Beijing to visit the Beijing family. So I was staying in Long Island with my godmother. So I drove into work on that morning. And the traffic was so heavy. I was driving the car, I keep on hear the ambulance and police car -

Q: What time was this?

Chan: This was around ten minutes after nine, around that time. I was wondering, even before I get to the city already it's so crowded. What's going on? Nobody know. And you turn on the radio and you heard, oh, the plane was crashed to the World Trade Center. So I was in the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway), so I could see the World Trade Center. And I do see World Trade Center One was on smoke. And then suddenly I saw the other plane, was hit into the other buildings. You know, your tears is so really come down from you. We grow up in the New York even then. I was not born in America, but World Trade Center is our trademark of New York. You know the feelings. It is look like they are part of my family member. And you know the World Trade Center have so many people live there. You completely have your tears coming down. And driving with the car, my hand was shaking, you know, you don't know what you're going to do anymore. So then later on I saw the building was collapse. So fortunately I could able drove the car and park the car right in front in the Brooklyn side near Manhattan Bridge. So I just park the car anyplace I could. I walk to the bridge. Walk past the bridge and come over to the city. So I bump into a lot of people, and the police, they kept on telling me, 'You should go to the other direction.' I said, 'No, no, no, I work in the hospital. I have clinic in Chinatown. I have to report to St. Vincent's. I will go to that direction.' So I went through the bridge, I went through to make sure that all the pregnant mother is okay, my staff is okay. Then I have a staff meeting. I left half the staff make sure the patient would be safety to go home, someone to pick them up and some transportation to go home. Then I took half of the staff, we walk to the St. Vincent's to help. But it's a very, very touching moment when we go to the St. Vincent area. Because we did not have any telephone can communicate with the hospital. We have no way to know what's going on. So we walk down to St. Vincent, about five or six block. We saw the people wait on the line, everybody say they want to volunteer, even they say, 'Take my blood, take my blood. I'm the O plus.' You really, you in your heart, you cry for them. Who say that in New York we don't help each other? This is moment you feel our New York, how we really come together. We help each other. You know? And they want to help. When we passed the line, some people was yelling to me, 'How come we are waiting on the line now but they can go before us?' We have to show the I.D. So we were at the hospital, we want to go in to help. And the other thing was so sad. When I went down to the emergency room, our whole hospital, we have every single doctor, nurse, even the nurses’ aid, we have stretchers, wheelchair, everything - standing there. The police blocked the whole Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue just for ambulance. But no ambulance arrive. One ambulance came, everybody was so happy. We are clapping the hands, welcome to the ambulance. It's not we want to see the people's injury. It's the thing is that we feel one or two life still alive, we can help.

Q: Why was the ambulance not coming in?

Chan: Because is no life. No real live people they need to rush to the hospital. When they dig out the person it's already too late. That's what the sad part is. So when the ambulance get to the hospital that mean we still have a life, have a chance.

Q: Today the whole St. Vincent's is located on 25 Elizabeth Street, right?

Chan: No, this is only the clinic. Our hospital still located on the Seventh Avenue, on the 12th Street.

Q: Okay, so that area was not closed off, like Chinatown was on that day.

Chan: Right. But the main thing, we had a trauma center. We had the only trauma center in lower Manhattan at that time. So all the trauma case we are capable to handle. That's why all the critical trauma case have to go to St. Vincent's.

Q: The one on 12th Street.

Chan: Yes. You know, and it's so touching, at that day we have a lot of physician report to us from the other hospital as well, from some of the private practice, every single St. Vincent's hospital, even where they are, they report to duty, the staff is the same. Also the other nursing staff, in the other hospital, they're off the duty, they will come in to volunteer. So there is not really not much work for us to do. And I do also remember we set up a family center, let the family member to find the loved one in the World Trade Center. Are they located in the hospital, or even where they are. And I was volunteer there, and you heard so many sad story about it. Your heart cry for it. Emotionally very difficult to deal with. Because you feel like you are part of them. It's very difficulty time.

Q: Did you try to come down to the clinic in Chinatown that day?

Chang: I was in the clinic that day.

Q: You were in the clinic.

Change: Yeah. Our clinic was actually - I have other clinic near the World Trade Center, Ground Zero, in St. Margaret House, okay. After 9/11 there is no way you can go to St. Margaret House. Even the St. Margaret House, the clinic was closed. But I know that St.. Margaret House was not evacuated. They have a lot of senior citizens live there. So I did went to the Fifth Precinct and asked the police. I say, 'I have a clinic down in St. Margaret House. We have 290 some senior citizens that live in St. Margaret House. I just want to go down, take a look. Is any way police can give me a lift, go down to St. Margaret?' They did. So that's happening the day after. So I could able to go down to St. Margaret House. St. Margaret House, that night they don't have electricity, they don't have water, so later on they do bring emergency generator, get power back, and then they used the bottled water to give to rest of them. So I would stay in the St. Margaret House for couple days. I sleep over also. Because in case any resident gets sick, I could able to help. And also the St. Margaret House, the staff is too exhausted. At least I will stay over night, give them a break. They can get some sleep in the night time, I will take over the night shift. So, because I think in the hospital we do have a lot of volunteer and other people, but St. Margaret would be in a place where they need me. So I did went to the St. Margaret.

Q: Is there anything in your personal background or professional training that could have prepared you for such a day, such a catastrophe?

Chan: Well, only thing can put it this way. I was nursing director in a nursing home. By state requirement we do need to do a lot of preparation for emergency. It's the same thing at St. Vincent's. We need to do a lot of emergency preparation twice a year. I remember once, in the nursing home, it happens that we have a major - the pipe broken down. Complete water bust in to go to one of the patients' units. I was called two o'clock in the morning, so I drove in the car to the nursing home. We have to emergency evacuate all the residents, move the residents from one unit to the other, to the auditorium, we have to close down every single thing, make sure all the electrician don't have electric shock from the water. So I think that experience can let me to have some of idea how to handle emergency most of the time. And also I'm the in service director, to teach the nursing. So I always remember when I'm teaching my nursing staff, I always say one thing, 'When the emergency thing happen, the worst thing is panic. No matter what happened, you give one minute yourself. Take a deep breath and think about what I will do next. And it will be much better benefit than you panic.' So as instructor I can tell the staff to do it. So I always remember myself what to do. You know? I think that were helping me.

Q: So what was this area like in Chinatown? I want to focus on St. Vincent's on Elizabeth Street for a little while. Because much of Chinatown was closed off. But smoke was very heavy here. Was there a lot of people running into the clinic, not knowing what to do? What was the scene like?

Chan: Well, our building is a commercial building, so really it doesn't have a big sign. The people did not want it to. But the people was in St. Margaret's House, because St. Margaret's was so close to Ground Zero. They have actually excellent, excellent picture in St. Margaret's House. You will see that all the dirt, the smoke, all the things coming down, to the World Trade Center go down to the Fulton Street. Even their glass roof is completely covered by all the dust. And the way the people comes in, the way they are panicking and yelling, it's such a tremendous scene. It is very tragedy, I would say. But only thing is, you do feel our New York. We go through, we work together, we help together, and I was - you know, every single time can remember when you was in the family center, we have so much young people and comes in, offer you the food, offer you the drink, offer you the comfort. And, you know, why we say that our young generation is not like our old generation? I don't think so. And then 9/11 time, you really think the new generation, they do have a heart to help each other. I was so proud of them. Really so proud.

Q: Did you surprise yourself in any way of how you handled things that day?

Chan: I think in my professional attitude I'm not really surprising at all. If I could participate, I could do it, why not? Okay. Everybody have to help.

Q: How is St. Vincent's funded? Is this a private or -

Chan: It's a Catholic organization. It's funded by Catholic Charities. In the 9/11 time we do discharge most of the patients in the hospital. We evacuate the whole hospital for the 9/11 victim to go in for admission, and also we do empty a couple of floor for the policemen and fire department people. You know, have some bed to take a rest, or take a shower. It was - our whole hospital, we really put in for the 9/11 time. We are very well prepared for the things for the - there still is so many sad - a lot of our staff after that do need some of emotional counseling, because we saw a lot of tragedy thing happen. We saw a lot of - we heard a lot of sad story.

Q: Is there any one particular patient that has left a deep impression on you?

Chan: I would say there is - when I'm in the family center I met a couple of family member, they comes in, they were even crying. There is a young gentleman, he say his father was wheelchair bound. He went into the meeting in the Windows of the World on that morning, with his girlfriend. And since then they never heard from him. And I heard the other story - a tourist guy comes in with the whole family, supposed to go up to the World Trade Center Observation Deck. So they were not being open until nine o'clock. So they daughter says she is hungry so he went to buy some breakfast for them. And the time he come back, he cannot get in anymore. So he never find his wife and his daughter. And we heard so many story. They say - someone told me they just spoke to his husband before the building collapse. So I guess the husband call them, say he's on his way to come get to the elevator, get out the building. And next thing they heard is the building collapse. You know, you heard so many tragedy going on, and this never ending. Never ending. If you want to ask the story you just go on and on and on. And so many.

Q: And how long did you stay at the hospital?

Chan: We stayed there at least until the hospital say we have too many volunteer, we have to take shifts. Because we don't have a space for the volunteers to sleep, we don't even have a space for the volunteer to go to the bathroom. So that means so many volunteers. The food is not the problem, because we are getting a lot of donation comes in. So they tell us to go home, leave the cell phone number or the beeper number, and the can reach us. So I think we left 11 o'clock, the night time.

Q: Of that day.

Chan: Of that day. And some staff left around nine o'clock, some left around seven o'clock. But we are standby. And next day I was in the hospital nine o'clock, and then because we still able to reach all the patient in the clinic, we call the patient and told the patient, 'Don't come in, because the building was closed.' We don't want the patient to come in to the Chinatown and find out the building is closed. Have to guide the patient what to do. If they are sick they can go to the St. Vincent Hospital in the main campus. And after then, I do went back to the clinic. The clinic, I cannot get into. So I went to the police station. I went to the St. Margaret House.


Q: Obviously September 11th was very tough for many people. Even though you personally were not at the World Trade Center, as a nurse, did you receive any therapy or counseling afterwards based on what you saw?

Chan: Actually, I set a couple of counseling meetings for the people who go through the 9/11. 'Specially the people in St. Margaret House. The elderly patients, their window is facing World Trade Center. They see the whole thing actually happen. I remember one of the residents told me, she say that she lost her taste in her mouth. She cannot sleep and she cannot eat for a week. You know, they really doesn't think about the traumatized by the 9/11, they saw it as something wrong. But I do set up a couple of workshop, I do have a psychiatrist went to the St. Margaret House, we give workshop in English, Chinese, and the Spanish as well. And give them the opportunity to speak up and talk what in their mind. So some of the older even say they cannot look at the window anymore, because every morning, the first thing they get up, they look at the window, they saw the World Trade Center was stooding there. Now, they said, when they open the window, the two buildings gone. It looks like something they lost. The symbol they lost. And it is a tough time. So we did a lot of counseling. Because the main thing, I was sick for a week for the whole counseling, the workshop. So I'm one of the participants in here. This looks like sort of like one of my program. I'm saying, well, it's the other residents we do go for.

Q: Would you say that most of the patients at St. Vincent's here in Chinatown are Chinese?

Chan: Yes. We should say that it's close to 95% is Chinese. Lately we do have some Russian, Spanish, Irish, and Italian patients that come as well.

Q: Give me a kind of idea of what type of Chinese make up your patients. Are they recent immigrants, a combination of all people with or without health insurance -

Chan: We do have - because the new immigrant change - we do have a lot of new immigrant. We close to have 60% is a new immigrant, okay? And we do have some of old immigrant as well. And because we are the clinic in Chinatown for twenty-six years now, we do have actually third generation. The grandma was give birth to the daughter in here, now the daughters give birth to the babies in our clinic, in the hospital as well. So a lot of it look like family types, and actually a lot of it is a patient by the word of mouth. Before we all know our communities. A lot of people from Canton, China side on Hong Kong. Now is a lot of Fujianese. So a lot of patients is Fujianese now. So in the beginning our language in the clinic is Cantonese, and Toishan. Funny thing, I learn Toishan in America. I remember always my first working experience in Chinatown. I'm Shanghainese myself. I speak Shanghainese, I speak Mandarin, I speak Cantonese. I have a Toishanese patient come to me and say, "You doesn't speak Chinese." I say, "Look at her. What do you mean, I don't speak Chinese? I speak three dialects." And they told me, oh no, no, no - your Chinese is not Chinese. Toishanese is Chinese. So, "Okay, give me six months. I'm going to learn Toishanese." I did. So nowaday is no more Toishanese used in New York. Then you need to learn Mandarin, and Fujianese. So now the clinic, we spend most of the time speaking the Mandarin now. That is the change of the new immigration population.

Q: And do you accept patients without health insurance?

Chan: Yes, we do. Because we are Catholic charity hospital. We usually charge a small amount, according to the income or the percentage. We charge very low fee for the patients if you really need the surgery, or you need some help, we always have charity money to help. You know, we cannot do one hundred percent, but at least we will try out best to do seventy or eighty percent. We do have some patients have a severe illness take place. We do help them have a surgery done, have everything done, okay? And we also have what we call the Immigration Program. We helping the illegal immigrant who have AIDS, we do help him tremendously, you know.

Q: Did September 11th result in any policy or structural changes at the hospital?

Chan: I think the only thing we would say we do change is a lot of thing we get more involved with emergency preparation. Hospital is more suitable for those kind of tragedies, the thing happening. And also we set up a command system in the hospital in case anything happen, we always will commanding to other satellite clinic, how to guide them, what to do. And also we are under the construction of to be built a new emergency room in St. Vincent. The emergency room actually was have idea by former mayor Guiliani. We were going to call Rudolph Guiliani Emergency Room, and we will be very well prepared with chemistry attack, with all kinds of attack on New York City. So now is the construction will take place, is going on. Hopefully we can be finished on the 2005. And we will be very, very well prepared for any kind of emergency.

Q: Anthrax or -

Chan: Yes.

Q: I'm going to move forward to 2003 - this year. There is yet another medical emergency - SARS. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Being that this is Chinatown, where lots of travels or family from China, from Asia, to this area, how was the clinic handling SARS?

Chan: We do have a lot of patients is getting very panicked, okay? But some of the patient is very good. We even told the patient, "You was recently traveling from China. You have a temperature, high temperature, and you was coughing." We would guide the patient to go to the emergency room because we have an isolation set up.

[Interview interrupted by a knock on door. A short, whispered conversation. NEEC TO EDIT OUT]

Q: Sorry, we're going to back up. You were talking about SARS, if a patient came in with a high fever.

Chan: Right. We would right away put the patient on the mask. Guide the patient to our negative pressure room. In our clinic we do have isolation negative pressure so the air would not bring back to the clinic. Then we will examine the patient. If it really is a suspicion case we, right away, we would put the patient in the ambulance or the taxi cab driver and put the patient to the emergency room right away. We would get the last contacts for the patient, to contact the other peoples. So as soon as the patient left, we would clean up the room, clean up everything, by the bleach. Just get a last chance. And the patients are very well educated about what SARS look like. You don't have to be panicked. It's not look like anybody must have SARS when they come from China. It sometime could be happens when you come back from China you a little bit too overtired from traveling day and night, up in day, change, sometimes it could happen you catch a little minor cold. Because at that time still is a couple thing that happen. Is the hay fever time, and it's allergy time, and also is cold, a lot of people get cold at that time. So it's a very similar diagnosis to SARS. We don't have really be so panicked. I always remember a story. I get a call from the bank. The teller is getting panicked. They touched the money. They'll say "The patient touched the money. And the teller did get money in contact with the SARS." So we have to educate them. It's not really that kind of cause infection. For the droplet to cause infection, because droplet could be dead within couple hours. So would not look like stay in the money would cause infection to the teller in the bank.

Q: When were you first aware of SARS?

Chan: Well, because I read Chinese paper. Every day. So as soon as we heard of things happening in Hong Kong, and in the China, what happening, we know that because we do have a lot of people traveling from Hong Kong, for this kind of thing we have to do some preparation. So actually, we are before the travel alert come on the place. We just alert the patient, if you have high fever, coughing, and recent traveling call us right away, okay? Then, later on, the Department of Health came down with guidelines, so we all put up the signs and get everything done.

Q: And how many cases did you handle?

Chan: Luckily I think we don't have any case. It was very lucky for our part. And we have only - we see a couple of patients call. We do guide the patient to go to emergency room. And we ask the patient, "Are you going to the emergency room?" Then we call the emergency room, let the emergency room well prepare - the patient will arrival, don't let the patient wait for the emergency room, direct guide them to the isolation room. And a couple of the patient was stay in the hospital in the isolation room until our specimen of the saliva come back and the x-ray film is confirm they are not a SARS patient. So, and we did not have any panic case. None.

Q: And Chinatown was considerably quieter during that time. I remember coming, seeing the streets were not as crowded as it normally was. As a clinic, as a hospital, did you distribute information to try to educate people, to try to calm people down?

Chan: Yes. We did. A lot of patient, we usually have a phone system. They will call us and we will call the patient. Because we do the follow up. We build a different relationship. They look like a family member. Anything they have something go wrong, they would call us. So even they would, "Oh, I heard about the SARS. What you suggest I going to do?" So we told them in the phone. And some of them even, when the patient comes in, "Well, my kid go to school. Someone at school may have the coughing. I cannot get a mask." I do order a lot of mask and sometime we do give to the patient - "Take some mask home for the kids to use in the school, public, whatever." Then they feel like, it's not for them to use. Sometimes the kids have a cough. Okay. So it would be much better to protect them causing infection to the other family members.

Q: Are you at any time concerned that you might be jeopardizing your own health?

Chan: That was never in my mind. I remember one incident happened when I was in the Union. I was on the twenty-second. We have a patient completely collapsed in the elevator. One of the staff was with the patient in the elevator so she know I'm on twenty-second floor. Right away she pushed the elevator to twenty-second floor. And right away she yell, "Selina, I have patient collapse in the elevator." I went in the elevator. I didn't give it second thought, I did mouth to mouth resuscitation on the patient, okay? We did the CPR for the patient until the ambulance arrival. So after then the people - the doctor, even, ask me, "Do you want to take the patient's blood for the AIDS, or the hepatitis?" I said, "Look, I already did it already. I also helped the patient. Saved the patient. At least the patient did not die on my hands." Later on the patient die, but not then. As long as patient get safety to go to hospital, get all the treatment. If I pick my profession as a nurse, just want to help the people, I don't think to jeopardize my life or not is not a question that would be in my mind. Sure, I need to protect myself. But sometimes, when emergency things happen, you cannot think that much.

Q: Having worked in Chinatown as long as you have, do you think there is enough medical facilities in Chinatown to meet the needs?

Chan: I wish to have room expanding, okay? I think the major problem in Chinatown now, we do have a lot of private physician, have a specialty, but a lot of look like Medicaid, HMO, Family Health Plus, because the reimbursement rate is so low a lot of private of doctors is not accepting. And now if the low income family, they need to go to see a specialty, where are they going to turn? For asking for help? I think we do have tremendous room in Chinatown to open up some of the specialty that will accept low income insurance. To help the low income and a new immigrant community people. I always believe we still have room. And also I do believe the other thing - competition make it good. Make good for us to give for a community better service. And let a patient be more aware to have a one more selection of the hospital to go and the doctor to choice. And it make us all growing together.

Q: When do you think you will retire?

Chan: I really want to - it's always my goal - I want to have, either have assisted living or a nursing home in lower Manhattan for Asian, Chinese. I still will try, if even I'm going to retire in my age, I still want to give some of my time to the community to help as a volunteer.

Q: It's obvious that you have given a lot of your time and your life to nursing, and to the community. Any regrets that you didn't set aside time to start your own family?

Chan: Well, sure, sometimes when you go home you feel lonely. You will say that this isn't right. But you cannot look back. If you look back - I'm not fortune teller. If I know this kind of thing or that kind of thing happens, I wouldn't do that. But it's not right. If you live in the past world, you never will be happy. Okay? You always looking forward, in the future. Yes, I picked that movement, my fate came out that way already. I cannot change back. Just looking forward. If I can help some community people, help some Chinese, I'm happy. That's it. The most important thing, you feel yourself - I happy. I valuable to yourself. I'm not looking for something in return. No. If you give, you give. That's it.

Q: Would it be safe to say you probably will stay in New York for the rest of your days?

Chan: I will stay in New York, maybe. You know, if I really become I'm so old, I may go back to China or Hong Kong. Because it would be stay with more our same culture people that were helping, if my health is not there. Great, for myself to handle myself in New York. And sometime maybe it's time for me to go back to China. No matter what happen, my roots still in China. We still believe sometime will be better to go back to China to wait for the end of your life. You know, just is the thinking.

Q: Do you think only Chinese people feel that way? You have been away since you were nine. That's most of your life. And yet you think you might want to end up where you started.

Chan: Yeah. Sometimes you feel like it, you know? You do feel like it. I think it's not only Chinese. Some of the other American people have the same kind of feelings. Talking to them, that's how the way they feel. You know, this is only a trip. Every time when the car go by and the thing change, sometimes you will always change your mind, you know? You could not say it's definitely that's the way I want to do in my life. In the meantime it's how I feel when you went back to China, you saw the way the China was change. You just be so proud of Chinese, the way we catch up for them nowadays.

Q: We have talked about many things. Is there anything you want to share that I have not asked you?

Chan: I don't think so. You ask quite very well. And also I only believe the other thing. There's maybe one thing I need to say. In our Chinese community - I know maybe the other communities the same - we really need to encourage the young people to come back to the community. A lot of young people get a good education, high education, they move to the American community. They don't come back. So we need a new blood in this community. When the time is the old generation retires, with a new generation to help this community, to build the community, to guide the community. So I think that would be my thinking I really like to see. So that's why I must volunteer myself in what we call the Chinese-American Social Service and Health. We try to do some scholarships for the new generation to study social work -- bilingual social work. That what we really need tremendous in Chinatown. To come back to Chinatown, to help the Chinese.

Q: This project will be on the Internet for ten years, and then the Library of Congress, so hopefully some young people will hear, perhaps, your story, and be inspired, and then come back. Thank you very much for your time.

Chan: Thank you for the invite.

Q: This is Lan Trinh for the M0CA Documentation Project, and I've been speaking with Selina Chan of St. Vincent's in Chinatown. Thank you very much.

Chan: Thank you.


Frances Wong, Female, 46 y.o. -- Counselor, St. Vincent’s Hospital

Interviewed by Ingrid Dudek

Q: This is the Chinatown Documentation Project. This is Ingrid Dudek. Today is December 26, 2003, and let’s just get started. Could you just state your name and your date of birth?

Wong: Oh, really? Date of birth, too? Wow. On the screen? Okay. Sure. [laughs] My name is Frances Wong. My Chinese name is Wong Lai Fong, and I use my middle initial, L. [birth date omitted per interviewee request]. Okay.

Q: And you grew up in Chinatown.

Wong: I was, yes, I was born and raised in Chinatown.

Q: Where are your parents from?

Wong: My parents are from Hoiping, which is right near a village right next to Toisan, China, and they---my father came here when he was sixteen, my mother came here when she was twenty-five. And so, my grandfather from, my paternal grandfather also came here when he was younger, so I’m kind of like, uh, I guess a, three and a half ----

Q: Generation.

Wong:----Generation, yeah.

Q: Your grandfather came here and stayed, or then he went back?

Wong: He came here and stayed. His name was Charles Wong. He is buried in the Staten Island cemetery. So, yeah, he’s here. [laughs]

Q: But your father was born and raised in China---

Wong: In China, right. He was born in---so they came, I guess he came here at age sixteen with his father. So I don’t know about my paternal grandmother, but---

Q: Your parents met here, then?

Wong: No, actually, my father went back to Hoiping to, ah, marry my mother. Right. So, and this was his third marriage. Yeah, it was really sad. His first wife he met in Hoiping, China, but she died, and then he immigrated here, and met someone else here, Dorothy Wong, and she also died, and then that’s when he went, um---so I have like, one sibling from his first marriage, two siblings from his second marriage, a brother and a sister, and then he married my mother and I have three brothers, older brothers, and I’m the youngest. So.

Q: So what’s the total, how many?

Wong: Um, the total is four and three, is seven.

Q: How old was he by the final marriage?

Wong: Oh, how old was he? I think he married at, the third marriage was at fifty-five.

Q: Really?

Wong: I’m not sure, but I believe that’s so, yeah.

Q: What did he do for work the whole time that he was here in the U.S.?

Wong: Um, laundry, the laundry, yeah, meaning, not laundrymats, but, you know, actual ironing of shirts and sending things out and pressing, having it washed and coming back to the laundry to press it. We had laundries on the Upper East Side, and the Bronx. And Brooklyn, actually.

Q: Did you mother work as well?

Wong: My mother worked as well, in the laundry, she managed the one in Brooklyn, and my father did the one in, on the Upper East Side.

Q: Did you and your brothers work in that as well?

Wong: Um, I escaped it. They all did, and I was lucky, I was young then, so I didn’t have to do a lot of the work. But, ah, I can remember my brothers working really hard, and I had the fun, so they would ride a bicycle, they would put me in the carriage and they would deliver the laundry to people and I would get the benefit of sitting in the little basket [laughs] when they drove through Central Park, I mean, when they rode through Central Park, so I was fortunate that way. My brother Paul did that.

Q: Where were you living when you grew up?

Wong: Where was I living? Well, I guess I was living, we lived in the back of the laundries, um, until age five or six, and then we came back to Manhattan here, in Chinatown, on Henry Street, where I went to P.S. 1, and P.S. 2, and I went to the local junior high school, which is Junior High School 56, and I went to the local high school, too, which is Stewart Park High School.

Q: So you’re local all the way?

Wong: I’m a local all the way. Except for when I went to college, and I went to Cornell for my Bachelor of Science degree in human development and family studies, and then I went to University of Penn, where I have my Masters in Social Work.

Q: When you say, " the back of the laundries," do you mean the ones in the Bronx?

Wong: The Bronx, and you know, I kind of traveled, you know, to all of them.

Q: You moved around?

Wong: Yeah, I moved around when I was ages one to five. Yeah, that’s the kind of life---I can’t remember a lot of it, ‘cause that’s when I was real young, but, yeah.

Q: How old was your father then, when you were born?

Wong: Um, he was probably around fifty-eight.

Q: Okay. Well.

Wong: Very interesting, huh? He actually, he, he, passed away when I was twelve.

Q: Oh. He was seventy.

Wong: So, yeah.

Q: And your mother?

Wong: My mother, um, passed away about three years ago, in 2000, and, ah, there’s a story in there that I would like to tell a little bit later, which has really effected my life deeply. Um, I don’t know, should I---I guess we could---

Q: Did you want to---

Wong: ---To talk about it now, or more about the pa----

Q: Well, could you talk a little more about um----

Wong: ---growing up in Ch----

Q: ---growing up, yeah.

Wong: Yeah, I would love to talk about growing up in Chinatown.

Um, I guess, ah, [sighs] in Chinatown, what really had a big influence in my life was playing basketball. So ages twelve or thirteen through seventeen, basketball had a major effect on my life. It gave me a place to have peers, a place to go to. Most of all it helped me develop my leadership skills, and my commitment to being in community. Um, even while I was growing up I always wondered, why did---well, my mother started, after the laundries, started working in the garment factories and the sweatshops, and I would go up and I would see all this poverty and struggle. And so I started writing papers when I was young about racism, I started finding out about um, Chinatown and the need for Chinatown, that ranged across the states because of fear of being attacked, you know, there are---numerous, numerous Chinese were attacked and killed and they were, you know, throughout our history, since the 1800s, since arriving here.

So I read a lot of that, and I said, Jeez, there’s just a lot of racism, it’s just so unfair. So, um, you know, I wrote papers, and then, um, basketball, even when we did tournaments, I ran some tournaments, and we even dedicated that to, we called it the Rock Springs Memorial for the people that died in Rock Springs, Arkansas, in Arkansas. You know, for the Chinese people that were attacked and killed.

So, what happened was, a couple of things. Basketball also gave me---it gave me, when I say leadership skills, I knew what I wanted to do, it just gave me skills, I developed a sense of competency, which I hope that kids now will develop. That’s why I’m interested in this Asian-American Youth Center, in developing a youth center in the community. Um, yeah, cause we used to just play outside in the parks, or played at P.S. 1, at Columbus Park. Anyway, so getting back to basketball. I also, it just so happened my coach was from Taiwan, and so he had a dream of taking a girls’ team back to Taiwan, to play against the Taiwan girls. We went to Hong Kong and Japan. So it was really pretty wonderful to have that when you’re growing up in Chinatown and the only world you know of is----Well, actually, in Chinatown, you would say that it’s Chinatown, but it was really very mixed at that point still. Where, you know, there were African-Americans, Latinos, um, and Jewish-Americans. So it was really a great community to grow up in, because, you know, I really, there were differences, but um, it, we accepted each other.

So, actually, so having all of that just really helped me to develop my sense of multiculturalism, um, my belief that we could really succeed together, and of course, I wasn’t a child of the ‘60s, I was a little young then, but I benefited from Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy’s moves, and it was just really wonderful.

Q: Because this would have been, what, in the early ‘70s?

Wong; In the early ‘70s, yeah, between ‘70---I played basketball in, I guess, ’73 to ’76, that was my high school days.

Q: And there were a lot of identity politics movement at the time?

Wong: Oh, definitely, yeah. At that point, um, I think we had our first riot. That Chinatown had the first protest against police brutality, down here in City Hall. And, I mean, you probably have pictures of that, but yeah, it was a really interesting time to grow up because, you know, I guess I’m a pioneer now, or then, but, still a lot, there were a lot of things happening, so it was really a good time to grow up. And I guess we were developing our awareness about things that shouldn’t be. Yeah.

Q: It was quite a different Chinatown then, too.

Wong: It was a smaller Chinatown. And mostly Cantonese, the people from Toisan, or Hoiping, or Canton. Or Hong Kong. And there were some people here, there were families still from China and from Taiwan. So there---but the first immigrants here were, and I’m sure that you already have this documented---were the indentured servants that, I don’t know if I should go into all this, yeah?

[sirens, and cross-talk about sirens]

Wong: Should I mention the indentured servants? I don’t think I need to, right, because other people----

Q: Sort of in passing, yeah. So let me just say it again, it was a different Chinatown then, cause probably there were also more residents than commuters like there are now too.

Wong: Oh, yeah, definitely more residents. We all, I guess at that point there were a lot of people that still lived in Chinatown. Um, but were looking to move out. Like my, I grew up in a basketball family. My brothers all played basketball, so I was very lucky to be in a family where my brothers encouraged me to play basketball. It gave me, in high school, you know I played high school basketball also, and having an outside team. It just gave me something extra. Also it was great on my extracurricular activity form for college. So.

Q: So these were also like community-initiative teams? They weren’t like the YMCA, they weren’t through school.

Wong: No, they were community-initiative, yeah. It came about from people like, actually you might know him, this guy named Tai Ma, who is now an actor, and he’s in Hollywood. But Tai, Tai’s vision was to have a basketball tournament. This is from, you may know Fay Chang, from Basement Workshop, or if you do know Fay Chang from Basement Workshop, so she developed Basement Workshop, Tai did, for probably one or two summers, I don’t know, these ah, basketball tournaments.

The Chinatown Y didn’t come about until maybe ’76 or so, yeah, so, but yeah, these were grassroots organizations just getting together and trying to get the kids together out there to play. And, I mean, right now I’m part of a grassroots organization, it’s called the Asian-American Youth Center, and our vision is to create and get funding for a youth center. And the youth center that we envision is one that has basketball and has, you know, a gym in it. But I, of course, since I’m into mental health, I would love to be able to lead workshops on leadership skills, get kids ready----I wish I’d had that, actually. That would have probably helped me to understand the world of politics a little better now, and how to deal with the politics.

But also just teaching kids skills about grounding, centering, um, knowing when to go forward and when to step back, when to be more aggressive and when to be assertive, and how, what’s the difference because we all fluctuate between being aggressive and passive, especially Asians growing up here, we are all very passive, and, but, we grew up in the schools here, so we learned how to be aggressive and assertive. So. Um, I would love to be able to do, to do some workshops with kids that way. And at St. Vincent’s we’re working, we’re doing mental health in the schools and stuff like that, but I think I’d like to do more large workshops just to do a skill development. Yeah.

Q: So your interest in sort of, um, community activity which maybe started, or you attribute to the basketball period in your life----

Wong: I think so. I think so.

Q: --- When did you start more sort of community social service work, actively, how did that come about?

Wong: Um, well, I went to---After high school, I went to Cornell. And at Cornell, I decided from then that it was very much a culture shock being up there. Because, here I am, I’m used to the city environment, and I’m used to people just related, but it was, ah, it was really different at that point. I was one of the few Asian-Americans that went to college in, I started in 1976.

So I had decided back then already, I said, after I graduate, I’m coming back to work in the community, and I decided I really then, never left the community actually. So I was able to get an internship there, where I worked with the Chinese-American Planning Council. I had one semester where I worked with youth. It was called Project Reach and it’s still in existence now. Don Kao does that now. But at that point, it was Peter Fong, and then David Chen. David Chen is now the executive director at CPC. But back then, you know, we were just all doing youth work. So it was a great experience. It was a prevention program, preventing kids from using drugs and also preventing them from going into gangs. Because at that point, there were kids that were really just dropping out of school, they didn’t have the bilingual programs, they didn’t have bilingual counselors, um, and there were a lot of, you know, new immigrants. As you know, probably in 1965 is when they lifted the, ah, what’s it called, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Chinese started immigrating here finally.

Q: What do you mean, just to back up a second, by "culture shock" in Cornell?

Wong: ---At Cornell? [laughs] It was a non-Asian, um, it was really more of a white environment, and it was very hard at that point, because I was looked at differently. Um, I had, um, I felt different, very, very different. Not like I was here---I mean, I was here----I grew up in Chinatown and you know, there were African Americans and Latinos and Jewish, but going there, there was not a lot of that, it was mostly people from all over the country, but white. So it was just very different there, and I felt different, sometimes devalued. Sometimes devalued. Sometimes, um, good, but mostly I felt racism. Yeah, mostly. And actually it was great because Cornell had racism courses and I went, and I took a racism course, and then after I graduated I continued to work in Chinatown in the Adolescent Vocational Exploration Program, where we were able to, like, place kids in the summer with other people in the different professions, computer, typography, everything. And then, they really got a lot from those programs.

But then I went to the University of Pennsylvania because they have a dedication to eradicate racism, and so we had to take courses on American racism two years, for two years. So, um, it has been a pretty interesting experience. After the University of Pennsylvania I came back to Chinatown. I worked in the Chinatown Health Clinic, just developing their services for Chinese-Americans, and then I worked at the Chinese-American Planning Council, developing a program for Asian victims of domestic violence. Back then we called them "Asian battered women." But, um, we also, and it was quite difficult watching women struggle, because they were being beaten, they came here and they didn’t know what their rights were. And actually a lot of these women are more fortunate because they’re here. In China they might have continued to be beaten, but because they were here, they could see a different life, so I was glad to provide that service that they could live violence-free, and that they didn’t have to accept or tolerate it. In Chinese there’s a huge word for "tolerate" and for years and centuries, you know, women have tolerated being beaten. Being psychologically beaten, too, by their husbands.

Q: Is it a program that’s still running?

WONG: The program is not really running right now, but there’s also the Asian-American,---there’s the New York Asian Women’s Center, that is still in existence, and I had volunteered for the hotline back then. So there was a 24-hour hotline for women to call, for Asian women to call, that’s in different dialects of Chinese. So, um, recently----I don’t know if I should talk about this, but recently one of the women came here, um, and the struggle still goes on. She still has no place to go, she’s still a new immigrant, she’s beaten, she has no place to go, so I’m very glad that she was able to go to, you know, a shelter. A shelter. So, yeah.

Q: You’ve worked at an incredible number of different social service centers, and probably have had a wide range of experience. Do you feel like different kinds of services, say, education or youth services are maybe more successful than others, or what kind of outreach is necessary to get the community to respond? Or is the community ready and waiting to do what they need to do?

WONG: The community is not ready and waiting. It’s really very interesting how the media---media is very important all over. Even when I was at Cornell I was thinking, Jeez, if only the Chinese had a radio program we could do more public education. Well, lo and behold, it’s been very wonderful. You know, we have now the public radio station, 1480, um, and so that has proven to be--- you know, if you get on that program you become a household name and people believe in you, and it’s just, it’s pretty incredible that we’re able to reach more people. So, um, I think, actually 1480 is now, but back then it was the Sino-cast radio station, and the Cheng Hua radio station, and you had to buy boxes from each radio station to hear, to get the news. Now, you know, we’re lucky to get the 1480 and we’re trying to use that. Even though---- so services, through the radio and through newspapers really helps, so people need to develop, in my position, need to develop relationships with the media.

Um, I guess, ah, the other thing that effected me---well, I’ve been in the community working for a long time. I had gone into administration in health care at Governer (?) Hospital, and I was the director for the Quality Assurance, Quality Improvement Program. But, um, and it was really good to work in administration. You saw the other side of how things work, and I felt like I could make an influence in the quality of care that the community would get in the hospital.

But what deeply effected my life was that my mother got sick. And, um, it was a time to decide career or family. And definitely, I think, career came second. Family was really more important, although you know, all my life I had been very interested in my career, I wanted to take care of my mother, and that has made a big difference in my life. Because it made me really appreciate the time that I had with my mother, because I knew, she had probably---when she developed renal failure she probably had two years, three years at the most, and so I really wanted to spend that time with her. And it’s made me just appreciate life more, appreciate people, and I decided after that experience that I didn’t want to go back into administration directly. I decided to go to St. Vincent’s, to---I wanted to be of service to the community, and not just to the Asian-American community, but to the world, and that’s why, um, St. Vincent’s has a program called the World Trade Center Healing Services, um, dealing with people that had losses from 9/11, whether it was um, a personal loss with family members or a fiancée, or a job, or just that they were still continuing to have trauma and nightmares from just reliving the experiences of 9/11. I just wanted to be of service that way. And it’s made a lot of difference, a lot of difference, knowing that I can help people just normalize and have their lives back.

Q: Has this been a very successful program?

WONG: I feel that this program has been pretty successful. People in the Asian-American community, though, still have not come out a lot. You may know through the Asian-American Federation that they did a research study and only, they did their research in the community, through families, but one thing I can just tell you in terms of percentages, there is the Asian Life Net, which is a hotline for Asian-Americans to call about services. From 9/11, for two years, there was only a four percent increase in the hotline, which was not really a lot. I mean, no matter how much media we did, not a lot of people came out to talk about their 9/11 experiences.

So, I --- my skills, I’ve really worked on helping people with trauma. And I feel like for the people that I’ve worked with it’s been very, very effective. In terms of what we’re doing here at St. Vincent’s. So, um, ---

Q: How do you get clients there? Are they referred to you, or do they come in?

WONG: Both, yeah. They’ve been referred to us, they’ve seen it in newspapers, and we haven’t gone to the radio yet, but we will be. I’ve only been here for six months, so---

Q: But do you feel there’s like an extra cultural reluctance to seek out, specifically therapy?

WONG: Yes. Um, well, right, no one really wants to think of themselves as going to therapy in the Asian community because you’re considered crazy, and there’s so much shame and stigma attached to going for therapy. So what we’ve done at St. Vincent’s since 9/11 is provide auricular acupuncture, or ear acupuncture, and so we’re hoping to extend that to the Chinese-American community, and perhaps they would come for more services with ear acupuncture. We’re hoping to reach people more that way. Um, and just today I had---this is 12/26/03, and just today I had a new client, and he has gone for services, and I don’t know how successful I’ll be, but, I use a little hypnotherapy in my sessions, and I try to get people to feel safe. That’s one of the first things about healing, is to get people to feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, it’s hard to heal. So, um, yeah.

Q: How do you deal with, um, sort of an abiding sense of shame? Is that something that you always have to work through when you’re dealing with the Chinese community in this way?

WONG: Somewhat. I think by the time they come here, they’ve gotten over some of that shame. And what we do is we do work it out further here, by talking about it a little more, helping them to feel more grounded, centered, more entitled. I think a lot of the Chinese don’t feel entitled to anything---to the services, to the relief----so I think the Chinese-Americans are still having----they’re still on a learning curve. You know, they’re still learning to be in America, ah, learning what rights they have.

Q: So that’s what you would attribute the reluctance to, sort of culturally?

WONG: Um, could you---

Q: Well, in terms of low numbers, or in terms of outreach, or in terms of people taking advantage of the services, despite the media, and despite----


WONG: I think, okay, for instance, someone read the article and she just kept it in her drawer for a month before she came for services. I think people want to, but it takes time to develop the inertia to say, "Okay, I’m going to go for it, I’m going to call." And even if we say all the services are confidential, they’re still afraid that something could get out there, and they don’t trust that you won’t tell anyone about it. And that’s why I guess, um, going out there and doing hotline work, on the radio stations may help. Work, actually at the New York Asian-American Mental Health Coalition is developing a conference called Stigma, and so we’re trying to see what will de-stigmatize coming to the services.

Maybe, maybe in the next ten years we could combat that. Cause there’s been a stigma attached to going for mental health services for such a long time, I don’t know if we can combat that, but hopefully, yeah.

Q: Can you talk generally at all about what kind of [?] and issues people have, without being too specific, maybe across generations, or, are they professional, or are they just---

WONG: Oh, definitely, there’s a lot of professionals in the Chinese community that saw the whole collapsing of the towers, and they were very effected. So we’ve seen a couple of them, but not enough. The Chinese community were here. You know, they saw the towers falling, and some people, some people can’t stop crying, they go into the bathrooms to cry, um, ah, there are people that have lost their jobs because of that, and SARS then effected the Chinese-American community, and we just, just, one thing after the, the blackout, so, it’s just been taking such a toll on the community.

Families still have maybe both---what’s the word for it----both parents still are out of jobs, and that really has a big impact on mental health. So, um what else ---

Q: Can you, then, can you also direct them to other services?

WONG: Um, yes, but there’s, there’s still only a couple of services, like there’s the Chinatown Manpower, where you could learn computer skills, there’s not a lot of---I mean, what they really need, the Chinese-American community, is jobs, but we don’t have a lot of jobs. But what I could do though is at least help ground them and heal those wounds that they’ve developed. And what we find with a lot of the Chinese-Americans is that they’re re-living that day, and they’re as anxious and depressed, so they’re reliving, and the anxiety and the depression doesn’t help.

Q: And are the services here, how do they work? Are they free?

WONG: The services here are free. Everything is free. And I would say the results are quite good. I would say after three sessions, some people are ready to go. After one session, [laughs] a professional woman was---I think what I do mostly is help connect people back to their resources, internal resources, their own skills, their own strengths, and feeling safe. And that goes a long way. That goes a long way in helping people to regain their sense of independence, their sense of themselves and their identities. Yeah.

Q: How long do you anticipate this program----

WONG: This program’s going to go on a long time. St. Vincent’s really wanted to develop a trauma center, so, hoping I’m that, you know, we’ll be able to help more people, and especially, um, actually we’re just launching some of our outreach to the Chinese-American community, so I’m still hoping that we can be effective that way.

Q: How would you say, um, this experience has changed your own relationship to your career and Chinatown, in terms of what you want to do and what projects, what parts of the community you want to engage and work with?

WONG: Um, well, I’m probably doing too much right now, but you can’t help it, ‘cause you want to do a lot. This experience makes me appreciate life more, appreciate my friends, you know, it’s like, Joe was just here a minute ago, and I just said---he’s the administrator here---and I just really appreciate him, because I guess we’re always under threat, and we never know when, so it just has taught me to appreciate life more, and so, you know, I take time to say, "Geez, that was really nice of you---" you know, Joe, I just appreciate all that he does. He even bakes brownies for us. So we have good support here.

But I’m working on the Asian-American Youth Center, which is a non-profit organization. Everyone on the board is a volunteer. Then there’s always Friends of Columbus Park. As I mentioned, I grew up playing basketball at PS 1 and at Columbus Park. And at Columbus Park right now we’re trying to rebuild, there’s money there to rebuild the pavilion, and what we’re trying to do is get the Parks Department to accept the community’s suggestions about how they re-do the park, what they do with the park and how they re-do the pavilion.

The pavilion could be a community center. Right now it’s not, it hasn’t been utilized in about fifteen years, and it’s gone to the pigeons, and there’s money now, but, you know, we’re trying to work with the politicians, to get the Parks Department to understand that the community really needs their space. It’s just so important here. There really is no one community center here. Can you believe it? I mean, there’s the Chinatown Y, there are schools, public education schools, but we’d love to have a community center, where you can go and ask questions about what’s it like to be an immigrant here, what kinds of things should we learn. There are a lot of programs that try to do that, but there’s no one community where you can just go---there’s churches---but it’s different. It’s different, yeah.

Q: Do you feel like it’s difficult to get the city to acknowledge that need, as well?

WONG: Um, yes, I do. But I, we don’t know yet what to do, because we’re still pioneers, and we’re still struggling to understand the political system here and how to effect change. Yeah.

Q: Which just sounds like a lot of the early ‘70s community-building work---

WONG: ---Yeah----

Q: ---which is what you’re returning to.

WONG: Yes, I am, yeah.

Q: I also wanted to ask, um ---I’m drawing a blank--- Can we stop for a second?

WONG: I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes a mirror is grounding---


Q: Okay, sorry about that. I wanted to back up and talk a bit more about the trauma program at St. Vincent’s and how that’s organized. Is it directed only at the Chinatown community, do you deal with other kinds of clients----

WONG: Oh yes, I do. I deal with all kinds of, a multicultural clientele here. Yeah.

Q: And is it, is the program pitched to different communities? Or do you think this problem of entitlement is in some ways uniquely Chinese or also an immigrant experience in general?

WONG: It is. You’re right. It’s an immigrant experience. We only have so much funding, but we’re trying impact the adults and also the children and the adolescents, so St. Vincent’s has been able to go into the school system, so at Schulz Park High School there is a Chinese counselor, there is, um, in IS 131 there is a Chinese counselor, St. Joseph’s there was one, she’s on maternity leave. But yeah, we’ve been trying to go into the Chinese community.

And, yeah, there are English-speaking counselors, also. There are about twenty-five staff in the school systems. There’s only about four of us working with the adults. So I’m, ah, someone else and I are pretty much it for the Chinese-American community, but I don’t just work with the Chinese-Americans, I work with other clientele too. Yeah.

Q: So you speak with Cantonese speakers, and English speakers---

WONG: ---and English speakers, right.

Q: Would you say there are any sort of, generalized qualitative differences between the clientele you get from different communities compared to Chinese communities?

WONG: Hhmmm. Qualitative, generalized---I think that there are more coping skills in non-Chinese communities, because they’re coming here as----okay, if it’s professionals in the Asian-American community, I think they have more coping skills.

Q: What do mean by professionals?

WONG: Um, I mean the Asian-American professionals, and, you know, people who work in banks, or stockbrokers, or ah, that, that, people that work down here in the Wall Street area. Yeah.

Q: And then, compared to----

WONG: To the Chinese---

Q: --- to other kinds of ---

WONG: ---Chinese immigrants who have only been here about two or three years, or even ten years, who are now out of jobs. I guess it has to do with the English language again, you know, depending on your ability to speak English, you can get different jobs.

Q: Can you talk more about how the community responded to the SARS scares?

WONG: How the community responded to it.

Q: At least, through your clientele, through your observations.

WONG: Well, we---the community knew that we weren’t affected by SARS, but there were so many rumors and people who wanted to believe that there was SARS in the community. Yeah, we had a march in, I think April or so, where we walked through Chinatown trying to let everyone know that, you know, "Chinatown is safe!" Even Mayor Bloomberg and Hilary Clinton came to the Chinese community to let people know that it was really safe to eat in Chinatown. But we were still deeply effected by it, still, economically it cut the community. It was pretty hard. I think we’re just starting now to, people know that there’s no SARS here.

Q: I’m wondering also, do different kinds of issues of racism come up in your experience, in terms of, for example, how people perceive Chinatown and people deal with that in their daily lives?

WONG: Can you ask me more about that?

Q: Well, in terms, for example, of rumors of SARS, and then, how that effects people personally, or perhaps racism in every day life, say on the job, or just in the city. Have you come in contact with much of that, do you feel like that’s part of a major issue for people in general?

WONG: I’m still not understanding your question, I think. I’m not sure---

Q: Well, I’m just curious about, um---

WONG: On my job here, or the community----

Q: Well, your job here or your general experience in direct service centers.

WONG: Oh, okay, let’s see. Racism, I, when I went to the University of Pennsylvania, we were defining as race plus lack of resources plus fighting for those resources. I, I would say that yeah, SARS and the impact on Chinatown, there was an element of racism there. Sure, it was not knowing about this foreign population. Again, you know, we’ve only really been here for thirty years now, since ’65. Is that thirty years? It’s only twenty-something years. I mean, even though we’ve been here for a long time, but there was that Chinese Exclusion Act, and it wasn’t repealed for a hundred years. And so we’re still catching up. And so people still aren’t understanding.

We’re the model minority. We’re really doing well in schools, we’re in colleges, but then what about the new immigrants in this Chinese-American community, and how, how do people look at them? Well, you know, it’s always class. There’s class and race differences, and sometimes in the community right now it’s class and race. And what I mean by that is, you know, they look at people who have different ways of expressing themselves, who seem perhaps, I would still use the word "savage," because they still probably think of Chinese as different, maybe having the lower class savage practices, as not being health. So, you know, why would you want to go to a community that still has a high rate of tuberculosis, a high rate of this and that, and so it has effected.

I guess the other thing that recently came up was, well, was the Chinese-American, is the Chinese-American community still experiencing racism in politics and from, like the police department. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Park Row issue. The residents in Chatham Green and Chatham Towers, because they live right near, um, the First Police Precinct, they’ve had their lives changed as a result of 9/11. Majorly impacted, because they’re right there, and the streets are closed, and they have to live in a police state, so the kids grow up thinking they’re unsafe. So can you imagine what that is like, a police state? They always see police cars there.

Plus, it’s effected, it also has taken away parking. So people, when they come, they used to come from let’s say, New Jersey or Long Island to come shop in Chinatown, there’s no parking. That whole street has been blocked off, and then the municipal parking was right underneath there. That’s been blocked off. So, yeah, I mean, so many things have affected the Chinese community.

Q: So you see all these changes impacting the Chinese psyche?

WONG: Psyche and mental health. Yeah, all these kids are growing up and thinking it’s not safe, it’s not safe. I walk outside and I have to have police protect me.

Q: So then could you also talk more generally, either from professional experience or personal experience about how Chinatown has changed for you? Cause you’ve been here for awhile and you’ve also been very active for a good portion of that time. Cause there’s new immigrants, there’s new issues in the city government, all those things.

WONG: Ingrid, I’m not sure how to answer that right now. [laughter]

Q: How would you talk about the future of Chinatown?

WONG: Yeah, I know, I want to give hope but I can’t feel it right now [laughs]. Okay. Got it. Okay. Oh, Gosh, the community is just so large, at this point, and it just makes me really happy that we finally have a larger percentage. The New York Chinese-American community is one of the---it is the largest Chinese-American community [aside: I’m sorry] across the country. It, okay I’ll say that again. The Chinese-American community is the largest across the country, for New York, and I think it’s, yeah, according to the 2000 U.S. 2000 census, it is the largest in Chinatown, Manhattan.

And what’s wonderful is that we finally have some numbers, and hopefully, we’ll develop some voting capacity. I want to encourage every single person to go out there and register to vote, ‘cause that makes all the difference, all the difference in the eyes of the politicians. We need to develop our political power. And all the, the Chinese-American----because we have so many dialogues in Chinese, we’ve always had a lot of differences. People, the Chinese don’t know how to work with each other. And I, I guess through my days of working on facilitating this and facilitating workshops, I’m really hoping to facilitate some of that. But I don’t know. Really, a lot of it has to come from heart. People have to feel like they can trust each other. I’m really hoping that the Chinese-American leaders can work together to develop the community, and get services for the community, not just for oh, okay, my little pocket or my little pocket here. It’s again, scarcity of resources. But, um, you know, maybe the leaders can decide after we get the money how to divide it, but----

Q: Do you feel like there’s a possibility for that, because it seems to me that in some ways your experience is very unique in that you’ve stayed in the community and you’ve worked and lived here. Whereas often there’s a high turnover rate, some people choose to move out or not necessarily to reinvest in the community.

WONG: Could you say----

Q: Do you have a sense that there’s sort of a growing critical mass of interest in working on these issues in Chinatown?

WONG: Oh, yes, I actually sense that how 9/11 has effected people is that they are more interested in living life to its fullest and maybe contributing. I mean, for one, I said, that’s where I want to be, I want to work with people who have trouble still with 9/11. I wanted to be of service to the world that way. And then, to my community to. So, I’m hoping that, you know, this message will be brought to a lot of people and that more people will come out to help. So. Okay. That’s a wrap? [laughs]


Jack Chin, Male, 60s -- Shop owner

Interviewed by Teri Chan

Q: We can begin. Today is January 7, 2004. My name is Teri Chan. I’m at the New Crown Inc., which is located at 57-59 Mott Street in Chinatown, New York. Please tell us your Chinese name and English name.

CHIN: My Chinese name is Chin Won Kun. My English name is Jack Chin.

Q: When were you born, and where?

CHIN: I was born in China, in 1939.

Q: Where in China?

CHIN: In Guangdong, Taishan.

Q: Is Taishan a city or a village?

CHIN: It’s a city. The village is Tai Chun.

Q: Were you born in the city or in the countryside?

CHIN: In the countryside.

Q: When did you come to America?

CHIN: 1954.

Q: At that time, about how old were you?

CHIN: 12 years old.

Q: How did you come to America?

CHIN: Well, it’s like this, my father applied for us to go to America and then go to Canada.

Q: You came to America first. Where in America?

CHIN: The first place I came to in America was San Francisco.

Q: How long did you live in San Francisco?

CHIN: I just went through immigration there.

Q: And then where did you go in Canada?

CHIN: Then we went to Cornwall, Ontario. And then we went to Montreal, and at that time I was in high school.

Q: Did you come over as a family, or by yourself?

CHIN: When I came, it was with my mother and my cousin.

Q: With your mother and your cousin?

CHIN: No, my mother came over later.

Q: It was you and your—

CHIN: Cousin.

Q: Cousin. Why was it just you and your cousin? How was your cousin able to come with you?

CHIN: At that time, my mother was still in the countryside, in Guangzhou. I could already go through Hong Kong. I had already come over, but my mother was in Mainland China and at that time, she still hadn’t been approved (for immigration).

Q: Why did you first go to Hong Kong even though your mother hadn’t gone there yet?

CHIN: At that time, we had to have our application approved in order to go to Hong Kong. I had already gone to Hong Kong, but she wasn’t approved to emigrate.

Q: At that time was it legal to apply to emigrate?

CHIN: Yes. But it was harder to get approved in China at that time.

Q: Back in the countryside, did you have brothers or sisters?

CHIN: My older brother went to Canada a little earlier. He went to Canada one or two years before me.

Q: And you didn’t apply together?

CHIN: Yes, we applied together. But the problem was that at that time my brother was in Hong Kong and I was in Guangzhou.

Q: What did your father do in Canada?

CHIN: My father ran a restaurant and a grocery store in Canada.

Q: When did he go to Canada?

CHIN: He’d been there a long time. He must have gone there before I had been born. At that time he had gone over there as a student to study abroad.

Q: At that time, did he feel that studying abroad was a very common thing, or was it pretty difficult?

CHIN: I don’t know about that. I know that he arranged to go to Canada as an overseas student, that’s what I heard them say then.

Q: Then how about you, what were your feelings when you first arrived in Canada? How did you feel?

CHIN: At that time I was still young. I played, I had a good time.

Q: Had you gone to Canada to learn English?

CHIN: Yes, I learned English in Canada.

Q: How long did you stayed in Canada?

CHIN: About ten years.

Q: And then where did you move to next?

CHIN: To New York.

Q: Why did you move to New York?

CHIN: Because my wife’s brothers and sisters were all there. At that time, it was easier to find jobs here. So we came here.

Q: Where did you meet your wife?

CHIN: In Hong Kong.

Q: So after you came to Canada, you went back to Hong Kong and met your wife?

CHIN: Yes. We were distance relatives, and somebody introduced us.

Q: Can I ask, at that time, how old were you?

CHIN: I was about 21 or 22 back then.

Q: At that time, was it considered to be a young age to get married?

CHIN: Kind of.

Q: So what were your feelings back then?

CHIN: At that time, our generation obeyed our parents’ wishes. We listened to our parents to start a family. So it was relatively early.

Q: It was your father and mother that told you to go back to Hong Kong and meet this girl.

CHIN: Yes.

Q: So what differences do you feel existed between your life in Canada and your life in New York?

CHIN: I believe that funding for social programs is better in Canada than here. But if we’re talking about working or doing business, then it’s better here, there are more opportunities.

Q: Why are there more opportunities here?

CHIN: The population here, there’s more people here. A wealthier city is going to be busier than other places.

Q: When you came to New York, where did you live? Was it in Chinatown?

CHIN: When I first came, I lived in Brooklyn. At 18th Avenue and 52nd Street.

Q: At that time, when you lived there, were there any Chinese people?

CHIN: Yes, there were a few Chinese people.

Q: Why did you live there?

CHIN: Because at that time, when we came – my wife’s sister’s classmate had bought a place there, so we went there to live.

Q: What was your first job?

CHIN: It was right here as a waiter.

Q: At which place? At which restaurant?

CHIN: At the Four Seasons, Blues Hall, at the intersection of 57th Street and Park Avenue.

Q: Why did you go there to work? Was your English already very good back then?

CHIN: What should I say - it wasn’t good, but I could make do.

Q: At that time, was it an American restaurant?

CHIN: It was a Chinese restaurant, a restaurant that was owned by a Chinese and an American.

Q: What year was that?

CHIN: That was around 1970.

Q: As far as working around the Midtown area goes, how did you feel about the opportunities there?

CHIN: At that time, I worked five days a week. On my day off, I went back to Chinatown, to the Louis Zhong’s Bar, and would be there for the day. It was a part time job.

Q: What was the name?

CHIN: Louis Zhong.

Q: Louis Zhong?

CHIN: Yeah.

Q: Where was it?

CHIN: Now it’s at a corner by China Bank [China Trust Bank].

Q: On what street?

CHIN: At the corner of Mulberry and Canal. The second place down.

Q: At that time, how was your work situation in Midtown?

CHIN: It was pretty strict. We started work pretty much around 5pm. For example, at five o’clock the restaurant started up and we had to be on standby, we had to be at our positions in the waiters’ stations.

Q: You only worked afternoons?

CHIN: No. We had morning shift and we also worked dinners.

Q: How did they treat you?

CHIN: Average. Just average. A little better than they do in Chinatown.

Q: In what way was it a little better?

CHIN: At that time, our clients were a little higher class. We were paid by the hour.. They counted each hour of work. So it was a few dollars per hour. They counted you by the hours you worked. Not like Chinatown here where they do it different, they pay monthly. We did it by the hour.

Q: Did you get to keep your tips?

CHIN: Yes, we got to keep the tips.

Q: At that time, how were your tips distributed?

CHIN: Whatever the customers gave us belonged to us. Whatever they gave to the captain belonged to the captain. Whatever they gave to the coat check people belonged to them. It was separate for everyone.

Q: Is it still the same now?

CHIN: I don’t think that restaurant is still in business.

Q: How long did you work there?

CHIN: I worked there for about nine years.

Q: Did you ever have any special experiences, strange, unusual or happy incidents, having worked there that long?

CHIN: You know, at that time, there were some – we were managed by those mangers. As waiters, sometimes when you were lucky, you had some customers who were really good people. And sometimes they weren’t so good. As far as we were concerned, it averaged out. At that time, we made 700, 800 dollars a month.

Q: Was that considered a high salary back then?

CHIN: That’s how I got by.

Q: How was it different from your work at the bar?

CHIN: As far as the bar goes, whenever I was off, I just went to the bar in Chinatown and worked as a waiter. Sometimes when the owner took a break or went on vacation, he would have me help him look the place over, and sometimes—

Q: The bar also served food?

CHIN: It was a restaurant. It started as a restaurant. But most of the people who went there drink alcohol.

Q: What kind of people went there to drink?

CHIN: Chinese people and Italians.

Q: At that time, what was Canal Street like?

CHIN: At that time, Canal Street wasn’t as busy as now.

Q: What kind of people were they, and what kind of businesses did they have, back then?

CHIN: At that time, half of them were Italians, and then there were Chinese. Some [inaudible] that’s all I know.

Q: What were most Chinese people doing for a living back then?

CHIN: Back then, Chinese people worked in restaurants, or dry clean, and lots of garment factories. Before, Chinatown had seven—according to what some people said, back then, Chinatown had more than seven hundred garment shops. Now, I think there are a hundred, or maybe seventy or eighty. That’s what I heard people say, I don’t personally know. I don’t work in that industry.

Q: How did you change careers and work in this company?

CHIN: At that time, we had a friend, back when we started at downstairs of the C.H. Oak Tin Association, our friend had been working in a restaurant. And then he started working at a bank. And I heard people saying that they were going to do something – that they were going to start up at Bayard Street, in 1979. So I didn’t do the restaurant anymore. I started working at Bayard Street.

Q: That time, it was the same store, but it was on Bayard Street?

CHIN: Around nineteen eighty—or it must be in 1990, we moved over here.

Q: At that time what did you sell?

CHIN: At first we just sold those ceramics. We sold those magazines and newspapers.

Q: But the main thing was selling ceramics –

CHIN: No, at that time, we sold a lot of newspapers there. At that time, there weren’t so many newspaper stands along that street. Back then, on Grand Street (?), we sold a lot of newspapers. In one day, we could at least sell eight or nine hundred copies. How much money was each copy worth? It was a newspaper market.

Q: At that time, how many different newspapers did you sell? Do you remember?

CHIN: At that time, there was Sing Tao, United, North America and News Daily, these ones…

Q: So in all, there were four newspapers—

CHIN: And China Press [Qiao Bao]. Back then, there was also China Press.

Q: What was the address on Bayard Street?

CHIN: Number 62-64.

Q: Was it the same name?

CHIN: Before it was Crown, Inc. After the move, it became New Crown, Inc.

Q: At that time, it wasn’t your own – your friend invited you—

CHIN: It’s mine, it’s my own. It’s just that they went to the restaurant business and then banking. I took it over.

Q: You bought it ?

CHIN: Yeah, we took it over.

Q: What made you decide to take it over? You had never done this sort of business before?

CHIN: It’s like this. At that time, I had worked as a waiter for roughly nine years. To do something like this, to come out and make this sort of change – back then, a lot of people, they all came to me and talked with me and helped me out. It was enough to support the family. So what happened was, a lot of people came up to me and told me to and tried it, it would be alright.

Q: Was it difficult in the beginning? Did you make money?

CHIN: It was very difficult at first because I hadn’t done this sort of business before. So that was why my business wasn’t so ideal then. Slowly, over time, I built it up.

Q: Did it take a long time?

CHIN: After seven or eight months, I got used to it. I had a hard time for about seven or eight months. Back then, my uncle and friends, they’d often come over to support me and help me.

Q: How did they support you? Did they buy your things? How did they help you?

CHIN: Some people said to me that if I needed some money, they could invest some money with me. I took their advice, but I didn’t take the money. Sometimes, there were some—

Q: I know that the main customers for the newspapers are Chinese. But who are the main customers for the ceramics?

CHIN: Back then, it was mostly Chinese people. Gradually, Westerners began seeking us out too.

Q: Back then, did many visitors come to Chinatown? Were there many Western tourists?

CHIN: At that time, when I was on Bayard Street, it flourished at night. So we stayed open until midnight. Back then, Bayard Street was a lot more lively than Mott Street. For a while, back when we were running the business, along pretty much the whole street, there were lots of restaurants open through the night. Lots of restaurants stayed open until five o’clock.

Q: When did all that start to change – when did Bayard Street stop being so busy?

CHIN: Not long after we moved over here, Bayard Street wasn’t as busy at night time.

Q: Why did you move to this location?

CHIN: Because back then there were two [people], one relative, one friend, they always helped me, they helped me to succeed. They helped me voluntarily at the company. So I asked them, if you’re interested, I’ll move to this place and we’ll run it together. I put out the basic goods. They agreed to it. That’s how we got a place here and started running it.

Q: How did you find this space for your business?

CHIN: A friend introduced me to it.

Q: I’d like to ask, back then how much was the rent for this location?

CHIN: The rent for this space was over three thousand dollars back then.

Q: Did you have a lease, or did you just have a verbal agreement about the rent?

CHIN: We began at number 59. Over here, the landlord is friendlier. We get along pretty good – our landlord is pretty good now.

Q: These two shops are together, right?

CHIN: Yes. We were at number 59 before. This one is number 57.

Q: After you moved over here, what was the main thing you sold? Did you sell the same things, or you were selling different things?

CHIN: It was pretty much the same things.

Q: But I see a lot of furniture, when did you start selling other things?

CHIN: I moved over here in ninety-something, ’92, ’93, and I started selling furniture. So I must have started doing that back in ’92.

Q: Have you seen any changes in Chinatown since you moved here? During these dozen or so years, how has it changed?

CHIN: After moving over here, I think it’s thriving a little more than it used to. At that time, [my business] was easier to run.

Q: How was it easier?

CHIN: Huh?

Q: How come it was easier back in the past?

CHIN: Competition. Back then, there wasn’t so much competition. I guess that’s it, I don’t know. It was just easier back then.

Q: How about the last few years? How has business been?

CHIN: These last few years, well, it’s pretty average.

Q: Could you please tell us about how 9/11 has impacted your business? Has it had any influence, and if so, what kind?

CHIN: Ever since 9/11, it’s influenced [inaudible] things—

Q: I can’t understand you.

CHIN: The impact has been really extreme – we’ve fallen off a bit.

Q: And what’s the reason for that?

CHIN: Huh?

Q: Why is it that your business has suffered so much?

CHIN: There are fewer tourists.

Q: Let me ask you from the beginning. Where were you when 9/11 occurred?

CHIN: At home.

Q: And where was that?

CHIN: I was at my Chinatown apartment.

Q: Upstairs?

CHIN: Upstairs.

Q: How long have you lived in Chinatown?

CHIN: I’ve lived in Chinatown for 15 years.

Q: How did you know what had happened?

CHIN: My son called and told me, something big had happened in New York, at the World Trade Center. He told me to turn on the TV immediately. At that time, the first airplane had turned right into it, and we thought it was an accident. But I turned on the TV, and when I turned it on, I saw the second airplane flew into it. They had done it intentionally. And at that time I saw all that.

Q: Did you come out and watch?

CHIN: At that time, I came out right here. But at that time, we didn’t open the doors. But everyone was walking right here. They were from Wall Street, walking through here. Lots of them. Those people, their hair, their clothes, there was so much dust. Seeing it at that time was even more terrifying.

Q: Did you think that you should also go away?

CHIN: At that time, how should I put it, my son and daughter were here. With that in mind - where could we go? I mean, we would just see what would happen.

Q: Where were your son and daughter?

CHIN: My daughter was in New Jersey. My son was in Los Angels, in Hollywood.

Q: And your wife, where was she that day?

CHIN: We were both at the Chinatown apartment.

Q: Can you talk about how 9/11 impacted your business?

CHIN: It had a huge influence.

Q: Why?

CHIN: Because there were fewer tourists. People didn’t dare to come to New York. I asked a lot of friends, relatives, they said that they were worried about coming to New York. Therefore less visitors.

Q: Then, at that time, your main customers were Chinese or Westerners?

CHIN: To be honest, for those of us who work here in Chinatown, the important thing is to have lots of tourists. Lots of New Yorkers are our customers too. But we mainly sell souvenirs to tourists.

Q: Did you apply for any economic assistance money?

CHIN: Yes.

Q: How did you know that there was money for economic assistance?

CHIN: Next door there were some restaurants, some friends, and all of them, they insisted we had the right to go and get it. So we went to apply and got it.

Q: Where did you go to apply?

CHIN: To the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA).

Q: Do you think they helped you?

CHIN: They helped out some, they helped.

Q: Do you think that it was difficult to apply?

CHIN: It wasn’t that difficult. But it also wasn’t easy.

Q: What about it wasn’t easy? What about it wasn’t difficult?

CHIN: There were some questions, they needed to ask a bunch of questions, and there were those requirements, that stuff. And I had to find the accountant, get documentation, need to prove things. I just had to do some stuff, and there was so much to do. But speaking frankly, it was necessary. It should be like this in order to get compensation, it shouldn’t be just slipshod.

Q: But you think that other people would find it to be pretty difficult?

CHIN: If you’re legitimate, then it shouldn’t be a big deal. If you want to do something legitimately, just follow the law and do it.

Q: Do you think that the economic assistance funds were sufficient?

CHIN: This question... [Laughs] What should I say? At that time, doing business was really – considering the impact on Chinatown, it wasn’t enough. At that time, it wasn’t just my one place, but rather every single shop, they all suffered after 9/11.

Q: Besides going to the CCBA to apply, did you also apply anywhere else?

CHIN: No. As far as that, they told our company, there was someone at the CCBA, he went to Church Street to get it. That’s the place. Can get some economic assistance, three days of economic assistance would be a few thousand dollars. That’s not enough to compensate for such a long period of business.

Q: How long was your business weakened?

CHIN: It was impacted for a rather long time.

Q: So about half a year? One year? Three months?

CHIN: It still hasn’t stopped. It still isn’t very ideal.

Q: Then—

CHIN: To speak frankly, it’s only been the last few weeks, I’m talking about after 9/11 – maybe it’s the good weather – but these two or three weeks, business has been very good, not bad. I hope that things continue this way. [Laughs]

Q: So how was business before 9/11?

CHIN: Huh?

Q: So what was Chinatown like before 9/11? How was your business? What was Chinatown like?

CHIN: There wasn’t so much pressure, it was more relaxed. You could easily keep everything stable.

Q: Since your business has been bad since 9/11, have you thought any way to improve it? How to fix this situation?

CHIN: You have to ask yourself, you have to think about what to do.

Q: So do you have any new plan?

CHIN: Huh?

Q: Have you thought of any new way to handle the situation? Could you speak a little bit, to educate others, how best to get through this situation?

CHIN: You just rely on yourself now, how to solve your own difficulties.

Q: Have you asked friends to help?

CHIN: Yes.

Q: Can you speak about some of the problems resulting from 9/11?

CHIN: There were problems, yes—

Q: If—

CHIN: I hope the community could help out Chinatown, improve Chinatown. The CCBA should do something for the businesses, the neighbors, the government, do some things – I think that the CCBA hasn’t done enough for the businesses. Just look at Little Italy, it’s so small, and yet they’ve done so much to make it prosperous, they’ve done such a good job. Our CCBA, I’ll put it like this, they don’t do as much, and they don’t learn from others how to do things. I wish that whoever it is, acting as chairman of the CCBA, the CCBA should go study the excellent things others are doing, and they should improve themselves. The CCBA should unite and lead. Whatever’s the best way to lead, they should work together to improve Chinatown.

Q: Other than the CCBA, is there any other community group that you wish would help out?

CHIN: Of course I wish they would!

Q: Is there any specific community group you wish would take action?

CHIN: Whichever community group is fine with me, if they can serve us in Chinatown, the businesses, help us Chinese-Americans.

Q: So do you think—

CHIN: It really doesn’t matter which community group, whichever one.

Q: Do you think that’s because the city government doesn’t place enough importance on Chinatown?

CHIN: I feel a little bit that way, a little.

Q: What do you think that Chinatown can do to make the city and state governments care about it more?

CHIN: That all depends on those leaders, those Chinese-Americans, those thinkers, those in the political world, they’ve got to communicate, tell them to come help Chinatown to develop and so forth, and learn how to do these things. Look at Little Italy, and you see them so prosperous, doing so well. Such a small area, and yet they’ve done so well. Chinatown is such a large area, yet we haven’t learned how to do it.

Q: Then have you ever thought of stepping forward, helping out, acting as a spokesperson for Chinatown? Acting as a leader?

CHIN: No, I don’t have that kind of talent.

Q: Then what kind of individual do you think can be a leader for Chinatown?

CHIN: We should look for those individuals whose education and political backgrounds enable them to communicate, those who are fluent in English. We don’t use Chinese language outside, we need to speak both Chinese and English. If you have someone who only speaks Chinese as our leader, his English isn’t going to be good enough. It will take time to translate and interact, and that’s more difficult.

Q: Have you encouraged your children to return to Chinatown and act as this sort of leader?


Q: Why not?

CHIN: I haven’t. They were born here. They have their own way of thinking, different from our way of thinking.

Q: Have you taken part in any of Chinatown’s activities, community organizations?

CHIN: Yes, we’re involved. We’re a part of this area, because we’re doing business here. Sometimes they call on me to manage their financial affairs, that sort of thing.

Q: Who do you manage for?

CHIN: I help associations, like the C.H. Oak Tin Association, On Tin Club, and Shiu Kai Fong, to manage their finances.

Q: How do you help them manage their finances? How much time do you spend doing it?

CHIN: Not much. Sometimes I help them manage their finances, doing things in Chinatown. Sometimes, if I can help the public, then I help. I help out, that’s what I do. I use a little of my time.

Q: How do you help them? You help them to collect [membership] fee? Or do you help them write check?

CHIN: Sometimes I help them by signing checks. Sometimes I help them to deposit money into their checking accounts.

Q: How did you start helping them, volunteering to do these things?

CHIN: I volunteer to do it.

Q: How did you start?

CHIN: It was a long time ago, when I was working Chinatown, back in nineteen eighty-something, starting in ’82, ’83, doing stuff for them.

Q: Have they ever helped you out in return?

CHIN: Huh?

Q: Have they ever turned around and helped you?

CHIN: The associations belong to everybody. If you’re part of the group, then you want the group to do well.

Q: How did you became a member of these associations?

CHIN: It was those older men that called on me to join. Back then, when I came back to run the business in Chinatown, I started helping out in the associations. It was like that.

Q: You joined the associations because the businesspeople were there? Or because you’re originally from the same place [in China]?

CHIN: At that time, I joined the associations because I was doing business in Chinatown everyone knew each other, everyone was pretty much in contact with each other, everyone—

Q: So all the members were people doing business in Chinatown?

CHIN: Some of them weren’t. Some of them were. It wasn’t all.

Q: I hear at that time, the associations was very powerful. Is that true?

CHIN: At that time, one of the associations was very powerful, it was the Chinese Merchant’s Association. And there was the Hip Sing Association, its powerful was greater.

Q: How were they powerful? Why were they so powerful?

CHIN: Because they protected their members. That was the way that, sometimes—

Q: How did they protect their members?

CHIN: Huh?

Q: How did they protect their members?

CHIN: I’m not really clear on that. I know that whenever they had problems, they would help their members. They wouldn’t oppress [take advantage of] people. They would handle things fairly. They would just be fair, right or wrong, they would do it like that.

Q: How about you, have you ever been taken advantage by anybody while doing business in Chinatown?

CHIN: In Chinatown, we haven’t really been taken advantage by anyone. If you do business in Chinatown, you would have some protection by joining these associations. At least, everyone works together to solve problems.

Q: How are you protected?

CHIN: Huh?

Q: How are you protected?

CHIN: If there’s some crisis, then everybody talks about how to solve it.

Q: I’ve heard that at that time, toughs would come over to get “lucky envelopes” [money], was that true?

CHIN: That was true. During Chinese New Years, they would delivery a plate of lucky fruits, then one person [tough] would take a hundred and some dollars, several hundred dollars, like that. Some of them paid protection money, every month they have to pay protection money, the restaurants. That’s what I hear anyway. I don’t know if it was true or not.

Q: You didn’t have to pay?

CHIN: I’ve never given any [protection money]. But during New Year, or the fifteenth of August [Moon Festival], they would bring some mooncakes and I’d give a hundred and some dollars. Or during New Year, they would bring some lucky fruits and I would give a hundred and some dollars to them.

Q: How long has this situation been going on?

CHIN: Well, this kind of situation started when I began in 1980. At the beginning, when I had just started, I would give a red envelope of several hundred dollars to those toughs. Or else they would do something.

Q: And when do you stop?

CHIN: I already stopped doing that many years ago.

Q: Five years ago? Ten years ago?

CHIN: It’s been at least seven or eight years. Ever since Chinatown started to clean up that kind of thing, those toughs—

Q: Was it the government that cleaned them up, or did the police get rid of them?

CHIN: I don’t know about that. Whether it was the government or the police, I’m not really sure. But anyway, during these last eight or ten years, that type of thing hasn’t been happening.

Q: So nobody else has tried to bother you?

CHIN: No. Not in the last few years.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say about Chinatown, or about yourself?

CHIN: I wish that the Chinese-American leaders of Chinatown, that is those leaders in the CCBA, I hope that they will interact with the city government to get them to help us, to save our Chinatown. Because our Chinatown is – we have so many businesses here, so many people here, but we haven’t gotten significant attention, not like Little Italy, I wish that we—

Q: Then what plans do you have for the next few years? What plans do you have for this shop?

CHIN: I rent this place. As far as that goes, I’m good friends with the landlord, we’re friends, we get along pretty well. As long as the landlord lets me rent it, I’ll rent it. (Laughs)

Q: Then when would you like to retire?

CHIN: Huh? (Coughs)

Q: Then when do you intend to retire?

CHIN: How should I put it, this is something I haven’t -- when I have time, there’s still plenty of time to retire, I’m still working hard. It’s not time yet.

Q: So what does your wife do?

CHIN: She helps me out.

Q: So you—

CHIN: She comes and goes, she also works. Sometimes she comes and helps me.

Q: How many people work for you?

CHIN: Three.

Q: Are you open seven days a week?

CHIN: Yes.

Q: And what are your business hours?

CHIN: Usually it’s 11 AM to 9 PM.

Q: That’s a long time to be open each day.

CHIN: Ten hours. All of us Chinese here go by the time.

Q: Have you ever gone back to China or Hong Kong for vacation?

CHIN: We go back to China two or three times a year to get new goods. It’s not for vacation. It’s always to go to the factories and get goods.

Q: What do your children do?

CHIN: My daughter is an accountant, a CPA. My son is in business management.

Q: Are you satisfied with their choice of work, with their lives?

CHIN: It’s OK. We struggle really hard, but my children make good money. You know Chinese people have a tradition: the parents should go without eating if necessary and struggle in order to give the children food and let them study hard. They study hard and gain some skills, they get a good job, and that’s our—

Q: Have you thought about asking your children to come back and continue your business?

CHIN: We struggle so much, and we are only taking a salaries. But they have such freedom, they already have really good jobs, they wouldn’t want to work so hard just to make a living. It would make no sense for me to tell them to come back and do this kind of work.

Q: One day when you retire, do you intend to live in Chinatown, or would you like to move somewhere else?

CHIN: I also have a home in Queens now. I always come back. This is where I work, and it’s more convenient. I can go outside and come back in.

Q: When would you like to retire and live in Queens?

CHIN: That’s what my wife wants now.

Q: Where in Queens?

CHIN: It’s in Briwood.

Q: Briwood. Are there many Chinese there? Why did you choose to live there?

CHIN: We’ve had that place for a long time already. We bought a place there back in ’73.

Q: Why did you choose that place?

CHIN: At that time, that place wasn’t so expensive, it also wasn’t so cheap, it was a few tens of thousands of dollars. We were able to afford it.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

CHIN: Nothing else.

Q: OK. Thank you very much, Mr. Chin.

[end of session]

Ting Deng Ng, Male, 70s -- Former President of CCBA

Interviewed by Florence Ng

Q: This is the Museum of Chinese in the Americas’ historical oral recordings. Today we have invited the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association chairman, Mr. Ting Deng Ng, for an interview. I am Florence Ng, and I will conduct the interview. Could you please tell us when you came to America?

NG: I came towards the end of 1975 to America. Before 1975, I went from mainland China to Hong Kong, and then came to America. For eighteen years, I worked in the Hong Kong educational environment. When I first came to America I, well, when I first came to America, the main reason was that I was concerned about my children’s education, I had four children that were going to go to college, and at that time, Hong Kong’s situation was very difficult, and there weren’t so many slots for students, and college was very difficult… So I came to America. Having arrived in America, my whole family worked at textile factories, laundries, restaurants, and for over ten years, I worked continuously for the sake of my daughters. So as far as that time goes, I didn’t really know much about New York’s Chinatown. That’s because I didn’t work in Chinatown during that time. I worked on the outside, in places like Manhattan and Queens, so I didn’t know too much about New York’s Chinatown. Ten years ago I had retired, and since I didn’t have anything to do after retirement, I went back to a family clan organization, and other community organizations, localized, locally organized community groups, and I joined some organizations of people with the same birthplaces. I got to know Chinatown from that time on.

Q: Chairman Ng, when you first came to America, what was your impression of Chinatown? What problems existed in Chinatown?

NG: In 1975 when I came, back in 1975, Chinatown didn’t have so many immigrants. The immigrants started coming after the eighties. When I came, most of Chinatown was garment factories, textile shops, and, as far as Chinese people went, they worked in textile shops or in restaurants. At that time, Chinatown wasn’t so flourishing. It was very quiet. That was thirty years ago.

Q: At that time, did Chinatown have any serious problems, such as safety, housing, or troublemakers?

NG: Back then, Chinatown, because most of the… the history goes like this, in the beginning, most of the people in New York’s Chinatown had been from Taishan, there were lots of people from Taishan, and a lot of decisions were made by those from Taishan, all the way until they created the Lian-cheng Gong-suo. In Chinatown, Wen-ye was mainly used by the people from Taishan. This situation continued all the way until the eighties before it started to change, because in the 80s, China became more open, and after it became more open, lots of new immigrants came. Due to the shock of this wave of new immigrants, Chinatown changed. It started to change. In any case… Because the living area within Chinatown is so restricted, a lot of the new immigrants expanded out into the outer areas, developing into the surrounding areas. Chinatown couldn’t handle so many new people, living there, staying there, working there, and so forth, and that’s why they expanded into the surrounding areas. So after the 80s, it shifted and expanded towards Flushing, Brooklyn, and developed into these new areas.

Q: Chairman Ng, when you joined the community organizations and did public service, which of the major groups did you join first?

NG: It was the Wu Xu Shan Gong-suo.

Q: At that time, what role did you serve?

NG: At that time, I joined and served as a copy clerk, a secretary. I acted as a secretary on behalf of Wu Xu Shan Gong-suo. And I also joined the Hai-yan Same-Village Organization, this was one of the Chinese-American same-village organizations within the Chinese Community Center. We had all been born in the same area, and I acted as the chairman of the Hai-yan Same-Village Organization. Later, I joined the Taishan Province Independent Middle School Alumni Organization, I joined that, and acted as the meeting chief for six years. Now I am still the chairperson of the Dong-shi Committee. After the eighties, I joined the Xie-sheng Gonghui, and the American Business Assistance Organization when I joined I became the secretary, I acted as the secretary for them all the way to today.

Q: Chairman Ng, how did you later join the CCBA?

NG: Well, it was like this, I was in a number of organizations, and I had worked as a chairman and a clerk and a secretary, and I came into contact with more and more of the Chinese-American organizations in the Chinatown Chinese-American community. There were a lot of meetings with Chinese-American organizations because I had acted as the chairman for sixty Chinese-American organizations, and often came back to hold meetings, so I met a lot of them.

Q: Chairman Ng, I believe you took office in 2002?

NG: Yes.

Q: So that was already about half a year after 9/11 occurred. How big was the impact of 9/11 upon Chinatown, in your opinion?

NG: Oh, it’s like this. Before I had taken office, the previous chairman, in ’01 -- At the time of 9/11, Zhong Qiao-zheng had been acting as the chairman of the CCBA. Ever since 9/11 occurred, the CCBA has done a lot.

Q: What do you think was the greatest impact that 9/11 had upon Chinatown, for example, which businesses or areas were most affected?

NG: 9/11 had a big impact on Chinatown. Ever since 9/11, since they closed off all the roads, it affected – all of Chinatown was paralyzed. Since nobody could move, business couldn’t go forward for about a week or two. Factories and textile mills all closed up, and transportation was stuck, causing there to be more and more unemployed people. So all of the business in Chinatown was impacted. After a few weeks, when they lifted the restrictions on entering, Chinatown couldn’t rebound, and business… There was nobody coming to Chinatown. The businesses at the time, all of the businesspeople suffered to an extent that can’t be put into words.

Q: After 9/11 occurred, did the CCBA lead in coordinating other organizations to do some services and planning related to disaster relief?

NG: In that regard, Chairman Zhong Qiao-zheng, in 2001, Chairman Zhong Qiao-zheng was serving when 9/11 took place, and the CCBA immediately opened all our locations and let those relief organizations set up in our community centers. We supplied these locations without attaching any conditions. Lots of relief organizations, even government economic assistance organizations, all set up at the CCBA. We hoped that we could diligently assist the government, and we worked hard to help our Chinatown citizens.

Q: How big was the effect of 9/11 upon Chinatown? Has the total loss been calculated?

NG: There hasn’t been an official calculation. I think that at that time, for one year or half a year, none of the businesses could go forward, and all of them, not just some of them, they all said that they had huge losses.

Q: Chairman Ng, where were you when 9/11 occurred?

NG: I was in Chinatown when 9/11 occurred. I was there until after 9/11, in March of 2002, when I took over as the chairman of the CCBA. I continued with all of the work that had been done by the previous chairman, and we did things more openly. After I took over… it was like this… the important thing was restoring the economy of Chinatown, the most important and most critical first step was restoring the economy of Chinatown. In that regard, what I did was, I cleaned up Chinatown, that’s the first thing, I wanted to clean up and beautify Chinatown, and I wanted everything about it to attract visitors, because Chinatown is a tourist destination. If the visitors don’t come, then it doesn’t matter what we do, everything will be useless. So in that way, we worked hard to attract tourists, and we did things like hold parades and floats. Last year was the most successful, there were two or three hundred thousand people that came and took part in our parade activities, and we wanted to try hard to attract more of these visitors, because that’s the only way to restore Chinatown’s economy.

For many years, we requested that the government come and help us fix the roads, because a couple years ago the roads in Chinatown were really bumpy and raggedy and driving wasn’t convenient, and so we requested that the government fix the roads. They’ve already completed it, and they’ve opened up all the roads again. Now there’s only Park Row that hasn’t yet been reopened, the rest have been reopened. This has been a big help to Chinatown. Next, we worked hard to negotiate with the government about the parking problem. In addition, we have already started making a ceremonial gateway, we want to create a Chinese-style, a colorful Eastern, Chinese-style ceremonial gateway in Chinatown. We’ve collected donations from a lot of good people. Our work has already gone through the second district, and got the help of the third district and Manhattan, so we can do it. We’ve already asked Mr. De He Tie Ji to help us apply to the government on these plans. This work is all to beautiful Chinatown, and to attract visitors.

NG: In the beginning when I was at Hong Kong, because I had some siblings and some relatives, all of them in America. My entire family had already left mainland China then, they had all left mainland China.

Q: Left where in China?

NG: Taishan. Taishan in Canton. I’m of Taishan descent. After 1957, our entire family left Taishan. The old folks, several of the old folks, some somewhat younger ones and my sister, everyone came to America and Canada. Myself, I stayed in Hong Kong, because I hadn’t… I had to stay in Hong Kong to finish my education. I remained there all the way through 1967 or ’68, when Hong Kong started becoming having violent protests, at which time I had already applied to come to America. My older relatives applied for me to come, and I was accepted, but I didn’t go, at the time I thought that there was no point in coming to America. Especially if we could live all right in Hong Kong, we didn’t want to come to America and struggle. Especially my old folks and my other relatives all said: “You’re a teacher, and people in academics are useless in America, because you can’t speak English, so if you come, it’s just to suffer.” And they didn’t encourage me to go. Now, 1967 and ’68 was a time of violent protests in Hong Kong, and I had been accepted, but I didn’t go. All the way until ’73 or ’74, I continued to stay and work in Hong Kong, temporarily at Bo-ya Academy.

Because of my children, my children, they had all studied from elementary school to high school, and three or four of them were going to go to college in a row. In the 70s, in Hong Kong, having several children to go to college was an impossible financial burden, unless you were a rich family. It was just an impossible burden. The second problem was that at that time there weren’t enough slots for students in colleges in Hong Kong, there was only one Hong Kong University and a newly established Chinese Literature University, just these two. And in these circumstances, my children would have no chance of studying further. And my own abilities weren’t sufficient to provide, to provide for my children. In ’73, I had a daughter who tried to get into college, but was unable to test into it. She didn’t get a high enough score. After they finished studying at secondary school, they’d have to start work, and none of them felt they had any hope for the future. And so I decided to come to America. Standard of living was one thing, but the main issue was my children. I had heard, although I didn’t know it personally, in America, if you want to study, you can always study. And it was in search of that ideal that I brought them over with me.

Q: Chairman Ng, after you came to America, was the life there the same as what you had imagined? Or how did you adjust?

NG: I, I, as far as I go, I just do whatever, it doesn’t matter. Even when I was in mainland China, if I ploughed the field, I just ploughed it. In this regard, I didn’t think of doing anything else, I didn’t give up on things, I definitely wouldn’t do that. I just hoped that I could be very stable, that my life would be stable and that my children got a good education. That’s all.

Q: Chairman Ng, when you taught in Hong Kong, what did you teach, what classes and where?

NG: It’s like this, I was at an academy, Bernard College, I was an administrative head and I managed the administration.

Q: OK, Chairman Ng, could you please introduce to us to the CCBA and how you came to be selected as the chairman?

NG: It happened like this, the CCBA has already had 120 years of, 120 years of history. In the beginning, in the very beginning, the people from the Taishan Ning-yang Organization went and acted as the chairman of the CCBA. Because one hundred years ago, the Chinese in New York, 99% of them were from Taishan, Taishan people, so those who acted as the chairmen of the CCBA, and those that took responsibility for things at the CCBA were all people from Taishan. Each year, the chairmen came from the Taishan people. Later on, before 1990, there was a period of ten or twenty years when there were a different four, they weren’t from Taishan, I think Enping, Kaiping, and they weren’t Taishan, there were even those from other provinces, and when they came, there wasn’t any reason why the CCBA was just for Taishan people, so they formed a group, Mei-Dong Lian-cheng Gongsuo, Lian-Cheng Gongsuo, and later they had a revolving chairman. Later on, it would be two-year periods, the Lian-Cheng Gongsuo would lead for two years, and then it would go back to Ning-yang, and then Ning-yang would do it for two years and then give it back to Lian-cheng, like that. The selection of the chairman was done like this: once every two years, and I’m doing it now, it was in ’02, started in ’02, and I was put forward as a candidate by Ning-yang Gongsuo, and was selected by the greater organization, I was selected by 84 members to be the chairman. They have to put forward two or more candidates. Ning-yang Gongsuo has to put forward two candidates, and then the greater organization selects the chairman. They ended up selecting me. To put it another way, after I finish, it will go to Mei-dong Lian-cheng Gongsuo, and they will have to put forward at least two candidates. Speaking of the organizations within the CCBA, there are 60 Chinese-American groups, 60 Chinese-American groups, and outside those 60 Chinese-American groups, there are also twenty-four members, and of those 24, there are eight committee members who are selected from Lian-Cheng Gongsuo, and the other eight committee members come from Mei-dong… I mean, Ning-yang Gongsuo selects them. The other eight committee members are selected from the Business Organization, all together, that’s 24 members, and the 60 community groups, and in this way, they make up the CCBA.

Q: Chairman Ng, could I bother you to explain a little what the CCBA did after 9/11 occurred in order to provide disaster relief? Is there anything currently going forward now?

NG: After 9/11, besides doing some work that progressed over many months during the end of 2001, we also did lots of work with the government. All of that work, we did for the government without making any sort of demands. We didn’t get any kind of economic… everything we did, we ourselves believed that we should do however much we could do, however much we could help the government, we did that without any… so in this regard, we were just a kind of assistance to the government, and we didn’t have any sorts of demands towards them.

Q: For example, Chairman Ng, you must have been involved in the allocation of disaster relief funds—

NG: They didn’t come here for allocation of relief funds. There was 750,000 to be spent, but even up to now, they haven’t even done it.

Q: Why?

NG: Because there are many, many technological problems that haven’t been solved. Congressperson Velazquez worked with us to help us apply for 750,000 dollars to help with transportation issues, but now, because of technological problems, lots of things need to be solved, and there still hasn’t been a satisfactory resolution.

Q: As far as the transportation problems go, what kind of problems are they? Or what needs to be improved?

NG: This problem extends rather far, because it involves the entire Lower East Side, how to solve transportation issues, and they have to find an expert to do it, they have to do a “proposal,” how do we say “proposal” [in Chinese]?

NG: Jihuashu. So they need to find an expert to create the proposal, and after that they need to think about how they’ll carry it out, and only after that they can apply again to the government, so we’re still in the preparation stage. It hasn’t been completed yet.

Q: So the application has been going on from the time of 9/11 all the way until now?

NG: At that time when we applied, after 9/11, the Development Office still had some money left over, and they wanted to allocate that remainder to use, and we applied, and they approved 750,000 dollars, but all the way until now, they haven’t started.

Q: But have you calculated when they will be able to officially start?

NG: As far as that goes, we’re in the midst of consulting on it, because government matters have a lot of problems relating to support.

Q: OK, well, Chairman Ng, I’d like to ask in regard to the disaster relief carried out after 9/11, there were lots of Chinatown civic groups that took part. Do you feel that the overall coordination and progress went along smoothly, or were there some problems that had been overlooked?

NG: As far as that goes, it’s like this. As far as I see it, earlier, not before 9/11, but a long, long time ago, Chinatown was split into two worlds. One was the traditional overseas Chinese community; the other was Zeng-Zheng Organization, the American Fujianese Association, the Hua-lian Organization, and because of political issues, the two sides didn’t join up. You ignore me, and I won’t pay any attention to you. And on lots of issues, they opposed each other. When I took over as chairman of the CCBA, well, I had this kind of thinking – why do we Chinese people let these small issues divide us like that, you ignore me and I ignore you; if we don’t unite together, then no matter what we struggle for, we can’t achieve it, so in this area I put forth a lot of effort. I made overtures to a lot of other Chinese-American groups, other Chinese-American groups, and in this regard, I wanted everyone to work together in this direction. OK.

NG: While I’ve been at the CCBA, from the previous administration until now, and it will be two years in another two months, and then my term will be completed. I’ve always felt that two years is too short, I can not accomplish a lot during that time. My greatest wish, I believe that the Chinese-American community must become more unified. Regardless of whether or not someone is a member of the CCBA, they are still our fellow Chinese-American compatriot, and we should all be united. Everyone can have his own opinion, and can join together on the things we have in common and listen to those opinions different from our own. We can unite our efforts to work hard for things that we agree on, and on those topics we disagree on, you can have your opinion, and I’ll have my opinion. But everyone definitely has to unite, we have to unite on good terms, that’s the only way we can succeed, only as part of mainstream society can we actually accomplish something. If you strive for this and I strive for that, then there’s no benefit for Chinatown.

Q: Chairman Ng, 9/11 is already two years ago, now, with your remaining time, what areas of Chinatown do you wish to improve, or do you have any advice on what can be achieved?

(Tape SIDE B)

NG: I think, as far as Chinatown goes, our ceremonial arch… we have to do it. We’ve already consulted on every aspect of it, and a lot of specialists have said to us, you don’t want to rush this sort of thing, you don’t want to try to get it all done in a couple years or a year and a half, this isn’t something you can hurry up. You’ve got to take your time to do it. My hope is that this is something that the next chairman and the following chairman will all continue working on. A ceremonial arch would be, Chinatown needs to have a symbol, and if it doesn’t, I think that’s not good. If we had a ceremonial arch, it would be good for the Chinatown economy, it would be good for everything, it would be a benefit to everything. The first thing we ought to do is the ceremonial arch, the second thing we need to do, as I’ve said before, the Chinese people need to unite. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, but we must expand our group in order to have the power to develop our Chinatown.

Q: Chairman Ng, I know that historically, Chinese-American organizations have divided up into political factions. Do you think that this situation has improved at all?

NG: Before, to the extent that I know, before, the leftist faction – what we call the left and the right don’t interact with each other, they almost consider each other enemies. There’s a lot of people who, when it comes to the right-wing faction, that is, the Nationalists, a lot of people won’t go join their Nationalist celebrations or anything else. Even if it was just having tea parties, just going out to drink together, they still wouldn’t go. And the tea parties hosted by the leftists went the same way, the Republic of China [i.e. Nationalists] and those of us who are more traditional won’t go join them. I think, that problem has gone too far. There’s no need for it to be like that. Why must it be like that? Everybody is Chinese, so why do we need this political stuff. If you want to talk politics, go talk it by yourself. But as far as Chinese go, as far as Chinatown goes, we need to unite. Towards that end, I’ve already worked really hard, and I’ve tried to invite those in the Hua-lian social circle to take part in the traditionalist activities. That would be the American Fujianese Association, the Fujian Tong-xiang-hui, the Hua-lian Zong-hui, and the organization of Mr. Liang Guan-jun. We’ve tried hard to invite them to come and do things with us. For example, beautifying Chinatown -- when we cleaned the streets, we invited them to come. When we cleaned up Mott Street and East Broadway, we did it together, everyone did it together, and we had a good time, and we at the CCBA did it together with them. So in conclusion, I hope that the Chinese people will unite.

Q: Chairman Ng, I’d like to ask, after 9/11, do you think that the mainstream media and the government treated Chinatown with sufficient importance?

NG: I’d say that looking at it from the present day, the government doesn’t treat us as important. I’ve said many times that we can’t cry sour grapes, but on many issues the government doesn’t consider us to be important.

Q: What do you think is the reason for that?

NG: We’ve already done lots of applications, and we’d like to work with the government to do things, but we haven’t gotten any help from them.

Q: Have you ever thought of what the reason for that might be? For example, the community groups in Chinatown not being sufficiently united? Or something else?

NG: One of the reasons is the lack of unity. I think the main reason is that we haven’t been able to push Chinatown out in the public eye. We definitely need to push Chinatown’s current situation out into mainstream society, and cause mainstream society to understand our situation. If we are always living closed off from others, then the problem becomes very serious, and it will greatly influence Chinatown’s future development. In the last two years, I have tried hard to push Chinatown onto the Western [i.e. non-Chinese] newspapers and mediums, and cause those people to understand that there is a Chinatown… We need to get them to respond. If they don’t respond to Chinatown, then the result will be very bad for Chinatown.

Q: Chairman Ng, I’d like to ask you, do you think there is something influencing the mainstream media and the government, causing them not to pay sufficient attention to us? Do you think there is anything we can do to improve the situation?

NG: Regarding this area, my thoughts are like this. A lot, a lot of people think that we are discriminated against. But in regards to the issue of discrimination, we need to examine ourselves first. My thoughts are like this: We need to work hard to push ourselves out in the public eye. We can’t just… decide that because of some discrimination, we won’t do anything anymore. The more you discriminate against me, the more I push my own things out there, and see what you do about it. I think American society is very free. There are a lot of things we can strive for and achieve.

Q: Chairman Ng, what work do you wish for the next chairman to do in order to improve Chinatown? For example, promoting Chinatown after 9/11?

NG: It’s like this. Speaking personally, I can say that the following chairman, maybe they have something that they want to do. Everyone has their own thoughts on this. I’m not needed. I hope that all of Chinatown can unite, and that I can do more work to push Chinatown out into the public eye, and work hard to improve the economy of Chinatown.

Q: Chairman Ng, after you finish your term as chairman, what will you do? Do you have some plans?

NG: I will retire.

Q: Retire. How old are you, this year?

NG: I am over seventy.

Q: Over seventy.

Q: Chairman Ng, I’d like you to please speak a little, what plans has the CCBA had for promoting the small businesses of Chinatown?

NG: We’ve requested that the government create a small credit organization to serve small businesses, and we’ve already gained the government’s approval, and now all the small organizations, and each small group needs to take responsibility to make progress. That small business credit organization will be able to help the small businesses do the work of getting credit, and we’re currently moving ahead on this project, we’re doing it now.

Q: Chairman Ng, how long will this plan take? And what does it consist of?

NG: The plan will last a year.

Q: And what does it consist of?

NG: It consists of helping the small businesses make their applications.


Winifred C. Chin, Female, early 50s -- Professor, New York University

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: Today is January 8th, 2004. I am sitting in the Brooklyn, in the home of Winifred. Just for the record, would you tell us your full name?

Chin: My name is Winifred Chun-Hing Chin, and I am a visiting scholar with NYU, Asian-Pacific-American Studies Program. And I also am an adjunct assistant professor at NYU for Far Eastern Civilizations.

Q: Okay, we’re going to start in reverse, and go back to your childhood, and if you could just tell me where you were born, and where your parents came from.

Chin: I was born in Brooklyn, and spent most of my life in Brooklyn. My parents are from China, my mother from Hong Kong, and my father from Guangzhou, in China, in Guongdong Province.

Q: And when did they come to America?

Chin: My father came in 1934. He was a paper son, as described in the book Paper Son, and he went back to China, he went back to Hong Kong in 1949 and married my mother, and my mother came in 1950, and they settled in Brooklyn.

Q: And why did they choose to come to New York?

Chin: Well, my father came first because the situation in China was economically very poor. And at that time it was still the exclusion era, south China, the south China economy was failing, and like other people who wanted to make a better life for themselves and to be able to send money back home, he came to America. With my mother, my mother, in her case, she came from a very well-to-do family in Hong Kong, but during the Japanese occupation they lost everything, so right after the war, her parents were eager to marry off as many daughters as they could, and in her case it was three daughters and four sons in her family, so two of the daughters were quickly married to Gold Mountain, Chinese-Americans, so she came here for that reason.

Q: And how did you father come to America?

Chin: He was a paper son, which means that he purchased a paper, saying that he was the son of a Chinese-born American---I’m sorry, he was the son of a American-born Chinese. And there’s a whole history about these, which is in my book, Paper Son. And basically it started off in the exclusion era, which was between 1882 and 1943, there were Chinese people here in the mid-1800s working on the railroads, but soon after that, the American government for economic, for racial reasons, decided they did not want any Chinese-Amer----Chinese in America anymore.

So there were some Chinese who were already here, and had children here, and these were native born Americans. When you are American-born, you can go anywhere in the world and still bring your child to America, even if your child was born somewhere else. So these native-born Americans, who were Chinese, were your first generation of American-born Chinese. They were not allowed, by the same laws, by the exclusion laws, they were not allowed to marry outside of their race. So if they wanted to marry at that time, they had to go back to China, they married. And because they were born in America they could come here, whereas other Chinese people could not. Meaning they could not bring their wives here.

The paper son started with that situation. They would go to China, get married, come back to America, and nine months later report that they had children, a son usually, and the government would issue a paper for the son to come over, because by virtue of being a son of a native-born American, that son can come, whereas the wife cannot. So those papers, designating this child to be the son of XYZ American-born Chinese, was able to come, but instead of bringing the son over, and there was really no way that the government knew whether or not you had a son, you would just sell that paper in the open market, in the black market, and anyone who wanted to come to America waited eighteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years, came over, by purchasing that paper.

And when you purchased that paper you memorized everything. You said, I am the son of so-and-so, who was born in America, my mother was born in China, I was born on such-and-such a date. You memorized all this information, and when you passed through immigration, if you answered all the questions correctly, they would say, “Okay, you are that person,” and you were an American citizen. And these were called “paper sons,” and my father was a paper son.

Q: So your father purchased one of these papers?

Chin: Yes.

Q: Okay, so your grandparents were not Chinese in America at the time. Your father was the first generation to come to America.

Chin: Yes.

Q: So when he first came was 1930, you said?

Chin: 1934.

Q: 1934. And how old was he at the time?

Chin: According to his paper, because he had to come under the pretense of a different person, he had to pretend that he was this person that the paper said he was. So according to the paper, he was nineteen years old.

Q: But you don’t know---

Chin: We don’t really know how old he was.

Q: And then how long did he stay here before he went back to marry your mother?

Chin: He, well he went back in 1949. He was in the U.S. Navy. I have pictures of that, if you’d like.

Q: We could show that, later on, if we get to that.

So your father went, just lived in America by himself, between the age of, supposedly nineteen, until 1949 when he went back to Hong Kong----

Chin: Well, he had his friends that he knew from the village. From his village in China. And it was more than just living by himself here. You know, in those days, in the ‘30s, because during the exclusion era, women were not----Chinese women were not allowed to come here, even if you married them, they had to stay in China. Chinatown was basically a bachelor community at that time. So he had the support, I guess you might say, of the community, and so, and he, they always, for the most part they came from the Toisan village, and they knew each other, so they were distant cousins, or they called each other cousins and so he had family support in that sense.

Q: I’m sorry, did you say, “from the Toisan village”?

Chin: Right, Toisan.

Q: Okay, so then he went back to Hong Kong, where your mother is from, and they met there—

Chin: Right.

Q: And was it difficult for him to get your mother to come back to America?

Chin: No. I imagine that if it were earlier, it would have been difficult. But because my mother was from a very prominent family. Her father was an English teacher, and her mother was a mid- wife. The family owned a car, went to private schools. So it was very, it was very affluent in those days. But after the war, they had lost everything, and coming to America seemed like the ideal place to be.

Q: What do you think they expect, coming to America?

Chin: Most people who come to America think that America is streets paved with gold. You know, we call it in Chinese “Gold Mountain,” basically because in the days of ’49, 1849, there was gold discovered in the mountains out west. So there’s this concept, there’s this idea that you come to America, and gold is to be found everywhere.

My father had warned her in advance that coming to America was not Gold Mountain, that it would be laundry work, he would not require her to do much, but that, but don’t expect a silver palace.

Q: But yet your mother accepted that, having come from an affluent background?

Chin: She accepted it because they lost everything during the war. And what money they had left---every, the Japanese took everything of value, the car, the----

[another voice noting background noise problems, cross talk about the recording]

Q: So in 1949 your father went back to Hong Kong to marry your mother and take her back to America. Did you mother have any objections to coming to a place where it was going to be a lot of hard work?

Chin: She didn’t object basically because there was nothing in Hong Kong for her. The Japanese had taken everything, anything of value, and what money there was was reserved for the boys in the family to go to school. Her brother, her older brother became a doctor. Another became a pharmacist, a younger sister who was more pampered than the older sisters became a nurse, and so, there was really nothing for the older girls. And my mother was the third oldest in the family, so she looked forward to coming, and she knew that it would be hard work, and she thought that it was a better future than if she stayed in Hong Kong anyway.

Q: And did both of your parents speak English at this time?

Chin: No. My father knew a little. My mother knew a little because her father taught English, but they were not fluent. They could not get jobs in mainstream American society.

Q: So, as a young couple in a foreign land, where did they go when they first arrived in New York City?

Chin: They lived in Chinatown, because my mother’s older sister had already married a Gold Mountain man, so they lived in Chinatown for awhile, and then they moved to Brooklyn.

Q: Why did they do that? Why did they not choose to stay in Chinatown?

Chin: My father knew about Chinatown since 1934. Well, actually since 1936. He arrived in ’34 in Boston, but he was in New York’s Chinatown by ’36, and he knew about the gang wars. He knew about the Tongs, and he didn’t want us to grow up in Chinatown, in that type of community.

Q: So when were you born, if you don’t mind my asking?


Chin: I was born in 1952.

Q: In Brooklyn.

Chin: Yes.

Q: Where in Brooklyn?

Chin: In Bushwick.

Q: Oh, okay. Okay. So describe for us your childhood in Brooklyn. Was there a lot of Chinese where you grew up at the time? Did you feel, strange, or different?

Chin: There were virtually no Chinese in Bushwick. We had about two families, within---I remember one family called the Wongs, and that story is also in the book, Paper Son, they lived about a block and half away from us, and another family a few blocks away from us. And that was it for the Chinese families. There was one Japanese family.

Most of the Chinese families that lived in Brooklyn had a life such that it was a routine to go to New York’s Chinatown, every Sunday. My father’s laundry was open seven---six days a week, and on Sunday we went into Chinatown. By the time he learned English he became interpreter at the True Light Lutheran Church on Worth Street in Chinatown. So that was our social life; in the fifties in Brooklyn we were very sheltered. You know. Of course, that had to do with the era, too, it was the era of McCarthyism, and we were Chinese and it was not very popular then, to be Chinese, so we led very isolated lives, except for---socially---except for one day a week going to Chinatown, and we would go to Church, and then afterwards we’d go visit people.

Sometimes we went to my mother’s shop, during the summertime when we had no school.

Q: Regarding school, what was that like, being one of very few Asian kids? Were you outcast, were you treated in any different way?

Chin: No, essentially, a lot of fun [laughs]. We were very, we were different. And I think at that time Asians had a very, we were known for being very diligent, very studious. My brother and I did very well in school, and, you know, we always ended up teachers’ pets, and there was no outcast---none of that at all. You know, we were well-received.

Q: So your parents never at any point considered moving back to Hong Kong or going back to China.

Chin: No. No. My father, in fact, never even went back for a visit, since 1934. He hadn’t left the country except during World War II, when he was in the U.S. Navy. Never went to China. He always said that he would, he wanted to show me his old village, but he never did. And my mother has only one sister left in Hong Kong. She, my mother has gone back about three or four times, to Hong Kong, and she also went to China on a tour, a three-week tour of China. But, um, she has never considered moving back there permanently, to retire.

Q: So, growing up, your father, early on opened a laundry shop?

Chin: Yes.

Q: And what did you mother do at this time?

Chin: Ah, when I was three—but by 1955, when my brother was five and and I was three, she started work at the shops, at the sweatshops in Chinatown, the garment factories. She had learned from women in church that there is work in Chinatown, and so once my brother started school, she would take my brother to school, which was conveniently next to the subway station, and then she would just go onto the subway and go to Chinatown to work. And I was three, and I stayed home with my father at the laundry.

Q: Did your mother work in Hong Kong?

Chin: No.

Q: So this was her first job.

Chin: That was her first job.

Q: So you grew up in a laundrymat---

Chin: Yes.

Q: What was that like?

Chin: Well, you know, when you’re a child, you don’t realize any difference. Ah, it, you know, we just thought that ah, you know, we had known other Chinese children who grew up in the back of laundries, so that was perfectly normal. We knew that other people had stores. I mean, there, in Bushwick, there were a whole street of storefront buildings with two flights above, and you know, one Italian family that we were very close with, or very friendly with, you know, ran a grocery store in the front and lived in the back. Next door was a candy store, and they lived in the back and also one flight above.

So I don’t think we---you know, meaning my brother and I---thought that it was unusual. It was---our laundry was another store.

Q: So you didn’t compare yourself to, say, your Caucasian-American friends, and say, “Well, why am I in the back room of a laundrymat?”

Chin: No, cause they were in the back of a grocery [laughter]. No, we didn’t do that. It was a working class neighborhood, Italians, Irish, and so everybody---some of our best friends lived in the back of stores.

Q: Where was your father’s shop located?

Chin: In Bushwick.

Q: Oh, it was in Bushwick. Okay. So your mother worked in Chinatown, took your brother to school there----

Chin: Right.

Q: And then---

Chin: Took my brother to school in Brooklyn, and then went on the train to Chinatown.

Q: Now, was she a trained---

Chin: Seamstress?

Q: Seamstress, before?

Chin: No, she learned on the job.

Q: Why did she choose to be a seamstress?

Chin: That was one of the few jobs open to women. You know, it was---it’s also, it’s very interesting because it was also very, it was a growth---you know, the Chinatown garment industry was growing at that time, and it starts with, you know, the garment shops used to be in midtown in the twenties where FIT is, Fashion Institute, and they were being, the rent was going up, it was in the city, so they, the bosses of those shops decided to look for cheaper space downtown, meaning Chinatown. Chinatown was cheap at that time.

So they opened up, they set up shops in Chinatown, in the ‘50s, and that was when my mother found out about them, and they advertised for Chinese women who were, who after the war were allowed to come and join their husbands, and then, you know, these Chinese women would work in the shops, but, then of course they still---You know, Chinese women, as most women, always sewed for their own children at home, so it was not, you know, it was something that they probably knew how to do, you know, instinctively. Now they did it in shops for other people to sell. Because they still had to cook---you know, even though they sewed outside of the home rather than inside the home. So, after they sewed, they still had to shop, so you need grocery stores, and then your Chinese community started building up. You know, before it was basically a bachelors’ community.

Q: Alright, give me a sense of your, kind of Chinese-slash-American life. At home, what language did you speak?

Chin: We speak Chinese.

Q: You spoke Cantonese at home?

Chin: Yes.

Q: And then, outside, obviously you spoke English, so you never spoke English at home?

Chin: No.

Q: Was that something that your parents tried to enforce?

Chin: Yes. My father thought that we should know Chinese. Again, this is during the ‘50s, the McCarthy era, when the government was focusing on Chinese people who may be Communist. You know, my father was one of the people who may have been deported, for his writing. And he thought that if we ever were deported, it’s best to know your language, too. So, we, for awhile we weren’t sure if we were going to be deported, so if we ever went back to China, it would be an advantage, to our advantage to know the language.

Q: Was that common at the time, because I meet so many Chinese-Americans, who really don’t speak Chinese at all.

Chin: I meet a lot of them who don’t speak Chinese, also. Most of the people I know who don’t speak Chinese wonder why their parents never taught them. [laughs] I guess it’s the home education, home values.

Q: So on weekends you went to Chinatown, you said. Give us a sense, a flavor of Chinatown at the time. How big was the community, and was there a sense of a Chinese community in Chinatown at the time?

Chin: Yes. There was a---it was much more vibrant than it is now. You know, you had a lot of children---I mean, you have children now, but it was a developing community, and that’s what made it different. Because the ‘50s, you know, before the ‘50s you didn’t have that Chinatown, you had a bachelor community. You know, that was the exclusion era. You know, women were not---Chinese people weren’t allowed to come. If they came, if they married back home, they weren’t allowed to bring their wives. So by the ‘50s, you had little children running around, and it was very different.

Q: And did everybody seem to get along, the Chinese, the Italians, and other different immigrants?

Chin: I don’t recall the Italians. It wasn’t until much later, in the ‘70s, that Chinatown expanded to Little Italy. And of course there were turf wars because of it. But back in the ‘50s, Chinatown was very small, very----You know, my mother would bring us there. Sometimes she would shop and tell us to sit on the stoop, and she would go shopping, and we would just sit there and play with the other kids who were sitting there. And she could come back an hour later and we would still be there. I don’t think mothers do that anymore.

So you have that type of thing. And of course this was also before the gang wars heightened. You know, by 1965 the immigration laws changed, and so you had a lot of gang, a lot more gang wars, and it was just a totally different scene from when everything seemed very ideal.

Q: So give us an idea of the working conditions of the sweatshops at the time. So, how many do you think were around at that time, when your mother worked?

Chin: In the ‘50s, there were probably in the teens. Less than, less than twenty in the ‘50s.

Q: And the owners were mostly Chinese?

Chin: Ah, Jewish, some were Chinese. I’m not sure what the breakdown is, but there were very few because it just started. You know, these shops were closed in the twenties along the, in the midtown, and they had just moved to Chinatown, so everything was new and there weren’t that many. It was by piecework. So you were paid for your output. And it was very, ah, it was survival of the fittest. So if you didn’t produce and the boss saw that, you know, well, what are you doing sitting at the sewing machine, I can give it to someone who can produce more. So if you were old, or you didn’t learn as quickly, you lost your place at the sewing machine, you got kicked out.

Q: So what could your mother make, on average, a day?

Chin: A day? Ah, not much, probably seven, ten dollars a week. At that time. You know, in the ‘50s.

Q: So, that plus your father’s laundry business was enough to give your family a comfortable living, or---

Chin: Not comfortable, minimal. But, you know, we were rich in other ways, though, you know. You know, we learned Chinese, which a lot of others, other Chinese-Americans didn’t. We have a richer Chinese heritage. In that sense we were almost, more than comfortable. But financially, our physical comforts were not that great.

Q: Was your mother glad to have to work, or was it a very difficult job, something she enjoyed at all?

Chin: I think it got her away from the house, and she liked that. I can imagine going crazy in the back of a laundry with two kids. So I think she, and I know she was definitely glad to have the extra money to buy things, to buy toys for us and little extra things for herself.

Q: So how many hours a day would she work?

Chin: At that time, the shops were open like twelve, fifteen hours a day. She didn’t work---she would leave early in the morning when she took my brother to school, and then she would come back many times after I was asleep. And then at one point she stopped because I didn’t know who she was. [laughs]

Q: Wow. Do you look back and feel like you missed a lot of time with your mother, or do you---

Chin: I probably missed a lot of time with her, but I had a very good relationship with my father, and, you know, Paper Son is based on my father’s story. We wrote the book together, you know, I published it after he died, but---so, you know, I missed one parent, but I had a relationship with my other, with my father, and since my father died my mother and I have been much closer.

Q: I know that you’ve done a lot of studies and work on the garment union in Chinatown, so give us kind of a background of how this came about, how was the union formed?

Chin: Well, as I said earlier, the shops didn’t move into Chinatown until the 50s, when they were being priced out of midtown, and there were probably only about twenty, less then twenty, throughout the ‘50s. In the ‘60s, they gradually grew because families were allowed to come over, but the major change was in ’65 when the change in immigration laws took place, and then you had mass immigration. But the shops themselves started to get organized by ’55, probably, the first shop probably started in ’53 or ’54, and by ’55 the union, who was then under Jay Mazur, who was assistant manager of Local 23-25, and that local was mostly Chinese, mostly Chinese at that time. He was the one that started a Chinese newsletter. He had to hire someone from San Francisco to do the newsletter by hand. They broadcast by radio into the shops. Everything they had in English they had to translate into Chinese, to let Chinese workers be aware that there were benefits to be had as workers. And that started in the ‘50s.

My mother joined the union herself in ’57. So basically they went out on an all-out campaign to notify Chinese workers, sending representatives into the shops to tell workers that the union is there, you pay a fee, and you’ll get medical coverage, you’ll get, you know, holidays, vacations, and since my mother knew a little English, she was able to help interpret for the representatives who came up. They call them “business agents” now, when you’re in charge of that specific shop. They had a different term for them before.

Q: Was there any threats from, say, the shop owners to tell the workers not to join the union, was there any pressure?

Chin: In the beginning there weren’t, but I think when the shop owners realized that they also had to pay part of the benefits, like if Social Security, not Social Security, well, yeah, Social Security, if it was reported pay rather than cash, you know, if the worker earned retirement FICA, then the shop owner, the employer also had to pay part of it, and not only to the government in the taxes, but also to the union, the union medical benefits.

And at one point, at a certain point, when they got tired of paying these things, then they started telling the workers, “Oh, don’t join the union, they just want to take your money.” And so, there was conflict, which was what led to the rally in 1982, that mass strike in Chinatown.

In fact, this is one of the early pictures.

Q: Which one is your mother? Can you point to her?

Chin: This is my mother. This is probably early ‘70s.

Q: And what is your mother’s full name?


Chin: Wing Fong Chin. And she was the shop representative, which meant that she helped her colleagues to, to get union, to fill out papers, if they had to pay union dues, she collected all the dues, she was willing to make the trip uptown, or not uptown, to midtown, and she helped them to get all the paperwork done, because most of her colleagues didn’t speak a word, and she didn’t speak that much, but she knew enough to help out.

Q: So was it role that she volunteered for, or kind of just----

Chin: My mother, you know, in 1955, and when she started work, she was probably, well, she was in her mid-twenties, mid- to late-twenties, so in today’s words, she was a, what do you call it, she was ambitious. She was young. And so, she was anxious to make more money. And so, by piecework, you know, that means that if you are sewing one strap, they might give you a penny. But if she found that another shop gave you two pennies, you know, for sewing one, then she would go to this other shop, and because there were so few shops at that time, you know, within the year or two she had covered all the shops. So you had these union representatives coming to the shops, telling workers, “Join the union, you’ll get more benefits, you’ll get medical, and vacation and sick pay.” So every shop they went to, eventually they saw my mother’s face, and they offered her the role of being shop representative. And so she would bring the problems of the shop to the union.

Q: Did you mother formally study English after she came to America?

Chin: No. She learned some on the job. She would make speeches for the union, and of course the union would write them out for her, she rehearsed them, she learned from there----a lot of times she relied on me, and I would look over the speech, tell her what it says, and if there was something wrong, she would say, “Oh, no,” and she would correct it.

So she learned on the job again. Like her sewing.

Q: So what were the major conflicts at the time, between the union, the workers, and the shop owners? I know you talked about it briefly a little while ago, but what was the union aiming, what was their goal?

Chin: The union---the goal of the union was for better working conditions. You know, these women worked from seven o’clock in the morning---my mother did not, but she knew that the shops were open at seven in the morning, and women who lived in Chinatown would be there at seven in the morning, working there until midnight.

Q: But that was because of the shop owners demanded that, or because you get paid piece, and therefore the more you work----

Chin: You got paid by piece. Right. It was very incentive-oriented. The more you worked, the more you got paid.

Q: And because the pay was so low, therefore everybody had to work so much, so long, to get a certain amount of money.

Chin: And the union, one of the goals of the union was to set a minimum wage, so that, you know, that piece work, being paid by piece work is demoralizing. You know, this is what you’re worth, you can sew twenty straps, here’s twenty cents. Whereas the union tried to follow American labor standards, with a minimum wage, with a nine-to-five. It was, you know, they had punch cards---time cards rather, where they punched in and out. Ah, they wanted to---and they would check. You know, if the union signed up members there, then the shop, also had to join. You know, if you were a union member you could not work for a non-union shop. And so the boss had to pay dues, too. And the workers were---and so the boss and the workers were unionized, and the bosses were required, they were expected rather, to keep their part of the agreement, you know, that there would be a minimum wage, there would be nine-to-five, you know, workers clock in, clock out, that they would get their holiday pays, their sick pays, and certain other benefits which have changed and increased over the years.

Q: So at what point did you mother switch over from a piece-by-piece payment to getting an hourly minimum wage?

Chin: That is something that in theory happened, I don’t know when, but in practice never did happen. Even now you find piece work, so---there was, there were time cards and I remember as a child when we were on vacation from school we would go to the factory with my mother, and there would be these punch, time cards with the time machines, and we would go there early in the morning, and my mother would start working immediately. Come nine o’clock the boss would tell the kids, “Okay, punch in your mother’s---“ and everybody punched in their mother’s. Five o’clock we punched everybody out, and then everybody just continued working anyway. And then, they got paid by the piece, they worked the longer hours, got paid a little more, and when the union officials reviewed the time cards and how much you got paid, and they say, “Gee, you worked nine to five, how come you only got, how come you got so little?” Then the worker would---you know, they would spot check, they didn’t check everybody. But then the worker who happened to be picked would just say, “Well, I left in the middle of the day, I didn’t really do nine to five, I had to leave to pick up my son because he was sick,” and they, you know, they made excuses for that.

They never, in practice, it never was minimum wage.

Q: So your mother accepted that, even though she was a union member, kind of went along with the system, seems like everybody went along with the system, and one way to please a union as well as to have a little bit more benefit than to not belong in the union----

Chin: Right, because there were benefits, you know, when you come in, you know, most of these women are from the countryside. They were not from Hong Kong for the most part, they were from agricultural, from the country where they worked the fields. You know, to have a, to have shoes, not to be barefoot in working the fields in the country, to have a sewing machine in front of you, was already progress.

The concept of unions is not something inherently Chinese. So, joining the union, minimum wage didn’t mean anything to the women either. I don’t---I’m not sure that many of them really understood it. But they knew that they were getting health benefits. What could be greater than that? They got some vacation pay. And so, a lot of the women never really, ah, never really complained about the piecework.

Q: But what did it mean for your mother, and your family? Did it make a difference for your livelihood?

Chin: We had, I guess at that stage we had extra toys. You know. You know, there are people who say that it was child labor---another thing that the union did not permit was for children to be in the shop because there were machines, and you can very easily hurt yourself. Some girls came up with their mothers and they helped them sew. I helped my mother sew a few times. When she made these suspenders, these straps, she fed them through a tube and inverted them, and we helped her in that way, and, but that was called child labor also.

But, you know, when you’re eight, ten years old, you don’t think of it. We would help everybody, to make more money. And if we---we had this game, that, you know, let’s see who can invert more straps, to turn them right side out. And, you know, it was a game to us. And then if the union happened to knock on the doors, we all rushed into the bathroom. In one case we were all sent down the fire escape. [laughs]

Q: And did you, at any point, think that the working conditions your mother worked under were appalling, or bad, or----

Chin: You know, it never occurred. But you know, children, again, go through such circumstances that they don’t, their resilience is so strong they don’t think that it’s bad. You know, even when I look back, I remember doing some of that work, but I never thought of it as child labor. You know, especially in the Chinatown shops, you know, if I were in South America working twelve hours, and that twelve hours, like some South American children do, in Ecuador, in Mexico, where American garments are exported to be made now, that is real child labor. But what we were doing, was, was a game. But the union did consider it unhealthy for us to be there, for children to be there.

Q: And even after acquiring more English skills, your mother never thought of switching fields, or your father, also?

Chin: No. My father worked in a laundry all his life. But, you know, he was a writer. He wrote poetry. He published. He had other things in mind. And when business was slow, he would write, he would read, so he was never---he was motivated to write, he’s published hundreds of poems in Chinese. Some of them are translated in the book, Paper Son, but he was never motivated to learn English to get, just to get a better job. You know, he knew his language, he worked with his language, and he was good in it.

Same with my mother. She, as far as my mother was concerned, this was a job. She wanted to make more money to help out with the bills, to have extra for toys and luxuries, and that was her goal. But, very simple for those days. For post-war attitude. It was just having a happy family. And again, after what she’d been through with the Japanese during World War II, she wasn’t, you know, you’re talking about a different era. You know, she was happy to be in the home peacefully. She was ah, you know, you compare it with today’s woman, she would be called unambitious. But, you know, considering the times, you know, she was very content.

And she did actually make her own way up the union. She, you know, from the shop representative she became chairperson of the board at Local 23-25.

Q: Now, how many members are we talking about, Local 23-25?

Chin: Now?

Q: Then, at that time.

Chin: Then, I don’t know. At the height, okay, which was about in the late ‘70s, 1980, 1982, about 20,000 members. And they all went on strike. In fact, these are strike photos. This was a rally held in Columbus Park, and this is my mother, handing out caps and buttons, telling women not to work because the bosses refused to sign the three-year contract for better wages and more days off, you know, other benefits. And so, this is before the rally and she’s handing out caps to everybody. And when the rally started, she was one of the spokespeople on behalf of the workers.

Q: What were your feelings towards her, as an activist?

Chin: I was very proud of her. You know, one of the things that my mother did was---well, my brother and I knew that she probably couldn’t sit in the back of a laundry all her life. And we kind of felt bad that she was just sewing every day. And then when this extra activity at the union started, we were very happy for her.

This was at NYU. And this was the annual memorial service at the Triangle Shirtwaist fire building.

Q: And when she spoke, she always spoke in English?

Chin: Ah, depending on the situation. Depending on the audience. At the rally, when the workers went on strike, she spoke Chinese because there were 20,000 Chinese workers. You know, a memorial for the Triangle Shirtwaist, held, and they knew that the New York Times would be there, she read a speech in English.

Q: Now, was it difficult to get women to join the union at the time?

Chin: No. It was, it’s difficult to get them to join now. At that time, when you---In the ‘50s, you had less than twenty shops. By the time you got to your ‘60s, early ‘70s, you had 150, 200. And of course the union was more active. It had to be, to cover all the shops. By the time you get to the late ‘70s, the union was onto all the violations, because every time they knocked on the door, it took time to open. I remember going to visit my mother at the shop, and my mother said, “Knock one, stop, knock twice,” and then the boss would open the shop and let us in. They weren’t supposed to work on weekends. But if anyone knocked otherwise, they would not open the doors.

So the union was onto all the violations, and in the late ‘70s, I think the middle or late “70s, they got the U.S. Department of Labor to come and look at situations, and it was well-advertised at that time, there were articles all over the place about sweatshop violations, and they called them, and that was where the term “sweatshop” started, they were no longer garment factories. They were called sweatshops by the late ‘70s, and there was increasing pressure on the bosses to correct these violations. And it was costing the bosses. So by the ‘70s the bosses didn’t want to join the union. It was, the union was good for the women, and some of the men, but it was the bosses who didn’t want it.

And so by 1982, when you had some 500, 550 shops and 20,000 workers, you had a mass strike, you know, ‘cause the bosses refused to sign that union contract. The contract was signed every three years. The bosses refused to sign. They were betting that Chinese women are going to work. You know, they opened the---they wanted women to come to work. They wanted women to come to work, and they counted on the reputation that Chinese people work hard. We’re not going to go on strike. You know, Chinese people don’t strike. If there’s work, they’re going to do it, because you know, they’re used to starvation in China. You know, if there’s work, you have to work.

Q: But by the ‘70s, who were most of the owners? Were they Chinese, or----

Chin: By then, there were Chinese workers, also---

Q: No, owners.

Chin: Oh, yes, Chinese owners as well. And the Jewish population of owners phased out. And that also made one of the differences. The Chinese owners would play up their being Chinese, they would say, “PHRASE IN CANTONESE (translates to “we’re all Chinese”)” you know, “Don’t listen to that union.”

Q:---“We’re all Chinese.”

Chin: Right. We’re all Chinese. We’re on the same side, and they would hire family, you know, or hire your sister or hire your daughter, she needs a part-time job. So everything was family. They played on the Chinese concept of family being all together. And so by the time, and this was the late ‘70s, and you had your Chinese entrepreneurs coming over, and they had a little more money than your past population of Chinese coming over, you know, and, so they would play up that part and by ’82 they said, “We’re not signing the contract. Come to work.”

And they thought that Chinese women, because we’re all family, were going to go to work. And the women proved them wrong. They went on strike. And that was that rally, those rally pictures that I showed you---

Q: And what was the result of this strike?

Chin: That, eventually they signed the contract again, with better wages, and more days off, more medical coverage. I don’t know offhand that particular contract, but every time there’s a contract there are better, you know, there’s more that the workers benefit by.

Q: So the union won, pretty much.

Chin: Yeah, right. They had, it was all over the papers. They held a mass rally in Columbus Park. They had a dragon, they had a priest, before, you know, to bless the rally, before the whole rally started. Then, talking about what the union does for workers and giving a history of the union and how far it’s come, they urged, you know, bosses to sign that contract, members, “Don’t go to work,” and they marched throughout Chinatown with the dragon, and that started in the morning, by noontime about 90 percent of the shops had signed up. Because they realized that, you know, if the union tells them “don’t work,” they’re not going to work.

And that was something they didn’t expect. They expected that Chinese women will work if you give them work.

Q: Let’s talk about you for a minute. As a child, did you expect to go as far as you did in education?

Chin: Well, I don’t consider myself having gone that far in education. I have my master’s, I started a PhD, but I dropped the PhD program because my father had written his memoir and I was torn between doing a thesis, a PhD thesis and publishing a book, and you know, helping him to write it and edit it and publish, and I, you know, I can’t have it all. I dropped the PhD, I was happy with my master’s, I knew that I could teach, you know, with a master’s, and I had been told that a PhD is important, depending---is important to teaching depending on what area you’re going into. I had also been told, you know, if you publish a book, and you keep, and I have a second book, that if you keep writing that is as good as any PhD. Maybe not, maybe not in research, you know, maybe not in teaching PhD courses, but it certainly, in my purposes of working with freshmen, sophomores, you know, with undergraduates, it’s good enough, and I keep up, I keep up my research, and so, so academically, so degree-wise, I haven’t gone that far, but I’m very happy with the things that I learned in my research.

Q: But there was never a doubt that you would one day end up as a seamstress like your mother.

Chin: Oh, no.

Q: Why was that?

Chin: I think my father inculcated the thought in both of us, well, maybe not so much in my brother. My brother had to go into something practical. He’s an engineer, but for a girl, my father was always old-fashioned: “You can study anything you want, because you’re not the major income-earner. But whatever you study, be good at it, and you’ll always have a job, you can always teach it.”

And so I majored in philosophy, actually, and then I went into Asian philosophy [Should I repeat it for the noise?] and I went into Asian philosophy, and ah, and I’ve always enjoyed it. And so, so I never once thought that I would be a seamstress. There were times when I didn’t know what I would do with a philosophy degree, but I enjoyed it. And I teach.

Q: So in your research, give us like a brief sketch of how the garment industry has changed in Chinatown. You said in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s was the peak. As much as 20,000 workers---

Chin: ---dwei (right)---

Q: ---five hundred sweatshops---

Chin: ---right---

Q: ---and then what happened? When did it decline?

Chin: Well, that was 1982, when the 20,000 workers went on strike, roughly five to six hundred workshops. And that’s an estimate, because one of the tricks of the trade, if you were going to open a garment factory, was that you would open it up, it would quickly change hands, sell it to a relative, and then change the name so that the union can’t catch up with you and say, you know, “You’re supposed to be, you’re supposed to join the union.” Then you get away from the union, you get away from the taxes, and you kept switching all the time. So that’s why these figures are roughly five to six hundred shops, and we don’t know for sure.

And that was basically the heyday. Since then, you know, not just to get away from the union, but also to get away from the rising rents in Chinatown, because the real estate prices boomed and the same things that happened to these shops, to the Jewish shop owners in midtown, causing them to move to Chinatown for lower rents, this same situation is happening to Chinese shop owners, causing them to close up their shops and move to Sunset Park, to Queens, to Borough Park, and that’s the situation with Manhattan’s Chinatown. That they’re moving out of Manhattan. Right now, there are probably about, or after 9/11, three months afterwards, the New York Times reported that they had, there were roughly one hundred and forty-six shops left. I just talked to my mother briefly, and asked her if she had any idea, and she said roughly one hundred, one fifty. I doubt that it’s one fifty, because things have only gotten bad. So three months after 9/11 it was 146, so today probably a hundred shops.

Q: So, prior to September 11, what do you think, say the max?

Chin: The max was in 1982, with five hundred, five fifty shops, maybe.

Q: But, from ’82 to September 11 is quite a few years. The garment industry had been in decline.

Chin: It had been in decline because of imports. You know, there was NAFTA, the free trade agreement, and the exporting all the jobs, and importing a lot----you know, you export the clothing jobs, and then you get cheap clothing made in China, made in, you know, Mexico, and you get that import. You get that type of trade. And that took away a lot of jobs. Right now, I did interviews last spring in April, 2003, and the estimate, depending on who you talk to, was that about 85-90 percent of our clothing is imports.

So it was in decline. The last year they cele---the government just celebrated the tenth anniversary of the trade, of the Free Trade Agreement. So that was since 1993. Last year was the tenth anniversary. So this all happened before 2000, before 9/11 2001. And it was because of imports. 9/11 was just the last, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Q: And how did that.---


Q: We left off with the decline of the garment industry in Chinatown. So why don’t we pick up from that? You had said that even prior to September 11 of 2001 the garment industry was already in decline in Chinatown---

Chin: Because of imports, and so, then, NAFTA, the free trade agreements didn’t help. So even by the 80s, you know, your height was 1982, even by the mid-80s, imports were at that time about 50 percent already. And then they signed NAFTA in 1993, they just celebrated the ten year, tenth anniversary, and imports now are about 90 percent, 85-90 percent. And by some people that I spoke to, that I interviewed, expect that by 2005, by next year, that it’ll be 100 percent imports.

Q: Back in the days when your mother was very active in the union, at the peak of the sweatshops, were most of those products sold in America, or were they exported at all?

Chin: No, they were sold in America, and that was part of, part of the situation, and it’s nothing really that simple. There’s no one answer to it all. You know, in the 50s, in the 60s, you didn’t have brand names, you didn’t have your Calvin Klein stuff, your Gap, or, you may have had names, but they were very few, and most you had these stores that sold garments, like Lerner’s, Joyce Lesley, you know, a garment, something similar to what you would find along 14th Street in Union Square these days, where you’re a store, and they sold all types of garments. But as the specialty garments, now you have a big gap, you have a big industry in the Gap clothing, in Calvin Klein, and Gap decided to send their stuff, I think they send it to South America, to Central American, you know, Calvin Klein, and these big names won’t use a little Chinatown sweatshop. So they’re the ones who, you know, did a lot of injury to the garment industry before even 9/11. And so you had those stores, you know, and other brand names making their clothing outside of the country because it was cheaper.

Q: But how did 9/11, you were saying earlier, was like a final straw for the garment industry in Chinatown?

Chin: So the garment industry was already weakened with NAFTA, because it was already ten years by 2003, but NAFTA was signed ten years earlier, but by, okay, then after the rally, and the rising rates, okay, you had the rising rates in Chinatown, rent, and so those industry, those garment shops, who were priced out of Chinatown moved their shops to Brooklyn, to Queens, and so the union couldn’t get to them as easily, because before, you had all your shops in Chinatown and you just went from one shop to another, you know, let’s check out your records, you know, and the business agents did what they had to do. They couldn’t do that anymore with shops moving out to the outer boroughs, to Brooklyn and Queens.

So that weakened it. Then, with 9/11, you know, traffic was closed, the whole lower Manhattan was closed to traffic for quite a few months, and trucks couldn’t get by. You know, these garments had to be delivered. They couldn’t get them. So they had to, they had garments that needed to be made, to be put together, that they couldn’t get to the shops, so they had to go elsewhere. Or else they went out of business. A lot of them went, went out of business. A lot of them went out of business because of that. So that was the last straw. That really did not help.

Q: Now, has your mother retired?

Chin: She retired in 1995.

Q: And what does she do now?

Chin: She works part time in a union office that helps newcomers to the union, who ask about benefits, and so like, from there she gets a feel of what the business is like now. And it doesn’t look very rosy. You know, members, potential members come, and they ask, you know, what benefits are there, what are the union dues. When they find out the union dues and they look at the benefits they receive, they weigh the two and they decide it’s not worth it. Health benefits are the most attractive. Everybody needs health coverage. But, you know, the newcomers are not like the company that met the newcomers in her day. In her day they were much more honest. You know, immigrants in my mother’s generation, or even a couple of decades after her, would never think to go on welfare. They were too proud to collect money, to collect a handout. But the immigrants coming over now weigh the two, well, I have to pay all these union dues, I get health benefits, but I have to give in so much, can I ever make the minimum required to keep my membership? You know, they have all sorts of rules about that. And they decide, well, if I just don’t keep any money in the bank, I can collect welfare, and work off the books. And I ought not to go for union work. I can get Medicare, Medicaid, for the needy. I can get Medicaid, I don’t need the union .

And so nobody joins.

Q: So what do you think is the likely experience of a new immigrant, a woman who just arrives from China, with absolutely no language skills, maybe can sew a little. What are her options if she wanted to stay in New York City or in America?

Chin; There aren’t that many options. I mean, the garment industry is really, really at a low. I don’t know if anyone expects them to recover. There will always be some type of garment industry. But you have designers here, and they’ll always want someone to make something. You know, you can’t just send something, samples, or you can’t just send things overseas all the time. You do need some type of garment industry, but it will probably be specialized.

A lot of the women who used to be in the garment industry, who used to sew, are moving into health care, you know, to help, it’s a different union, they help, they don’t call them health care workers---I think they’re called home work, home care. They take care of the elderly at home. They do a lot of that. They get training, they learn a bit of English. So they get benefits there.

Q: Do you think it’s more difficult for a new immigrant now to arrive in American than at the time your parents did?

Chin: Oh, yeah.

Q: How so?

Chin: Ah, basically because when my parents came, especially if you’re talking about the garment industry, when my mother came, the industry was growing. It was the fifties, and she started work in the fifties, and there wasn’t a shop, she had her pick of shops to go to. She saw the union, she saw all these benefits, and then she saw the big rally in 1982, and then she gradually saw the decline---shops moving to Queens, to Sunset Park.

Of course, you always have your advantages of that, too, because if it weren’t for the shops, there probably would not be such a developed Chinatown in Sunset Park and elsewhere, because where the shops are, that’s where your women are, and then families start moving there to be closer to the work, and then, you’re closer to the work, you have to buy groceries after you work to bring home to cook. Then you have grocery stores, and then you have children, and then you have toy stores, and then----So that work, that garment industry develops that community. But for a new immigrant, it’s very difficult. The garment---they arrive at a time not when the garment industry is growing, but at a time when it’s declining. You see, the union, to be covered with medical benefits, you have to make a certain amount each quarter. With piece work, there’s no way you can make that much.

And the government has had programs---federally-funded programs to teach new immigrants how to sew, but the work has to be there, too. You know, when all the jobs are being exported out of the country, you know, what do you expect the workers to sew?

Q: So now, looking back on your parents’ life, has the way they lived or their experiences in America shaped your thinking and your professional life at the moment?

Chin: Um, I’m not sure if it’s shaped it that much. As far as shaping is concerned, probably growing up more with my father than with my mother, because my mother was in the shop all the time, I took an interest in the things my father was interested in, like poetry, philosophy, writing. So that shaped my interests. But in general, I just find this whole Chinese----this whole immigration, even how the shops contributed to the building of Chinatown---I just find the whole thing fascinating. You know, how things fall in place. You know, ‘cause it was not just the shops moving to Chinatown and women working and then needing grocery stores afterwards. It had to be the right time and the right place.

My father worked in a laundry. And, um, it was at a time when his laundry closed, because of wash and wear, permanent press, and people doing more of their own laundry, that freed the men to open up the grocery shops in Chinatown. You know, it just happens that these bosses had to be out priced in mid-town to open shops in Chinatown. And when the women who work also go home and cook, have to have grocery stores, well it just so happened that the laundry, the Chinese laundry man was being, you know, was closed out of his laundry, you know, because of permanent press, that he was free to think of different ideas.

You know, you have women and children working in Chinatown---women working in Chinatown, you have families. Before, Chinatown was a bachelor society. Once you have women working there, women being able to come to America, you had children. Children grow up and get married, in the ‘70s that was the next generation, you had your first jewelry store in Chinatown, selling wedding jewelry, you know, the dragon bracelets. You know, I just find this whole development of the growth of Chinatown fascinating.

Q: So when you go to Chinatown today, what do you see, how do you feel? How is it different from the Chinatown of your childhood?

Chin: It doesn’t seem as vibrant----you know, there’s a lot of life there, but there’s also---you know, I remember my mother would buy jewelry, and we had friends who got married, and they would wear the traditional jade, or dragon bracelets, dragon and phoenix bracelets. And then I remember a time when that was no longer popular, because brides were getting robbed, and these gangs who knew that there was a wedding going on, there was a reception going on at a certain restaurant, would make sure they would be there, and you know, that didn’t help. The loss of the garment factories means business, ‘cause there’s not the women working there. You know, there’s also women, women will shop wherever they work. When women are not concentrated in Chinatown, there’s going to be less of the other type of shopping, for children, for their children, for toys, for food. And so you see less of that.

Q: So you’re saying the loss of the garment industry in Chinatown affects the whole kind of food chain of the livelihood of Chinatown.

Chin: Right. And Chinatown itself is changing. You know, Chinatown was always changing, from the ’50s, when it developed with the first garment factory, until now, when you see this decline in the garment industry. But, you know, Chinatown, it’s probably commonplace to say that money makes the world go ‘round, but you know, Chinatown garment shops are being priced out of their space, of their rental space. They moved to the outer boroughs because rent is cheaper in Brooklyn, in Queens. And who’s moving to Chinatown? You have these SoHo, these artists with their galleries, who are priced out of SoHo, because SoHo was a growing neighborhood at one point, and it’s up, it’s trendy now, it’s too expensive. So, and, they come down to Manhattan, to Chinatown, which is still cheaper than SoHo, even though it’s not cheap enough for your garment factory.

So you have what’s called now gentrification of Chinatown. You walk along Canal Street, you go to Centre Street, you see a Charles Schwab there. There wasn’t a Charles Schwab there a decade ago. You know, you see a Starbucks. Chinese women don’t buy Starbucks. It’s a different population now. There are people coming down from SoHo. You know, they cater to them. If you walk past the corner of Canal and Centre, and look into Starbucks there, it’s the Northwest corner, it’s all American. Most---you know, 90 percent American. You know, where are they coming from? So it’s a change in pace in Chinatown.

And, in fact, that building that rented to Schwab and Starbucks, used to have jewelry stores. You used to see a man standing on the street corner, “Sell your gold, sell your watch, sell your jewelry.” You don’t see that anymore. As their leases, as those used jewelry store leases expire, they’re bringing in a different type of store.

So I guess if I say it’s, Chinatown is not the same, it’s probably nostalgic, because I guess anyone would say that, well, Starbucks and Charles Schwab is better than this used jewelry store, which it is. I bring my son here, so that he could see more Chinese people, and that’s when I sense, intensely, that he’s missing the Chinatown that I knew.

Q: And is your mother saddened, is your mother saddened by the whole decline of the garment industry?

Chin: She’s saddened, but she’s also, you know, on the selfish end, she’s glad that she’s retired and doesn’t have to deal with it. She is saddened for the newcomers.

Q: Okay. I think that’s about it. Is there anything else that you want to add, that I haven’t asked you?

Chin: Um, I can’t think of anything offhand.

Q: Anything about your own work, or your courses?

Chin: Um, my work, about my work, I know a lot of Chinese garment workers from my mother, and my mother knows some very interesting people who grew up China, or were educated in China in the ‘40s, they knew Russian, they know Chinese, but they come here, they don’t know English, so they end up in a garment factory. And, there are ladies---there is a lady who makes her own fertilizer, and shared a lot of things with me. And I started off my research, my interviews, I started off wanting to interview those people, the commonplace worker in the garment factory. You know, “What were you doing before?” you know, because that knowledge is not used in America. There are engineers, she introduced me to a Barefoot Doctor during the Cultural Revolution who came here and she couldn’t use any of her medical skills, because she doesn’t know English----she works in a garment factory.

And I wanted to interview those people to show that your garment factory worker is not uneducated, unskilled in other ways. Unfortunately that didn’t work out because they would freely talk to me, but the minute I brought my tape recorder, they didn’t want to be recorded. And that’s made me turn around and interview my mother. She said, “I’ll help you out,” being very sympathetic towards me, and she talked about her work in the garment factories, and then it occurred to me, the garment factory, the whole garment industry is a fascinating industry. So after my mother, I called up some of the old, the retired people, union people, who, activists, who helped start the whole movement in Chinatown, who organized from the very first Chinese newsletter to the rally, the big rally in 1982. And that’s how I ended up interviewing labor leaders instead.

And that has its own----I don’t want to say that’s more important than your common worker, but that is a history that hasn’t really been written yet. And, some of the information I have is from people who are old enough, anyway. They’re retired. So, and I’m very happy to have that on record, and to get an overall picture of how the movement started. I find that fascinating.

Q: Well, I’m sure your work will be very useful for future researchers and scholars and hopefully for people in our project who might be interested to read more about what you’ve done because you’ve written a lot. Yes.

Chin: I know that the Tamiment Library Labor Archives of NYU is looking forward to the report. And I feel very good to be a part of it.

Q: Thank you so much. My name is Lan Trinh, and I’ve been speaking with Winifred Chin in her home in Brooklyn. Thank you.

Chin: You’re welcome. Thank you.


K., Female, 21 y.o. -- College student

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: It’s January 27, 2004. We’re sitting in the archives of the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas again. Can you tell me your full name and your date of birth?

K.: My full name is K., and I was born on September 21st, 1982.

Q: Wow, so you’re very young, so….

K.: Yeah, I’m pretty young, yeah.

Q: Okay. K., tell us about your parents. Were they born in America?

K.: No, they were—I’m not sure where they were born, actually. I think they were born in China, but they lived in Hong Kong, and they immigrated to America, before I was born, like two years before I was born.

Q: And what year was that?

K.: I think it was 1980. I was born in 1982. [laughs]

Q: ’82, okay. And why did they decide to come to New York?

K.: I’m not sure the reason why they decided to come to New York, but I think my dad had relatives here already, that’s why.

Q: Do you ask them about these things? Are you curious about what brought your parents to America?

K.: I know my mom came to New York because my dad was here, that’s, that’s all I know. But, I don’t know, something about like Asian parents or Chinese parents, you don’t ask them about these things because they’re not really, they feel really reluctant, or they always hesitate when you ask them those questions---different from American families when they, like, lay out the whole history for you, you know?

Q: So your dad came to America first?

K.: Um, yes.

Q: And why did he come here?

K.: I think it’s just for a better future, that kind of thing. Like, back in the days when, you know, China---Oh, I actually know, he immigrated, he used to live in China in this Canton city, and because of the Communists, um, like something with the Red---I don’t know what---

Q: The Red Guards?

K.: Yeah, the Red Guard, he used to be in like a really rich family, but his father owned like a lot of cigar companies in this city, and because he was so rich, they like, did something to his dad and so he had to like run to Hong Kong. And so he can never go back to that city in China because then they would have got him and put him in the Red Guards, too, and that’s why he went to Hong Kong and that’s how he met my mom. And I don’t know why he came to America, though. I think it’s just to start a new, or get a new life.

Q: And how do you know that much? Do you ask them? Or did he----

K.: I don’t---I recently found out from my mom, actually, like, I never knew about this until maybe like two weeks ago.

Q: Okay. So, what kind of relationship do you have with your parents, then?

K.: Um, a “don’t ask” relationship. I’m not really close with my dad, ‘cause my mom and dad are divorced, so I don’t really get to ask him that much. I only see him once in a while. And my mom, we talk about my mom’s side, but we rarely talk about my dad’s side. Like, I can’t ask her about my dad’s stuff. So it was just out of luck that day that she was willing to tell me something.

I think my mom married my dad because she knew that after marrying him, she could come to America, and she just wanted to, like, live away from her mom, I guess. It was a really hard life in Hong Kong, and, like, Asian daughters just always have to listen to their parents, and she was just sick of that, I guess, and she wanted to have her own life. So she decided to marry my dad, because she could get like the opportunity to come to America. [cross talk] ---there was no love or anything in there, so---

Q: There’s no love between your parents?

K.: That’s what she says, she’s like, “There’s no love,” like, “It’s only, I married him because I wanted to come to America.”

Q: How old were you when they got divorced?

K.: Two years old.

Q: Okay, so you don’t really know your father very well at all.

K.: No.

Q: Okay. Well, so your mom came to America to be with your dad. And you were born in New York City.

K.: Yes.

Q: Where in New York City?

K.: St. Vincent’s, I think, Hospital. I don’t remember.

Q: In Chinatown?

A: Is that in Chinatown? [laughs]

Q: There is one in Chinatown.

K.: That’s probably where I was born.

Q: And you grew up alone with your mother? You have siblings?

K.: I have one sister, but she lives with my dad, so I grew up pretty much alone with my mom.

Q: What was that like, being just the two of you? Did you mother speak English when she came to America?

K.: Um, she doesn’t speak---

[cross talk about microphone] EDIT OUT

Q: So you were born in 1982 at St. Vincent’s. You’re not sure which St. Vincent’s, maybe the one in Chinatown.

K.: I think probably the one in Chinatown, knowing my mom. She lives in, like, the radius of Chinatown. Never goes out of it.

Q: Why? Did your parents choose to live in Chinatown, or your mother didn’t speak English? Why?

K.: She didn’t, she still doesn’t really speak English. Actually, after September 11th, she enrolled in those classes, those English speaking classes, so now she speaks a little bit. She actually learned. I mean, back in the days, like I remember when I was really young, I knew, I know she speaks a little bit of English, but I guess lack of practice and she didn’t really have any kind of motivation or, like, she lives in Chinatown, everyone speaks Chinese, so there’s no way where she can practice her English, and so she just speaks Chinese all the time, and now she doesn’t really speak English at all, and so she relies on me or my sister to, like, bring her around, or, you know, ask for food, order food in Western restaurants.

Q: Do you like that role?

K.: Um, I mean, I, it’s just I guess a responsibility, but I wish that she would be a little bit more, like, assimilating with a place where she lives in. I mean, she’s lived here for more than twenty years, so why doesn’t she try to just, you know, fit in, with this place that she lives in. She doesn’t live in Hong Kong anymore, and Chinatown is so small, so, she can’t live here all her life, and currently we’re moving to Brooklyn, and I don’t know what she’s going to do. I mean, sometimes she’s not even sure of how to take the subway, so, now we have to take the subway every single day, and we’re living in Bay Parkway, and there’s not, like Chinatown is just one store right there, and what is she going to do? I can’t like, you know, be around her all my life to, you know buy things for her and daily necessities and that kind of thing, and I’m going to be going back to school very soon, for months she’s going to be in this new area, and I don’t know what she’s going to do.

Q: Why do you think your mother is like that?

K.: I’m not sure. I guess she’s very passive. She likes to just sink in there and hide away. She’s not the aggressive type. Not someone who likes to climb up a ladder.

Q: And she never thought of remarrying?

K.: I think she never thought of remarrying because of me. And that’s why I, I feel the responsibility to take care of her.

Q: What do you mean, because of you?

K.: Um, well, when her, when she got a divorce with my dad, I know that she could have just given me up. Like, she could have just let my dad have me. My dad wanted to have both my sister and I, but she just felt, I don’t know, I felt the responsibility---I don’t know what she felt, actually, I mean, she just wanted to take care of me, because I was very young, like I was still pretty much a toddler, I guess. I mean, the divorce process took a long time, so they officially divorced when I was two years old, but it started before then, and she wanted to take care of me, because she never had the chance to, and I know that there’s like a whole controversy between taking my sister and me. My sister at that point was, I think, four or five years old, and everyone urged her to take my sister, because she was older and that means less years of taking care of, and maybe less years of finding a babysitter, but she just insisted on taking me, because I was younger and I never had, like, motherly love, or ever experienced that kind of----

Q: And what did your mother do to support the two of you?

K.: I’m not sure. She’s a seamstress, and she gets like, about, less than ten thousand a year. Like every year we get about nine thousand a year, so we live on a really cheap basis, like, ever since I was fourteen, I’ve been working. Like, I have had a part-time job ever since I was fourteen. And for college, I mean, I’m so poor that I have like full tuition, like they gave me a full tuition scholarship.

Q: Where are you going to school right now?

K.: Oberlin College. It’s in Ohio.

Q: So ten thousand a year. What year are we talking about? How can a family survive on ten thousand a year in, in ----

K.: Nine thousand! It’s not ten thousand. We never earned over ten thousand.

Q: Even, like, in 2003? Your mom only earned that much?

K.: Yeah, I mean, if she earned more, it’s only because of this thing, like, I mean, I don’t know about it, but like it’s something with the factory, and like how you buy checks or something. It’s a whole like, conspiracy in there---

Q: Is she part of the union?

K.: Yes---

Q: ----the garment union?

K.: Yes.

Q: Okay, well, let’s rewind to your childhood in Chinatown. So, how often did you see your dad when you were growing up?

K.: Um, when I was very young, I think before, before, before like seven years old, I saw him every single weekend, but after, after a certain age, there was like this big fight my mom had with my dad. Like my dad suddenly, like, took my sister and sent her to Florida, and so my mom couldn’t see her anymore. So she got mad, and she was like, you know, “If you’re going to do that with my daughter, then you’re not going to get to see, like, K. anymore.” Like, so, after that I only saw him about maybe once a year. And now I see him like once, once, for like half a year. Half a year I see him once.

Q: Where does he live?

K.: He lives in Brooklyn.

Q: Oh. Near where you and your mother have just moved to?

K.: I don’t think so. It’s not near---I’m not sure where he lives actually. I mean, I have to check up the address. I’m not sure.

Q: So he didn’t support you and your mom at all?

K.: He gave the bare minimum. But there was this, like a court, like child support money----

Q: Alimony---

K.: Yeah. And it was just a very small amount. It came out to be maybe like three dollars a day. So that was how much he gave me. But now I’m very thankful of him actually, because he’s been giving me money for every semester, so I don’t really have to ask my mom for money, like I just take the money he gives me to support myself. And I work in college.

Q: So that must have been really tough on your mom, to single-handedly raise you and to work.

K.: Yeah, it was pretty hard.

Q: Did you spend a lot of time with her, or was she always busy working?

K.: I didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I wanted to. Like, during the weekends, she works Monday through Saturday from about eight in the morning ‘til eight at night. She comes home at like eight forty-five at night and leaves around eight -thirty in the morning, nowadays. I mean, it was different back then. But my grandmother came to America to help her out a little, and my grandmother worked as well. I’m not sure how much money she earned, but I guess my grandmother had herself covered, and my mom had us two covered, but my grandmother used to take me from home after school and look after me during the weekends, and my mom just spent time with me on Sundays, and sometimes at night.

Q: Did you feel different from other kids, then? I mean, you didn’t have a father, and you were, it sounds like, almost pretty poor. Tight. Money was tight.

A: I felt different. I mean, I think I was a very greedy and selfish kid. And I never really understood what was going on in the family. I just saw what other kids had. And we also had this, these relatives that were very well off. And every time we went over there for New Year’s, it’s just, you know, I see their---I see them, and I see myself, and I just ask why are we so different? Why is this---like why do we have this kind of like class difference?

And, I mean, as I grew older and I just understood more and things changed then, I just realized that this is the life I have and I have to deal with it, and if I want to get myself out of it, just work harder in school and get a better education, and come out and support myself and my mom.

Q: So what are you studying now?

K.: English and Studio Art.

Q: And how is that going to get you a better future, do you think?

K.: Well, for one thing, I have a college education. I have my diploma, and, you know, obviously, no matter what I do I’ll get a better job than my mom. I won’t earn just nine thousand a year. I mean, anywhere above that will be a better start, you know? I’m planning to do something in communications. In the field of communications. So, I’m not sure about my future. We’ll see how that goes.

Q: Now, did you mom work when she was in Hong Kong?

K.: She worked.

Q: As what?

K.: As a seamstress again. I know, she didn’t really like school, I mean, she had the opportunity to go to school and get a better education, I guess, but she never really liked it too much I guess because she came from China and the people in Hong Kong are really discriminating, even against their own people, and at first she had an accent, so the school---the kids in school didn’t really like her as much, and she was never really good in English, so, like I guess she found it hard to fit in to the people in school, and so she got out of school fairly, fairly early and started----like her first job, she told me, was doing something with flowers, like plastic flowers, like sewing them together or something, like putting them in strands. I guess a lot of people did that.

Q: How did your mom come to be a seamstress in Chinatown?

K.: Well, it was what she did in Hong Kong. I mean, it was what she does best at. So she came here, and that was just the only job she looked for, I guess. I always tell her to try to get out of the field. I mean, I keep telling her, like, now’s a good chance, like, “you’re changing factories, you’re going to another factory, why don’t you do something else, like maybe cleaning, or housecleaning, or something else that’s not as strenuous, and that doesn’t have that kind of hours.” But there’s just, there’s something with like her union, she gets this insurance, like a health insurance, and she’s just afraid of losing that. And so she just keeps going back to the same field. Also cause she’s lazy. I guess she’s----I also think she’s scared of the outside world, like outside of seamstress. Like, “That’s the only career I can get, you know, anything else I’m going to probably be like---” you know, I don’t know, like some people might like, do something to her.

What is she afraid of? You know, like, try something new---I mean---

Q: Did you---

A:---I can’t talk her out of it.

Q: As a kid, did you spend time with her in the factories at all?

K.: When I was really young, before my grandmother came, like, you know, I told you, I was a really bad kid. Back in the days, like, when I was in kindergarten or day care or whatever, I was very, like I pulled a lot of tantrums, and the kindergarten teachers or daycare teachers used to like, they actually gave my mom advice to send me to some shrink or like a child therapy or something. And my mom was just like---I gave her a lot of problems, so like it was really hard to find babysitters for me, and also the baby sitters were all like, some of the babysitters she found for me were really mean to me as well. Like, they used to abuse me. And my mom didn’t want---Oh, like, there was one babysitter who was really good with me, but then, unfortunately she had to baby-sit her own granddaughter, and her granddaughter used to abuse me all the time. Like, every time we were together, her granddaughter used to hit me.

I don’t remember any of this, but my mom just said that one time, like, you know, every time the babysitter turned her down, like, you know, she’d be like, “what do I do tomorrow, like, which babysitter can I get tomorrow?”

And so finally, like, she just had to go back to her boss and say, “You know, this is not working out, like, I have to leave early to take care of my daughter, and you know, no babysitters are willing to take care of her, so like, you know, I have to take care of her, so either you fire me, or I have to, you have to give me those hours to take care of my kid.”

And ever since then, I think, like sometimes like when she really had too much work to do, she would bring me to her factory and, I don’t know, put me in the little box and I could play with something in there. Like, I’d bring my toys and I played in there. I remember very faintly, ‘cause it was not a very long period of time. Like I think maybe it was one or two years that I had to do that. And after I went to first grade, my grandmother came.

Q: So, did you travel outside of Chinatown at all? Did your mother take you to Central Park? Did you go to other parts of New York much?

K.: When I lived---when I had those weekends with my dad, I remember going outside of Chinatown. My dad knows English, and he speaks it, he speaks it pretty fluently. I mean, with an accent of course. I mean, I used to go to Coney Island a lot. I remember that. And we went to see halls sometimes, I mean. But with my mom, the furthest we went I think would be 34th Street, and maybe Rockefeller Center, like once in a blue moon, but not really. Like, shopping in 34th Street, or SoHo or Seaport. Or City Hall. But that’s about it.

I started exploring the rest of New York like at a really, old age I would say. Like, I mean, not old, I mean, ‘cause I’m only twenty-one, but like compared to other kids, I think I started exploring the rest of New York like just much later than, like, other people my age.

Q: And what language do you speak at home?

K.: Cantonese.

Q: So you have no problem communicating with most people in Chinatown.

K.: No. I think most people would say I speak it too well. As an ABC. [American-Born Chinese]

Q: Do you think so?

K.: I think so. I went to Hong Kong like maybe a year ago, I think a year ago, like a summer ago. And people there just could not believe that I was born and raised in New York. They were like, “Wow, you have amazing Cantonese,” like, you know, they couldn’t tell the difference.

Q: Are you happy about that?

K.: Right now I’m pretty happy about that. Like, after going to college, and, I mean, in the past I was not happy about it I guess, because I was different from other Asian American born Chinese. I used to be, they used to laugh at me a lot, like they used to call me like names, like I was a FOB [Fresh Off the Boat] or whatever, like “fresh off the boat,” and, you know, to be called that, as a teenager, is just one of the worst things to be. Like, you never want to be called a FOB, and like some of my closest friends used to dis (slang for disrespect) me about that. And---

Q: Because you spoke such good Chinese?

K.: Yeah, because, because I was so, I was so fluent in it. And it’s, I mean, it’s funny because, like they are Chinese too, and to be, to be called that by your own people is just something that is totally, like, I don’t think that Westerners would understand that kind of like discrimination against your own kind of people, because like I guess it’s just, we’re all in America right now. And, it’s, we’re all trying to do this melting pot thing, like assimilate and become more Westernized, and understand more of Western culture, that most of us, like most of us growing up, like, teenagers growing up in New York City, we’re just so, like, absorbed into that kind of lifestyle that we forget our own culture, we forget our own heritage.

And until I was in high school, until I was fortunate enough to have this like Asian and Chinese- Caucasian---she’s a mix---teacher, like, as an English teacher, who taught me to appreciate my own heritage, I think I would have always been discriminating against my own, like, people. I used to hate being Chinese, like I used to hate being like Chinese-born, and living in Chinatown. I was never proud of it. And at one point I tried, I really tried to, like reject it from my own, like, like, I just rejected it, like my mom used to send me to Chinese school, and I hated it. I never wanted to learn Chinese or learn how to like write it or speak it or whatever, and when I----I guess there was at one point, I tried to like pretend that I didn’t know Chinese at all, like when I went back to Hong Kong the first time, which was when I was in third grade, I pretended that I didn’t know it at all. Like when people spoke to me, I just pretended like, “Oh, I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” like, I don’t understand. But ever since going to college, I started to take a Chinese class, I mean, I wish I had just understood it more and realized this back in the days because by now I would have been really good in it. I wouldn’t have to like waste my college credits, like five credits for one class to do this like at such a late, later age.

I mean, if I have kids, I would want them to speak Chinese too. I would want them to be bilingual. I mean, understand what I’ve gone through, and, I mean explain it to them differently, you know. I mean, you can, you can assimilate into the Western culture, but you also have to know where you’re from.

Q: Now, what kind of junior high and high school did you go to in Chinatown? Was it mostly Asian kids, or a good mix?

A: Um, well, in elementary school I went to PS 2 and like, they used have these, like “smart classes,” and it’s so funny because the smart classes would always be, like, almost ninety percent Chinese, and maybe like five percent white, and the rest was like one African-American and one Hispanic in there, and it was, it was mostly Chinese. Like, I was always like separated from other like races, I guess, because, I don’t know why, I’m not trying to stereotype, but I guess those Asian kids worked a lot harder than the other, um, like, other races. And so, I guess it’s also because of the parents, and how the parents push their kids. And so, like I went to PS 2 and I went to IS 131, which is, they’re both in Chinatown, and these two schools, I was mostly surrounded by Chinese students. And then I went to Environmental Studies, which is a really diverse school. But even so, I guess because I was shaped by my junior high school, and by my elementary school, that even going to such a diverse school I ended up hanging out with mostly Asian or Chinese students.

Q: And they were, like you, ABCs, that didn’t speak as good Chinese as you did?

K.: A lot of them were. Some of them were born in China, but they immigrated here. And, but they immigrated at such a young age, so they all spoke English really well.

Q: Do you think you resented your mother for kind of keeping you in Chinatown?

K.: She thinks that. I mean, sometimes I think about it. Maybe. I mean, what I resent is not that she kept me in Ch---I mean, I have a lot to appreciate of her. Like, you know, there are so many things she did for me that I have to appreciate, and I can’t blame her for some of her choices. I mean, if I were in her shoes of course I would have done things differently, to have made it easier for my, my children, but she just had so much to, you know, so much to put into her consideration that I can’t resent her for that stuff. I can’t resent her for living in Chinatown. I mean, that’s all she could afford, you know, living here.

I wish things were done differently, but I can’t resent her for what she chose to do.

Q: So it sounds like when you were younger, you weren’t so thrilled about living here, and you got picked on a lot by your friends, because of your Chinese-ness, but now, as you’re older, those things don’t bother you as much, or----

K.: No, I’m actually glad I grew up in Chinatown. I mean, I’m glad I have this background, I can say I was born and raised in Chinatown, you know, I, I used to be very, I remember one time I went to London and I told someone I lived on Pike Street, and I knew they wouldn’t know where I lived, and, but then they just said, “Chinatown, right?” and I felt really angry at that person. It’s kind of like they were condescending to a point, like, you live in the dumps, the ghetto or whatever. And, I mean, yeah, I do, so like, I mean, at that point I was really angry, but now I think about it, like what is there to be, to be not proud of? You know, I lived in Chinatown, but you know what? I’m having a college education, I’m getting myself out of this place.

I mean, you know, it’s shaped me to be the person I am, so I don’t have anything to not be proud of, you know? It’s, it’s who I am.

Q: But you want to leave. If you had the financial means, you would leave Chinatown. You wouldn’t live here by choice.

K.: I would want to live in a place where, where I can have like a bigger apartment and just, it’s just Chinatown is like, Yeah, I would want to leave. Simply put, I want to leave. But, I still want to come back. It’s not a, it’s not a place---it’s not that I want to forget about this place totally and erase it from, like my history, it’s just that I want to leave because, you know, I want to live in a better place. Like, and Chinatown doesn’t permit that, like there’s no like, you know, three bedroom apartment and you know, like a big apartment or a house that I can have in Chinatown. They’re all like tenement buildings or little studio apartments, and it just doesn’t accommodate for what I want to have in my future.

Q: So your mother is still working now, as a seamstress?

K.: Yes.

Q: And her earnings are still about the same?

K.: About the same.

Q: Do you think she’ll---what will she do, if she retires?

K.: When she retires? I don’t know. I mean, she had some problems with her knee, and so she’s been asking me, like if I start working is it okay if she stops working for year or two and then she works again, like just to, like pass time. I mean, I know she wouldn’t want to just sit at home and not do anything. So, I mean, I don’t think she would retire anytime soon. Like, she would want to just work, but not work as hard----like, work knowing that this isn’t the only money that we’re going to have.

Q: And has her work been effected by September 11th ? Because so many factories, garment factories have closed in Chinatown.

K.: Yes. Um, after September 11, her factory closed for about two or three weeks. There was, maybe like a month as she

Q: Hold on [cross talk about tape] Has your mom’s work been effected at all by September 11th?

K.: Um, yes. After September 11th, her factory closed for about like a month, and so she didn’t have any work to do for that period of time. And we lived really close to the site. We live on Pike Street and Madison, and, um, we see the bridge and we used to be able to see, like the Twin Towers, and we had a very nice skyline actually, but, and so when September 11th happened, my mom actually got to see one of the towers falling down, and so like it was really bad air. For a period of time, it really, like, it just smelled really badly. And, she didn’t get to work, and didn’t, like, there was a period of time when she had like no income I guess, and so that was pretty hard on her. But then there was like these recovery funds, I mean, there was some Red Cross funds or whatever, and if you lived in this area or worked in this area or qualified for some financial aid, and so she got a lot of that, which we were very thankful for. We got this purifier, like air purifier to put in our apartment, and that helped a little, but, I mean, and a vacuum cleaner, all these little perks that we got because we lived in the area. But, I mean, these things were also like necessary as well. I mean, we weren’t going to go out and buy them for ourselves, but, I mean, since they gave it to us, we used it.

Q: So how did your mom find out about all these relief efforts, and how, if she didn’t speak English, how did she go and apply for them?

K.: Her, um, her coworkers told her about it. A lot of them, a lot of the stuff was from coworkers, like the coworkers applied first and told her about it and urged her to apply for them. And I think there was one fund that I, like, I heard about it, like her coworkers told her about it, and then she told me about it, and, but then she said, “I’m not going to apply for it, I don’t want to apply.” I’m like, “Why? It’s thousands of dollars, like, why would you not going to apply?” And so I just got really angry at her, like she was just, you know, she’s so passive, she doesn’t want to do these things. And so I got really angry at her, I yelled at her---I was in college---and like we got into a big fight, and then later, I came back from college and then I found out she applied for it. So, I mean, I think it was ‘cause her coworkers just kept pushing her to apply, and when she went there, like I think there was some Chinese-speaking people who were, um, who offered their help, like they were volunteers there who spoke Chinese and who helped her fill out the applications and stuff.

Q: So when she wasn’t able to work, was those relief funds enough for you two to survive on?

K.: I think so. I think she, she was really happy when she got the relief funds. Um, she said, I think she said that they were more than enough. I mean, I’m not really sure, because I was in college, and she, it’s not, she wasn’t really supporting me at that point. I think all she had to pay for was like a very minimal amount of college tuition, and I was living off of the money my dad gave me, so I’m not really sure how her money, like, was used.

Q: So you saw September 11 on the news, on television.

K.: Yes.

Q: What did you do, immediately?

K.: I called home. I called my mom, but---well, all the phone lines were busy, and, you know, we, school was cancelled after, like I went to one class, and then the rest of the day was cancelled, and I just watched television all day, and tried to call my mom, but the phone lines weren’t working, so I just kind of like sat there and stuff in front of the television, and like, looked. Watched it.

Q: Were you really worried about her?

K.: I was really worried. I was worried that she went to work and couldn’t go back home, because, like, I, I mean on the news they say, like all these places were blocked and stuff, and at one point I finally reached her or my sister reached her, and like somehow, like I went online and my sister told me that my mom was fine, and that was when I felt, like, relief, but like----I found out pretty early, I think like maybe four hours after it happened I found out like she was fine, so I wasn’t worried after.

Q: And aside from losing some work, has your mom’s life been changed in other ways?

K.: I think, like, just the economy hasn’t been like, it just hasn’t been well after September 11, and so she’s, the prices of each garment she makes has decreased, and she hasn’t had, like, like there’s not, she doesn’t earn as much but then there’s also these relief funds. Like there’s this 9/11 recovery, like thing, like with going to school, and this program that like teaches, like, helps garment workers get a better education or learn English for thirteen weeks, and learn computer, like how to use a computer. And that has helped her. I mean, they got paid to go to school, and I know she learned from it, so----

Q: But she will continue to be a seamstress.

K.: Yes. Which is something I don’t understand. I mean, every---all this, I actually taught one of these classes for two days, and I kind of understood from all of these seamstresses who applied to this program that they, they just don’t plan to leave the, leave this career field. I mean, they just, they want to get the money, and they don’t mind going to school to get to earn this money. Like, come on now, going to school and getting paid for it is better than, you know, working hard at, like, in front of a sewing machine. But at the same time, after these thirteen weeks, they’re not planning to change their life at all. Life goes back to normal, it’s just that I got a little bit more money, a little bit more cash from going to school. And so I, I mean, I don’t---I think it’s pointless that there’re these, these like classes. And like, when I worked for this, this, um, like, this company, like who teaches the seamstresses, um, when they hired me, they hired me on a very like, very unprofessionally. Like they just kind of glanced at my resume and say, “You know how to speak Chinese, right?” And I had this, maybe like five-minute um, like, five-minute training session, or not training session but like testing me out or whatever. And this, this woman she spoke American, like she spoke in English, and I, I was, um---She told me to speak in Chinese and, and teach her, so I’m just like, “You don’t understand what I’m trying to say, so even if I’m trying to teach you in Chinese, you don’t know anything, like you’re not understanding anything I’m trying to say.” After maybe like two to five minutes, she was like, “Okay, you’re hired, like come, go to, come to work tomorrow, and, and, like, you’re going to have to teach this class for how many, how many days,” and then after two day, after two days of working for her, she fired me, because, um, like, I guess some, some of the like, students complained that I was too like strict and they needed some teacher that was easier. So they were very unprofessional about it. Like, they’re, they’re not, I mean, they’re just, like they just want to play around. Like even, even the company, the company who hired me, themselves, they were not like serious about it. All they wanted to do was get this money from the relief fund, like get the sponsoring money or whatever, and, and like, you know, just like teach these people and go through thirteen weeks of like easy-going time, they’re like no problems rise, then that’s okay, but if any problems come, come about, they just want to like cover it up and like you know, not let anyone know about it, you know.

And after like thirteen weeks, you get your money, I get my money, then we’re happy. Like, that, that’s the way I see it, you know. It’s just very unprofessional, and I think it’s just, the whole thing is a conspiracy, like a scam.

Q: The whole relief effort?

K.: I mean, the whole, like, educating the seamstress thing. Like I just think the whole thing is pretty much a scam. And for my mom, like her, like her education program or whatever, um, she, like, they, like her boss, started getting like scared because all these, all these seamstresses were, were like leaning toward quitting and doing this education program, and so, like the boss went to um, went to the union I think and told them about it, and they were like, “This is not going to work out, if this continues, then my factory is going to be closed, and so if this is going to happen, like, you know, can we like, you know, try to figure something out and like, you know, compromise, like maybe have like a class in Chinatown, so they can just go to work in Chinatown and then in the afternoon come back to work?”

So this is what happened and so, like, they got to go back to China---like they had a class in Chinatown to work and then they go, and then after class they go, they go to work. And then for six weeks, they did the learning in class thing. And then there was this, there was supposed to be six weeks in the computer room, too, but then they just made six weeks in the computer, like in the morning is computer and then in the afternoon or something is like writing or like a writing session. Or they’d bulk up the days, where like Tuesdays is computer, and Thursdays is computer, and then the rest of the days were writing. And then, and then, the six weeks that were left, they ended up teaching like how to, better ways in like sewing, or better ways of using like the sewing machines, which is---my mom has worked in the sewing industry for like twenty years. Does she need to be teached, like to be taught how to use the sewing machine, again? Like they were, like, I looked at some of her homework assignments, and it was just, you know, saying “button” in English, you know, and like learning how to write these parts in English. Does she really need to learn what a, like, how do you say “a button” in English, you know, like I’m saying this in English, but I’m, you know, of course she’s saying “button” in Chinese, and I’m like, you know, teaching her like these words, like how to say a, like how to write “pocket,” or like spell out “pocket” or “pants” or learn what kind of department she’s working in. Come on. When she goes to another factory, she does not need to hand in a resume saying like, “I worked in the pocket’s department.” Like, you know, they’re not going to look at the resume and be like, “Oh, you worked in the pocket’s department. Okay, you know, I’m going to like raise you and let you work in the management department. Like, that’s not going to happen. She’s going to work in the pocket department again when she goes to another factory, and no resume is going to be involved. They teach you how to write a resume and everything she writes in the resume is, everything dealing with the factory, you know, like---

Q: Well, then why did your mom go through the program?

K.: To get the money---

Q: And that was it?

K.: Yeah, to get the money, to learn, to learn English. I mean, she wanted to learn English and she, I asked her like what her goal was. And she told me that she wanted to learn about the computers so that she could, like, go online to talk to me when I’m in school, and like, maybe write me an email like once in a while, and then she also wanted to learn enough English so she can get by. Like, so she can order her own food, or, like, you know, just commute around New York City, like, without having like a problem. Like, if she gets lost she can ask her way around.

Q: Do you think your mother is afraid in some ways, she’s scared because she’s a little bit handicapped?

K.: Yeah, very much. That’s why she doesn’t want to move out of Chinatown. That’s why she wants to live here all her life.

Q: Do you want to share us the agencies that you work with? You don’t have to, but---Do you think they’re typical of a lot of the programs out there?

K.: I can’t say. I mean, I only worked for them, but I can’t say that they’re, they were---I can’t say that that’s what everyone is like, you know. I mean, I know for, my mom had a, had an American teacher. She had several American teachers and a couple of translators, and she though the American teachers were---she liked her American teachers, but she didn’t like the translators. I mean, I ---I mean, there are different situations, I mean some companies might have been serious about it, it’s just the one I worked for, I didn’t think they were serious.

Q: What would have been useful for someone like your mom? What kind of training would have been useful for her?

K.: Thirteen weeks is nothing. I went to school for, like, so many years. I mean, like, it’s been like around twenty years that I’ve went to school. You think someone who doesn’t speak English at all, who is around fifty years old, can go to school for thirteen weeks and learn English and move on to a new career field? That’s just wishful thinking, come on, now, please, you know? Like, long-term education.

Q: Do you think that’s what those programs are really for? Is it really to get people to change career, or to better themselves for the field that they’re already in?

K.: The goal, that, their mission statement is to have them eventually change their career field. I think this mission statement is just a little too much that they’re aiming for. Don’t, don’t write a mission statement like that, and then, if you’re not going to urge these seamstresses to change their career field. Don’t write a mission statement like that.

What this program does is just help, it helps them temporarily. It gives them money temporarily. And that money, of course is going to helpful. I mean, for my mom it was helpful, like, you know, we had a, like at that point you know, she had more money, and working only in factory she wouldn’t have had. But in terms of learning English, or, or, working, being in these education programs to start a new life? That’s just, you know, BS. It won’t happen, you know.

Q: But realistically, what can your mother do without---other than sewing?

K.: Realistically? I don’t know, I mean, if she learned a little bit more English, like, so that she can at least communicate, like say, like, “How are you doing?” or, or, understand what people say when they’re like, “Bathroom,” like, you know, there are things she understands, but, like, if she can get over her fear and like speak English, maybe she can work in like, you know, housecleaning---I mean, I mean, of course they’re all going to be like blue collar jobs. I don’t expect her to be working in a post office, you know, where you have to speak to all different kinds of, you know, races, and know English fluently. Like, whatever job it is, she won’t be able to work in like a, like a English-speaking environment.

Q: Would you prefer your mom to be cleaning houses rather than sewing?

K.: There are like places where you can like, you know, do housecleaning, or like, just, you know, baby-sit, like those kind of jobs. I mean, they’re much more easy going than working in a factory, where, like, it’s hot in the summer, like, and, you know, you’re breathing like really bad and dusty air, like, just the working environment is---and like, there are like little rats like running around that you can’t see, and that’s why they have so many cats in there, because these cats are the ones who are like you know, keeping the rats away. But like, my mom puts a bag of, of like bread on the floor and she brings it home and like I see a little hole in there, with like breadcrumbs around it, like, you know, like, someone took a bite of it, you know, like, not my mom so it’s definitely some rat or cat. That’s kind of----

Q: But does she ever complain about her working conditions?

K.: I don’t think she can complain about it. She’s never complained about it. I mean, she complains about how it’s really hot in the summer, but, you know, I mean, if she’s housecleaning, or, or, like babysitting or whatever, like, this is still, I mean, it’s still a blue collar job, but at least the working environment, I mean, if you’re living in a house and it needs to be cleaned, that kind of environment won’t be as bad as a, like, a factory, you know.

Q: Has your mom’s health been effected by these long years of working?

K.: She has knee problems, it’s from, from sewing. She has back problems, she has neck problems. And like, you know, every once in a while, her neck starts to hurt, and she like gives me this Chinese medicine to rub it on her.

Q: And does the union’s health insurance cover her?

K.: That’s the only thing, like, her health insurance is really good, and she loves the health insurance, and if she changes her career she won’t get health insurance. Like if she baby-sits, she won’t get babysitting health insurance, you know? So that’s why she’s unwilling to give up her job.

Q: And all these years, your mother has never thought of going back to Hong Kong or China?

K.: No, because, because I----she wants me to have---like, there are benefits in America, like with Social Security, like, you know there’s a retirement program, and, like all these things is what, you know America can offer, which, when you go back to Hong Kong, you can’t have these things, so---I think that’s why she likes America more.

Q: And you’ve never had any desire to live---Well, you don’t know what it’s like to live anywhere else but America.

K.: Not really. I mean, I studied abroad in London for like a semester, but that is not really like realistic, like realistic experience, you know, because the school took care of me and---

Q: So, do you feel super close to your mom because there’s been just the two of you for so long?

K.: We’re very, we’re very close in that sense. Like, I mean, when I talk to my other Chinese friends, like Chinese-American friends, like they kind of envy me, because I have this like close relationship with my mom, I mean we can talk about a lot of things, but it’s also like really frustrating as well, because, like, I mean I have a close relationship with her, but I think it’s because she’s so passive, and I’m so aggressive, the like our personalities really clash, and ever since I went to college, I guess my view like opened up, like, I see much more than just Chinatown, and like, it’s just very different for me now. And I just want something different. I can’t just, I can’t, after seeing how the world is out there, I can’t just come back to Chinatown and be, and be satisfied with it. You know, I can’t just live this life forever. Like, I need to, I want something better for both of us. I want her to stop working so that her knee can better. You know, I mean if she keeps working her knee won’t ever get better. And she keeps complaining about it, but what can I do for her? You know, we have to work, we have to support ourselves, and until I get my job, my ideal job, and until I get that like forty K a year, you know, there’s nothing I can do for her.

Q: Do you feel that’s a burden? Do your American friends think the way you do, that they want to take care of their parents?

K.: I think that for me, it’s definitely a responsibility. I have to take care of my mom. I mean, she’s given up so much for me. Like, when I was a child, that now, like, I know like, I know when I graduate out of college, living alone is not an option. I have to live with my mom. Like, and a lot of my Western friends and Chinese friends, like, they, they don’t, you know, they don’t understand it, you know. They think, like, why can’t you just, you know, “Live your own life, you need the independence, like, in the, you know have to be independent and stuff.” But they don’t understand, like, you know, I mean, if my mom had not done the things that she’s done for me, then I would not be here. It’s as simple as that.

So I don’t---it’s not that I don’t want to, either. Like, I really want to live with her, I want to take care of her. Like, I want to give her, like, something, like, for what she’s done for me, and, I mean, of course, sometimes I wonder, like, how life would be, if I can live alone, like if I can, like, have an apartment and live with all my, like, friends, that, you know, it’s wishful thinking, but that’s just not realistic, like---

Q: Well, you’re kind of independent now, you’re in college, at---where is the university again?

K.: In Ohio.

Q: And why did you choose to be all the way in Ohio?

K.: Um, I wanted to leave New York City. I wanted to see how the world is out there. Like, I know New York City is a bubble itself, I mean, not just Chinatown, but the city is a bubble, and so I wanted to remove myself and see, like, how life is, not in---suburban life, like outside in the country, or, or---just not New York. And also, I knew that if---I knew that after college I would have to live with my mom forever, and I wanted to experience living by myself and get those four years of experience and then, you know---

Q: And are you liking it out there?

K.: I like it out there. I like living. I mean, I live with, three, like, three people, like three girls, right now. Like they were my friends in college, and we have a house, and it’s really like easy going, I mean, I like that kind of lifestyle, but, you know, like after college it’s going to have to end. Like all this, all this fun and games, like they’re, they’re going to have to be kaput. And then it’s going to be working and working.

Q: You don’t seem to be very much looking forward to living with your mother again, and it sounds like there’s a whole lot of responsibility.

K.: There is a lot of responsibility, but, I mean, I’m sure, I’m not too thrilled about it, I guess now because we’ve going through a lot of frustrations. I mean, we’re really, we’re both really stressed out right now, and I mean, I guess like living alone and like four years in college, has made me to be really like, independent, and, like some of the things, like, that I used to be able to endure, like how she like wants me to go to, like, at a certain time, like, you know, these things, you don’t need to take of me on that. Like, I know when I need to go to bed. Like, I mean, if I want to go to bed at three or four in the morning, like, that’s my problem, like, I’ll, I’ll get up later in the morning. Like, I know how to live my life now. I’m twenty-one years old. You don’t need to tell me when to eat or when to go to bed, or like what to eat, or like, what to do. You know, like that kind of stuff, like, I’m not a kid anymore, like, these things---I think she just needs to understand that I’m not, like, ten years old, that she doesn’t need to take care of me, in that sense anymore.

And I guess there’s just like, I mean, I’ve been coming back, like every so often, like during breaks and stuff, and that’s why I can’t like get used to her and her nagging and stuff, but I feel like once we get to live with each other on a long-term basis, then we can develop an understanding and compromise with each other more. I mean, in terms of living with her, like, on a long-term basis, I think it’s just, we both have to compromise in order for it to work out. I mean, I’m not scared about it, I mean, I’m not like, not thrilled about it, I mean, I’m not as thrilled about it as I would wish to be, but, but it’s something we have to do.

Q: What do you think is the stigma attached to living in Chinatown? Like, you said when you went to London you told people, Oh, you lived on Pike Street, and they said, “Oh, Chinatown.” What do you think the average person thinks when you say “I live in Chinatown”?

K.: I think it’s, they think that Chinatown is very dirty and is full of tenements and that, like if you live in Chinatown, then you must not have had a well-off life. Like, I think there’s just a whole bunch of stereotypes connected to Chinatown itself that it’s, it’s the slum, you know, you know, you walk on the streets, people, like on East Broadway, for instance, like people are just like squatting and talking on telephones, and they have like no, they’re discourteous, they have no manners whatsoever, they’re impolite, they push around, they don’t say, “Excuse me,” they don’t say, “Sorry,” they’re not---Like, I mean, it was my sister and I were walking in Chinatown, and she has a kid, we’re pushing the baby cart, everywhere else in New York City, people would move away and like not try to push you, and if you have to go through a door, like, they would hold the door for you. But only in Chinatown, men actually try to push you away even when you’re like with a baby carriage, you know? And, so like these, these Chinese people, like they just have no kind----they have no, like they just don’t love where they live in. Like, this is the place where you live in. Take care of it, for God’s sake! Don’t throw garbage on the streets, like it’s the dirtiest place that you can actually be in, in the city. I, I feel.

Like, you know, we have these fish markets, and it just smells, it stinks, I hate going on Mott Street, like, they have like, whenever I have to go on Mott Street to buy food, like, or groceries, with my mom, it’s like these people, they just like treat the streets like trash. Like they spit like all over the place, like they throw garbage, they did into their noses, god, you know, go back to your home, like, go to the bathroom, or like, you know, somewhere where you can wash your hands, like, you know, like, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want you to touch me after you’ve touched your like, like your nose or whatever. That’s disgusting!

Q: So are you saying Chinese people are dirtier maybe than other----

K.: Yeah! I mean, I don’t want to stereotype, like, you know, I mean, these are, like, my people, in the end, but ultimately, but, like, you know, they, we, people look down on us, because they are the people who they are. Like, I mean, if you ‘re not going to be more civilized about yourself, like, you know, if you’re not going to become civilized and if you’re not going to respect yourself and respect the place you’re living, other people won’t respect you. That’s the way I see it.

I mean, I’m angry, I’m angry when other people like look down on us and when they condescend on us, upon us, of course I’m very angry about it, and I wish that, like, there wasn’t such a thing. But I can’t, even I can’t help looking down on these people when they are doing the things they do. And in terms of like, like, having their voice out, like, you know, we have this Chinese poem. I actually wrote about this when I was a kid. Like, this poem that’s like they say, you know, withholding or resistance and like trying to take in everything, and if you take in everything like, you know, the ocean will look wider, and [recites a poem in Chinese] You know? Have you heard of that?

Q: You have to translate that into English, so that people who don’t speak Chinese---what does that poem mean?

K.: Well, it means, that like, well, what, what, what the poem, it’s not really a poem, it’s more like a saying, like a two-line saying, like with---

Q: A proverb.

K.: Yes. Um, and it’s about just, resisting, resistance, like, how much you can take, how much you can withhold, how much people can step on you, and you can just take it in and not fight back. Like, and if you can just hold it in and like, you know, and withhold it for awhile, then, like, after you step back you will see that the world is much bigger and that, like the waves are silent and then you won’t like, you won’ tactually move anything. Like everything is just the way it is. Like, you won’t like---I don’t know, how to translate it----

Q: ---Is that accurate for Chinese people? Is that what you’re saying?

K.: That’s what I learned, since I was a kid. Like, and when I was really young, like in elementary school, I used to be bullied by this Hispanic person, like this Hispanic, like, student, who was my age. She lived in my building, and she used to bully me all the time, and my grandmother used to pick me up from school, like after, like at around like six o’clock, after daycare, I mean. And then this Hispanic, like, girl, would wait in front of our apartment door, just so that she can like get the happiness of the day, like, you know, like, she gets to slap me around, a little bit, and she feels much happier about it, like it’s her passing time. And one time it was just horrible. My grandmother picked me up, and this girl, like, maybe in second grade, like, eight years old or seven years old, she slapped my grandmother! Like a fifty-year-old or sixty-year-old like elderly grandmother, she was able to slap her around, and like, she took my headband off of me and broke it, and threw a tennis ball at her.

And like, this kind of abuse, if you were strong about yourself, like if you, if you, if there was no, this proverb, if this was not in our minds, like, we could have like gotten help, like I could have went to the principal. Like, I didn’t have to endure this kind of like, life.

Q: What did you do, when the girl did that?

K.: We didn’t do anything, for like almost half a year, I had to go through this kind of like constant bullying, and constant just like, constant abuse by this girl, and after half a year, finally I was full of it. I just went to my mom, like, “I can’t take this anymore. You have to do something about it. You’re my mom. If you can’t protect me, who is going to protect me?” And like, my grandmother can’t protect me, my grandmother is being abused by this little girl, and so like finally my mom was like, “Okay, we’re going to go to the principal, we’re going to like, you know, get some help, like, you know, we’re going to like, rat her out, finally.” And so after that, you know, it finally stopped, she stopped doing it. But this has taught---I think that, that happened in second grade, and that has really taught me to be who I am, to be like, as loud, and as aggressive, to voice my opinion.

I mean, like, all these, all these like Chinese people living in Chinatown, like they want all these things, like they think that the government isn’t like, you know, giving them enough attention. They think that the government isn’t like, you know, treating us right, like, especially during the blackout, you know, Chinatown and Lower East Side was the the last, the last, like area to get their electricity back. You know, we were the last place to be recognized. Queens was one of the


Q: The blackout in 2003, Chinatown was one of the last areas in New York City to get electricity back.

K.: Yeah, Lower East Side, and not just Chinatown.

Q: And why do you think that is?

K.: I think it’s because, you know, we’re just disrespected, like, everyone living in the Lower East Side is just not respected. Like, you know, the government doesn’t really give a, like a crap about, you know, about this area, because, you know, people who are living in this area, like, are just not as well off as the Upper West Side or the Upper East or whatever, and so, like, we get the last cut of the cake, you know, the last piece.

And so, like, it’s just not fair, you know, like---It’s also I think it’s because, like, in terms of coming from Chinatown, and coming from like a Chinese point of view, I feel like these Chinese people, they don’t like to, like, you know, they don’t like to cause any trouble and like they don’t like to, you know, say anything about what they need or what they want. Like, they need something or they want something, but they don’t do anything about it. They just like keep it inside themselves and they’re just like, okay, if I can’t have it, fine, I’ll live without it. But like, in terms of like, necessities or like, something dealing with politics, like, you know, if none of us vote, and if none of like write down that we’re Chinese and we’re voting, of course, like, we have such a small portion in like, the American voting process, that like of course like no kind of government will actually take us into consideration ‘cause we’re, we have such a small, like, voice. Like we’re just, we’re a minority that can, that can work hard, and like, like as a stereotype, you know, we can work hard, and like, you know, climb up the ladder and with, with our, like, bare hands or whatever. But in terms of like, giving into the government, or like you know, showing them that we care, or showing them that we actually like the place that we live in, or like, you know, dealing with politics, they just don’t do anything about it.

Like, voting---“Oh, that’s just a waste of time.” You know, like my mom, had, didn’t even vote until recently, until like, for Bloomberg, that was the mayor that she, like, that she actually, that was the election that she voted on, like, first. And that was only because she wanted to see how, like, voting is like, and after that, after voting that one time, she didn’t vote anymore again. And so like, you know, it’s like that’s the way every other Chinese person thinks. Like they don’t like to give to the community in order to get something back. Like, they just think, like, you know, giving something that’s this little is just a waste of time, but they don’t understand the long term, like, benefits, like, an advantage of them just doing, wasting like an hour of their time to go vote, and like, maybe in the future like the American government will finally recognize that Chinese people aren’t like as quiet as we’re stereotyped to be, and we’re not as like, passive as, as they think that we are. And by the way, maybe one day they will respect us, you know?

Q: Well, your generation. You’re going to---you are different from your parents, right? You have a voice, you have an education, you speak English, so do you, what, what do you think your generation can do to make a difference in that way?

K.: I think my generation, I think that there are many types of people in my generation, and I am just one type of them. Like there are other people my age who are wasting their lives and going to like Grant Street Park and playing handball, like, twenty-four seven. You know? Like there are many people, like, I mean, my generation, I mean, true, like, we have an education, we know how to speak English, but, I mean, until, I don’t think that all of us recognize that, you know, we’re being discriminated, that like, we have to do something to change it. Like, this is not like a, this change is not going to happen until we all recognize it, and I don’t think we have all recognized this. Like, and more me, like, it’s just such a small portion of people who are like, active like me, like who want something different, who want to change.

Q: So you think when you’re done with school, you might come back and do something for the community?

K.: I would like to do something for the community. I mean, right now, in school, I’m like part of the Chinese Students Association. There wasn’t even a Chinese Students Association in my school that was chartered, and we just had to work really hard to charter this organization. Like, I think William, who is working in this museum, he was one of the founding fathers of this organization, but even when he graduated, our organization wasn’t even chartered yet. And the only reason was because the Chinese in my school was not united enough. We weren’t like, we didn’t have, like, a loud voice, we didn’t have enough student membership in order to get ourselves chartered. I mean if this, if the Chinese students don’t even want a place or a union for themselves, then of course the school wouldn’t recognize that they need it. Like, if they don’t need it, why do we have to give them one? That’s what the school thinks.

And so, like, we’re so disorganized, and we’re so not unified. I just think like Chinese is one of the Asian, like, one of the Asians that are the most not, like, united. That’s---I don’t understand why. Like, like, just Chinese people don’t like to help out each other, they don’t like to ask each other for help, they’re just like, everyone is just, you know, selfish, and, like, I mean I guess I am stereotyping again, like, not all of us are like that, but, you know, in general, it’s just, you know, no one likes to, like, they don’t, we’re not like the Koreans, we’re not like the, you know, like, you know, the Japanese, like in school they all have their little like groups that like to help each other out, like even if they don’t know each other well, they know about each other, they like to say “Hi” to each other, but the Chinese, they just like live in their little world, they live in their own room, they don’t like to like, you know, they don’t like to assimilate, they don’t like to, like, reach out to people. They’re just, you know, they’re like, squished.

Q: You seem to have a lot of, I don’t know, anger, or rage in you.

K.: I’m angry because I don’t understand why, like if they know that there’s something better, why wouldn’t they want to like, have that, you know? If there are students who are so enthusiastic about having a student union, and like uniting us, and like building a bridge so that, you know, all of us from different backgrounds can like, you know, unify and like communicate with each other, and like foster an understanding for each other, why wouldn’t they want something like that? It’s something good. Why wouldn’t they want to, like, have anything to do with us, you know? It took us forever to like, get, like, the student membership that we have now, and most of it are like the Chinese-Americans, like, American-born Chinese, who are like from a, like the college background.

Like even in my school, there’s like such a, like a gap, like there’s the conservatory, and there’s the college, and the conservatory, the students in the conservatory are mostly, like, you know, students coming from China or Hong Kong or Taiwan, or, like, you know, other Asian countries, or like, the international countries coming to the conservatory to study music, ‘cause we have a really good department in music, and like these students who are here for four years, they just don’t want to like, get out of the conservatory. They stay there their whole entire four years, and, like, go there from morning to like, night time, and practice all day. They don’t even want to understand, like, like, anything else about living in America, or anything else about, like other students around them. And so, like, you know, and this is, this is a small example about how the bigger picture is like, you know. This college conservatory problem is exactly like what Chinatown and New York City is like.

Q: So, it seems you consider yourself very Chinese. Am I correct? Especially given that you were pretty much raised in this country.

K.: Yes.

Q: Does your mother feel that way? Obviously, she is Chinese. Does she feel American at all?

K.: I don’t know. I don’t think so. She always laughs at me, she---like, when I was young, I’d always say, “You people, you Chinese people, and us American people.” You know, I kind of like, like, differentiating us in that way. Like, I kind of like separated us. Like, in terms of identity, when I was young, but now, I don’t, I consider myself as a Chinese-American, I don’t just consider myself as a Chinese person or whatever. Like, and I think my mom considers herself as Chinese still. And I don’t think she. She thinks, when she goes back to Hong Kong, I’m pretty sure she would say something like, you know, like she would refer to America, like she would probably feel proud that she’s in America, like given that Hong Kong has such a bad economy right now, and it’s just going down the hill right now ever since it went back to Chinatown, I mean, to China. But---

Q: So has September 11th in any way made you think about all these things, of, are you proud to be an American, do you feel more patriotic?

K.: I was very patriotic when September 11th happened, but I have to say that there are some things that I don’t agree with that the American government has done.

Q: Such as?

K.: Like the war in Iraq. I just, I mean, you know, coming from like, the college point of view, like, there’s a lot of activism in my school about this, and, I think it’s a whole conspiracy, like an oil conspiracy, like, just to get the oil, ‘cause our country doesn’t have enough of it.

Q: Does your mom pressure you in any way to do anything in particular, to, any kind of profession, any specific type of profession?

K.: No, because when I was choosing between like going to high schools, like what high schools to go to, I wanted to go to LaGuardia High School, which is an arts school, and I primarily wanted to work in fine arts, and like, do like wood work and stuff, and she just really freaked out. She was like, “No, you are not going to LaGuardia High School,” like “I am not letting you go into that high school, like, you just, like, that’s just not going to happen at all.”

So I had the opportunity to go and like to enter that high school, but I had to forfeit it, because she was just so, she objected to it, so like, you know, by such like great, like at great lengths she was going to like forbid me to go, like, if you go, you’re not my daughter anymore, like that kind of talk that she gave me, and so like I just had to, you know, to give that up. And I always wanted to work in the arts, in the arts field and stuff, and so when---I always blamed her for that, and like, for that experience, and like not being able to go to LaGuardia, because after like, a couple of years after I went to high school, she like realized that like even going to LaGuardia I could study other things, like architecture or like design or whatever that could have benefited me, I didn’t have to just become a poor street artist, as she would think. And so she kind of like took away this opportunity for me. And for college she just didn’t want the same thing to happen again, so she was like, hands off. “I’m not giving you any opinions. Whatever college you choose to, it’s your, it’s your decision. You know, just make sure that you’re like, not going to fail, that you will get out of college in four years ‘cause that’s all I can afford, and you can succeed no matter whatever you choose.

And so like, I---you know, even without her pressuring me, I still knew that I just can’t major in art. Like, art was---I chose to double major in English and Art, because, I mean, one English, I feel like as a Chinese-American growing up in Chinatown, I didn’t have that kind of exposure to the English literature. Like, I didn’t get a chance to read the paper every single day. Like, I don’t know about New York Times best sellers. Like, that’s why I wanted to major in English, to master the language, and just be exposed to the English literature like the way that, like, an American born, like a Western or a Caucasian, like, you know, just a Western family who would bring up their child and expose them to this kind of literature, like, I would want to like, know about these things. And that’s why I chose English, to benefit me in that way.

And art was just an interest that I’ve always had, and that’s why. Like, I know I can’t just choose art, because if I just choose art, then my mom’s going to think, “Oh no, poor street artist.” So that’s why I chose English as well. Like English is the one that’s going to support me and art is like, you know, a sidekick.

Q: So you described yourself earlier as you’re more aggressive than your mom, and because of what happened to you as a kid, being bullied on and all, does speaking out loud all the time and being more aggressive, has that changed the way people treated you?

K.: I think so. Like a lot people describe me as like, loud, and blunt, very honest, and critical. Like, I’m obviously very different from a lot of my friends who are very passive, like, who resemble my mom in many ways, because they were brought up the way they were. Like, I think it’s because I lived with my mom, and I, I mean, even though I have a sister, like, I was pretty much an only child, and I got my way a lot, and my mom, it was just my mom who was teaching me, and, I mean, if she didn’t have that much time to teach me, then, I got to be the---like, I got to learn my own way and be the way I want to be, and that’s why I was able to be as loud and you know, as aggressive as I want to be. I didn’t have that kind of, mother, like father, like parenting, and like other siblings, you know, to be as my model. Like, you know, everything that I wanted to be, it was from like, it was from my own experience. Like it’s not---like I didn’t have any like examples or anything that was trying to like, keep me within the boundaries of what they expect.

Q: Okay, I have to ask you a health-related question now. Chinatown supposedly has a much higher rate of asthma sufferers than other parts of New York because the air and the pollution here is quite bad. Have you had any problems with that?

K.: No, I haven’t.

Q: Your friends?

K.: I don’t know of any of that. I mean, I did develop some allergies, but I don’t think it’s because of---I’m not sure if it’s because of Chinatown, but, like, I have allergies in the springtime, and that’s about it.

Q: So after September 11th, your mother got like vacuum cleaners, air filters, that kind of thing, and they were helpful.

K.: Yes. She actually developed some allergies to like, to dust.

Q: After September 11th?

K.: I’m not sure when it developed, but like now, I know she has some like trouble with like dust and pollen and she has to wear like, a mask, like, when she works, like a little nose mask to keep away from the, to keep the dust away.

Q: Oh, maybe from all the years of working in the factories, you mean?

K.: I think so. I think there’s not just---I think it’s the factory, and also, maybe like, like, the pollen, I think. She’s definitely allergic to pollen.

Q: Okay. Well, we’ve covered quite a lot of things, and you obviously have a lot to say, K.. Is there anything else you want to share with us that we haven’t talked about?

K.: I don’t---I can’t think of anything now.

Q: Okay. Well, I wish you luck in your studies, and I hope that you do come back and do something in the community, because I think a lot of people when the opportunity to leave, they just leave and don’t come back, so. Anyhow, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us.

K.: No problem. I was glad. Yeah. [laughter]


Meiling Tse, Female, 35 y.o. -- High school teacher

Interviewed by Val Wang

Q: A little bit about where you were born and the story that your dad told you.

Tse: Right, well, I grew up –


Q: I’m Val Wang.

Tse: You need to put your face in the camera.

Q: And I guess if you could introduce yourself a little bit, your name and where you were born and your age. Your age? And say where we are right now.

Tse: I don’t have to say my age, do I? Okay, I’ll say it, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t show my students. They think I’m 25. Okay, should we start? Or should we just answer?

Q: Yeah, just name, age, where we are.

Tse: Well, my name is MeiLing Tse, it’s my last name. I was born in Hong Kong and I immigrated to the United States with my entire family when I was 4 years old. I have two older sisters and a younger brother. When he came, he was one years old and I’m 35 years old now and I’m teaching at Lower East Side Preparatory High School and I was born in Hong Kong, like I said, and the way that my family immigrated to the United States was through my father’s – some connection between my father and his job. And so I tell my students this really interesting and fabulous story of this generous guy who was my father’s boss who just kind of sponsored my entire family to come to the United States so that my father could work for him in the restaurant, so the boss, the guy opened the restaurant in Brooklyn and my father started to work for him. He was a loyal worker for many years until he retired and my family grew up in Brooklyn near my boss in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn. And went to high school – to elementary school, started kindergarten, actually, in the United States without knowing a single word of English because when I immigrated here, I didn’t know a word of English. My parents didn’t speak English, didn’t have any friends who spoke English. So, even though when you’re playing with your friends, you learn English, but because I didn’t have any friends who spoke English, I went to school without any English language skills. The school I went to, I remember, didn’t have any bilingual – no Chinese in the school, no bilingual classes as we have today and I remember the first day of school I was so scared because I didn’t understand what anyone was saying and I remember the end of the day I was hiding in the closet and the teacher had to fget me out to go home. And so those were my earliest memories and I tell my students the story just to put them at ease that every person that comes here really has a very difficult beginning. It’s not easy to assimilate and even for me, at age five, four or five years old, it was so hard and, so jumping forward, I learned English, went to high school and college ---

Q: How long did it take you to learn English? Or, how long was it until you felt comfortable here?

Tse: I remember reading, well the early years after that first memory was kind of blurred, but I remember reading books on my own in third grade, in third grade, just going to the library and taking out tons of books to read in the summer. And so I would say that I could probably read at a third grade level by the time I was eight years old, so I would say that between those first three years, it was very critical. I did learn somehow. How I learned, I don’t remember.

Q: At home, what were you speaking at home?

Tse: At home, my parents spoke Cantonese and that was the only language we used.

Q: How was their English progressing during that time?

Tse: Well, my parents were blue-collar workers. My father worked in a restaurant. He was a waiter and my mother was a seamstress, so they really had no use for English, so basically, they took classes and they tried to learn, but even up to today, they really have no use. They’re in their own community, there’s no really reason for them to use English, so they haven’t --- I don’t think they can really converse in a conversation with an American. So we’ve basically kept – they’ve been kind of shelled in their own little world all these years, actually.

Q: You mentioned that the area you grew up in didn’t have many other Chinese kids. So what was that experience like growing up, surrounded by people who weren’t Chinese?

Tse: Like I said, I have two older sisters and a younger brother, so basically, my family, we basically kept to ourselves and played with each other. We had friends, but basically, they were like school friends, like after school, we really didn’t hang out with them. We came home like obedient kids. We were latchkey kids, so we let ourselves in the house. We played in the house, went to the library. My sisters were my friends, so we played together, basically.

Q: Did you have any contact with the Chinese community in Chinatown, in Brooklyn, or in Queens? When did you ever come in contact with them?

Tse: Well, there was a big contact because my parents, my mother especially, worked in Chinatown and as we got older, my older sister actually went to Chinese school on Mott Street, CCBA [The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association] and my second sister did and my younger brother. I was the only one who didn’t go to Chinese school and my mother’s side of the story is that I refused to go so she let me go, according to the story, so I never learned Chinese that way, to write and read. But getting back to your question, we would go out every Sunday because that was family day and that was the place where my parents were very comfortable and we would go out to eat for dim sum, hang out with his family friends in the neighborhood, and basically, yeah, that was our contact, coming out every Sunday, just to eat, go shopping, hang out with my mother’s friends and my father’s friends.

Q: So you mentioned you didn’t have family here. How did they meet people? How did your parents meet people?

Tse: Basically from their, well, it’s not a hundred percent true that they didn’t have any blood relatives, but like family friends, like my mother’s workers became very good friends. We had some distant cousins here and basically, there was an association that my father was affiliated with, people who came from the same area in China got together, and so there was this organization called the “Tees” group, the T-S-A group, you’ve probably seen it in Chinatown, on Division Street and my father would go up there and they would gamble and men would get together and just talk and just hang out, so there was an association there and he would bring the family around, the kids, just to meet his friends, so they could see, Oh, these are your daughters, these are your lovely daughters and your good son, kind of show the family off, so, that was important for us to, to realize that there were other people who were concerned about us.

Q: So what part of China was that, were those, was that group of people from?

Tse: Mostly from Canton, Guangdong, in China.

Q: I guess if you could talk more about growing up and high school and then going to college and that whole process of where you went to college and how you made those decisions.

Tse: I went to a local school, after elementary school, I went to the local high school, which was Midwood High School at Brooklyn College and there were more Asians there, but I wouldn’t say that there were new, first-generation Chinese. I mean, there were definitely Chinese there whose families were wealthier, I remember, kids whose families were in the medical profession, people who were pretty well-off, probably second or third generation in America and I just remember they were still no ESL [English as Second Language] classes, but I remember in my sister’s grade there was a new immigrant, she was Vietnamese and my sister became sort of like the surrogate parent for that young girl because we understood what it meant to be an immigrant and I remember my sister would bring her friend home to kind of do homework together and kind of be together and so I remember my sister kind of taking on the role, kind of like teacher-slash-friend for this newcomer. For the most part, most of the Asians in the school were pretty much like second or third generation, I would say. And then later on I decided to go to New York University and followed my sister’s footsteps, because my sister went there first, I have to say. And then, at NYU of course, there were people from all over the world and that’s one of the things that attracted me. I wanted to find a school where people have similar experiences, but also people with wide experiences and wanted to get to know more, different people. So, of course everyone knows New York University has students from all over the world, from many various different backgrounds. And I had a really great experience there.

Q: So, say, like, your friends in high school versus your friends in college. How were they different?

Tse: Actually, it’s kind of funny. In college, I would say was the first time I met friends who spoke Chinese, who were new immigrants and who were probably first generation Chinese-Americans and I spoke Chinese in school. It was the first time, really that I made friends there who were Chinese, who spoke Chinese.

Q: And how did you decide to become a teacher? Can you talk about that whole process?

Tse: Well, actually, going back to high school, during the summers there was a program called SYEP [Summer Youth Employment Program], which the government funded to have students work in different areas in the city, so somehow I, the company or I guess the organization which sponsored the program, was in Chinatown, so I ended up working in Chinatown when I was 14 years old when I got those papers, my working papers and all my summer jobs from the age of 14 to 18, during my high school years, were in Chinatown. So I worked at the Chinese-American Planning Council, every summer, working at their summer youth program. I was either a - what was I – a counselor. There are really big titles, but to a 14-year old, we were really assistant counselors. There was somebody in charge of us. We didn’t have that many responsibilities, but we, you just kind of work with, pretty much like babysitting, watching the kids who were younger than we were. So most of my jobs have been working in the Chinese community since I was 14. And the last year in high school, I remember, I was placed in a program where were worked with kids who were slightly older, they were high school kids, so they were almost the same as I was. And most of those kids were in school in Chinatown and they didn’t speak English. So then I started really tutoring, working with the students in another level and from there I got interested to, in education and thought in college that this was something I would study, so when I got to NYU, I continued, actually, to work at the Chinese-American Planning Council, getting other kinds of jobs in different areas and kind of stuck with that company for a while.

Q: And then you said after you graduated college, you started teaching? Is that --

Tse: Yeah, well, actually, after college I got a degree in elementary ed and I taught sixth months in kindergarten, in Brooklyn, didn’t enjoy it. The kids were very tiresome and somehow I found myself taking time off and I came back to work at CPC as a full-time, for a year. Then in that time period I decided to go back to get my Master’s degree in teaching English as a second language. And so then I applied to get a job at NYU, so I worked at NYU full-time and taught a writing workshop to students and then I started to pursue my Master’s and one year later, I interviewed at this school and got a job here and here I am about ten years later and still here, still enjoying it. The students are, as I put it before, they are about, the school is about 70 percent immigrant students and of those 70 percent, I would say 60 percent, 60 65 percent Asian immigrants. Asian, Chinese immigrants. So, it’s kind of like going back full circle to my background.

Q: Can you tell a little bit about the class that you teach and about the problems that the kids have and how you work through a lot of their issues?

Tse: In this school, we have a really good ESL program. We have all levels of ESL, starting with beginner and it used to be that 10 years ago we used to accept students who were at the really basic literacy level learning English, so I remember doing very basic, just going over the alphabet, A B C. Of course now, with the English Regents, we don’t accept those kinds of students anymore. We still have beginning level learning students, so that’s ESL 1, 2. We also have Intermediate 3 and 4. Five and 6, 7 is a transitional English class, English as a Second Language into a mainstream English class. And so I’ve taught every level of ESL, from beginning to intermediate and advanced and it’s really amazing to see in a really short amount of time, from students can be here from three months in this country, from three months to two years and they have to learn a lot. A lot of skills, a lot of language skills. And the ultimate goal is, for them, is to learn enough English to pass the English Regents, which is mandated of every student in New York City in order to receive the high school diploma. So that’s a big challenge, a really big challenge and they rise to the occasion. I mean, that’s what’s amazing that in two years, that they can learn such an incredible amount. I mean, if you think about it, if you were to, if we were to go to another country and could we master a language in two years? That’s mind-boggling, yeah.

Q: And so can you say, in the ten years that you’ve been here, what you’ve seen in the changes in the students, where people are coming from and what kind of English they come with or what kinds of problems you’ve seen that have changed in the last ten years.

Tse: As I said before, ten years ago we actually accepted students who were at the literacy level where we started with the alphabet and at the same time, we also had students who have incredible amounts of grammar and English levels, and most of the students came from Hong Kong ten years ago. If you look at today’s student population, most of our students come from more rural or small town farm areas in China, Fukian, especially. I would say 80% of our students are from Fukian today, yeah. And I would say of those students, about half of them don’t have more than a sixth grade education, so that’s another challenge that’s come up that they don’t have the literacy skill in their own language so it’s hard for them to actually transfer their knowledge of language into their second language or their third language.

Q: What do their parents usually do, here?

Tse: I would say probably 99 percent of their parents are blue-collar workers, work in factories, restaurants. There are a minority number of students whose parents were at the technical level, doctors, perhaps, nurses in China, but of course after coming here, they have to get jobs to support themselves, so again, they are kind of working blue-collar jobs.

Q: And so what kinds of difficulties do you see them having here and how do they kind of compare to the difficulties that you had when you came?

Tse: Their difficulties?

Q: Yeah.

Tse: Well, it’s interesting, because thinking back now a lot into the things that we were missing as a child, we didn’t have dolls, we didn’t have money to buy certain things. My clothes were all secondhand because I had two older sisters, so when I tell my students this, they’re like, What? How could you like, didn’t you want more? Didn’t you have your parents like give you stuff? So when I see a lot of students these days, actually I would say are better off or at the same level that my parents were at. I think you have to look at it in perspective, when you live in a certain time period, you don’t think of the things you don’t have because you don’t have them, but if you’ve had them before and then all of a sudden you don’t have it, then you compare and say, Oh my god, what happened? You know, why is our life worse? Or, you know, what has changed for us? So I think that for most students, because they didn’t have much before, and I would say I would know at least a couple families who told me that, you know, when they were in China, they really, they didn’t, their parents didn’t work, you know, they really just stayed at home, and every day was just passing by. They are so extremely grateful to be here that they really, they really don’t care about the clothes that they are wearing. The education is really the most important thing to them.

Q: Interesting. I guess we can talk a little bit about, should start talking a little bit about 9/11 and you were pretty close to that area. I guess first a little bit about that day and where people were, if people were here and then more about what happened afterwards and how the school dealt with it and the kids and if there were any changes that happened because of it, at the school and any counseling that the kids went through, or the teachers. So I guess a little bit about what happened that day, or where you were or where the kids were.

Tse: Two years, last year, we did a little write-up, kind of like memorial of the day and one of my students handed in this essay on that day, he was on his way from China to come to the United States and the plane was stopped and they had to re-route and stop in California because of what happened here and he remembered that it was, not so much scary, but a sense of not knowing what is going to happen to you, so in his essay he writes they were just stranded in this one place and nobody knew what was going to happen and now all the dreams and excitement of coming here, you know, kind of like fell backwards, you know, are we going to have to go back to China or are we going to move forward? So it’s kind of interesting in retrospect those students who came here during that year probably had a really amazing memory of probably what happened. For us, that day, it was in the morning, and it was, from one of the classrooms, you could see the smoke and you could see one of the towers missing, and we remember, the entire school would try to like move the entire student body into the auditorium so that people would not go crazy or panic. We were just waiting word to see what happens, you know, was it just a plane or was it something else. And of course when we found out, you know, we couldn’t leave school, there were no train available, so we thought we were going to camp out in school that night. You know, the students were kind of, we were all shocked, but we didn’t, most of the people here in our school didn’t know anyone personally who was in the buildings. So I guess it was, the shock was so great that we didn’t really think about the reality of what was happening. We were just stunned, you know, classes didn’t go on. We just basically sat around and waited. The students, no one talk about it. They try to, try to continue the day but not really knowing what to say. So it was a really hard day, so –

Q: Most of the kids weren’t from around here, you said? They couldn’t just walk home, or –

Tse: Some of the students were able to go home, you know, within walking distance, but the rest of the students kind of waited. We had all of the TVs on, just kind of waiting word to see if the trains would go on, whether we should let the students go at 3 o’clock or not, yeah.

Q: And the rest of the week, did there, were there classes? Or what happened, sort of just with the class, with the school?

Tse: Well, we were told to try to continue things, as much as possible, but of course when you go home and you realize what happened, you know, and a few days, as time passed, two days or three days later, when it really sets in about the reality of what happened, it’s really hard to just continue. And I would say, we had a social worker at the time and she did go around to talk to the students in each classes and really appreciate that she brought up certain things that the teachers, you know, did not feel comfortable talking about or did not know how to approach it. And it’s really hard because you put your own personal opinion about what happens and we had some Muslim students in the school as well.

Q: How did they experience 9/11 or what was their experience after 9/11?

Tse: They were quiet about it, actually. I mean, later on, the following years, a year later, because we heard about the hatred and what was happening in their neighborhoods, but at that time, it was just, I think we were all just stunned. There was no blame, there was no animosity towards them, but we try to keep things in the low-key, just try to move on.

Q: Did they talk about what had happened in their neighborhood? What were they saying about their experiences?

Tse: They just, well, from what we heard in newspaper, you know, that they were being shunned or, it wasn’t so much that they, since I guess they, this school’s a pretty safe environment, so we really tried, I mean most of the students know each other. It wasn’t so much that our students were picking on the other students, but when they went home to their own worlds, I guess they had a different experience and it wasn’t so much shared in the school. Little bits and pieces came out afterwards. You know, like especially a year later, little things came out. They didn’t talk much the first year, about their personal feelings or like what happened to them afterwards.

Q: So, after a year, how did it come out? Was it in counseling steadily for a year or how did that work?

Tse: There were a few students who actually met with social workers on a one-to-one basis, who got counseling, but some of the teachers addressed it to the entire class. We spoke, we sat in a circle the second or third day and we talked about what happened. It’s just still, like, for the students, I don’t think they really want to talk about it. I don’t know whether it’s the age or whether they don’t think it really affected them, but they just didn’t want to talk about it, just wanted to move on, it’s like, Miss Meiling, can we just get back to what we were doing before? Just really just kind of want to forget about it, just kind of move on.

Q: Have they been like that the whole time? They’ve never wanted to talk about it, or --

Tse: The second year we had a memorial. Like each 9/11, the school, we put a memorial. We have students come up to a wall and write things, write their memoirs, write what they felt, what happened that day. And for that one day, I would say, it’s still so much like, it’s a one-day deal and after that, they don’t really want to talk about it.

Q: What about you, your experiences that day? How were you feeling or how did you react or –

Tse: Well, my sister actually worked in that building and her company actually moved out of that building a few months ago, so like I, I didn’t personally know anyone who worked there, except my sister who had moved out, so I was very relived, but I remember just like a blackout, you call everyone you know and want to find out if they’re okay, but itwas, it’s still hard, like for everyone else and you stay glued to the TV to hear the news.

Q: Was, were any of your students affected in terms of their parents losing jobs or any of those kinds of effects?

Tse: Well, I know, like, there was a big drive to really help the students fill the forms so they could get from FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], the aid they needed. A lot of students who were concerned about their parents were lost jobs in this area. Even the students who didn’t live in this area, in the Chinatown area, their parents worked down here, so parents who lost their jobs, the social workers would try to help them to apply for aid, to help them get financial assistance.

Q: So what kinds of aid programs were there? Because I’m not too clear about what kinds of aid programs there were.

Tse: There’s the FEMA program. So, I mean, we all knew it personally, so we tried to send the students down there to get the forms and they would come back here and ask us to help them fill it out. I had a friend whose son actually worked in the office, so I had some connections there and I got some forms for them. I had a, they actually had, they were, I mean it was translated in Chinese, so it was, there wasn’t so much problems in filling out the forms, but actually getting people there to stand in lines, reassuring that it was okay to go there and get help from other people.

Q: Was there a lot of reluctance to do that? To get help, to go seek help?

Tse: I think they were appreciated at the end, appreciative, the students. In the beginning, it was, like, they weren’t, they couldn’t believe it, I would say, there was such a thing existed in the United States, where they can get all this help. But they did bring the information back to the parents and you know, back and forth, the information got to the parents and somehow, they got the assistance, some of the students got the assistance they needed.

Q: And who was eligible for it and how –

Tse: In our school, we have a free lunch period for a hundred percent of the students, so I would say 99.9 percent of the students probably qualified.

Q: To get the free lunch?

Tse: Right. And probably for other assistance programs.

Q: So after 9/11, were there other assistance programs? Did the school apply for any money or were there other extra programs here?

Tse: Our school wasn’t directly affected by what happened, but I know that there were other funds. We did get, I mean this was, I guess, you know I think about a year later or within that year, we had, you know, different organizations approach us, with different things. We brought a hundred kids to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Yeah, yeah, that was from one of the organizations which, you know, really felt for our school because we were so close to what happened. And there were a couple things that, you know, that we were able to achieve. I mean, , some of the, you know, benefits, I guess you can say, unfortunately, through what happened.

Q: So what organization did that, the Beauty and the Beast?

Tse: I think it was the Broadway, I don’t know the organization, the artists on Broadway, something like that.

Q: They just gave you guys a hundred tickets?

Tse: Yeah, to bring the kids to see the show.

Q: How was that experience?

Tse: The show, I mean, that’s great, I mean, anytime you get to take a bunch of kids on Broadway and just the show itself is very entertaining. And we told them, it’s because of this reason and they were very appreciative, that people were thinking of them. I mean, I was very appreciative that, you know, that we were able to take a hundred kids on Broadway for free. That’s not easy to come by.

Q: Yeah, that’s, that’s good. So, were there any other also effects in terms of health after 9/11? From the, were there more cases of asthma from the fallout from the World Trade Center or also from pollution in the, in this area?

Tse: Well, we noticed that the air [unintelligible] quality was not as a good. You know, on some days, especially in the first few weeks, it’s like evidently there was something in the air and we were asked not to open the A/C because the filter was probably contaminated. I tried not to open my windows at all just because, like, you never know, like if you hear about it and you feel afraid, you’re not sure what’s going to happen. I don’t think the kids really, like, you know, other people, especially the students, were that concerned about. They didn’t think about, you know, probably long-term effects. And they didn’t really feel that there was any danger you know in the air. I know there was a big push to get air filters and different things in the school at that time, but due to our lack of funds, we didn’t go that far. I think they only clean out the air-conditioner filters and that was it.

Q: So does the school have a lot of funds, you said there was funding problems. Are there, can you talk a little more about that?

Tse: The funding problems in our school?

Q: Yes.

Tse: Well, I think it is just the way the, comes from the top. It depends how they decide to, where they decide to spend their money. I mean, teachers don’t, we really don’t get a say in how the money is spent in school, whether we should have, hire more teachers or other support staff. We don’t really have a role in that. If we did, probably things would be run a little bit differently. But you were saying, do we have more support? Well, I can say that our school is probably much better off, I mean we have no problems in terms of chalk, missing chalk. There is always lack of books, you know, if we want to get a few more copies of a certain book or we want to try to use a new book, we would have to wait and wait and then wait until there are funds for it. So definitely textbook money is hard to come by, [unintelligible]

Q: So, actually, I don’t know if we’ve talked about this being –

[Lan asking to stop the tape to adjust the lighting after a light blew out.]

Tse: It’s not going to go on, though because it probably blew out.


Tse: That’s not the first time it happened. It just goes out and either it comes back on or we have to call the custodian. They’re not going to come today.

Q: As long as it’s not flickering, I guess.

[Break in tape]

Q: Okay, I guess we were kind of at a stopping point, so if we want to go back now and talk more about your childhood and what you remember about coming to the States and why your parents came and why they chose New York. And a little bit about what you remember about being really young in Hong Kong.

Tse: Well, when my students ask when I immigrated here, 1972 was the year and we do a little research into history and that was the time when Nixon was president and welcome arms. They wanted immigrants. The immigration door was wide open and it was relatively easy for us to come here. My family was sponsored by my father’s boss who had a business connection with my father. It was under his kind graces that he sponsored us and actually probably paid for our entire passage to America. My family consists of my mother, my father, my two older sisters and a younger brother and myself, that’s six of us, couldn’t have been that cheap and my father worked for this person for the last, I guess, 25 years until he retired and until the guy passed away. Getting back to your question of why did my parents come here, my parents were born in Toisan (??) which is Toisan, you know, Toishan is the way you say it in America and they immigrated to Hong Kong during the wartime and my parents met in Hong Kong and had all four of us there before the opportunity came up for them to immigrate to America. We were the first part of our family to come here, my mother’s sister’s family is still there in Hong Kong. On my father’s side of the family, they went to different places. They went to Holland. We have two of my brothers live in Holland. We also have some half-brothers who are in the United States, but pretty distant relatives and we don’t really get together. But my parents immigrated here for, of course, a better opportunities. They understood that if we stayed in Hong Kong probably that was not the way that my parents wanted to raise us. They wanted to give us more opportunities to, in this new land. And probably all the stories about America, you know, the golden gates, the gold on the floor, the clichés about America, you know, that was true for my parents. They believed in it, they believed in the American dream. And even though my father would have to take a low-paying job when he came here and my mother didn’t know what she would do when she came here, they decided take the risk and all of us came over here at the same time. We were probably lucky that we all came here together because some of my students today, some of my students are here by themselves or some of the students, their parents have come earlier than them because they haven’t, due to paperwork of some sorts, they weren’t able to come together as a whole family and so that kind of disbalances the family unit and I think we were lucky that my entire family were able to come at one time and of course at that time there were probably programs for people who came in, to help us out. I don’t remember any specifics, I just remember there were a lot of people who did help us out. My father’s business, his boss and friends which they made later in the neighborhood, the Chinese families, were probably the main people who helped us get grounded in our new life here and --

Q: What did your dad do when he was in Hong Kong?

Tse: He was a sailor and when he came here, because of some connections he made with a person he knew there, the person trusted him and trusted him, I guess, a lot and when he came here, he worked for him.

Q: So he was a sailor and he would leave Hong Kong a lot to go on trips?

Tse: Right, right.

Q: And do you remember being in Hong Kong?

Tse: My parents had a small soda shop there, so we have a few pictures from Hong Kong where my two sisters and I are sitting at the front doorstep of this candy shop and black-and-white pictures and at the garden, and different places. My sister remembers more because she was actually seven when she came. I was four when I left so I don’t have many memories. There are a couple, few memories, places, because I did go back to Hong Kong twice, as an adult and don’t remember the places. It’s very a big city, it’s similar to New York City, 42nd Street, so it’s not that big of a change.

Q: So can you talk about going back actually, your experience? What was it like going back?

Tse: Well, my mother’s sister still lives there with her family so when I went back, I contact them and they brought me to some places I didn’t remember. I mean, the places were very different. My mother has actually gone back to Hong Kong before I went back and basically things in her hometown haven’t changed much. In the way you had to walk to get to certain place. Still very poor living conditions, but in the city, if you were to stay in the city, in a hotel, I mean it’s no different from New York City. Yeah.

Q: So did you go back to her hometown as well?

Tse: I didn’t know anyone there, so when I went back to Hong Kong, it was with friends and it wasn’t a visit with my mom. So if I were to go again, a trip with my mom would probably be more meaningful it terms of searching my family’s roots. But my mother’s sister was there and her daughter was about the same age as me, took me around, she took me around. Her mother’s not well, so she couldn’t tell me much about her, their life there. But Hong Kong is a very hip city. It’s like New York City. She grew up in the city. They really have no desire to immigrate to United States. I asked her once, before ’97, I went back and they’re pretty happy there. They have a whole life there. There’s no reason to leave. They’re professional people there, so I mean if they were to come here, it would be just to visit.

Q: Did you feel a connection to her or, because you’d never met her, right?

Tse: Only through pictures.

Q: So what was that like?

Tse: It was amazing. We connected. Even though we’re family, we haven’t really seen or spoken, just through parents’ letters, we kind of knew of each other and what we studied and what we were good in and what our parents thought of us and so we met. It was more of, because we were blood that really we connected and kept in touch.

Q: Was she the same age? What did she do there?

Tse: She was a graphic designer and her older sister worked with her husband in their own business and her other sister was an aspiring dancer at that time. [Laughs.] I think she’s a housewife now, but they all were, they had big dreams, you know, but to pursue them in Hong Kong, not with any intention of leaving that place.

Q: So what surprised you most about going there?

Tse: That there wasn’t much of a difference compared to New York City. Of course there was the language, people spoke Cantonese more and really appreciated that we spoke Cantonese with them. We spoke English with them in some places, which was fine because they spoke English.

Q: What surprised you most about going back?

Tse: What surprised me most was that Hong Kong wasn’t that big of a surprise in terms of, if you were to travel to another country, you would think that things were really different and there wasn’t really. It was a big city. I stayed in the main part of the city, in a hotel. If you traveled to some of the poorer places, of course life is very different. Wild dogs there and the place you go, the cemeteries, the old style cemeteries are probably places you want to visit just to see, you know, there’s a hint of the old lifestyle there, but in the city, there’s not much different from New York City.

Q: Did you, I was going to ask, did you feel like it was going home? Or where do you feel like your home is? Did you feel at home there?

Tse: I was a tourist. I was a visitor. I mean, I don’t have any, I haven’t been there for the past, since I came here, with my mother’s sister’s family, my aunt’s family who were there, I wouldn’t have anyone to visit there. I would say because I’ve been in America for such a long time, you know, actually went through the whole citizenship process when I was 18 years old and was sworn in in a courtroom and everything. I would say that I consider myself a Chinese-American.

Q: And what about your parents? What do they feel about what they are?

Tse: I think as most families, if you live in a place long enough, even if you don’t consider it your home, you know, if you’ve been in a place long enough, it’s hard for them to consider any other place to live. I remember when we were younger, they would say, Oh, when we retire, we’re just going to go back to Hong Kong and live there and leave you guys here, you know. But I don’t hear them say that anymore and I think it’s because they’re so used, and they like living here. They have their family, they have their life here. If they were to move back to another country, back to Hong Kong, or China, they would have to start over again with their friends and settling down. Everything is just so convenient here. My parents are pretty traditional people. I mean, they don’t have any American friends, basically, and they live really in their own world, very sheltered world. But I would say that they’re very comfortable. They know how to get on the subway and go to places where they like to go, go to the park, Central Park or go to Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, so there are certain places that they know how to get there, and, you know, Chinatown is always there and they’re just very comfortable where they are. They consider, I think they consider America to be their home.

Q: And, I guess if you also talk a little bit about sort of your process of what Lan was saying about becoming American, sort of the difficulties in that and what point you felt like, or if you can remember any specific incidents where you felt, like, okay, actually, I belong here now or I feel American now? Or not?

Tse: Well, the term “what is an American?” is very philosophical and there are many ways to answer it. I think my best answer is, came about when my students asked me, so what, of course with the intention of thinking, what should we consider ourselves? and so if you had to answer that question, you had to be very careful with what you say because you’re influencing someone else and that’s scary, right? But I would say I’ve always considered myself a Chinese-American. Chinese because of my cultural background, you know, the way I look, the way I was brought up, the values my parents instilled in me, and I would also say I would attach the American too because this is the country that you live in and there are other values, other behaviors, other cultures that you added onto yourself to make you the person you are today. So I wouldn’t say, completely say that I’m just Chinese because you know if you live in China, you might say that you’re just Chinese, right? Just because you live in America doesn’t mean that you’re just an American because you have other historical links to yourself. So we say America is a melting pot. America is not just one kind of person or, you know, you’re not just one kind of person, you’re always linked to another country or another cultural background, so even if I think two or three generations down, you know, like my children’s children’s children, I would teach them to be Chinese-American. I would like them to consider themselves Chinese-American.

Q: What do your students, what is your students’ take on that? Are they eager to be American?

Tse: They think I’m, they view, in the beginning, yeah. They were surprised I speak Chinese. Even though I look Chinese, in the class progressed, they think I’m totally American. So they would consider me as an American. It’s only after my speech or after getting to know me, probably two or three months later, that I’m very Chinese in certain ways and have similar values or understand where they’re coming from, that they begin to realize that, oh, you’re Chinese too. So probably Chinese-American.

Q: So when you say you feel very Chinese, what is, how does that, how do you experience that or how do you feel like you know that?

Tse: Well, I don’t want to go into any stereotypes of what it means to be an American, but you can look at certain behaviors of the Chinese-American who grew up here, the teenagers who grew up in New York City are much more verbal, not to say I’m not, but just that they’re behavior, who they hang around with, their living conditions, their environment, influence them to be who they are, the TV they watch, the friends they hang around with, the books they read, if they read at all. I think that those external factors influence them more than the internal factors and the fact that probably their parents are more, you know, assimilated in society that they’re more external, they’ve accepted the external parts more, too. So I think compared to my students, who only been in America two years, this is, all who they are has been from their upbringing and they’ve been brought up in China all these years, so they haven’t assimilated yet, even though their forced to do certain things, but they haven’t totally accepted it or you don’t have to like it, but maybe not even understanding it could be problem for them too, to consider themselves an American yet.

Q: So growing up, what I guess, if we could go over what, growing up, in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, was different from kids who immigrate here when they’re five and grow up here now? Just how it was different culturally or socially?

Tse: I would say, I want to talk about the similarities first because as I said before, I tell my students I remember going to school and not understanding the teacher. I remember learning A B C from the beginning. I even though the age, there’s an age difference, I was four and they’re sixteen, seventeen, there are similarities. The struggle of first having to speak English, not understanding other people, not understanding the context of culture or [unintelligible] whatever, the difference is that I was younger and probably was able to play without using language, probably able to blend in, things weren’t that academic at that point, when you’re four years old, five years old and things are different for students now. Students who are 13, 14, coming to America, are probably at a crossroads in their lives because they’re coming of age, they may, depending on their level of English skills, I would say most of our students have some kind of background in English. They’ve studied English as a foreign language in their country, so, they’ve learned some grammar rules and depending on how much they’ve learned, sometimes does influence how successful they’re going to be here. Because of the age and pressures of finishing high school, how much, how many friends you make here, American friends you make here will also influence how much you push yourself into the American culture, I think. So, the differences are, in terms of the age, I would say, the environment is very different. I remember, we were able to play out in the streets until I don’t know what time and that, of course, understanding, I grew up in, not a great neighborhood, but a pretty decent neighborhood. I remember a time coming home I had to be chaperoned because the people were hanging out on the stoop and of course if you go to New York City that’s not a big deal because lots of people hang out on the stoop, but for my parents, they were like, bad people hang out on the stoop after 9 o’clock, so we were never allowed to go out certain times. But again that’s in my parents days, they were very traditional and they were very, since they didn’t know anyone in this country, they were very protective and their rules were very strict for us. I think our students today, the rules are a little looser. Pretty much they’re on their own. They learn to be independent, they are independent. Probably in China before they came they were independent. A lot of our students went off to school, didn’t live at home and they had to learn to cook and clean for themselves, so it’s almost, it’s almost a blessing for them coming here with those skills because now they have to learn to be independent and to take on a lot of responsibilities and practically become mature overnight. They have to learn to do all these things on their own without their parents’ help or advice.

Q: Did you, so you said you were less independent, you said, growing up than a lot of these students?

Tse: Yeah, totally.

Q: Did you ever go through a period of rebellion where you, you know, had friends who were more, you know, had looser parents and you wanted to be more like that?

Tse: I would say I didn’t really connect with that many friends who were outgoing in school but I can tell you about my sister who was very rebellious and I remember she ran away from home twice and we found her at an American boy’s home and they were just friends and we knew the guy later on, a few years later, and they were just friends. That was junior high school. She was probably 12 or 13 years old and there were certain things that my parents didn’t allow her to do, probably stay out later than she wanted, you know, come home earlier than she wanted to come home or do certain things like go to parties or do certain things that she wanted to do. So she was the rebellious one. She would run away or stay out late, intentionally not come home with me, you know, those kinds things, just to tell my parents, hey, I don’t want to follow your rules. I was a good one. I basically listened to my parents. I did well in school, I studied hard. I read books. Books were really my friends. I did a lot of reading. I listened to my parents.

Q: And you had a brother also.

Tse: I had a younger brother.

Q: Was he rebellious?

Tse: Not really. I would say, we were, I wouldn’t say sheltered, we were kind of sheltered. You know, our family did things together, like on Saturdays we would play ball together. We would go out as a family and kind of stay together, because my parents didn’t have many friends then either, so we hung out together. My parents tried to find things for us to do together and we became, we became friends, each other’s company.

Q: So where is your younger sister now?

Tse: My brother?

Q: The rebellious sister.

Tse: Oh, she’s married. She lives in Queens and she works in a law firm. My older sister is also a teacher. She teaches in Harlem. She teaches elementary school.

Q: And where’s your brother?

Tse: My brother’s unemployed right now. He’s in the computer field, so they’re having a hard time looking for a good company who will support what he’s interested in doing.

Q: I guess, can you, let’s see. I don’t know if you have anything else to say about the difficulties of just coming here and just from the time you came to high school, what sorts of difficulties you had in feeling assimilated or comfortable in the society?

Tse: I would still say, like, growing up, as a first generation, as you know, with my parents still being a very strong influence on my life, that we didn’t, you know, the things that were important to American teenagers weren’t that important to us, going to the prom or – I went to graduation, but I didn’t go to prom. Those things weren’t that important to me and you know, just hanging out, having slumber parties, things that the typical, what you would say the typical American students are doing, just hanging out on weekends, were really not that important to me. And I think it was probably because of my parents’ upbringing, you know, my upbringing under of my parents’ eye and I think it was the time period was very different. Yeah, I don’t know what to say about that.

Q: You think different than now?

Tse: Yeah.

Q: In what way?

Tse: Well I think because the very strong and structured family, right, I grew up with. I think the students today, they, even though the family is still very important and a lot kids still have both parents at home, yet there are other kids who don’t or who have one parents and that definitely influence the way they think and the way they live their lives.

Q: How would you say it influences them?

Tse: Well, in terms of knowing who they are probably. The way – you can tell by the way they dress, if they go shopping at certain places. And they’ve only been here for six months, but they know where to buy clothes. Or they have a certain kind of clothing because they want to fit in and they never had this before and now they’re here alone or they have one parent and they need to – and they can probably persuade a parent to get something for them because there’s only one parent that they can probably get it. A lot of our students also work, too. They get part-time jobs, working in bakeries or as waiters, part-time and so they have a little bit of cash flow. The school is an alternative school, which means that we have older students. Some of our students graduated from high school, a small percent, like 2 percent, actually graduated from high school in China and are ready to go in college, but because they want to get their high school diploma here to, to also improve their English, they come to this school. So the goals are a little different. I would say that the students here are a little more mature than other students because of their age and a lot of them are here alone. They live here, they have to support themselves. They have different concerns and goals in life.

Q: So how would you say their self-image differs from yours when you were their age because you said they have a lot of obsession with clothing or with fitting in.

Tse: Not all, I would say some. There’s a group of students in this school from Hong Kong and they’re all very chic and you can just tell, when you walk in the hallways, if you didn’t know them, they were from Hong Kong, just by the way they’re dressed, the way their hair is styled or the way they talk. Of course, speaking Cantonese gives it away too. But just their personalities is a little different. They were their pants like down to their hips. They try to be very Americanized. There are certain t-shirts they wear, Stussy, this new brand that came out that’s very popular. They spend stuff on jewelry. They have earrings. They have necklaces. They’re a different breed than the students who came from China who probably – their parents grew up in more traditional, very small, maybe come from the farm, rural areas in China. Life is very different for them.

Q: So how do these groups interact in school?

Tse: Just like in high school, where I grew up, there are different groups of people, different cliques, different groups hang together and here, it’s no different. People hang, group together based on where they grew up. Either it’s language or sometimes, very rarely, personalities. You know, you have the Hong Kong group, the Cantonese group, the Fukienese group, you have the group who’s very smart and just loves to study, doesn’t matter where they’re from, they stick together, there’s a group who love to speak English and they find other friends who have similar interests. So it’s no different from high school, but, well, there’s no jocks. I don’t see any Chinese jocks here. So that’s, that group is missing. But very similar to any teenager growing up, they’re, you know – people find friends who have similar interests or background as them, so, that’s not very different.

Q: And so when you were growing up, you said that – was it strange to be one of the only Chinese people in your high school?

Tse: I didn’t say I was the only Chinese. I would say I was one of the – probably one or two immigrant Chinese families who went to school there. As far as the other Asians, I didn’t really consider them Chinese, more like Americans because they didn’t speak Chinese or if they spoke Chinese, they basically acted differently. All their friends were friends with other Americans, people who were very popular in school, that kind of teenaged life. They did things differently. They were in different clubs, different social groups.

Q: So did you not – you didn’t have much relationship to the other –

Tse: I did. With one girl I did, but it was more platonic relationships. Because we were in the same class you kind of shared similar – I didn’t want to say homework, share homework, but we shared some conversations about the class, but I wouldn’t say we, after class, we went to lunch together.

Q: And what attitudes did your parents have towards dating or that kind of stuff?

Tse: Yeah, well, their attitude was – we had to secretly date, secretly have crushes or secretly go out with our friends. Everything was secretive because our parents just never addressed the issue. You can marry after college or something like that and, in one way, they pretty much were liberal in letting us find out for ourselves. On the other hand, I would think they didn’t want us to find out, so that’s why they didn’t ever talk about it. And I think kids today are a little more sophisticated, because they started dating when they’re 16, 17 years old or even if they haven’t done it, they know about it. They’ve seen their friends who’ve gotten pregnant or gotten abortions or whatnot or even divorces. Different social problems have forced them to accept these ideas. They’re a little more sophisticated than I was.

Q: So your parents never talked about it?

Tse: They never talked about it. Well, even we tried to bring it up. My sister had a boyfriend when she was very young, I think the first year of high school and it wasn’t the house she ran away to, not the boy that she ran away with, but my parents would say, like, You can date anyone who’s not Chinese, you know, let alone marry. But like you know, you really shouldn’t date a person who’s not Chinese because you might – with the assumption that you might end up marrying him. So my sisters and I would secretly date.

Q: Did you date people who were Chinese?

Tse: In the beginning, yes, but later on, in college, we would date outside our race. I mean, our parents never knew. Yeah, it wouldn’t sit right with them.

Q: So even now, how is their idea about that?

Tse: Now, they are become more flexible. They just want – my sister did marry a Vietnamese-Chinese guy, so, you know, they’re very happy about that. But I think their views on marriage is – they would probably prefer – I’m still single, but if – they would probably prefer me to marry a Chinese-American person rather than anything else, but you know, they knew I was dating a Caucasian person. They didn’t say anything about it. They went, Mmm hmmm. They didn’t say much. They didn’t say, “Yeah, this is great!” but they didn’t say, “Oh, no, you shouldn’t do that.” They didn’t say that, they didn’t resist. I think it’s probably because they themselves have gotten used to maybe hearing different things or they’ve gotten more relaxed with their values about what should – you know, things aren’t so black and white anymore for them. I think they were very protective in the beginning because everything was very new to them. They were really just trying to protect us. They were trying to figure out things for themselves.


Q: I guess more about dating. What about your other sisters or your brother – are they married?

Tse: No, they’re still single, but basically, I haven’t seen them with anyone else other than Chinese, so I guess they’re pretty much dating Chinese people.

Q: Do they feel more comfortable that way, or –

Tse: I didn’t ask them about it. I – for myself, I think there’s – it just kind of depends who the person is and who you associate yourself with. So if most of their friends are Chinese, they probably – that’s their circle of friends.

Q: And how about you? Do you feel more comfortable dating Chinese-Americans?

Tse: It’s not a matter of comfortable. I think it’s more convenient, like if you’re going somewhere and you want to – because I speak Cantonese and some of the guys I’ve dated who are Chinese don’t speak the language very well and I always say something to make fun of them and, you know, it’s kind of fun to have some kind of commonality, even though they’re not fluent. You can say something. There’s a joke. You say something that you don’t want someone else to hear. It’s kind of nice. It’s kind of like a secret language or something you both have in common. It’s just kind of fun.

Q: Do you feel like it’s easier to connect with people who speak Cantonese as well as English?

Tse: Well, if their background, their growing up is similar, I think definitely there is connection there instantly, but not necessarily. There are other things that are important, your values and basic chemistry.

Q: And so how connected do you feel to the Chinese community either here in Chinatown or where you live?

Tse: Well, the area where I’m living right now is another growing Chinatown, so I kind of feel like I’m living in Chinatown because there are Chinese restaurants all around, Chinese Laundromats, Chinese supermarkets, Chinese groceries. There’s everything there and it’s actually in the last five years. I’ve lived there all my life, but that community is actually growing. There are more Chinese moving in so – they speak the same language I do. I’m kind of hesitant to say this, but I’ll say anyway. I kind of feel like I’m looking for another place to move where there’s not so many Chinese just because there’s just like I think I want a place quieter. Not that I want to move away from Chinese people, but I think one of the reasons I moved into this neighborhood was because it was nice and quiet. Sometimes when you want to – you know, after work or you just want to kind of move away from your job and I’ve worked in Chinatown, near this area, Lower East Side, my entire life and I went to school at NYU, very close to Chinatown and a lot of times a lot of my social activities have been in this area, so it’s very convenient, it’s very comfortable to be in this area. At the same time, as you grow older, you realize that there are other places to go visit, other people to meet, other challenges, other people you definitely want to meet, other things to do besides in your community, so while, yeah, I feel like I’m going to work in this community, I’m going to help this community grow, at the same time, part of the American Dream, part of the society is to really understand America is not just Chinatown, it’s not just this area. And you want – I want my students to understand that too, where they can always come back to. I always joke about it with my friends, like, we come to Chinatown to eat, to take advantage the cheap prices, the groceries, and then we go back to our homes. But it’s kind of true, in a way. We want to connect to our Chinese roots, but on another level, we want to be in mainstream American society where, you know, there are other things in life to be enjoyed and to be discovered, too.

Q: How do you feel like you came to that kind of understanding?

Tse: I guess probably through friends, if you go to certain restaurants, you venture our of your neighborhood to try something new. Like when the first time I went rock climbing and then you think, okay, what else am I going to do next? You kind of stretch. Once you stretch, you think of more things to do and you kind of step outside your circle, your box. And I think that’s very important, too. If you always stay inside your circle, you’re not going to grow and you have to compare. You have to look at your life in retrospect with everything else in your whole world.

Q: So what was your neighborhood before it became more Chinese? Maybe like 5 or 10 years ago?

Tse: There were some Chinese living there, but on my block there were two Chinese families. Mostly Jewish people, Russian people in the area, I would say. Some Italians.

Q: So now is it people who are just coming to the States or is it people who’ve been here for a while?

Tse: I think it’s a mix. There’s a mix of business people who are opening the restaurants and there are a mix of new immigrants. Some of my students live in my neighborhood, so I know that there are new immigrants too. So it’s mixed. And it’s kind of nice to see a different mix, instead of just one type of socio-economic group.

Q: So how do you feel like your sort of generation who has been here longer interacts with the newer generation?

Tse: I think we – I think for myself, I can’t speak for others, there’s still a very strong connection because I still speak the language. I understand what’s going on, that when you hear the problems or you hear the issues that they’re – or the challenges they’re going through, you know, you’re reminded of something very similar. So you’re not that far, you know, far off. But I think for most of us, as we grow older, like my sisters and I, we’re more compassionate towards new immigrants and, you know, even though we joke, okay we were in the same situation, we wore secondhand clothing or sometimes our parents didn’t have presents, like we didn’t have presents. We had to bring Christmas to our parents. Like, that kind of thing, [unintelligible] the students and newcomers today. But at the same time, because we’re at a different level, our lifestyle is different, we’ve, you know, we’re making money, we’ve quote-unquote arrived. You do feel a sense of compassion who are now just, just coming across these challenges. I mean I’m sure they have different challenges today, as growing up as teen. There are probably things they don’t talk about that’s on their minds, but there’s a lot of similarities. I don’t think there are that many differences. There are differences, certainly, but I think for any group coming from one place to another, there aren’t that many differences.

Q: So you talked about not having new clothes and not having Christmas. Are there other things you really remember growing up that were kind of – that you remember, just about immigrating here?

Tse: Well, I would say the food, the food. I didn’t grow up on McDonald’s but I remember going to McDonald’s was a big treat and I think that’s one thing a lot of kids enjoy. Maybe it’s instilled in them, oh we’re going to McDonald’s, it’s your birthday, so – when you become a teenager you like the taste of burgers and fries instead of rice [laughs] and vegetables and fish. But my parents always cooked Chinese meals at home. We never ate any other kind of food and there were even strange foods that they made that we ate and we liked and even today, if I went to a restaurant, I would order something, ask for a certain dish, like bitter melon and people would say, like, “Why would you eat that? That’s disgusting! That’s bitter!” or that’s a food that’s not acceptable to the American palette, so it’s very strange, in a way, but it all comes because of our upbringing. I know some of my friends whose children who were born in the United States. Their palette is totally different. They can eat hamburgers every single day. They can go by, you know, once without rice. I would say my diet consists a lot – at least 50 percent of rice. And my mother’s generation, they would not go through a day without rice. They think they would die tomorrow if they did not have a bowl of rice today. [Laughs] So their thinking, their eating habits, their thinking, is quite different.

Q: So do you remember, what kinds of treats did you have, if you didn’t go to McDonald’s when you were little, what was like a really special occasion when you were little?

Tse: Going to a restaurant and eating Chinese food [laughs] was a special occasion. Really. We didn’t go out much. You know, money was pretty scarce and we had to save the rent and things like that. We didn’t have much to buy.

Q: So what was your – did you live in an apartment or did you live in a house or –

Tse: We lived in an apartment for at least 15 years. In high school, we finally moved, my parents moved into a house. We spent the entire family savings. When I say entire family savings, I mean including the children’s savings, like every, all our summer jobs, you know or any other money we got from relatives or friends, New Year’s, like all that, every single dime went into buying that – our house, which is of course, like, every Chinese dream to own their own land, to own their own house. Sixty-eight thousand dollars isn’t much today, but in the ‘80’s, that was a lot to my parents, so, we had a mortgage then and we all helped to pay for it when we got jobs during summers, to help pay for it.

Q: So what was the house like?

Tse: Very Buddhist, you know. My parents still live there. It’s on top of a store, so I mean, they’re very financially wise and rent out the first floor, you know, and they have a mortgage and they live on the second floor. Recently, they renovated the entire place. For the first time they actually stripped the walls since we moved in and they were able to do that because all of the kids are grown up and we can retire them and what else do they need money now for? We can go out every day to eat if they wanted to, but basically they’re very comfortable there. They’re well off now, they have a place to live without a mortgage. They have social security to live off and they have all their children to, for all the extras that they need.

Q: So was the house – did you each have your own bedroom or how big was it? Or –

Tse: I think our first apartment was bigger than our house. I remember we had like two bedrooms in our apartment but those rooms were really big. Sixty-eight dollars a month, I remember, in the ‘70’s. [Laughs] We were paying the highest rent, sixty-eight dollars. I remember my neighbor paid about 20 dollars for rent. [Laughter] And, really big apartment, that apartment has actually been demolished. They built a school there, but I remember like the reason that we moved. We didn’t actually want to move. We were forced to move. We would just run wild there. It was a really big place. Big living room. Two big bedrooms. A bathroom. Big kitchen. When we moved into our house, it’s actually smaller than our apartment, but it was our own and that’s important, to have something that you’re not kicked out. Nobody has anything to say about what you’re doing there, too.

Q: So what did you, did you live together with your sisters or in the house, what was the –

Tse: What was the set-up? There were actually two bedrooms there, but since my parents had one bedroom and my sisters and I all shared the second bedroom and my brother was sleeping in the living room, until he went off to college. So that was a good thing he went off to college otherwise I don’t know where he would live. And when I actually started teaching, I moved out myself because there just wasn’t enough room in the house. It’s really small. So, yeah.

Q: So were all your sisters living there also?

Tse: Yeah, yeah, throughout high school we had fights in there. Can you imagine three girls in one room? Bunk beds. Okay, I’m taking the top, you take the bottom. Switch the other days. Yeah, not, not easy, but if that’s all you had you didn’t think otherwise. Like now, I could never share a bedroom with my sister or, like, you don’t want to share with somebody else. And also imagine a bathroom sharing with six people. Like, I have my own bathroom now, like, if someone else comes in, I’m like, there isn’t room here for two people. So, you know, again the idea of if you never had it before, you don’t miss it. You don’t appreciate it either.

Q: Do you have any other memories of that house or sort of growing up in that ---

[Discussion of lighting]

Q: Do you have any other memories just growing up there?

Tse: A lot of memories. That was the house, my sister got married there, we put our first carpeting, wall-to-wall carpeting. It’s like as we did better, our family did better, you know, a lot of improvements made to the home. Our first big purchase was the ceiling fan. It was really, you know, like a big thing. The kids, like, we all chipped in and bought a ceiling fan, you know. [Laughs] That was a big thing. So just like, growing up, those memories, the little things that we could do to, to, to make our parents happier, to make our lives easier. Those were the enjoyable moments, like when we had Christmas, we would buy all the presents for ourselves and our parents [laughs]. You know little things like that were good memories.

Q: Can you think of other memories like that, or other milestones in your growing up?

Tse: In growing up?

Q: Growing up, or just living in this house and just what kinds of things you remember, like buying the ceiling fan or these moments where you just, or just that you think fondly of?

Tse: I have to think for a while. There are so many things. Good and bad things, that you experience with your family. I think we lived in the house the same amount of time -- no probably we lived in the apartment longer than in the house, so I think there are more memories in the apartment, at least more special memories I think you would say because we kind of played together with my sisters, or like you know, we played house or pretend things on the floor or just grew up in that apartment. When we moved to the house, our life kind of ventured outside of the house, you know. We went off to college, so we did things – or high school first. We did more things outside the house than in the house, whereas growing up as a youngster, we stayed in the house more than went out, so it was quite different.

Q: Did your grandparents ever – were they still in Hong Kong? Or were they still alive?

Tse: They never came to this country. They were still in Hong Kong and my grandmother passed away about five years ago and she’s –

Q: Did you know her at all, or –

Tse: Through the pictures and on the phone. Hearing stories about her. She was the tallest one in our family. Little things about her, but I didn’t know her personally.

Q: She never came to visit.

Tse: Yeah, she didn’t want to come. It was too long of travel and she had family – I mean, her other daughter and family were still there, so they were taking care of her.

Q: Was that your mom’s mom or your dad’s mom?

Tse: My mom’s mom. Yeah. My father’s side of the family kind of scattered. He has half-brothers and sisters. He had a difficult childhood. His family is not all together. You know, it terms, they’re not really friendly towards each another. So he doesn’t talk about it. But he has some half-brothers in the United States and some half-brothers in Holland and, we keep in touch more with the ones who are distant, yeah, than the ones who are close by.

Q: Distant like Hong Kong or distant –

Tse: Holland, yeah.

Q: So do you know them?

Tse: Yeah, actually, they came to America twice, so we actually know them better than the ones who live in New York City. Yeah, and they’re doing very well. There’s one, two of the sons are studying to be doctors in Holland, so that’s a big thing. You know, like, especially for my parents. We have two doctors in the family now, that’s a great thing. That’s too bad they’re in Holland, they can’t help us here. But it’s just good to hear that we’re all professional people working towards big goals and what my parents, you know, their parents had, you know –

Q: Let me think. If we can talk about patriotism and how patriotic you feel about America, especially after 9/11 and how that changed?

Tse: Well, even before 9/11, when I got my citizenship at 18 I had to go through the whole testing, the interview and then finally the swearing-in. I mean, that whole experience really touched me. And then later on, going to jury duty, you know, sharing those experiences with my students, you know, what does it mean to – what are certain things that an American is responsible for? You know, I don’t take it lightly. It’s something that a lot of people, maybe even Americans, don’t think of it as something that’s really necessary and take it that seriously. But I do take it very seriously and I’m very, when I go into jury duty I kind of hope I’m chosen so I can sit on the case and hear it and see what’s going on. I have been chosen for one and the last two times I wasn’t, so it’s just an experience that you really feel like, this is what it means, like you have the right to decide on the fate of another person. You know, the little things like that, if you didn’t, when you just study or hear about it, you kind of take it for granted and you don’t know what it really means until you’re in a position and even for our students like when you give them that situation. You’re the juror, you decide on the fate of this person. Wow, that’s empowerment. Did you think you would ever get the chance anywhere else in the world? So I do take that and I try to instill it in my students too, just this sense of – not only responsibility, but what does it feel like to be this, to be a part of this culture and to live in this country. What are the things that you need to do to be responsible and to be a citizen?

Q: So is that, I mean that’s different from how your parents view living here?

Tse: I think so, I mean, they’re, I mean, for my parents as real immigrants, true immigrants struggling with a family to feed, probably their goals, their world looks a little different from mine. I grew up, you know, wanting – I mean, them wanting the experience of the American Dream, but me experiencing the American Dream is different.

Q: So do you feel patriotic or how do you feel about this country, especially after 9/11, I guess.

Tse: You’re asking for my political views?

Q: No, I guess just how you feel as a citizen living here, especially seeing what you’ve seen.

Tse: I think many Americans mentioned it, but I also strongly feel that we take freedom for granted and I feel like it’s something we really need to revisit and think about because people have died for our freedoms to be living here, to be walking around with all of our freedoms, to be able to speak what we think and to be able to walk on the streets safely, relatively safely, at night. I mean, like something we take for given, Americans. And I think especially immigrants, coming here, there are a lot of things they’re pleasantly surprised about – oh, wow, we have this, we have this, like you know, TVs, there’s so many TVs and we can get Broadway shows for free, like all these incentives and all of these opportunities which they couldn’t get anywhere else. I think they really appreciate it and they really see the value of, you know, living in this great country. And I think one more thing to say about the immigrant experience is that if you ask my students, you know, where they’ll be in five, ten years, some students will say, you know, depending how long they’ve been here, even on average some students will say, I see myself here, working here. Some students say they seem themselves back in their country, like when their chance comes, after they’ve gotten their education, their degree, they’re going to go back and do something else. It’s really interesting.

Q: Yeah, that is interesting. Do you feel like you’ll stay here in New York?

Tse: [Laughs] Yeah, I love New York. I grew up in Brooklyn, but like New York, I’m a New Yorker, yeah. If I could afford it, I would live in New York City.

Q: Yeah, it’s hard. I guess that’s about all unless you have anything else to say?

Tse: I’ve said so much. I can’t even remember what I’ve said.

Q: I think that’s about good. Thanks. Thank you.


Henry Chung, Male, 84 y.o. -- Former President of CCBA

Interviewed by Florence Ng

Q: Today is February 26th, 2004. This is the Chinatown Oral History Project of Museum of Chinese in the Americas. Today, we invited Mr. Henry Chung, former president of Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA). The interviewer is me, I-ching Ng. Mr. Chung, when were you born?

Chung: I was born on [September 29th] 1919.

Q: Where are you from?

Chung: I’m from Mei county in Guangdong province, China.

Q: Why did you come to the United States?

Chung: Actually I went to India in 1937. My brother-in-law had business over there. I went there to help him out. When World War II ended, I went to New York, the United States from India.

Q: Why did you decide to go to India at that time?

Chung: At that time, I just finished my high school. My father asked me to go to India and helped my brother-in-law in India. So, I went there, to India. Besides, at the time, the Japanese invaded China and waged a war in China.

Q: What did you do in India?

Chung: I went to India and worked at my brother-in-law’s leather factory. Later on I worked for an agency and came to the United States in 1949.

Q: How was life in India?

Chung: Life in India, well… For the Chinese there, besides leather factories, they operated lumber yards, import and export companies, grocery stores, almost every kind of business…with daily wages ranged from about four to five dollars a day. At that time, during war time, many ships stationed in India and could not embark their journeys. Because of that, many sailors and Chinese people had to [temporarily stay] in India.

Q: Among the Chinese in India, were they mainly comprised of people from Canton or Hakka?

Chung: They were mainly Cantonese.

Q: Ok. Mr. Chung, I’d like to know, when you were in Mainland China…How was your family? Could you please talk about your family? How many family members were there in your family?

Chung: My family? My parents passed away, and so were my eldest brother and my other brothers and sisters. But, I have a son and grandchildren in mainland China.

Q: Ok. What did you expect when you first come to the United States?

Chung: When I first came… This was how I came to the United States. I originally intended to return to my hometown. However, when I was staying in United States, the communist was fighting with Kuomintang in mainland China, and September 18th incident [signify the beginning of Japanese invasion] broken out. Hence, I was stuck in the United States and could not return to China. [I wanted to return to China but the Communist had already crossed the river and occupied the mainland.]

Q: That is to say, during your boat ride…?

Chung: Yes, initially I decide to go to Hong Kong from the United States. But since the Communists already went south from the river and occupied the mainland, I stayed here and didn’t return.

Q: Was it easy to enter the United States?

Chung: It was not so easy. I bought ship tickets back in India... It was not so easy. [I only intended to wait here until the war was over, so I stayed in New York.]

Q: When did you come to the United States?

Chung: In 1949.

Q: Did you live in Chinatown then?

Chung: When I first came, I worked in a restaurant. My friend referred me to work as a waiter in the restaurant. After that, I came to work in Chinatown and worked as a secretary, later the president of Hakka Association.

Q: That is to say, you did not work in Chinatown from the very beginning? Where were you…?

Chung: Initially, I learned to be a waiter in a Chinese restaurant [on Long Island] and later worked [formally] as a waiter.

Q: Where was the restaurant?

Chung: The restaurant [that I worked later on] was in New Jersey.

Q: Were there a lot of Chinese people in New Jersey?

Chung: Oh, only very few. However, we only worked there. Every week we returned to New York.

Q: How did you go back, with……?

Chung: We had a car. The restaurant picked us up by the car. When we had our day-off, we came back to New York by car.

Q: There were no long haul buses [in Chinatown] as we have now, right?

Chung: No, it wasn’t that convenient.

Q: Okay, Mr. Chung, what was your first impression when you came to the United States?

Chung: When I first came, I thought the United States was quite good. There’s plenty of freedom. So long as you did not break the law and not do any harm to others, you can do whatever you want. It was relatively free and that was good. Especially when mainland China had a civil war and we were not able to return. I had no choice but to stay here.

Q: Was it the first time you were involved in the restaurant business?

Chung: At the beginning, I started as a waiter. Then I ran my own restaurant.

Q: Oh, you ran a restaurant?

Chung: Yeah, I worked in the Hakka Association as a secretary and later as its president. I also opened stores: florist, café, and later opened my restaurant.

Q: Okay. When did you finally move to Chinatown and live there?

Chung: I lived in Chinatown all the time. That is to say, apart from the time working as a waiter in New Jersey, I lived in Chinatown all the time.

Q: How was Chinatown back then?

Chung: The Chinatown in New York was sparsely populated and not as busy as in Hong Kong. It was already considered busy when there were eight to ten people walking on the streets. Now both sides of the street are full of pedestrians. [Now is much more crowded than before.]

Q: How big was Chinatown? How many streets were there?

Chung: The old Chinatown was comprised of Mott Street, Bayard Street and Mulberry Street. The Italians lived on Canal Street. Later on, Chinatown expanded from Mulberry to Canal Street, then to Houston Street. The development has been more rapid during the past ten to twelve years. Now, the Chinese store signs are everywhere. Chinese are everywhere.

Q: Mr. Chung, what was the main group of immigrants in Chinatown?

Chung: At that time, it was in 1962 when President Kennedy said China had an exodus of refugees. He increased the immigrant quota to 25,000. Hence, 25,000 people arrived. We had record of it, since the National Chinese Welfare Association organized the arrangements [according to President Kennedy’s Act]. An [annual] quota of 25,000 [immigrants] was assigned to the Asian countries, including China. The same quota remained until now.

Q: Were Cantonese the main group of immigrants?

Chung: At the beginning, they were mainly Cantonese. But now, there are people come from everywhere, especially folks from Fujian.

Q: Did you anticipate that Chinatown would undergo such a rapid development?

Chung: I did not expect it back then. The government and some property developers wanted to demolish the Division Street. But they did not do it in the end. Instead, the government encouraged renovation, and offered loans to residents to fix the apartments. That was what happened.

Q: When was that?

Chung: That was the year 1972.After that, the president was Janson (Johnson) and launched the anti-poverty project.

Q: Was Division Street mainly occupied by the Chinese?

Chung: Back then, Division Street was nicknamed “Hat Selling Street”. The Jewish sold women’s clothing and hats on both sides of the street. The Chinese did not know the real name [of the street] and just called it the “Hat Selling Street”. People knew it was the place to buy hats, so they kept calling it as the “Hat Selling Street”.

Mrs. Chung: They sold clothing too.

Q: Break here?

Photographer: Go ahead.

Q: Mr. Chung, How long did you work for the first restaurant?

Chung: I worked there for over a year. Then I came back to work as a secretary [for Hakka Association].

Q: For Hakka Association?

Chung: I worked as a secretary for Hakka Association for a little while. Then I worked for other restaurants.

Q: Were there many Hakka people?

Chung: At that time, the Hakka people... There were a few hundreds of us, Hakka people.

Q: Ok, Mr. Chung. In 1950s, did immigrants mainly speak Cantonese?

Chung: [They were] Mainly Cantonese speakers. In 1950s, since a lot of Chinese became U.S. soldiers and obtained permanent residence. So they went back [to China] and got married. Then more people came [to the United States]. So there came a lot of people from everywhere, not only the Cantonese, but also Chinese from Shanghai and many more from the other provinces.

Q: For Chinatown residents who spoke different dialects, were there any communication problem, in Chinatown?

Chung: It was like…this. In the old days, most people spoke their own local dialects, such as Toishanese and Cantonese. So for people who spoke northern dialects, they had to write things down when they went shopping, since the [store owner] had no time to listen to them. These people even spoke Cantonese with a heavy accent, sometimes they said, as a joke: “You, Cantonese people are discriminatory against us, Northerners. When it came to shopping, you would rather serve others who spoke Cantonese, even though we are here first.” For people who were doing business, time is precious. If you can speak [their languages], the store owners could hand you the things right away. But if you can’t, you had to write it down, and it took time for them to read, so, gradually, they only served those who spoke their dialects and not the Northerners. In fact, they just wanted to do business quicker, didn’t want to waste time.

Q: The northern dialect means Mandarin?

Chung: It depends, some people spoke Mandarin, others could speak Cantonese – that could also be called the dialect.

Q: Oh, really?

Chung: So northern dialects mean, the language you spoke to the northerners. Now, most of us speak Mandarin.

Q: In those years, I remembered you mention that, Chinese movies dubbed in Mandarin were very popular?

Chung: Mandarin became a popular dialect in 1960s, since many immigrants who came from mainland China and Taiwan spoke Mandarin. Gradually more people spoke Mandarin. Also, at that time, everybody loved to watch movies dubbed in Mandarin and fewer people watched Cantonese movies. Everybody loved to watch Mandarin movies – they could learn the dialect at the same time and entertain themselves. So the movies really helped to promote the dialect in Chinatown…in terms of learning the language.

Q: Mr. Chung, I’d like to know, remembered you mention the grand opening of the building on Division Street? When was that?

Chung: The building on Division Street…the building of the association for Hakka people, the Tsung Tsin Association was opened in 1953. In 1951, we started the renovation and by October 10th, 1953, the Tsung Tsin Association was ready to be opened.

Q: Mr. Chung, I’d like to know, you mentioned operated various businesses. Actually which one did you prefer most? Or were there challenges in all the industries?

Chung: At that time, the industries for Chinese were restaurants and laundromats. Next came the garment factories. There were not that many garment factories in the 50s. In the 60s, gradually there were more garment factories. So most of the women among the new immigrants could work in the garment factories, it helped many families to make a living. Since the Chinese immigrant needed a job, and his wife would help out by taking another job [as a garment worker].

Q: So you opened a restaurant and what els?

Chung: I opened a restaurant, a florist and a café.

Q: Did you open the café at the same time?

Chung: Yes, I had a spacious store front, so I divided it into two parts, split it into a florist on one side and a café on the other side.

Q: Where was the store?

Chung: On Division Street, right underneath Tsung Tsin Association- where the Hakka Association used to be. I worked there as a secretary. Since at that time, not that many people would rent a store front and do business. There were not that many people like that.

Q: If they did not rent store front, were they peddling on the street?

Chung: No, they were no peddling on the streets. It was only within the last decade that the peddlers started selling products on the streets.

Q: Mr. Chung, I’d like to know. Besides the Hakka Association, were you involved in any other community work?

Chung: Besides the Hakka Association?

Q: Did you involve in community work, such as….?

Chung: Yes, I did. I worked for Lin Sing Association, the Lin Sing Association of Eastern coast of the United States.

Q: What position did you hold?

Chung: I was the president.

Q: When was that?

Chung: I was [the Lin Sing Association] president in 1968. I became the president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) in 1964. In 1968, I was the president of the Lin Sing Association. Then in 1972 and again in year 2000, I was elected as the president of Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.

Q: Mr. Chung. Could you please tell us, in different era, what were the different problems that Chinatown were facing. For example, in 1960s when you were the CCBA president, what were the needs you thought need to be addressed?

Chung: Oh, in 1960s, at that time, the restaurant business of the Chinese was thriving. So did the garment factory and they could also work in the laundromats. So the hand-laundry was phrased out and its business diminished. As we just said, there were garment factories… and gradually there were more garment factories.

Q: Did Chinatown face any problem that need to be addressed too, in 1960s?

Chung: It was hard to say. CCBA had many responsibilities and it couldn’t accomplish everything. A that time, in the 60s… actually in the 50s, we had to fundraise to gather capital to build the building of CCBA…

Q: That’s now [the existing building]…?

Chung: We collected over $900,000 for this building at 62 Mott Street. We gathered almost one million dollars. So, the building was completed in 1962.

Q: Oh, in the beginning…..?

Chung: We moved in, between1962 to 1964 that we moved in there. Initially, we didn’t work at that office, we used the office of Lin Sing Association. But by the time I became the president, we moved in [the new building] to work. I bought all the furniture and other items. We moved in there to operate the CCBA till this date.

Q: You were the first president who worked in the new CCBA building?

Chung: Yes. That was also the first time I became the CCBA president.

Q: When you first became the president, did you have any plan to improve Chinatown during your 2-year term?

Chung: At that time, think about it…. If you want to accomplish something, you need financial support, especially for concrete measures. I helped whenever I could, within my capacity.

Q: Okay.

Chung: If you didn’t have financial support, you couldn’t say…you couldn’t push too far.

Q: Did it take you a long time to fundraise for the building?

Chung: It took us several years. Fund raising began in 1955, in 1955 we started the fundraising campaign.

Q: Was the donation mainly from Chinese immigrants?

Chung: All the Chinese immigrants and soldiers made contributions. We had donors from San Francisco, and from the mid-region such as Chicago, and from Los Angeles, Boston, etc. People from all the places sent in their donations. Therefore, we called the building Zhong Hua Da Lou [Building of the Chinese].

Q: Ok, shall we take a break here?

Photographer: Okay, go ahead.

Q: Mr. Chung, could you share some stories from your childhood in mainland China?

Chung: I went to Singapore with my father when I was seven. We lived there for one year. Then we moved to Malaysia. My father ran a lumber business there with his partners. I went to school there until I was a teenager and returned to China. After I went back to China…I graduated from high school when I was 17. Then I went to India, at the time, Japan invaded China and the “Lu Gou Bridge incident” occurred, so we fled to India.

Q: Mr. Chung, you spent your life in several places. Where would you consider as a “home”? Which place gives you the feeling as your homeland?

Chung: Home, how to say? Oh, home. To tell the truth, Southeast Asia was hot and filthy, it had lots of…garbage. Unless you lived in the residential area of the white people, it would be much cleaner. But Singapore was pretty good, Singapore was very clean. But within the Republic of Malaysia, since we lived in the mountains with my uncle there to collect rubber…As a kid, I wandered around with other children. Apart from going to school, we had nothing to do. So I went back to China when I was a teenager, finished secondary school, then went to India, where my brother-in-law lived.

Q: How was the Mei county in Guangzhou like at that time? What kind of town was it?

Chung: Mei country in Guangdong. Mei county itself was a town. In the old days, our Mei county was not so prosperous. But now, it developed very well. The areas where the fields used to be, are now covered with buildings, they used to be fields. At the same, many bridges were built. In around 1937, the Meijiang Bridge was built, once the Meijing Bridge was built, they started to build other bridges.

Q: Was Mei county an industrial town or an agricultural town?

Chung: An agricultural, agricultural, agricultural town. But now we don’t have that much agricultural land left, we had lots of mountains, not enough flat lands.

Q: Were there many people Mei county move out, migrated to other places?

Mr. Chung: Yes, many, many of them [left]. Many of our Hakka people left for the army or become merchants, so they all left to do business. The women stayed home and worked in the fields.

Q: Ok, take a break here?

Q: Mr. Chung, I’d like to know, in the 60s, was illegal immigrants a serious problem in 1960s?

Chung: It was like this, in 1960s, illegal entry was common, but we shouldn’t say it was serious.

Those who came to the United States were fleeing from political upheavals in China. They couldn’t live, so they had to flee and boarded on the ships to the United States or other places. Once they landed in the United States, they stayed here to live. Therefore, at that time, the Immigration and Naturalization Services would come to arrest a whole lot of people. I was the president of CCBA at the time, so I worked together with others from the National Chinese Welfare Association and their committee members, and attorneys to…

[Phone ringing]

Q: Let’s take a break.

Chung: Where were we before?

Q: The problem of illegal immigration in 1960s...

Chung: Yes, illegal immigration. So that way, many of us Chinese opened restaurants and we needed many of those immigrants who landed ashore to work in the kitchens. So, when [immigration enforcement officers] arresting these workers, we would have nobody to work in the kitchens, nobody. If you hire somebody else [i.e. Americans], there may a language barrier, it won’t work. So we went down to the headquarter of the Immigration and Naturalization Services in Washington D.C., and to the Congress and pleaded for them. We met with congressmen and told them, “could we allow them to stay in the country temporarily, since they [fled] because of political upheavals in China and there’s no way they could live there. That’s why they fled to here.”
I said…you Americans put emphasis on humanitarianism, democracy and freedom, and I said: “I hope they can stay here.” A congressman said, jokingly, “Mr Chung, you should ask your men to marry our girls, the American girls, that will solve all the problems. Once they are married, they can become citizens.” That was a joke.

Q: Was it easy to convince those officials in the beginning?

Chung: We, in the old days, tried to convince them and they sympathized with these people. Look, even him, president Kennedy would allow so many people into the country [through amnesty], they really sympathized with these immigrants. So he said, “How about this, we give you a five-year period. He can stay in the country, by the time he stayed here for the fourth year, he would have earn enough money by then. He could then go to Hong Kong or other places to make a living.” So this way, he said, “They could come in again and stay for four years, when it reaches the fourth year, we will send them away again.” It was like that.

Q: Did they call the document a “work authorization” card, like the one they issue now?

Chung: There was no work authorization [card]. Actually, the Immigrant and Naturalization Services would issue a document and state the [length] of his stay and whether it was already expired. The paper would also state whether he was allowed to stay in the country with a parole.

Q: Actually, did you know how many people benefit from this new policy, did you make a head count?

Chung: I did not document that, how do you calculate the number? I would say, in the past the officers would deport groups of four hundred to five hundred people. We would negotiate with the congressmen according to the number of immigrants who were arrested.

Q: So, the first time you lobbied for four to five hundred people. How many after that?

Chung: I don’t know how many after that. We would met with them and ask them not to deport anymore people. So they would stop and would not deport any people temporarily.

Q: Mr. Chung, I’d like to know, when the first time you… became the president of CCBA in 1960,

apart from this policy that benefited many Chinese people here, could you please talk about other tasks you accomplished during your term at CCBA? For example, you mentioned that there was a school?

Chung: Other accomplishments in 1960s. Do you mean our elementary and high school?

Q: Yes……

Chung: [We offer] Chinese classes, to teach Chinese. Even the captain of the Fifth precinct came over, the policemen came here to learn Chinese.

Q: Oh really? Where do the classes take place?

Chung: The school is in the upper floors of our CCBA building.

Q: How many students are there? At that time, how many students….

Chung: Students? There were about 2000 of them.

Q: That many?

Chung: Now we have more than 3000 students.

Q: The elementary and high school combine together?

Chung: Yeah.

Q: Do you have anything to add on the things you have done in 1960s?

Chung: What about 1960s?

Q: Do you want to add anything, perhaps other accomplishment of CCBA?

Chung: What, what do you mean by that?

Q: Let’s talk about 1970s, when you served the second term as the president of CCBA. Was the building of Confucius Plaza your biggest project?

Chung: In 1970s, the Confucius Plaza project. It started all because of Mr. Luo Jinshui [aka Luo Deming]. He read from the newspaper that the city government has a lot…for the Chinese to build residential buildings. Therefore, once he saw that, he applied for it. In order to apply, he had to set up Hua Yuan Company. But when he went and applied for it [they required] a credit report and had to them how long the company has to be established. He said the company was new. Then they [the officials] said: “If your company is new, how can you convince us that it’s reliable?” So in that case, they said: “Why don’t you go back and see if there’s a huge association or organization can represent you in this matter?” Therefore, Mr. Luo came to meet me and I called for a committee meeting at CCBA. Several of us met with then New York city mayor Lindsay and he approved the project. He said, “If it’s CCBA, of course it will work.” And Lindsay talked to other commissioners as well. I talked to the mayor, and he agreed to us and let CCBA work on the project. He was confident that we could do it. Therefore, we had a meeting at CCBA, after the meeting and passed on the project to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of New York. There are 60 organizations under the umbrella of CCBA and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of New York is one of them, and also the biggest one, that’s why we gave it to them.

Q: Actually, was it right that Confucius Plaza was specially built for elderly and not for the other age groups?

Chung: It was not only for the elderly, but for the middle income group, middle income. Those with middle income, not necessarily for the elderly people. Initially, we wanted to build residential units for the elderly, but there was no appropriate location. We planned to acquire the sport at 110 Henry Street. We bought it but sold it later on because it was too small and too old. The plan did not realize.

Q: When was the Confucius Plaza built?

Chung: Confucius Plaza was built in 1927, 27 [actually 1973], from 1973 to 1974 and finished in 1975. We moved in and lived here in December of 1975.

Q: Was it easy to gather funds to build this……?

Chung: The capital was loans from the federal, state and city government. We have to pay back the loan in 50 years.

Q: Oh, a 50-year term loan?

Chung: Also some of the loan was from the Chinese operated banks, such as the former Jing Rong Ying Hang, United Oriental Bank. The funds were mainly from bank loans.

Q: How much is the rent for an apartment?

Chung: Um…[monthly rent of an apartment is about 200 dollars]

Q: How much was the mortgage?

Chung: Um… [The building management paid for the mortgage. The tenants paid the rent.]

Q: If I pay for the mortgage for an apartment, how much would that be?

Chung: How much? A middle income tenant used to pay monthly rent of $283.

Q: Is your rent expensive now?

Chung: Oh, here? For an apartment, for an apartment, we pay at least $200 for this apartment.

Q: Per month?

Chung: Per month. The government subsidizes part of it.

Q: Half of it is subsidized. How many apartments are there in Confucius Plaza?

Chung: Over 700 units. The sum we just mentioned is for the mortgage. Oh actually the money was a loan from the federal government, not from the bank. Actually the Chinatown Day Care Center at that time was funded by loans from Jing Rong Ying Hang and Chinese American Bank.

Q: Was housing a serious problem in Chinatown back then?

Chung: Housing, housing was a problem but was not as serious as it is now. Now, not have many apartments are available. In the past, even though there was a shortage but one could still find an apartment if you searched for it. Now, that’s impossible.

Q: Take a break here?

Q: Mr. Chung. Now, let’s talk about the 9/11 incident. You actually witnessed 9/11, didn’t you?

Chung: Yes, at that time when 9/11 happened, at around 8:40a.m., the first building was hit by the plane hijacked by the terrorists. I saw it in Confucius Plaza, I saw the thick smoke coming out from the buildings. But I did not think it was done by the terrorist and thought it was accidentally hit by a plane. Soon after, the second plane hit the building…

[In Hakka dialect- Mr. Chung asked Mrs. Chung not to interrupt.]

Q: Were you in CCBA or at home when this happened?

Chung: I was downstairs [at Confucius Plaza]. I was about to go somewhere and saw the scene as soon as I came out of the building?

Q: You mean at the Confucius Plaza?

Chung: Yes, I saw it. Then I tried to use my cell phone to call, but it didn’t work. Some of my friends with whom I was supposed to go to a place together came, he also said his cell phone did not work either. We did not know what goes wrong. Then, the people walked slowly to our direction, from World Trade Center to Chinatown. More and more people walked [to Chinatown], like a wave of people. They walked uptown to the 10-something streets.

Q: What action came to your mind when 9/11 happened, what did you want to do?

Chung: When 9/11 happened, I went back to the office and pondered on that. I wasn’t quite sure what happened. At that time, the planes…and the heavy smoke, the smoke slowly blew towards Chinatown. I couldn’t figure out how serious was the loss, not clear about it. So the next day, it turned out that the incident was very serious, because many policemen, national guards were everywhere, at the intersections of streets and set up road blockades. They blocked the streets and would not allow people to cross them, unless you show them your I.D. to show that you live there. You could show them your I.D. and they would let you in. If you didn’t have any I.D., you couldn’t go through. So many residents complained: “We don’t have any status [i.e. they are illegal immigrants] and you won’t let us in.” So I phoned the captain at the fifth precinct and asked him to co-operate with me. He said: “How about this, as long as they tell them [the policemen] where they live, for those who don’t have any I.D., I can offer some documents.”

So, it made the situation a lot more convenient. For those who were [in Chinatown] to deliver goods, if they had a signed paper- the approval from the fifth precinct saying they were doing business in the area, his truck could go pass the streets. Therefore, it made it easier. The situation was so chaotic and very tensed. The streets were empty, like a dead city. No pedestrians, not a soul on the streets. So some people from other countries would call me and inquire: “What’s happening over there?” Sometimes I would tell them, since luckily the telephones at CCBA were working, they all worked. So…

Q: Only the phones at CCBA worked and others were out of order?

Chung: I called for an emergency committee meeting at CCBA. We agreed that CBA donate $50,000 and asked other community agencies, store owners, the Chinese public to donate money for disaster relief. That was to say, those affected by 9/11 would get help. So, in total, we collected more than $300,000. Through public appeal at the radio stations, we raised $2 million. Exactly how much [in total] I could not remember.

Q: That was a lot.

Chung: The radio stationed also donated a lot of money. We presented the donation to the state governor. We gave $250,000 to September 11th fund. We also gave donations to the police, emergency medical staff and other medical services. We also gave it to the Red Cross. We gave away more than $300,000 in total.

Q: Did all the relief work operate inside the CCBA building?

Chung: Yes, that was for collecting donations. Elaine Chao, the Secretary of U.S. Department of Labor from the federal government, also sent some of her staff to us. The State government, city government also sent workers to us. Legal advisors also came. Verizon the phone company, the Red Cross, and an agency called FEMA also came to us. So we gave them office space to work in the building of CCBA. Everyday thousands of people came in and out of the CCBA building.

Q: In order to rebuild Chinatown, did the government offer any funds to help Chinatown?

Chung: To rebuild Chinatown, we had two funding. To revitalize Chinatown, as we Chinese keep saying, the business plummeted and was hit hard. So we advertised in Daily News, every Friday we placed an advertisement, it costs $40,000, only for an advert. Besides, we made a sign[age], a sign[age]…that didn’t cost any money. It was given by an architect, he gave it to us. To revitalize Chinatown, we staged lion dances, lion dance every week, and hired people to dance, all that cost money.

Q: That was mainly for promoting tourism in Chinatown?

Chung: Yes, to promote tourism in Chinatown. Elaine Chao, the secretary of U.S. Labor Depart came here twice. The last time she visited, she gave $1 million funding for job training services to agencies such as the Chinatown Manpower Project, Asian American For Equality, Chinese-American Planning Council and others. The $1 million was for that purpose.

Q: From secretary Elaine Chao?

Chung: Yes, secretary Elaine Chao.

Q: Mr. Chung. How did 9/11 affect Chinatown? Can you tell us more about that?

Chung: Oh. Chinatown was dead and had no business at all for a few days. The impact was huge, the loss was great… at that time, it was of utmost importance that…anyway, we all said. A few stores closed down because of 9/11.

Q: 9/11 happened more than two years ago. How do you find the progress of rebuilding Chinatown?

Chung: To rebuild Chinatown… the new CCBA president, Mr. Ng, has continued the works. We initiated a good beginning and that was very good, we are all working together to revitalize Chinatown. To revitalize Chinatown, we have to take one step at a time, gradually, Chinatown will regain its glory. On the other hand, we have to work on tourism, to promote Chinatown and attract more tourists to visit here. And for garment factory industry, it will be best if the government can put in more effort to support it, to revitalize the garment factory industry. Now, the garment factory has been sluggish, I know many workers are out of work now and need to get social welfare from the government.

Q: Do you think there’s any other area in Chinatown that needs to be addressed immediately? In general, is there anything that needs to be improved?

Chung: In order to improve that, it will be best if the housing unit would be allowed to be built higher. Now the tallest building can only be a seven- story one. It is better to build a more than twenty- story building and the streets could be widened. We used to have a plan, a proposal to revitalize Chinatown. We found somebody to draft the proposal, there was a proposal. Also, to expand tourism and also to help the garment factory industry. Also, we need to build more housing…and to repave the roads, to widen the roads. That has been our goals, these are our goals.

Q: Mr. Chung, after 9/11 happened, has it changed your perspective on the United States?

Chung: Oh, this 9/11..for us, Chinese people, we have been very united this time. So, it had a huge influence on us, we Chinese, were much more united. The loss to the United States was so huge, but she [the country] also tried to find ways to help us…such as the losses… and now, there is LMD[C]

Q: LMDC [Lower Manhattan Development Council]?

Chung: LMDC, it offered financial aids…for example, the alley…

Q: So, you…?

[Tape 009- side1B]

Chung: Yes, yes, yes. The United States is the best in the world. Where else can you find a better place than here? Especially for the elderly people. Elderly people enjoy a lot of welfare here.

Q: That means, you are very happy with your life here?

Chung: Yes.

Q: Take a break here?

Q: Mr. Chung, many associations and organizations in Chinatown are divided into the leftists and the rightists and would not communicate with each other. Since you have been in Chinatown for so long, can you come up with ways to solve this political divide?

Chung: Um…in Chinatown, those people from mainland China came here to make a living, right? Actually we could all live in peace and work together. But at that time, the leadership of mainland China held different ideas against overseas Chinese, and they persecuted many Chinese. That really changed the climate. So these people, deep down in the heart, felt the Communism was scary, like a terror. But, with different generations here… they gradually changed their attitude and realized that they shouldn’t feel shameful of those things [or incidents] happened in the past. So that was the change. Therefore, in 80s to 90s, the tension was relaxed. They would not boycott each other, and could tolerate each other sometimes. At least they would just refuse to talk to each other, and wouldn’t boycott each other like they did before. It didn’t happen much. Therefore, I, when I became the president for the third time [at CCBA], I felt that we are all Chinese, the same people, above all, we are all brothers when we are abroad, so we should make peace. Very often, for instance, at the time of Grand Street closure, we went up to the MTA and talked to them, and we had meetings, and even brought people over there to stage protests- when that happened, no matter they were leftists or rightists, everybody joined in unison and negotiated the issue. When CCBA held the meetings, they all came. So, gradually, the atmosphere became less tensed and the hostility died down. So, right now, they would contact each other, and like that, and changing the views they used to hold at each other

Q: Mr. Chung, now that Grand Street subway station has just reopened, do you expect more improvements on Chinatown traffic and other areas from the government? Such as [the closure of] Park Row?

Chung: In fact, we should be… when I was [the president of CCBA], I said that the government, the police car park should stay open and allow the public to use it. Once the car park was closed, it would have an adverse impact on businesses in Chinatown. People from all the places used to be able to park, now we have not one place to park. All the parking spaces on Mulberry Street, Bayard Street, Mott Street are now used by the government employees from the Justice department and the police precinct. We, the residents, have nowhere to park at tall. The government should tackle the problem, they should build a bigger car park, the government officials should be allocated a specific spot to park, and those spots should be given back to the residents. That would be the proper measure. For Park Row [closure], we were working on it and still working on it now. They have to re-open it. But now, the mayor has been dragging on the issue and won’t re-open it. Once it’s re-opened, there will be a lot more businesses. When the roads are blocked, the traffic would be chaotic, so people won’t even want to come into Chinatown for dinners.

Q: Mr. Chung, where is the police car park you mentioned?

Chung: It’s right behind here. That is, is that called Precinct Plaza? Or the Federal Plaza?

Q: Is that where the city hall is?

Chung: It is nearby, next to the Police Plaza.

Q: We take a break here.

Photographer: Okay.

Q: Mr. Chung, I’d like to know. I know you were the president of CCBA, which is the largest organization in Chinatown. Sometimes you have to welcome officials and politicians from mainland China or Taiwan. Have you ever feel you were in an… awkward position?

Chung: For this question…well, for politicians from Taiwan, we treat them the same, we have connections with them, there’s no problem at all. For those from mainland China, we used to have no contact, no communication and no… But in recent years, mainland China has become more open-minded, so there has been contact and communication [between us] sometimes. So long as we don’t touch on politics and only discuss issues related to the status of overseas Chinese, things like that. They [the mainland officials] also know that we are not in an easy position to talk about that [politics]. A few years ago, when I went to mainland China, I have been to Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and other places, everything was good… with those cities.

Q: Would you consider strengthening the relationship? Especially the economic ties?

Chung: This is a mutual, and natural development. China needs gain the trust and help from overseas Chinese. In the past, they called overseas Chinese ‘foreigners’. Now they changed the attitude. They call the overseas Chinese as Gui Qiao [returned Chinese] when they return to their homeland. Therefore, she will gradually change. We, hope that she [mainland China] can at least learn half of what U.S. is doing, and have freedom. Let trade flourishes, allows free trade, don’t set up all kinds of restrictions. Therefore… we have been here in the U.S. for decades, we are used to being free, so if you want to exert control…therefore, when a lot of people who just arrive in the U.S., they would say the U.S. is no good, but once they stay longer and get used to the lifestyle here, they will enjoy the goodness of the U.S. lifestyle. They will know that the U.S. is full of freedom, something they could not comprehend before.

Q: Mr. Chung, what are the pictures in your hands?

Chung: This one is taken at the grand opening of the Grand Street subway station. Because in 2001, 2001, the Manhattan Bridge had to be repaired and there was roadwork with the D line at the Grand Street subway station. Therefore, we went up to the MTA and tried to negotiate with them, we want them to shorten the closing period. At that time, they said it would be closed for four to six years, we all felt that that’s far too long. For those people, residents and nearby businesses, it would cause so much inconvenience. You should shorten the closure, to two or three years. Therefore, after two and a half years, about two and a half years, it was completed. And a few days ago it reopened, that was the 22nd of this month it reopened.

Q: Okay, I see.

Photographer: Anything else? Go ahead.

Q: Mr. Chung, I noticed there are many pictures you took with celebrities in your house. Can you tell us more about these pictures?

Chung: Sure.

Q: This is Madame Soong Mayling, right?

Chung: Yes. And this is me.

Q: Oh, this is you!

Chung: This is Madame Soong Mayling and this is ambassador Zhou Shukai. This is Soong T.V.[Madame Soong’s brother].

Q: Oh, Soong T.V.. When did you meet them?

Chung: In 1972.

Q: She come to New York, right?

Chung: She came to New York to treat her skin problem, for skin treatment.

Q: Oh, okay. What’s your impression of Madame Soong?

Chung: She’s very elegant and was a true first lady of a country. When she helped the president Chiang Kai-shek and attended all those meetings, such as the Cairo conference, she contributed a lot to China’s diplomacy. For example, her war efforts against Japanese invasion, she came to the Congress and gave a speech; came to the Chatham Square and spoke in front of the overseas Chinese here…she took the America by storm. A Chinese woman, could be so selfless and went abroad to resist the Japanese invasion… Therefore, we all have high respect of her, she is a truly great person in this world.

Q: She passed away this year. Did you directly….?

Chung: She passed away this year. I paid my respect to her in the church and family held services, we attended the services.

Q: There was a service for her in Chinatown…

Chung: A memorial service in a Catholic church in Chinatown.

Q: Okay, Mr. Chung, you have been to the home of Madame Soong, in upstate or uptown, right? Uptown?

Chung: Yes, uptown near 80-something street and the Fifth Avenue.

Q: At the time when you met with her, did she express her expectations of the overseas Chinese here?

Chung: That was a private visit, [it was arranged by] consulate general, Mr. Ye Guobin, who was a relative of her. He said to me, “Mr. Chung, I’ll bring you to visit Madame Chiang.” I gladly said yes. So we went together to visit Madame Soong. She was painting, drawing plum blossoms and orchids. She was not so old back then, in her 60s or 70s. She said, “I am learning to draw flowers now, what do you think?” I said her painting was very nice. Then I asked how she felt about the Chinese immigrants her. She said, “The Chinese immigrants contributed a lot to the country [China] during wartime, during the resistance of Japanese invasion, many donated money and joined the army.” She appreciated what the Chinese immigrants had done. She said she hoped more Chinese immigrants would visit Taiwan more often.”

Q: When did you meet her?

Chung: In 1972, the next day after I welcomed her at the airport.

Q: Take a break here?

Q: Mr. Chung, let’s talk about your family life?

Chung: Oh, at the moment, I am living with my wife here, two elderly. My son is till in China, he has a son, two grandchildren of ours. One of them, the eldest grandson married last December. So…when he [my son] wanted to come here, there’s no diplomatic ties between the U.S. and China, [the U.S.] hadn’t recognize China at the time, so there’s no way he could come over. By the time he could come, he is already running his own business and has no time to come. Now I’m old, what can he do…so still he hasn’t come here yet.

Q: Really?

Chung: He sent money to me. That’s it.

Q: But deep in your heart, have you felt that the life in the United States would…?

Chung: [………]

Q: Mr. Chung, how many children do you have and how old are they?

Chung: My son? My children? He is in his 60s now.

Q: Oh, how many [children do you have]?

Chung: One. One son and two grandchildren. The grandchildren are now in their twenties. The eldest one married this, this year.

Q: Have they ever come and visit you? Meet you?

Chung: No, never. In the past, there’s no diplomatic tie between mainland China and the U.S., so when they have diplomatic relationship now, my son is running his business and has no time. Therefore, they still haven’t been here. I went back to China two years ago, I went to China with my wife and met them.

Q: So, they all live in Mei county in Guangdong? What’s their business?

Chung: My son is in the transportation industry and repairs vehicles.

Q: You have been in the United States for so many years, so you haven’t seen your son for a long time. Don’t you miss him?

Chung: We talk over the phone.

Q: Talking over the phone……

Chung: Write letters, talk on the phone and so on.

Q: In fact, a lot of people in China want to come to the United States. Since you have the chance, it’s kind of strange that, why your son…was it because your son was not willing to come? Or it doesn’t matter at all?

Chung: He wants to come but he is getting old. What can he do here? It will be hard to start all over again.

Q: Or maybe, if the grandchildren want, will your grandchildren come over here?

Chung: They want to come. But, let’s see, it all depends. First of all, they are still young and besides, they just graduated from college.

Q: What is your expectation from your family- your child and your grandchildren?

Chung: What kind of expectation… If he, he can take care of his family, that is good. If he can work in his homeland, it is good too. Let’s wait and see.

Q: Even when you talk to them over the phone, you would still miss them. Do you go to China often and visit them?

Chung: We’re planning to go this July or August if there is a chance. But it depends on our feet, whether we can walk or not. We both fell last year.

Q: Oh, really?

Chung: I fell down, downstairs at Confucius Plaza in April. I stayed at the hospital for a month. Now I walked slowly. She fell in September at Bowery.

Q: Oh, fell down at Bowery Street……

Q: Ok, stop here.

Chung: I don’t know what else to say.

Q: Now that you are retired, what do you usually do everyday?

Chung: Apart from going to the CCBA, I attend some social gatherings. Besides, I accompany my wife at home most of the time. To stay with my wife.

Mrs. Chung: I’m in my 80s now. Where else can I go?

Q: Mr. Chung. I’d like to know this, a lot of people say that there’s a long waiting list for people applying for housing units at Confucius Plaza, it’s very difficult to get in. Is that true?

Chung: Yes. It’s because there’re two to three thousand people on the waiting list for the Confucius Plaza.

Q: Waiting list?

Chung: So, it’s very difficult, it’s a long wait.

Mrs. Chung: Some wait even until the second generation.

Chung: Some of them if they do wait that long, they may [have it]…..

Q: If one has to wait, how long usually is the waiting time?

Chung: Some wait for twenty years.

Q: Twenty years? Then, you must feel you are the lucky one now?

Chung: No, actually we had the unit right from the beginning…It’s because, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce was a member of CCBA. So I filled out a form and of course [my application] was processed quickly. It wasn’t that emotional. They would notify you… At that time, a lot of people submit their applications, but in the end they didn’t want it. They said the units were expensive. At that time, the rent for other apartments were about fifty to sixty dollars, but [here, the rent is] seventy to eighty dollars for a unit. Now, [the rent for] our unit here is over two hundred dollars…

Q: They charged over two hundred dollars at that time?

Chung: Yes, even to this day, it’s still over two hundred dollars.

Q: Oh, the price hasn’t changed for all these years?

Chung: It used to be over two hundred fifty dollars, two hundred fifty dollars.

Q: And now the rent is?

Chung: It is now over two hundred eight dollars. The price has increased. An increase of five dollars, sometimes.

Q: Only a small increase after all those years? That…

Chung: The building has been subsidized by government. There’s government subsidized, with money from the federal, state and city governments.

Q: Mr. Chung, I’d like to know that, East Broadway has undergone rapid development. How was East Broadway like back then?

Chung: In the old days, East Broadway was occupied by Italians and other immigrants. There were not that many stores, and not even Chinese people. But after the 80s, or the 70s, gradually more people lived there, by the 80s, East Broadway was saturated. Most of the buildings are owned by the Chinese. In the old days, [the Chinese] rented their places there.

Q: Ok, Mr. Chung, do you have anything to add?

Chung: That’s about it. I cannot remember a lot of things.

Q: Okay. Don’t worry. Thanks for your time today.

Chung: Fine. You are very welcome.

[End of Session]

Guo Gan Yan, Male, 53 y.o. -- Waiter

Interviewed by Florence Ng

Q: Mr. Yan, please tell us when is your birthday and your life in China?

Yan: I was born on March 18th, 1950 in Guangzhou, China.

Q: How was your life in Guangzhou?

Yan: I lived there for a few decades. I lived through the Cultural Revolution, a very difficult period. However, we were optimistic and happy. We had many hobbies. We liked sports, entertainment, and played various musical instruments.

Q: How was the environment of your home town? How many brothers and sisters do you have?

Yan: My father was a sailor when I wan born. He sailed in passenger ships mainly between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Later, he sold small stationery.

Q: How was the living environment?

Yan: Guangzhou had many people but few lands. Thus, living spaces were scarce and expensive. We had a family of six. Our parents and four brothers and sisters lived in a 20 sq. meter space. To increase space, we built an attic. The space was sufficient.

Q: How was your study?

Yan: I studied in a nearby school from elementary to high school because Guangzhou’s schools adopted a zoning system.

Q: What did you like to do when you were young?

Yan: I was very active. During my elementary studies, I loved playing Ping pong balls and the other sports. In my high school years, I played basketball, swimming, and ice-skating. I also played Chinese and Western musical instruments.

Q: China has experienced many political movements, such as the Cultural Revolution. How did they affect your studies?

Yan: I ran into Cultural Revolution when I was in the 2nd year of my intermediate school and we had to stop studying. We were seriously affected. I only studied intermediate school for less than 2 years. All schools throughout the nations stop schooling. After the Cultural Revolution, school returned to normal, we had to graduate from high school. We had to leave because the younger students were moving up. Hence, I actually finished one year of intermediate school. Later on, I compensated my study at the workplace. Ha! Ha!

Q: What did you do during Cultural Revolution?

Yan: When school stopped, we scheduled ourselves a lot of activities: sports, swimming, ice-skating, fishing, and playing cultural musical instruments and western instruments.

Q: Did you have a hard time?

Yan: Not hard time at all. I was young and relatively active. We played happily.

Q: How was your family affected by political unrest?

Yan: Cultural Revolution eliminated businessmen and peddlers. My father lost his stationery stores. We lived by renting out public phone, at a few cents per minute.

Q: Your father rented out phone lines. What did your mother do?

Yan: My mother helped in housework and in selling stationery.

Q: What did your siblings do?

Yan: My brothers and sisters worked in garment and mechanics industries in Guangzhou city.

Q: Describe your life in the factory or being “sent down” to the village.

Yan: I wasn’t sent down to the village, because my elder brother was sent to the village in Hainan Island. My parents were too old and sick and I would have to stay to take care of them. Hence, I was assigned a job in a factory.

Q: When was that?

Yan: I was assigned to a factory in 1969.

Q: What did you do in the factory?

Yan: I repaired machines. Later on, I was responsible for planning entertainment events and sports, contests and night concerts.

Q: What factory was that?

Yan: That was called Guangzhou Cement Factory. Now it is called Guangzhou Cement Company Limited.

Q: Mr. Yan, you had to work during day time and organized entertainment activities at night time. How did you arrange your schedule?

Yan: At first, I used the leisure time after working hour to swim and ice-skate. Then we formally established our own propaganda teams as a political mission. We then took business leave to rehearse, perform and participate in contests. Even though we had privileges to take leave, we worked in one of the 3-shifts in the factory. Sometimes we rehearsed in the morning and worked on night shift. We continue to work as much as we could.

Q: What kind of views your close friends and relatives hold when they learnt about you organizing events?

Yan: My father was easy going. He let us express our wishes freely. He did not oppose us playing musical instruments. I became a para-professional later on. I organized activities. I assumed the roles of a coach, team member, team leader and back stage coordinator.

Q: How long did you work in the cement factory?

Yan: I worked for almost 30 years, until I came to the United States. It should be exactly 29 years.

Q: In these 29 years, you had to take care of both working and organizing social activities?

Yan: In the latter year of my job, I was solely responsible for entertainment and sport. I did it at any time of the day, day or night. I was involved in festivals, parties, inter-factory contests, employee Lunar festivals, and for retirees, family members and kids. We had prize games and simple contests.

Q: Of the many activities that you organized, did you have any memorable moment?

Yan: From my experience, I was able to organize games according to age characteristics of the participants. If elderly could not move freely, they could not play the games that young people played. At the same time, we had to show respect and not bored them. The ideal games should be simple contests with appropriate prizes.

For ladies who dressed up and wore high heels, they could not play ‘musical chair’, nor could they play ‘bursting the balloons’. They should not play games that they get stepped on or could cause tripping. The floors could not be slippery. The ideal games would be guessing riddles and idioms.

Q: What kind of games did you organize?

Yan: If workers played outdoor, but did not have props yet wanted to play, I took a nylon rope and cut them into a few one-meter pieces. Then, I arranged them into 3 to 4 person teams. The team who tied the longest rope would win. The game was called ‘long strings of love’. It was a simple game.

Some games were more complicated and were called ‘walking like a king crab, blocking all the way’. The game was interesting and the name carried moral meanings. I would specify before the game that ‘the contestants will be awarded for blocking the ways at the game tonight. But in real life, we should be modest. The contestants were divided into two teams and were assigned to the two ends of the place. In the middle was a destined line. Each group of 3 to 4 teammates were lined up and tied on the outer ankles by rope and little bamboos. The whistle blew and every one walked sideway towards the middle as fast as possible. People would win if they walk like a crab. At the game that night, they could walk like a crab, but in daily life, they should be modest. Since this happened, I reminded them the morals of the games.

Q: Your work provided relaxation to people’s stressful lives. Did it spice up the lives of the grass root workers?

Yan: Workers performing boring tasks would repeat the same action over and over again. On the other hand, our bodies need more exercise and stretch our limbs from time to time to maintain a healthy life. If a group of muscles was overused, it will hurt and result in occupational disease. I held sport activities to make our workers healthy, to minimize occupational disease, and to provide leisure and healthy hobbies for workers. Activities such as fishing team and non-Olympic games encouraged people to exercise and be happy. If you organize appropriate contests, people who do not exercise enough would participate.

Q: You organize a lot of games. Do you remember some games that gave you the deepest sense of achievement?

Yan: Nan Fang Daily in Guangzhou reported my company’s events. Departments of the city government would invite me to chair and organize [events]. They thought my activities were more lively and catered to all age groups, such as evening parties for all seasonal occasions, Lunar festival parties for children, “Respect the elderly” festival for retirees, social dance for employees, karaoke contest and simple events such as flower arrangement contest or even fashion contest for female workers. Sport contests were often held, occasionally we had non-Olympic games. The employees were pleased with it. The employees have different likings and love to have assorted choices, many workers were very satisfied.

Once there was a worker who had not joined our activities for decades, because the tickets were limited and they were all taken away by leaders from the management, pioneer workers, superviors and model workers. No tickets were left to the workers. Hence I broke the tradition, on May 1st International Labor Day, no tickets were issued and all the worker could join in.

A “South vs. North contest” was held in the hall, with singing. The success of the party relied on interaction between those performed on stage and the audience below the stage. The audience below the stage was usually not so keen, but whenever I organized the “South vs. North contests” , audience from both sides could participate. At the same [I would announce] that if the audience from the northern gate won, the prizes for those both on and below the stage would be much more. That helped make the audience get more involved and promote interaction between them. The cheerleaders of course put in a great deal of effort- this is just some of my experiences.

Q: You led a colorful life in China. Why did you come to the United States originally?

Yan: It was mainly due to the fact that my brother was in the United States. He applied for us 11 years ago. I did not want to come because I was passionate about my job there and I had assorted hobbies. Later on, it would be better for my children’s education. My friends also persuaded us to come, for the sake of my children’s education.

Q: Before you came, what was your impression of New York Chinatown?

Yan: I had heard about it. I already knew coming to the States was not to enjoy a luxurious life, life could be a bit boring . [It was because] I had this thinking initially and also because I don’t know English, only a few words.

Before I came to the United States, some people already warned me that Chinatown was very dirty. I witnessed it indeed after I came.

Q: When did you come to the United States?

Yan: In 1999.

Q: Where did you live when you came here?

Yan: I have been living in Brooklyn ever since. I worked for a restaurant.

Q: What kind of restaurant was that?

Yan: A restaurant in Chinatown.

I never worked in the catering business before and was referred by others. Since I don’t know English, I work in Chinatown.

Q: What did you do initially?

Yan: I was a busboy.

Q: Was United States the same as what you expected?

Yan: I knew I had to work hard [in the United States]. I did not want to come because I’m old, and am not able to work hard because I’m stamina is limited. The biggest barrier was not knowing English. Being here is like living in another society, [I’m] not accustomed to many things because of the difference in skin color. Had to find jobs that can do without English.

Q: How big was the restaurant?

Yan: It was a banquet restaurant which served dim sum and meals.

Q: How long you worked?

Yan: For almost 4 years.

Q: What was your salary?

Yan: It was hard to compare. If we earned and used money in the same place, the standard of living would be the same in different places. The basic salary plus tips varied each month. The more banquet orders, the more the tips. Tips earned during the dim sum shift were less. [It happened that I earned] less than $1000 a month, and even $800. On average, $1200.

Q: Was the salary enough? Did your wife need to help out?

Yan: Definitely. She also worked in a restaurant.

Q: Was your restaurant affected by 9/11?

Yan: The economy after 9/11 was bad. [The restaurant] was closed for a while, then reopened for a while, then closed for a while, in the end it shut down.

Q: When it was closed, did the employer give you any severance pay? How did the company treat its workers?

Yan: No severance payment. [Our] wages were still owed. Ha! Ha!

Q: After it was closed, the employers fled. What happened to the wages of so many people?

Yan: The workers were scattered everywhere, they were owed a few months worth of salary.

Q: When you worked in the United States and were mistreated by Chinese employers. How did you feel?

Yan: At the time, it would be nice to meet people from my old culture in a different land. So I was deeply [hurt] when I ran into a heartless employer in a foreign land. In fact, in US, the Chinese community is very complicated.

Q: Protests were staged at the New Silver Palace restaurant. Did you participate in the protest to fight for your benefits?

Yan: We are new immigrants, we did not know the history of this place. I just wanted to look for a job and live a stable life. Ever since 9/11, it was very difficult to find a job.

Q: Later on, did you try looking for jobs elsewhere?

Yan: People would ask you where you worked before, once they heard it they would ask you to leave a phone number, but there’s [always] no news. A lot of people are unemployed these days . Job hunting is hard, it depends on your age. When they looked at me and asked you to put down the phone number…Unable to master basic English, not knowing a few phrases of simple English, [it was] impossible to find a job.

Q: When comparing before and after 9/11, was it harder to find a job[after 9/11]?

Yan: Definitely. Many restaurants and garment factories [closed down]. A lot of people were unemployed. Now my wife is the one has a job.

Q: Where does your wife work?

Yan: In a restaurant, in Brooklyn.

Q: What were you doing when 9/11 happened?

Yan: When 9/11 happened, I had a day off and rested at home. We didn’t turn on the television, since we don’t know English. It was from long distance phone calls from Hong Kong and Guangzhou which [they] told us not to go out because New York was being attacked, they watached the planes crash. Originally, I planned to take pictures on that day but rescheduled it to Wednesday, September 12th. So I stayed home. After the phone call, I took out my camera and wanted to take photos, but the traffic was already dead. Because of my passion in photography, out of a photographer’s instinct I would capture the breaking [news] events [with my lenses], but I didn’t realize the incident was so serious.

Q: When 9/11 happened, did the restaurants stay open?

Yan: [They were] shut right away, but not closed down, after a while [they] reopened. When the restaurant shut, I waited for a few months for it to reopen, no income for those few months.

Q: Were there any community groups [offering] such as disaster assistance fund?

Yan: We did not know English, applied very late. But did apply, such as [benefits from] Red Cross, Safe Horizon. But that was the second year after the events, many months later.

Q: Was it because [you] did not know that application were available or were there other reasons?

Yan: No, I learnt it from other co-workers.

Q: How much was the subsidy?

Yan: Safe Horizon [offered] $2500, and there was Red Cross and Food Stamp.

Q: Could you make it through?

Yan: The restaurant re-opened but the business was sluggish ever since. Later, I got some subsidies, last year I received subsidies to learn English, applying through Safe Horizon.

Q: Did you expect the economy could be so bad?

Yan: It was beyond my expectation. New York was a tourist city, without tourists, the restaurant industry would collapse and many would close down.

Q: When 9/11 happened to the United States, has it changed your impression of the United States? What kind of revelations do you have?

Yan: It is beyond my imagination to see such a huge terrorism attack happened within the United States and the degree of terror of the terrorism event. It was out of my mind, unthinkable.

Q: Do you still love the United States, the country?

Yan: United States itself is very democratic, she may have accumulate some resentment from the Arabic world for favoring one side and make the other side of the Arabic world anger. I don’t know much about politics.

Q: After all these years in the United State, do you consider the United States as your home?

Yan: My whole family emigrated to the United States, United States is my home.

Q: After your arrival, what was your first impression of Chinatown?

Yan: When I first arrived in New York. Two main features of my impress - good air quality and orderly traffic, better than that in mainland China.

Q: What is your impression of the Chinese community?

Yan: Chinese people are faced with serious language barrier in the United States, [at least] in the hearts of local Americans. Used to hear that [the Chinese are] turning into third class citizens in United States, I have mixed feelings [on that] after I came. Part of the big reason is that others see you as third class citizens since you are not doing good enough [to attain] social moral, professional ethics. For example, when boarding the subway, the Americans would [let others] off first then get on, very polite. But when it comes to some Chinese people, they swarmed in that outrages the Americans and leaves an impression that the Chinese are impolite. Besides, spitting on the ground, littering, ignoring the traffic signal are common phenomenon. Before I emigrated, people already say “Chinatown is the dirtiest”, this is a problem with our cultural standard. It affects civil virtue and professional ethics.

Q: You organized a lot of activities before, did you utilize your expertise in the United States?

Yan: We don’t know English. I am not familiar [with the country]. I don’t get to know a handful of people, no clue [as in how to start].

Q: You led a hard life here. What do you think is the difference of quality of living here?

Yan: It is hard to judge the quality of living. [You] enjoy life in China with [whatever that is available to you] , in here, [you can] enjoy [whatever is available to you here]. But since we don’t know English, we cannot enter the mainstream society, no enjoyment, no night life. But Americans [do have it] - the night scene at 42nd Street, Soho area is very lively. Because our and theirs living habits are different, [and we] don’t know English, no night life. Also, we finish work late, unlike the 8-hour shift system in China- [be it] 9am to 5pm or 8am to 4pm. In China, usually [we] have dinner at 6pm, then karaoke after the meal, the cultural life [there] is lot more lively.

Q: As you see, what is the main entertainment [here for the Chinese]?

Yan: The best entertainment is watching video tapes, renting video tapes is the most popular entertainment.

Q: Without exercises, what kind of effects it will have on physical and mental health?

Yan: Working for more than ten hours then head home to watch video tapes is not so good. Life is all about moving, with enough exercises it will benefit the body and helps with work [efficiency]. It is because at work, [we often] repeat a certain movement. Sports mean movement for all of the body, balancing all the bones and exercises muscles. [It] Lowers the chance of occupational ailments such as erosion of waist muscles [and] back aches.

Q: You worked in the restaurant business before. What are the common occupational ailments there?

Yan: That area is not my expertise, but I have heard that in restaurants, [workers] suffer mostly from waist and leg pains. Working more 10 hours [really] hurt the feet of the waiters. Inactivity can lead to the so called waist and leg pains.

Q: Mr. Yan, you came with your wife and daughter. How did you get to know your wife?

Yan: Referred by someone.

Q: What was her occupation?

Yan: At that time, she was a “Zhi Qing”, sent down to the country. An educated youth who spent time in rural village.

Q: Did she work in the factory or other organization?

Yan: Even after the referral by others, she still had to work in the countryside at the time. She returned to the city later and worked in the factory.

Q: How long were you married?

Yan: We were married for 22 years.

Q: When you told your wife that you were coming to the United States, how did she feel? Was she willing to come?

Yan: She was not willing to come at all.

Q: How did you convince her?

Yan: I said that the child could have a better education. My big brother already filed the application for us. My parents [already] passed away, [with] no brothers in Guangzhou. My sister emigrated together [with us], so the siblings all go to the United States together.

Q: What does your older brother do in the United States?

Yan: My older brother works in the restaurant industry.

Yan: Yes.

Q: Did he own his business, or …..?

Yan: He works [as an employee].

Q: Do you have other job besides? Or your brother found a job for you?

Yan: My brother referred me to the job. When there was a vacancy, I was asked to work there.

Q: How old is your daughter?

Yan: She is 19 years old.

Q: Is your daughter studying?

Yan: She is in high school.

Q: How is her education environment? She grows up in a foreign environment. Does she know Chinese?

Yan: Yes, she writes and reads Chinese. I asked her to practice more writing Chinese at home and use English more often to communicate with American students outside home, but she likes to stick with Chineses [here].

Q: Where is she studying?

Yan: She [is studying] in Brooklyn. According to the zoning system, the arrangement is called bilingual education, I am not so clear about this. At the beginning, she did not understand certain lessons and the teacher went on and did not care whether she understand or not. As time went on, it actually improved the standard of her English.

Q: Do you hope that your child retain her Chinese tradition and at the same time wish her enter the mainstream. How do you manage that, any challenges are faced with?

Yan: I want her to communicate more often with American students and raise her English standard. But she likes to stay with Chinese students. The school environment encourages desegregation. People gathered by groups. Chinese stayed with Chinese and did not mingle with western students.

Q: Which school is your daughter studying at?

Yan: On 86th Street further away from Avenue U. It should be Lafayette High School.

Q: Is that the school which had violence incidents recently?

Yan: Probably the one.

Q: Are you worried?

Yan: So I asked her to watch out, leave right away after school, don’t walk alone, and don’t stay for long after school. Harmony is foremost important, if any argument occurs, just don’t bother with trivial matters. On top of that, she is pretty quiet, not very sociable.

Q: What is your expectation of her?

Yan: I don’t have any expectation of her. She has her own thoughts. She hopes to be an artist, fashion design. I let her decide according to her wishes.

Q: A lot of Chinese want their children to become doctors or lawyers. You give her a lot of freedom?

Yan: She decides and I give her advice.

I will not force my view unto her. Nothing should be forced, the more [you] force them, the more the children will rebel against [you]. For example, a friend of mine who used to learn musical instruments with me is now threatening his son to play violin with a stick if he doesn’t like to play certain instruments. The son does not learn it heartily, [whenever] the stick is there, he can play the whole songm but when his wife teaches the kid, he only played a small section. [The more] the force is, it will only drive him to lie to his parents.

Q: The restaurant closed down and owed you wages. Have you ever thought of claiming back the unpaid wages?

Yan: We came here and are strangers here. If [we are] being cheated, we may as well let it be. Since a lot of people say so, it is impossible to get it back. We are not the first case, we heard of it happened from time to time. Once the bosses shut down [restaurant] and went bankrupt, even if there were auctions, the priority of loan returns would go to the big debtors first. After a long while, it won’t even reach the workers.

Q: How many workers were there in the restaurant?

Yan: I did not count, but it should be less than a hundred, with 70 to 80. The dinning area has several dozen people. There were also kitchen, dim sum and dish washing departments.

Q: After 9/11, you went through unemployment when the restaurant closed down. Do you think the government or grass root organizations had provided enough help to new immigrants?

Yan: The grass root organizations had helped 9/11 victims tremendously with donations. However, we were not proficient in English and we did not understand a lot. We can only hearsay and apply. For some [of the benefits] we have no clue where to start from. I know I may be eligible for food stamp. I just don’t know where to apply.

Q: Have you got your green card?

Yan: We received our green cards as soon as we arrived in the United State.

Q: [You] can travel in and out of the United State. Have you ever gone back to China [to visit]?

Yan: Yes, I went back before.

Q: When you returned to China, how did your friends and relatives see you? “Oh, you went to the United States!”?

Yan: In China, the Chinese nowadays are more familiar with the United States. Many had emigrated to United States and returned. Mainland Chinese people know bits and pieces of the United States, just as I knew about the United States by watching video tapes.

Q: Before, it was difficult to come to the United States. Once you arrive in the United States, they think perhaps you have won the lotto, do they envy you?

Yan: Some of them. Some people did not want to come even if they were invited. These are the people who are already wealthy. Some people would like to come if they have the chance. Both kinds of people exist.

Q: In retrospect, do you think you’ve made a right choice to come, or are you regretting it?

Yan: I never regret anything I did, such as my [choice of] profession. The simplest example would be traveling. Some people say they regret traveling to some place because it was not fun. I did not feel that way. I think traveling itself is an enjoyment, don’t moan about it being not fun. The act itself benefits your mind and body. If we travel with this intention, [there will be] not regret.

Q: What is your expectation of the future of your America life?

Yan: I hope [I can] find a good job but the main [problem] is I don’t know English.

Q: How is you English class?

Yan: I have, well , finished the course. But we have no basic training [in the first place] and therefore, did not quite get it. I only know how to say greetings and asking for prices when shopping.

Q: Does it help at all?

Yan: Somewhat.

Q: Do you have anything to add?

Yan: No.

Q: Thank you!

Yan: Thank you!


S.W. Sang, Male, 58 y.o. -- Jewelry store owner

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: Today is March 11, 2004. We are at the Museum of Chinese Americans. Please say you name.

Sang: My family name is Sang, and my name is Zhuo Huai, S.W. Sang.

Q: How long have you been in Chinatown?

Sang: I have been here since October of 1969.

Q: Where are you from?

Sang: I used to live in Macau. In 1966, I went to Dominica in Central America, and in 1969 October, I came to the United States.

Q: Were you born in Macau?

Sang: No. I was born in China.

Q: Where of China?

Sang: I was born in Yanping, China.

Q: Which year?

Sang: 1946.

Q: Where in the Mainland were you born?

Sang: Yanping Province, China.

Q: You went to Macau when you were nine years old. Why?

Sang: This is because my whole family has left for Macau.

Q: You went from China to Macau?

Sang: Since my father was in preparation to move to Venezuela, my family went to Macau. I was studying in Macau.

Q: What kind of images and memories do you have for China? You must have remembered much, since you were already nine.

Sang: I certainly remember; very much so. The area of Yanping was poor. Many of our villagers went overseas. Going overseas means going out to another country and work. This had more future to it. Because of this, our villagers like to leave the country, for the United States, for Central Americas. Most of them, however, went to Dominican Republic.

Q: How did you enter there? Did you sneak in country? Did you apply for entry?

Sang: We did not sneak into the country. We first apply as tourists. Once we were in there for six months, we applied for resident status.

Q: That’s quite easy.

Sang: Yes, it was very easy.

Q: When your family was still in China, what was your family business?

Sang: My grandfather used to own a factory in China, where he manufactured bricks and various construction materials. However, when the communists came, all of the properties were confiscated. This way, our family was not able to make a living, so we had to leave the country.

Q: Why did you go to Southern America?

Sang: This was because most of our extended families and friends were there in South America. Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Q: You already have a few generations there?

Sang: Not a few generations, just from my generation. But my grandfather had gone to Venezuela for almost forty years.

Q: When you were nine, you whole family moved to Macau?

Sang: Part of the family. My mother, two brothers and I left first. Afterward, my grandmother came with the other two brothers. We were all living in Macau.

Q: What about your father?

Sang: My father was in Hong Kong involved in the Bakery Business. He made bread at his factory, wholesale and distribute them to places such as coffee shops.

Q: This is to say, your father has gone for Hong Kong at an earlier time.

Sang: Yes.

Q: For how long did you live in Macau?

Sang: I lived in Macau for eleven years.

Q: In terms of studying, were you there for both Grade School and High School?

Sang: Yeah, I went to St. Joseph for both.

Q: When you were in Macau, were you studying Chinese or were you studying English? Did you study English?

Sang: There were both English and Chinese.

Q: Did you study Portuguese?

Sang: I understand a little. This is because I understand Spanish, and Portuguese is similar to Spanish.

Q: How old were you went you went to - -?

Sang: Twenty years old.

Q: It was Dominican Republic, wasn’t it?

Sang: Yes.

Q: How did you feel when you got there?

Sang: I was there, apprenticing under an uncle, who did watch repairing work. I was also learning the things related to the Jewelry business.

Q: You were in Macau until you were twenty. Did you go to college there?

Sang: No. I left not too long after I finished with high school. In Macau, there was no college there. The highest education you could attend was high school.

Q: When you were in your teen years, did you think about what kind of career paths you would take when you grow up? Perhaps leaving the country?

Sang: My great hope was to become a medical doctor, but there weren’t many chances for me to continue college to become one. But now, I am very fortunate. I couldn’t become a doctor, and became a jeweler. When you are designing and making jewelry, you don’t have to be responsible for people’s lives. If you are a doctor, you are held responsible for lives. So, I feel I am lucky that I did not become a doctor, and that I am doing what I am doing.

Q: When you were twenty years old, did you already have family members in South America?

Sang: No. All of them were in Macau. Only I went. I went to work for an uncle who was from the same village.

Q: When you were there, what kind of works were you doing?

Sang: I was involved with watch repair, and the jewelry business.

Q: At that time, the place you were, were there much Chinese?

Sang: At there, during that time, there were approximately a few thousands people. In our shop there were fifteen people working, some did watch repairing, some did watch selling & buying, and some were involved in the jewelry business.

Q: After you went there, did you feel that it was easy and quick to get used to the new way of life?

Sang: We were happy. Back then, the brotherly apprentices were always playing football (soccer). Life was good, very good, indeed. The way of life was very different from the lifestyles of Macau, Hong Kong and the United States.

Q: How are they different?

Sang: In Spanish places, people’s characters are passionate, and very friendly. They do not discriminate against the Chinese. They thought highly of the Chinese, and therefore there is no discrimination. That’s better.

Q: You only started learning Spanish once you moved there?

Sang: Yes. There were a bunch of us working there. We hired a lawyer. There, we worked in the morning, and at night, once the lawyer got off from his day job, he would then teach us. He collected ten dollars per week per person. We made a blackboard and started learning Spanish.

Q: How long did you study for you to understand?

Sang: In terms of studying, one can speak after around two years of studying, and approximately three to four years in order to write a little.

Q: While you were there, had you always been involved with repairing?

Sang: I was working - - repairing watches.

Q: During that time, did you ever consider going back to school to become a doctor again?

Sang: No. During that time, I had already started in this job, and I could not change anymore. As I continued working, there were pressure and responsibilities. At that time, I did not think about studying. The most important thing was to make a living. During that time, the first thing was to make money.

Q: Money can be made in this profession?

Sang: Over there, I worked for three years. I already came out and started my own business after three years. I opened my own store, and became my own boss.

Q: How many years were you living there on your own?

Sang: Three some years. Not quite four years.

Q: After you came to the United States?

Sang: Yes, I came to the United States.

Q: How did you - - Did someone sponsor you over there? Or did you do it your own?

Sang: During the time when I came over, I already have colleagues who worked at big factories in the United States. It appeared that those jobs were stable. Also, in our profession, during those times, the pay was quite decent. It was around one hundred twenty, one hundred thirty dollars per week.

Q: That was in 1960s?

Sang: Back then, when you take a regular job at a restaurant, it would be around seventy-five to a hundred dollar per week. In this case, we made more money. Not to mention, the work was more comfortable, since it was more technical in nature, it was never - - Originally, when I first came over here, my father-in-law was in the restaurant business. He wanted to teach me the business. But when I saw the actual restaurant, wow - - I saw the head chef, while pushing a button with his foot, twisting and turning his body all around. I really felt I would not be able to do that. I like cooking. My mother used to teach me how to cook. I love cooking. But this was too tough. I thought I better stick with what I was dong in the Jewelry business.

Q: When you come to the United States, did you also come as a tourist? Or did you apply to come over here?

Sang: For the first time, I came over here as tourist. When I came the second time, I also came as a tourist. Afterward, I was working at a workshop that was owned by a Jew. When it was about time, I applied for residency.

Q: When you were at the Jewish place, you were also doing repairing work?

Sang: Yeah, repairing watches.

Q: You came to New York when you first came into the country in 1969?

Sang: No. That was 1970, not 1969. It’s exactly 1970.

Q: You came to New York when you first came?

Sang: I came to New York, when I first came here.

Q: Why did you choose to come to New York? The United States is so big.

Sang: This was because before when I came to visit, I saw some Chinese supermarkets. I saw that they have everything kind of Chinese food available. That was suitable to the Chinese palate. For me, the most important thing was to be able to eat. In Dominican Republic, those Spanish places, there also were plenty food products. But here, there have every kind of Chinese food products that I care about. For this reason, I came.

Q: Did you consider going to San Francisco, other places with Chinese - -

Sang: Since many of my friends were in New York, I considered coming to New York.

Q: Did you feel it was hard to adjust when you came over here? Winter is very cold here. Many things are different. Were you able to communicate - -

Sang: We got used to it, since we were young, and we liked playing football (soccer), and sports - - I am quite active and outgoing, so it was quite easy to adapt to the environment. I did not feel cold at all.

Q: When you came over, did you know English?

Sang: I knew a little. I understood it when I was studying in Macau. While I was - - When I was studying Spanish at Dominican Republic, I studied the language using English. I learn them together.

Q: You were twenty-something when you came over?

Sang: Yes.

Q: That was quite young.

Sang: Yes.

Q: What did you do when you first came over? But - -

Sang: When I first came over I repaired watches. After working for that westerner for a year, I got residency. After working for about a year, I immediately came out and opened my own business. Along with a friend, I opened my own shop, in Harlem even! You dare not go over there, but the rent was cheap. Back then, it was only one hundred and twenty dollars. I said, “Okay, let’s rent the space out, open up the shop, learn as I do!” I was trying to figure out what the American jewelry market was like. To be honest, when I first opened there, I was not thinking of making profits at the beginning. I wanted to first dive into the profession, observed the market, and figured out the business.

Q: During those years, was rent in Chinatown expensive? You had to go to Harlem?

Sang: No. Since during those years, I had a bunch of friends living up there. He saw a - - It was because I had a villager-friend opened up a restaurant in front of that space. The restaurant was called “Hua Ting”. He operated that restaurant for twenty some thirty years, and it is now closed. He told me there was retail space right in front of his restaurant, and the rent was cheap. He suggested me to open up the shop up there. He said there were many Spanish people there, and that the Spanish people’s business was the best. I told myself to give it a try. After around a year, my partner and I already made around eighty-thousand, hundred-thousand dollars. Then, we had another partner, and opened another shop at Concord Ave of the Bronx. In this way, I had two shops. After a year and half, we again made around a hundred, two-hundred thousand dollars. At this time, I went to open up a new store at 225 Canal Street, which has remained opened until today.

Back then, around 1971, after around a year, I opened up a second shop in Bronx, where my partner was the shop manager. I was the overseeing the shop that was located at 157th Street and Broadway. Alan was looking after the upper shop. After around half a year, I found a retail space, and moved down to Canal Street. That was in 1973.

Q: It sounds as if you were very brave. You were only twenty-something.

Sang: Is that right? I don’t think so. I certainly - - One must be brave. Being a human, one must be brave. Back then, my next door neighbor was a bank. There was a bank robbery. There were three machine guns at the entrance. I could only run. Three machine guns in Harlem bank! Even the police cars turned around!

Q: Is it true that since you were able to speak Spanish, you were able to communicate with those customers - -

Sang: Yeah, I was able to communicate. So - - But it was also easier work back then. There was less competition. Not too many people were in the business, and the business was good. Many of my villager-friends, families and friends told me I should never get involved in the business. They told me in the United States that no Chinese were involved in the jewelry business.

Q: Before you came to the United States, what kind of impressions did you have?

Sang: About the United States. Since I often read history, news and current affairs, I understood that United States was the only country that had a modern society and had the strongest economic development. Also, since the dollar was stable, business was also stable. Especially to us hard worker types, we were certain to become successful. All we needed was a little confidence.

Q: Before you came, did you already have a family?

Sang: Not yet.

Q: When you first came over, what did you think Chinatown was like in 1970s?

Sang: Confucius Plaza had not been built yet, during those years in Chinatown. There were many broken, abandoned houses. There were warning signs reminding people to be aware of pickpocket. It was about being careful of people stealing things from you. There were only a few broken down houses around where Confucius Plaza is now. I lived near the side of East Broadway, right next to the post office.

Q: During those times, the area definitely was not as large as it is now?

Sang: The area was not as big as it is now. Also, back then, the people - - Almost every time I went out, I knew everyone. In other words, when you’re in Chinatown, you knew everyone. Everyone knows everyone else. There were less people during those times.

Q: A little more intimate?

Sang: A little more intimate, since everyone knew everyone. You knew everyone where you managed your business, and where you hung out. It’s not possible these days. You can’t meet all of them now.

Q: After you came to the United States, did you feel that it was difficult? For everything, you had to - -

Sang: It had been smooth. It had been very smooth.

Q: Why had it been so smooth for you?

Sang: It was because I have confidence. I am hard-working and aggressive. Yeah.

Q: These things had allow you to conduct your businesses so smoothly?

Sang: Right. You’re not incorrect.

Q: In which year did you open your store in Chinatown?

Sang: It was seventy - - Let me see -- It was 1972. In 1972, I moved down to Chinatown. But in 1971, I already opened one in Bronx. Somewhere in the middle of 1972, I don’t remember quite well of the exact date. In any case, I moved down to Chinatown, and it was 225 Canal Street, right at the corner of Centre Street. Also, I was the first Chinese who rented a space to do Jewelry business.

Q: Back then in 1970s, were there many triads in Chinatown? Did you feel a great sense of danger being in this business?

Sang: Yeah, I did not feel that at all. Because - - Why? In our business, we certainly had to be careful of entrances and windows. One has to be aware of these things. But it was not that dangerous. Since I was brave enough to open a shop in Harlem, I wouldn’t feel dangerous opening one up on Canal Street.

Q: Have you ever experienced a robbery? And let other - -

Sang: Yes, many times indeed. People just grab and ran. Or in another case, you’re at gun point, and you could only wait for him to pick and leave.

Q: Were your family members ever - -

Sang: Yes, they had.

Q: But, you still are not scared?

Sang: No, I am not scared. I - - When people come robbing me, I told them to just take the things away, and don’t be nervous. I told them the first thing is not to be nervous, just take what they want, and leave.

Q: Do you carry guns?

Sang: I cannot carry gun. If I was to carry guns, I must have already killed a few times. But I don’t like to react with carry guns. Right now it’s just robbery, right? If I was to carry guns, it would either be him shooting at you, or you shooting at him. That’s not good. In our business, it would be dangerous if you own guns.

Q: Back then in early 1970s, even though there were many triads, did you have to contribute to one particular gang - -

Sang: No, I have not.

Q: - - to protect you?

S: The triad society indeed asked for money, but not on our side. In the 1970, although there was instability, it does not mean that they robbed in Chinatown every day. I established Canal Street Jewelry Merchant Association. I was the president and hired six security guards to guard the street. I handled them. These are armed guards. They carried pistols to watch out every block. The robbers went elsewhere but not to us.

Q: Are you paying them personally?

S: No, they belonged to the Association.

Q: Association?

S. Every member paid the association three hundred dollars. I am the organizer and the president. I collected the money and paid the guards. I was also the accountant. If the other stores did not pay, I paid for them.

Q: As a Chinese, what differences are there between being a Chinese-American in the United States, and in South America? In terms of how an American view the Chinese as to how a Southern American view the Chinese?

Sang: I believe, when you interact with people - - If you really are competent or are knowledgeable in certain area, people would not look down on you. Unless you doing some bad things, or behavior - - In this case, not to mention foreigners, even the Chinese would look down upon you. I don’t feel so. I often do not feel that I was discriminated against. For example, when I first opened a jewelry shop, there were a group of Jews that had stores on Canal Street. When they saw a Chinese came opening up a ship, one of them said, “Hey Chinese, you should open doing something else, such as opening a restaurant, or selling food else where. Why did you come getting involved in our businesses?” He first used a discriminatory, make-fun style. But I was very polite and explained to him. I told him, “Long time ago, in Egypt, even before the birth of Christ. The Jews were enslaved by Egyptian kings to build pyramids. When Mosses brought those Jews back to the Middle-east, they had much trouble with the region, and had no where to go. They followed the path of the Silk Road, and entered China in the Tang Dynasty. There were some twenty some thousands Jews entered China. This was the first time us Chinese protected you Jews during your hard times. The second time was during the Second World War, when Hitler was killing the Jews ferociously and cruelly. Did you have a place to run and hide? Only we China accepted you and you settled in Shanghai. During two major hard times, we Chinese have saved you. You cannot discriminate against us. We are your friends.”

Q: And then you said - -

Sang: - - (the Jew responded) “Hey Chinese, don’t tell us this story anymore.” I said, “If you want to hear more history, I will tell you more.” He said, “in other words, one should not discriminate against others.”

Q: This means, you have to use historical logic to argue, in order to - -

Sang: That’s not it. If you are intelligent, no one can discriminate you. They dare not look down on you. They would respect you. The most important thing is yourself, right?

Q: You came to the United States and opened shops. Did you continue to operate the two shops in Harlem?

Sang: Not anymore. I moved the stores from Harlem to Canal Street.

Q: How many shops do you have now?

Sang: I have three now. My wife took care of the old one. I manage the one located underneath Veteran Association. I also look after the one right next to my wife’s.

Q: Where do you live? Now - -

Sang: I now live in Astoria, Queens.

Q: You haven’t lived in Chinatown for quite a while?

Sang: No, I haven’t. I used to live on East Broadway. Yeah. But I moved in 1979.

Q: During the time when you were living in Chinatown, did you feel that for many Chinese people who lived in Chinatown, Chinatown was the world to them? They didn’t really go out to other places in New York. It seemed to be a rather small place. Was your life, similar to that?

Sang: No, since we like to travel every year to another place. Also, I have a bunch of friends any where I go. Sometimes I go visit my friends. We do not live a closed way of life. Our generations move along the currents and trends of times. In other words, we are not like those old uncles, who never stepped out of Chinatown. They have been in Chinatown for tens of years, yet they stayed in Chinatown mostly, and have not even got on the subway. We are definitely not like that.

Q: Back in the 1970s, did you think that the neighbors were united in Chinatown? During those times, they mostly were Toishanese and Cantonese. Was it not as complicated as it is today, wasn’t it?

Sang: Generally speaking, eighty percents of the population were Toishanese. Back then, for us Hakainese, our friends were mostly Toishanese. Yeah.

Q: Did you feel that the Chinatown back then, was more united than it is today? In other words, it was not as complicated as it is now. Currently, there are more different kinds of people.

Sang: I feel that it depends on which aspects you’re talking about. If you say things are complicated, I feel that it is so in terms of different opinions and point of views. It is definitely not so when it comes to an individual, and the relationship between an individual and society. In other words, when you say the situation is complicated, it is only true at your personal level as an individual experience. I do not feel it is true at the societal level.

Q: Do you not feel that Chinatown is not untied? The Cantonese, Toishanese, Fujianese - -

Sang: Definitely not so. I treat Fujianese, Toishanese, as well as my villagers, all the same. In my heart - - even when I overheard my friends being unfriendly to someone else because they’re Toishanese, or Fujianese, I would explain to them with reasoning, and that they shouldn’t. How can the Chinese discriminate our own kind? I have all kinds of clients, some are Spanish, and some are Africans. I have been treating them equally all along.

Q: Perhaps you personally - -

Sang: Right.

Q: - - is like that. But for plenty of Chinese, we are not united in Chinatown. Therefore, we don’t have power. Because many associations are not unified, everyone has their own opinions. How do you - -

Sang: I feel that, compare to what it used to be, I rarely participated those social clubs and community activities. But most recently, at times, a bunch of my friends would invite me to come out and participate. A little more contact. I think for us Chinese, community organizations and clubs such as “family name” associations, are very Chinese. These are invaluable cultures. A group of villagers coming together, and helping each other out when there’s a problem, like borrowing money. Or when there’re issues, family quarrels, there a group to solve the problem. Externally, whether you and another organizations - - in other words, to be together. Of course, when one comes together with another person for a short time, they cannot come along. Of course, when the points of view are different, whether it’s at the business-level, or at the national-level, these views need to be brought out. Everyone should be understanding. Sometimes we argue. No big deal, as long as everyone should come up with something truthful, and work at it together. It ought to be done this way. This is true for both society and nation. I am part of many committees, but I have never fought with anyone. No one ever yelled at me before. I have some many committees, but I could only do it together. The only way is to discuss all different opinions and come to agreement.

Q: Ever since you came to the United States, have you considered return to Macau, or visiting for leisure.

Sang: Yes. I have gone back for vacation. When I went back, a bunch of classmates, a bunch of friends, and - -

Q: But have you thought about moving back to leave? Moving back - -

Sang: Definitely not. My children grew up here, studied here. You see - - family is most important. My business is also here, so I wound not - -

Q: If this is the case, it seems that the business of your stores is quite successful, isn’t it?

Sang: I feel that I am quite satisfied when I can support my family. Because for all of us, the most important thing is to feel satisfied. Also we need to have confidence. We live in this way, in order to - -

Q: Now we’re back in time, during 9/11.

Sang: Right.

Q: The year during the 9/11 incident, were you in Chinatown?

Sang: Yes, I was in Chinatown. I was on my way to work - -

Q: Do you remember - -

Sang: My car was at Delancey, when the first airplane hit there. I thought it was a fire accident. I was still at Delancey and Bowery, right at the corner, and saw smoke coming out of the windows.

Q: Afterward, how did it affect your business?

Sang: Right after 9/11 happened, we were closed for three days, because the smoke - -those smoke have covered all of Chinatown. The air was not comfortable. Also, I felt the air was still very uncomfortable. In other words, when you breathed the air, it was very filthy. That’s why we did not go back, and remained unopened for three days.

Q: During those three days, was there any burglary? Did anyone cause any problems?

Sang: Definitely not. That time everyone knew what had happened, since telecommunications was so advanced in the United States. In everyone minds, they were asking questions such as how do you we protect this country, and were thinking how best to protect this country. I don’t believe in those things happening, and there definitely no burglary. I feel that New York has improved, and the quality of people has improved.

Q: Was your business affected, I mean, after the 3 days closing down?

Sang: Of course, the aftermath was immense. A lot of my customers came from World Trade Center, such as staff from Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers. They used to skip their lunch and came to us for our watches, and wedding bands. Now they all moved elsewhere and never return to us.

Q: Do you mean a lot of your customers were not from Chinatown but a lot of them from Wall Street?

Sang: That’s right.

Q: American besides Wall Street came to you also?

Sang: Yes.

Q. About how much was the business loss?

Sang: From time to time, shortly after 9/11, only thirty percents of business was retained. Then, business increased gradually. Up to now, we are still twenty five and thirty percents behind.

Q: Did you apply for 9/11 assistance?

S: I did not apply directly. One time, they mailed us a form to subsidize rent. I filled it out and I received four thousand dollars at one time and three thousand dollars another time. Approximately, I received seven thousand dollars.

Q: Did your rent increase in recent years?

Sang: The rent increased gradually?

Q: 9/11 did not affect the scope of increase?

Sang: We have to pay in accordance to a signed lease that agreed to have rent increase at interval. Because of 9/11, the landlord waived us one month’s rent.

Q: But I feel that when I walk around in Chinatown, it seems that there are less gold shops as before, isn’t it?

Sang: No. It has been the same. Not less. There shouldn’t be less.

Q: Compare to in the past - -

Sang: Yeah, approximately the same.

Q: - - approximately the same to before 9/11?

Sang: Right.

Q: Do you feel that there are less Chinese customers? Because during these few years, economy has become much worst, perhaps when people do buy gold and watches, they don’t spend as much money as before. Not spending as much - -

Sang: When you compare it to the past, according to my understating, with regard to the market - - Since nowadays, the Americans has


experienced a phenomenon and their understanding have increased. The knowledge of economics has also deepened. It’s interesting. When there’s opportunity in the stock market, everyone rushed to buy stocks. But ever since the burst of the internet (bubble), everyone feels that once it becomes unstable, you lost all your money. They now buy houses. They buy their first house to live in. They buy their second one for investment purpose. Should you have a son getting married, then you buy another one. If each family has from one to three mortgages, and contributes money to these mortgages, their cash flows are locked completely by these mortgages. Our economy is like this. For example, if you’re selling a house to me, or I sell one to you, after we have signed the papers, the money is turned around back to the banking systems. That’s why the bank would overflow with money, yet there would be no cash flows in the market. This is the reason why a lot of retail businesses would be down. I used to have a group of young friends who worked in Merrill Lynch. They came to me, and buy watches from me. I conversed with them. I have quite an understanding in financial matters. I like to have conversations with young people, and I like to talk about how to observe the market, and how the economy goes. We talked very often, so I see it quite clearly.

Q: During the thirty some years you were in Chinatown, which period was best for you? When you business did most well - -

Sang: The best time was the seven years between 1983 and 1990. During those seven years, it was the best for the jewelry and retail businesses. All retail businesses were doing extremely well.

Q: - - How is your opinion when it comes to the affects 9/11 has on Chinatown? Do you feel that the community has become more united ever since this incident? Or do you feel that it is the same as before?

Sang: After 9/11, we all felt that it was a time that we should unite. Many restaurants lost businesses; some lost thirty percents, while some lost seventy percents. Under such circumstances, during such difficult time, we all hoped to find a way where we could work together. In other word, we all work together, and find a way to turn Chinatown into a better place, and especially in the area of cleaning it up. We wish we could build up Chinatown a little more.

Q: On your business card, I saw that you have joined a lot of different organizations, some are - -

Sang: Right.

Q: You are chairmen, presidents, members of many organizations. While numerous agencies co-exist in a small Chinatown, do you think that they communicate with each other. Or jewelry association communicates only with jewelry stores. Restaurant association communicates only with restaurants. Do they communicate with each other?

Sang: I wish to share my experience of Chinatown with the community. Members of the associations should work as a group and share a common goal. We Chinese used to lead our lives in a closed system, so we are still primitive. A simple example would be, once I went to a banquet hosted by the Consulate General of China. Thirty guests sat together. Twelve different languages were spoken. One of my friends asked why there are so many dialects in China. Why are there over 10 dialects in one Guangdong Province? My answer was simple. China was a closed agricultural society. My villagers would not come to your village. If you lost a pig, you would suspect that I stole it and ate it. Or you lost a cow and would say the people in the neighbor village stole it. The villages quarreled with each other and would not trust each other. So we spoke our language in a way that liberally confused you. At the same token, we did not understand your language. The closed system resulted in primitive livings for thousands of years. We should open ourselves and communicate with other, so that you may learn more. Even though you may not like it, you learn from it.

Q: Do you mean that these traditions were brought from Mainland China to Chinatown. Both groups act similarly.

Sang: These practices are not correct. We are should communicate a little more, and try to understand a little more. We should do different things with friends from different groups and different levels. In this way, you will increase your talents, which is knowledge. There are many things that you cannot learn from books. You have to have people contacts and communicate.

Q: What do you think a regular foreigner’s views of Chinatown? When one first think of Chinatown, what would be the first thought?

Sing: Firstly, they would want to know the Chinese’s way of life. But once they came into Chinatown, they will be many things are different. The Chinese eats different kind of food, and use different kind of things. So are gift shops and culture. But they already know that there are many things that are worth while for them to learn. Most simply, around twenty, thirty years ago, I had an accountant called Mr. Lee, Mr. Sum-Chi Lee. He was in the accounting business, and did tax related work on Canal Street. There was “Wang An” Computer. Wang An was a top-notch computer engineer. He knew how to make computer at the theoretical level, but he was unable to apply and materialized mechanically. He came to Mr. Lee’s place and saw an old man using an abacus. He came to an instant understanding. He realized that he could now make computer, which was to design the arrangement of electric circuits as it would be for an abacus, with numbers moving both horizontally and vertically. This was where modern day electric circuit design came from. Many people did not know that the functioning of computer was made possible by the Chinese Abacus.

Q: This is to say - -

Sang: Without Chinese abacus, it would have been impossible to turn computer into real machine.

Q: When it comes to the images a foreigner has about Chinatown, you think that they feel that there are many worthwhile things to learn? Isn’t it?

Sang: Right. There are some who know that Chinese food is most rich and diverse in the world. That is why Jin Wang Kwan won in the French Chef Competition three times in a role. In other words, it would be impossible for the world to catch up to the high level of Chinese cuisine arts.

Q: Even though there are much Chinese people in New York, yet politically speaking, our power is still very limited, since many Chinese do not vote. When it comes to you and your family, do you participate - -

Sang: I have been encouraging my friends and my children. I make them vote, it’s a must. It is us citizens’ responsibility. Secondly, whatever things that we wish to do in Chinatown, we must have votes as background. In this way, our voice is louder. If we have city government support, and have their understating, they would pay more attention to this community. Similar to the “Chinese Club” in the past two years, they were very open, and often times host speeches and receptions for state governors. If we maintain constant communications with them, we will be able to ask them directly whenever we need something from them. They would give us a little more attention. We have to do it this way. Whether it’s a successful effort is a different matter. But our attitudes toward the community should be this way.

Q: You have been living in the United States for some thirty years. Do you feel that you are a Chinese living in the United States? Or are you already a Chinese-American?

Sang: I am definitely a Chinese-American. I have already gained citizenship, right? But I would not deny the Chinese culture that I have internalized. I have a better understanding of Chinese culture, so my interests are also more Chinese.

Q: According to you, what do you think are the biggest issues in Chinatown now?

Sang: When it comes to the biggest issues, I think the first one is transportation. Second one would be sanitary problem. The third issue would be economics. Our economy is under threat ever since we lost the clothing factories. Those women, who used to work in those factories, now have to adapt and take new professions such as health care. This transformation has to be gradual. Other than transformation, the Chinatown business model also has to change into more tourism focused, more tourists-oriented, besides the traditional sales technique to attract middle aged women. We should provide products that fit the American markets, while attracting tourists with high consuming power to spend money here. In other word, we need to turn Chinatown into a cultural and tourist center. For our economic survival, we have to build Chinatown up in this direction. We should employ a liberal approach. We cannot act the way we used to, thinking and satisfying on the limited businesses that the clothing factories provided. The old way how bosses could go to Atlantic City and spend tens of thousands on the gambling tables, is not possible nowadays. We have to treat our community more seriously, while pushing for its transformation. That’s why I joined Rebuild Chinatown Association - -

Q: You mean NYC Promotion & Tourism Association, right?

Sang: Yeah, that one.

Q: NYC Promotion & Tourism Association existed even before the 9/11 incident. We hope to spread whatever news we have of Chinatown. We want the media to promote for us, and let them understand Chinatown, and understand Chinese cultures. Quite interesting - - One time we were hosting a group of media, including journalists from New York, and a woman form the state department. She was the head in promoting ethnic culture. I forgot her name. When she came, we brought her around Chinatown for a grand tour, and brought her to Chinatown for dim sum. We went to Good Harmony Restaurant for Dim sum. She asked, “It is now eight thirty, why there are so many people here for breakfast? Is it because they did not have dinner last night?” I told her not. I said for the Chinese, the most important thing after you get up is to “Yum Cha”. “Yum Cha” is an old habit of Chinese that date back to thousands of years. When it comes to “Yum Cha”, you can see that over there is a group of older men reading a paper together. They would discuss the current events of the day, whether it’s political or politics, all is discussed here. You can also see other tables, where there are children. They are families. They could be discussing family affairs, or it could also be someone’s birthday today. And the table next to it, you can see a bunch of business people, with their business suits. It’s possible that if a man owns another, money, and he would be invited to “Yum Cha” the next say. Then, you will have to remember to bring five hundred dollar to return to the lender. Here, you do business, family meeting, business meeting, as well as community leaders discussing community affairs are all here. That’s why for us Chinese, we don’t have to pay to go to those psychologists, those psychiatrists. We all get heal here. Whatever problems that we have, you come out, talk to a friend and you are cured. The psychologists know nothing about your personal life. But your friends understand you, and they can solve your problem. So I feel that in the western world, this kind of culture does not exist. “Oh, you guys are real smart!” (Said the woman representative) Whenever we have problems about business, we just need to invite them out. Whatever that’s not right, you discuss here until all is right. Why engage in meeting? You have to meeting this and meeting that. Here, we agree on everything. When we eat and discuss enthusiastically, it’s easier to smooth things down, and less arguments. If I talk business to you, should there be anything wrong, I would not slam the table and start yelling. The westerners would slam tables and start yelling whenever there’s something wrong during meeting. We can’t do that because we have tables around us. It would not be good if other people see us. The most we could do was to yell quietly. She said, “I have never heard anything like this!” I replied, “That’s why I am telling you now. If you want to write a book, a novel - - if you wish to learn the traditional Chinese cultures, and values – In other words, many people are not familiar this kind of lifestyles, but if you’re sensitive, you may gradually come to an understanding. You will be able to write them down as content for your novel.”

Q: Previously I asked you, what the biggest issues are in Chinatown. During this project, I also have spoken with a number of neighbors. It seems like they are either of; transportation, sanitary, rents, and housing issues. - - Right.

Sang: These things are very important.

Q: Even though everyone knows what the problems are. But how come after ten, twenty years, the problems are still to be solved? Why is Chinatown still dirty, still so cramped?

Sang: But I feel that - - Let us begin with the housing issue. I remember those days in the seventies, when the Confucius Plaza was being built. There were many vacant apartments, which took quite a while to be rented out. Not too many people applied for them. Gradually, there were more immigrants, but at the same times, many Jews moved away in the East side, while the Italians were also moving out of Little Italy. But right now, it is completely full. That is why housing is such a problem. Even if there were space now, it would be very expensive. A Square feet of space would cost around a few hundred dollars, but it would still be bought to build houses. These houses could be sold for at least six, seven hundred dollars per square feet. Population density has increased, city’s value has increased, but when it comes to sanitation - - That is why there exists an organization called Clean Chinatown Campaign. Ever since Bill Lam and Danny Lee organized this club, I have been supporting them every way I can, such as soliciting members and others to donate money. I have been quite passionate with my effort, they all know that. Compare to a decade ago, there has been a great improvement since ten years ago. Chinatown is much cleaner now, don’t you think? But it’s not as perfect as - -

Q: Midtown.

Sang: Right, as Midtown or Park Avenue. This is because they do not have as many people and tourists. Also, the density of traffic is also not as high as here. Like when it’s Saturday and Sunday, there are ten to twenty thousands people rushing into here, and turn it into - - When there are more people, then inevitably it’d be dirtier. That is the reason why we have been educating people, and tell them not to throw trash on the street. Most simply, for example, there was this one time, I was on the street. I saw a woman threw a paper bag on the street. Next to this woman was her friend which I knew personally. This mutual friend saw me, and said to her friend, ‘People are promoting clean Chinatown, why don’t you pick up the trash?’ In other words, it is important to educate people and let them know it’s important to keep streets clean. That is why in the future, we will record a Sang about how cleaning is everyone’s responsibility. We are trying to see whether we could get Jackie Chan to sing it, and broadcast it publicly, and remind people not to carelessly throw trash on the street. We still have to hire people to clean the streets, and change those trash bags. Chinatown is much better than before. Back in those days, those garbage treatment companies did not care at all. I later discovered the reason why Chinatown smelled so bad. It was because those garbage collection trucks, first collected wet, dampened trash, and after they pressed them, the liquid would overflow all over. That was the reason why it smelled bad. I went and spoke with different officers and representatives at those companies, and told them to change their schedule. I told them they should collect wet trash at the end of their schedule. In this case, those liquids would not be overflowing all over Chinatown, and the bad smell has at least decreased by fifty percents. We have to pay attention to clean, and be aware to where dirtiness comes from. But we are unable to - - Since a lot of people come here, and the fish markets are located in the central area, it would be impossible to do a perfect job, but we could try our best. To be perfectly clean means no one could come, which is worst than being dirty.

Q: It seems that you not only do business in Chinatown, but you also spend a lot of times doing community services.

Sang: Yeah.

Q: - - Your children, do they have the same thoughts?

Sang: They study. My son is studying at Tufts. He already graduated from Northwestern University, and worked for two years. After he got his master degree, he wanted to go for his Ph.D. He told me that it’s free of charge. I told him to go for it. He studies philosophy.

Q: And you - -

Sang: I would not force them. If the next generation has the interests, than of course are their choices.

Q: - - never pressured them to be in your profession?

Sang: No. Absolutely not.

Q: The future of your business ……?

Sang: My sister and brother, they each has one shop. So, if I did not pass them to my children, I could pass them to my siblings. I would never do that. My father used to be in the bakery business. In summer times, he asked me to help him at his bakery. We bought flour and sugar for three hundred dollars, and at night we could collect three to four- thousand dollars. It was very profitable, would you be interested? I said, “But I have no interest, I still prefer the watches”.

Q: In other words, you do not pressure your children?

Sang: No.

Q: - - what do they do?

Sang: It’s quite interesting. My eldest daughter, graduated from Swarthmore University. She likes arts. She is now working at the Education Department of Metropolitan Museum. My youngest one is studying at Haverford College, in Pennsylvania. She is now in Spain doing a study abroad program, and won’t come back until June. I told her, saying that since your brother wouldn’t help me, and your sister went to work at the Metropolitan Museum, you are my last hope. Will you help out with the family business? Guess what she told me? She said, “Daddy, you are talking about your own dream, you’re not talking about my dream”. You’re talking about your own dream. You’re not talking about my dream. It’s difficult, since we have different dreams.

Q: It has been over two years since 9/11. Do you feel that it has become as lively as it was before 911, and that the business has normalized?

Sang: The business in Chinatown is still quite quiet. It cannot be said that it is as lively as it was before. Other than the effects of 9/11, there is also the influence of the American Economy, where the real estate market has locked up all the cash flow. This is true to all businesses in the United States. You remember those times when the Hong Kong real estates market was speculated by the real estate companies. They want to push all the poor people back to their hometowns, in China. Even though they are all economists in Hong Kong, but what they did was wrong. If there are only a few rich people in Hong Kong, and have no one to consume in the markets, no one to cook for you, how can you open up restaurants? No one to make coffee for you, then you will not have coffee to drink. You life would be abnormal. You have to - - About the survival in a social environment - - I wrote a letter to the head of LMDC, John Whitehead. I said, “For New York to survive, the small businesses must also survive, in order for the big businesses to survive”. Just like our planet’s environment, if there lack a grass root level to absorb all the water, it would become a desert, and big trees would not be able to grow. There must be much grass, before the trees grow. All across the world, when there’s no grass, there’re no trees. You must have grass field to absorb the water, in order for the big tree to grow. I told him to pay attention not just to the bigger companies such as those in II World Trade Center, but also to small businesses. If there were only big trees, while the small businesses are bad - - If it’s a desert surrounding a tree, that tree would surely have no leaves. It will die. I told him that this is economics. I realize that for New York, seventy percents of company taxes come from small businesses, while big businesses only contribute around thirty percents. They called it Small Business Investigation.

Q: Great. We talked about many different things today. Is there anything else you would like us to know? Is there anything that I have not already asked? Is there anything you want to share with us?

Sang: I don’t have any other ideas. But the most important thing is to promote Chinatown and Chinese culture to everyone in the United States. We should make them interested in coming here to learn our Chinese cultures, whether it’s about the food, gifts, or the jewelry market. Around the world, there is no jewelry markets that can be compare to what we have here. On forty-seven street, they only sell American styles. But here, we sell the Chinese styles, European styles, and American styles. All international styles can be found in Chinatown. No where else has there a market that is stronger and better than ours. I wish people would come and purchase from us, and bring more business to us.

Q: You are confidence that in the future, the business will pick up? It will - -

Sang: Yes, It will. Once the interest rate increased, the property market will cool off. Once the property market cools off, the cash flow will not be locked dead, and the retail business will improve. Just like those days when they speculated in the property market in Hong Kong. There was a lack of businesses, and all went dead. Everyone use their money to pay mortgage, while the banks were soaking up all the money. When you had to store less than a million dollars at the banks in Hong Kong, you had to pay storage fee to the bank. They did not even give you interests. They had too much money. They were speculating the property market. It just like when you’re on an airplane. If you have all your weights on one side, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous for the economy.

Q: Okay. Thank you for your time…

Sang: Well said.

Q: to chat with us. I wish you lots of good Luck.

Sang: Yeah, thank you.

(End of session)

Henry Ye, Male, 35 y.o. -- New Life Center

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: Today is March 11, 2004, I am sitting here with Henry Ye of True Light Church on Worth Street in Chinatown. Let’s begin by having you tell us a little bit about where you are from.

Ye: Well, I was born in China, Canton, and then I went to South America for six years, and then I end up here in New York.

Q: Wow, okay, [laughs] that’s very fast. Okay, we have to, we have to back up. You were born in, in Canton. Can I ask you how old you are?

Ye: Well, at that time I was thirteen, when I moved out of China.

Q: And this is in what year?

Ye: Um, 1982.

Q: ’82. Why did your family decide to leave China?

Ye: Well, my family, um, actually, more, my sister’s family already is in Central America, so we just migrated there to join them. And China, of course, have less of opportunity I guess in terms of better economic situation and you have less, um, choice, of life.

Q: Do you remember much of your childhood in China?

Ye: Ah, yeah, a little bit, I think, um, what I can really remember is that I came from a very poor family, and peasant family, and there was always lack of food, and lack of money, and I think that South America probably have a better opportunity because I see my sister doing well, so we decided to all go to Central America.

Q: And how, ah, your sister was already living---

Ye: Yes.

Q:---where in Central America?

Ye: Panama.

Q: Okay, so she legally sponsored you to Panama?

Ye: Yeah, yeah. My brothers, and all my sister and brother are already out of China.

Q: And you went with your parents?

Ye: My parents actually they stay behind for a little bit, and then my mom also went to Central America.

Q: Well, so how did you feel as a thirteen-year-old? Did you want to leave China?

Ye: Well, thirteen years old, as you say, you know, it’s not that I have a choice. I just feel like going to somewhere else, it’s like a trip. You don’t really know how far is that trip until you get there. So, for me at that time I don’t really have, um, any feeling, this is my brother going, so I just follow him, and it’s just like going shopping. You don’t know what will happen, but I know that I will probably have to go for a long time, you know.

Q: And did you have any impression of, of what Panama was like?

Ye: Not really. They just say that that place don’t have winter, the four seasons the same, hot, you know.

Q: And did you speak any Spanish at this time, before you went?

Ye: Um, not, not really.

Q: And how was that, getting there, and not speaking the language at all, did you have a difficult time adjusting?

Ye: Yeah, actually it was pretty, pretty hard. Because at that time, when I was in China, I was in school. But then, when I get to Panama, of course I don’t speak Spanish, I only speak Chinese, and this make it kind of hard for me to go to school because, in that area they don’t really have a bilingual program, like us, here. So it kind of hard for me to fit in, and I tried to attend school, but I couldn’t catch up, so I withdraw, and I, stay out of school for two years, just learning Spanish with, ah, neighbors, you know.

Q: So how long did it take you to feel, to become comfortable in Spanish that you can communicate with people?

Ye: Well, after a year and a half, I feel much better, and because I still young, at that time I’m thirteen, so learning Spanish is not that hard, um, that age. So a year and a half later I feel pretty comfortable talking to native Panamanian, who was born there. And after that I feel comfortable and now I decide to go back to school.

Q: And you didn’t want to go back to China?

Ye: No, because my whole family is there already. It’s not I have something to return to. And, I feel, after a year and half, I feel pretty comfortable living in that new environment, so I have decided to stay.

Q: And is there a Chinese community in Panama, you can, um, you have Chinese friends there, are there Chinese stores, food---

Ye: Ah, yeah, they have a Chinatown actually in Panama City. It’s very small, very, it’s only like two streets, but they have Chinese restaurants, and Chinese store. In terms of friends, I think I have more Panamanian friends than Chinese friends, because all the Chinese, unless you live in Chinatown, it’s all spread out all over the place, so you don’t, you don’t really have much chance to communicate with other Chinese except when there’s a big holiday celebration and you come together as a Chinese community, in one of the Chinese association, but other than that, just have your schoolmate and classmate. But most of them are Panamanian, you know, born in Panama.

Q: And you didn’t feel outcast? It was comfortable, I mean, after you learned to speak the language you, you feel comfortable living there?

Ye: Yeah, I, I really feel good. Actually the school that I went, um, the junior high school that I went, actually there is only one Chinese, which is me. And they treat me pretty well, and most, most of the classmate and schoolmates treat me well, and they see someone very different, but they, they also very adaptive, and they also welcome me into their circle I would say. So, I felt good living there and having, you know, them as friends.

Q: And then, how long did you stay in Panama?

Ye: Well, I stayed there for, like, six year. Yeah. I attend school and then work, you know, for approximately six year.

Q: And then how did you---you came to America after that?

Ye: Yes. And then I came to America to continue my education. I felt that in Panama it’s, it’s so, I have all my family there, but, ah, I try and look for something more than that, and Panama is a small country, and opportunities there are limited. I would say, um, so I wanted to, higher education, you know, and I wanted to go to college, so I came here to attend college, and try to learn something else.

Q: Where was that? Where was the university that you went to?

Ye: I went to City College, CUNY. You know, City University of New York.

Q: Why did you choose that school? Why did you choose New York City?

Ye: Well, I think New York City is more diverse, in certain term of population, in term of language, and I, I love ah different, learn different kind of languages, so I think New York will provide me the opportunity to meet others, non-Hispanic speaking, Spanish-speaking, or non-Chinese-speaking classmate or student, so that’s why I chose New York.

Q: And did you learn any English in Panama at this time?

Ye: Not really. Actually, I have studied some English, but not like you can have a basic conversation. You probably know some words, English words, but because that environment did not provide the opportunity to practice, and so it is kind of hard to say I, I know English. I probably know some words, but not really English.

Q: So you’re nineteen years old, and you came to New York City speaking Chinese and Spanish and very, very little English, and you started university on your own.

Ye: Yes.

Q: That difficult?

Ye: Yeah, it is very difficult. Actually when I came and I went to enroll in college right away, it happened that college in this kind of, because of English level, it’s kind of very far behind, and I felt that if I go to college in that moment it probably going to waste a lot of money, um, because you’re foreign student, and you have to pay double---you have to waste a lot of money to just learn ESL (English as a Second Language) in college. So I decided to go to a high school first, and to learn some English, and so I ended up in high school again, not just learning English, but I took other subjects, and I graduated from high school in two year. And after that, and I went to college. So I have two year preparation before I go.

Q: Did you feel strange, as a nineteen-year-old in high school? Although you look young, I think you look young for your age.

Ye: Yeah. Well, it’s kind of strange, yeah. But, the high school I went is the Lower East Side Preparatory High School, they only take student seventeen and up, and with junior high or high school graduate diploma, and so they can help you to adjust in this community environment, so it kind of make it easier on me. A lot of those students I know is from different part of the world, and their age is probably seventeen, eighteen. It’s not much younger than me, so I, I feel um, comfortable being part of that school.

Q: Did you have any dreams of coming to America? What, what did you want to be?

Ye: Well, you know, in nineteen years I don’t really have much dream except that you want to, um, get yourself little bit more knowledge, get yourself some more higher education. And I don’t really know at that time where I will be ten year later or what I will end up doing ten year later, but all I know that I need to go to college and finish college and so that I can have more opportunity. But what kind of opportunity, I don’t know.

Q: Your parents [coughs] excuse me, your parents ever give you suggestions, or any pressure to become anything in particular?

Ye: Not really. My parent themselves are uneducated people. In China, my mom never attended school. She is illiterate. And my father, I think he only attended up to second grade. So they themselves don’t have the opportunity to attend school, and that’s something that also help me to understand how education is, can help, when I say it’s important. They don’t really give me any pressure that you have to be lawyer or doctor or anything like that, but just that, if you want to study, you go study, and as long as they don’t stop me, then that’s support already.

Q: So who did you live with in New York City, you come here by yourself.

Ye: Yeah, I, I come here and I have friends. I live with my, my friends, and I stay here and I, I, go to school, and it’s not like I have a base here, because as you know, students come here all by themselves.

Q: Did you live in Chinatown?

Ye: Yeah, actually when I came here I lived in Chinatown. Yeah, I lived in Christie Street, Christie and Grand Street.

Q: So this is, what year are we talking about, by the time you arrived?

Ye: I guess 1989, yeah. It’s a long time ago.

Q: Yeah, so Chinatown was a very different place then. Were you, were you scared coming here? What, what, did you think about Chinatown?

YE: Well, in that time, here, in Chinatown very different compared right now. In that time, actually now, in the late ‘80s, and early ‘90s, there a lot of gangs in Chinatown, and you have seen a lot of young people stand on the corner as a group, and pretty, pretty scary at that time. And I do feel that Chinatown is like a cemetery in that moment because there is so much killing and robbery, and the young people seem they don’t have motivation to go to school and do better, and I just feel that they have no future.

So cemetery is the word I keep inside in my mind at that time, that Chinatown don’t really have much hope, if they don’t change.

Q: But as a young man here alone, that’s often how a lot of young men join gangs because they’re very alone and they don’t have a family, and they don’t have support. How come you were not attracted to join a gang?

YE: Well, actually, I, I thought about it, actually when I was in Panama, I was, was not a straight-A student as well, I kind of live in the very poor, ah, neighborhood, and so it’s very complicated, and there are a lot of gangs that live in that neighborhood, but then when I come to America my aim, my goal is to have better education and better equip myself. But I think that the best thing is that before I came, I become a Christian. This has a lot to do with your question. So when I came to America I already came with that Christian faith, and that’s---I read Bible, it teach you, you know, how to be good, no killing, no harming other people, you have to help people, and so I also go to church in Chinatown.

And I think it make a difference, because the church community kind of tell me what is good. And, but of course, all my classmate, or schoolmate in the community tell me what is bad. So I, I have a choice. So this way I know what is good and I know what is bad, and I was able to choose between good and bad, and so I choose good, rather than join a gang.

Q: Is your family Christian also?

YE: Ah, no, actually, my parents, sister and brother, they’re not Christian. But some of my niece or nephew, after I become Christian, I share the gospel with them so they become Christian.

Q: At the time you grew up in China, religion is not really, ah, you can’t practice it in public so much, so did you get a lot of your views on Christianity during your time in Panama?

YE: Actually, yeah, in China, I don’t really know much about religion, because as I said, only thirteen years old, and all my parents do is to worship their ancestor with incenses and from time to time---But when I went to Panama, is, this is free country, since the religion is Catholic-based, religious country, and I see my neighbors go to church, and like, every Sunday, and I start having curiosity in the beginning and say, why they go to church and dress out all nice and go to church, and ---So I start kind of questioning them, what is the benefit going to church? And so they kind of explain to me, that, um, well, one, one thing that they said was that you can marry in the church, and with a nice gown and dress up.

So that’s the whole idea that started as a whole. One day if I want to get married in the church, I have to be in the church. So that’s how I started going to the church, with my neighbors, with that mentality, hopefully marry in the church one day. Um, not very particular how a religion is focused or anything like that. After I’d gone for a couple of year, and I realized church is more than that. That they tell you how to behave as a moral character, and more moral person, and that really have a lot impact on me.

Q: So you’re saying by the time you came here, because of your religious faith, you came here with much more of a, um, a grounding in yourself, and that you, you were motivated to study and to do good, and that steered you out of trouble. You didn’t want to join a gang, by the time you got to---

Ye: Yeah, I, I, definitely say that that is true. I know that as far as my friend, that they leave school, and they drop out, and they don’t want to continue, because there’s no mental support from their parents or from their family. But to me, I don’t have support from my parent or my family as well, but I do have support from the church, um, we call them brother and sister and they encourage me, and when I am down, when I needed help, they kind of encourage me and help me out.

And I think it’s, it’s my faith that can help me keep going, because really it’s study two year English and you go to college, it’s very, very difficult in terms of that you have to, really check every word in the Chinese and English dictionary. So, say if a native American student spend two hours studying, I probably have to spend six hours studying because of my language and limitation.

But because of my faith, and because of Christianity and believing in God, I always pray, and every time I have exam, I pray, and whenever I encounter difficulties, I pray, and pray God to help me, and that really help me a lot. And when I have struggle, and encounter some difficult situation in life, and I also depend on God to help me. So that really is, is that energy behind my life, and that help me to keep going and keep moving on.

Q: And what did you study at CUNY ?

Ye: I studied psychology, ‘cause I want to know a little bit more about myself. I find myself like a mystery. Sometime I don’t really understand why you think that way, or, why you make that kind of decision. So I really want to discover a little bit about me, and so, what---it’s why I am who I am, and wanted to learn a little bit about me.

That’s how it started, but after I study for awhile and I kind of realize actually psychology not can, not only can help me, but can help other people too, and so that’s why I stick with the subject and graduated with that major.

Q: And after four years at CUNY, what was your first job?

Ye: Actually, a little bit before I graduated, I applied for a job in Chinatown YMCA, just to work as case planner in the preventive program, which is to help family who got in trouble with ACS , Administration for Children’s Service, and the Center for Children’s Services, or a family that have a problem with the family courts, or families that are at risk, or their kid had dropped out, or their kid is in borderline, they try to join the gang or stay in school.

So that is kind of something that I, I interested in, because I was there a couple of years ago, and now, seeing other kid, not going to school, wandering on the street. And I just want to help them, and help them to understand life has more than just have fun on the street. You can do something more than that. And helping the family to stick together, work together. So I started that, as, as a um, preventative case planner in Chinatown YMCA.

Q: I know that you didn’t come to New York as an immigrant, but in many ways you are an immigrant in America, but yet you don’t seem very typical because most immigrants come here and they, they work hard, they study hard and they want to make lots of money. Why, what do you think is in you that you want to be a social worker, as you said, at very young, also, to want to give back so early.

Ye: Yeah, I think it’s a very good question. You’re right. A lot of immigrant come here and then just want to study something that will make money, like finance or computer science, or electrical engineering. I think it’s very normal because they came from a very restricted, poor environment. But myself, also I came from that kind of environment, poor, restricted, and when I come to America I just wanted to learn more and educate myself more.

But at the same time, behind my, my mind, I also want to be rich. I wanted to be making money too. But because going to church, and I see that people in the church help others freely, unconditionally, without any conditions. That, because they help you it’s n to because you will pay them, they help you because you need it. And they feel good about helping others, and also what the Bible teach you. It’s rather, it’s better giving than receiving. And so that also have something to do with my religion background, and that really taught me that money is not everything, but helping people and make people happy, yourself will be happy as well. And some, something money cannot buy, which is happiness.

So I, I kind of realized that helping people and not really making a lot of money, but my heart and my life I feel rewarded, or awarded, because seeing a family broken, and now it’s the repaired and all together again, and I think that is more, more than money can buy. And that’s why I, I feel good just to do what I do.

Q: And your family supports you, in doing this? They never give you pressure to send us lots of money? Send home lots of money? Take us out of China?

Ye: No, actually my family never gave me any pressure, because they all already out of China. I have brother in Panama, brother, brother and sister in Panama, I have brother in Spain, and I have a sister in Florida. They’re all over the place. They’re all out of China. Beside my father, my father don’t want to go out. He like his old hometown. But still I think it’s good for him, he know his neighbors and everything, and we respect that, we respect his decision, so really I have no pressure, they ask me for money or anything like that, because I’m the youngest, so they don’t really expect me too much. You get it? I think that’s a, a good deal. You could have older brother, older sister, and they all helping the parents, supporting the parents, and I’m sort of like burden-free, you know?

Q: So your first job out of school was at the YMCA in Chinatown, where you worked mainly with young people you said?

Ye: Primarily it was with family that have children, that like I say have, either have problem with the ACS, because of cultural differences and language barrier, they discipline their child and trigger the school or counselor to call Administration for Children’s Service, because they think that there’s a risk of child abuse and child neglect, and so that’s (how) we’re involved, and most of our case come from ACS, referred by ACS, and the criteria is that you, you have to have children in your home, and we work with them, because that’s what preventive mean, to work with family, family that have young children.

Q: Well, give us an example of a case, ‘cause I, as a Chinese growing up in America I know that there is a lot of, sometimes misunderstandings between the way Americans interpret what is abuse in the Chinese families. So give us something that you saw a lot that perhaps the way Chinese parents discipline their kids, but American teachers may think the kids are being abused at home.

Ye: Well, I, I think one example is in China, I also came from China, and I also come from, I was brought up by parent, and I know in China, when your parent beat you, is because they love you. They correct you because they care about you. That’s the Chinese immigrant’s mentality and philosophy. And there’s just no such law that you hit your child and you are punished and someone will call the police or call the ACS. In China there’s no such, they don’t have that system yet in that time. It mean that your children is under your authority, and that your responsibility, if you don’t discipline them, and in the future they become a bad person in society, then the fault is in the parent, so that’s why the parent will hit them or discipline them. And when you say, hit that mean physical punishment, like that, they probably hit them with a bamboo stick, and try to correct them, and try to help them to, to avoid doing, continue doing bad things.

For example, like, there’s a family that come to America, and one of the child does not want to go to school, because they think school is too hard, too difficult, and they don’t speak the language, and they constantly make fun of him. And so he decide not to go to school. So the father, knowing that child not going to school is very young, he is only thirteen years old, if not going to school have no future here in America. You don’t speak their language, you don’t speak English, you’re not going to school, and that’s against the law as well. So of course this law part they might not understand, but they do understand that they want and hope the child can go to school and learn English and have a better life, rather than work hard like them in factory or in the restaurant, and they want the child to do something better than that.

But that child not going to school, for the father will discipline the child in the sense that he sort of hit the child, smack the child, and so of course the child, report it, because his father’s---because he’s talking a friend, the friend tell the teacher, and the teacher call ACS, so ACS come and they want to remove the child, but then that’s how we intervene and try to provide service to this family and try to understand what had happened. And so, because we provide the language, translation to the ACS worker, and we got a lot of ACS worker don’t really speak Chinese. And we talk about like five, six years ago, and still uncommon for Asian to get into ACS to work.

So, and we help them to understand the culture differences, and the father want to help the child, but then the law says you hit your child, it’s wrong, and that’s why we want to remove your child, and so that’s how end up in the ACS system, because someone reported the incident to the ACS. Which I think is, you know, each country have their own law, and each have, have their own rule. Um, the country that they’re living, right here in U.S., have the law to protect the children, of course they have the right to do what they have to do, but in terms of the parent, they don’t really understand the law, so what’s missing, is the education component to the parent. So that’s where we step in to educate, like what we call parenting skill, or (?) parenting skill training. Try to educate parent, what, the way that they deal with their children in China is not going to work in America, and if you use the same style, strategy, a way to discipline your child, and here in America you will get into trouble with the law.

And that’s how this family start understanding and what that meant, so they need, they have corrected the action, and they say that understand, we care about our child, we love our son, but physical discipline our child is against the law, and so they don’t want to do it again. And they want us to provide service to the family, talk to the parent, talk to the kid, and try to educate both side about where they come from, and it’s in the parent expectation and the kid’s struggle. So because the communication, they not going through, so parent do not really understand the child have so much pressure and have so much trouble, and the school tried to communicate, tried to understand. When the parent, just see the child not going to school is wrong. So it’s a matter of communication, and that’s one of the example cases.

Classic, because a lot of family even now a days, still have that problem. You see, this year thousands of new immigrant come into this community, but there’s no education going on every day, and so people need to be educated to solve this problem.

Q: Do you think there’s a big difference in, say, an immigrant family comes to a place like Chinatown, as opposed to more outside in a suburb, where there’s not a big Chinese community? Is it easier for them to assimilate into American life, coming to a place like Chinatown first?

Ye: Well, from my experience, I think Chinatown sort of is the first stepping stone, it, it mean it will be easier for them to adjust, because the community speak the language, and when they go to do shopping, they could shop the food that they want, and find the Chinese food, and also in terms of transportation, it’s limited, instead in Chinatown, you can just walk, in walking distance. And so they can adjust a little bit better.

In terms of kid who going to school, they have, let’s say bilingual or ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, that will help the kid to catch up even though they don’t speak English when they come in, and that will help them to learn faster in a sense. But there’s also one problem living in, let’s say, a community like New York City, in Chinatown, is that housing is an issue. There are limited housing. More and more people come, but the building pretty much stay the same, and so, where do people go, just pack into different family. So in terms of like, one apartment, you have one family of four members, now, because your aunt migrated and have no other place to live, then you just pack into that family, and so now you have, let’s say, eight members living in two bedroom apartment, it’s an overcrowded situation. So that’s the only disadvantage.

But going to out of state, they say, you know, Chinese go out of state because they see New York City is the state, and what is outside New York City is out of state. And as you know the word “China,” China is the center of the country, or central country. Everything else outside of China is foreign, it, you know, foreign country. So at the same time, our experience that, if an immigrant come to the U.S. and right away they, say move to a suburb, they will have a much harder time to adjust, first as you know some of the suburb like New Jersey or Connecticut, you want to go to supermarket, buy, buy grocery, if you don’t live next to a supermarket, you have to drive.

So a lot of immigrants they don’t have driver’s license, they don’t even speak the English to go and test, take a test and get a driver’s license. And driving a car is sometime challenging for just a peasant from China, not even know probably how to ride a bicycle and then now you ask them to drive a car. And for kids, trying to get them in school, there is let’s say, majority of them, let’s say, let’s say, Caucasian, I mean, Caucasian, and also this is a difficulty because not every school have the ESL program or bilingual program, and so, and if they migrate here and then jump into school, I think it’s kind of hard, and then myself, I come, I went to Panama, I jump into school, and then guess what, I have to withdraw, and stay out for a year and a half, try to learn the language and then I go to school. It’s a similar experience. A lot of those family that I know is that they leave their kid behind in New York City, they go to work in out of state because of job scarcity, limited job, so they left the kid behind, with family, or sometime friends, and they go out to work and support the family.

But why they don’t take their children with them, when I ask them, because it’s hard for the children to go to school there, because the system, the school system where they have. And so it’s very, very difficult. It challenging for the family. Especially in Chinatown. The family, immigrant family that come here, they face many, many different kind of challenges.

Q: So from what you see, say, the percentage of immigrants that come to Chinatown, how many of them really stay here long term, or is it once they get the language and work skills, do they move out?

Ye: Well, from, like I say, from what I have seen for the past ten or fifteen year in Chinatown, ‘cause I’ve been here a long time, almost fifteen years. And they have a lot of change in Chinatown, in terms of, let’s said, fifteen years ago, if you, you know Chinatown, pretty much Chinatown is occupied by the Toisanese and Cantonese, you go to the vegetable stand, stand to buy vegetable, you have to speak Cantonese. If you don’t speak Cantonese, you have a hard time to buy a vegetable, because they don’t understand you, and then you don’t understand them.

But ten years later, things have changed. The whole community dynamic in Chinatown have changed. If people understand the structure of Chinatown. Pretty much, there’s a group, a fast-growing group, which is the Fujianese community. They come in very, very quickly, and they occupy half of Chinatown from let’s say east of Bowery, and let’s say south of Houston, and let’s say north of Catherine. All that section, and primarily the Fujianese come in, and a lot of the Toisanese or Cantonese, they kind of move out because of housing price are getting higher and higher because demand get higher, the housing price get higher.

So a lot of people who are here a little bit longer, they need to move out, either move to Connecticut, or New Jersey, or Brooklyn, some are in Queens, and at this time there’s some people start moving to Staten Island. You need, this is like I say, this is first stepping stone for immigrants. When I was in high school, this was, fifteen years ago, a Chinese teacher already say, if you can make it, you probably not living in Chinatown at this time. Meaning that if you have the English skill, you have driver license, you have some money, and you probably move out to the suburb of Connecticut or New Jersey, or some other, like Brooklyn, Flushing. You don’t have to stick in Chinatown, because with the same amount of money, paying rent, example, you can get a three-bedroom apartment for the same amount of money, and you can only get maybe, say, a one-bedroom apartment in Chinatown. So why do you want to stay in Chinatown?

Q: So then how do the new immigrants afford to live in Chinatown if you’re saying Chinatown is so expensive?

Ye: That’s the problem, because in Chinatown, the price so expensive that people cannot afford it, that’s why they have to share their apartment. It’s not that they want to, but because of the economic situation, or the price of the apartment is so expensive, one family simply cannot afford it. As an example, a two-bedroom apartment in Chinatown, easily you have to pay one thousand, five hundred or one thousand, eight hundred dollars. A two-bedroom apartment in Chinatown. A family of four, let’s say, father and mother, both are working, and children going to school. So father work in a restaurant. Mother work in a factory. You know a factory how much you can make. Sometime as you have work to do, you make like forty dollars, or sometime eighty dollars if the garment is good, easy to work with. But sometime when the garment is hard, or there is not many work to do, you probably earn twenty dollars a day, and sometimes a day you had earned ten dollars, when there is no, no job.

So it kind of hard for a family to just make enough money to pay the rent. Forget about the food and other expenses. So there is no way for them to do that, so they divide up an apartment and say, two bedrooms, and they rent out one bedroom, and share the living room, the kitchen, with another family, and so they co-share nine hundred each, example. Each family pay nine hundred dollars. So they can barely survive in a sense. So that all four member of the family has to pack into a one-bedroom apartment. There’s no privacy, you know, for that family. It’s a very, very difficult situation, and we have seen many, many family have to do that.

But if you’re single, then, of course, one bedroom apartment, let’s say two bedroom apartment, easily you can, well, they will, rent it out for eight people, ten people to share, a two-bedroom apartment, so they will have all the bunk bed all over the place. If people know Chinatown well, they know that. So they rent, not by bedroom but by bed space. So that’s how they can pay the rent.

Q: Now why, why is the Fujianese in particular, in the last ten years or so, so attracted to New York? Do they go to other places in America? Do they go to other countries, or do they leave China and New York is the top destination that they want to go to?

Ye: Well, in 1994, the State Department estimate that they have a hundred thousand Fukienese in the U.S., and New York, Chinatown is the prime location. That’s the first choice for all the Fukienese. And so, at that time, in 1994, and this is the time up to the Golden Venture incident, and that’s how the government officials start paying attention to this population. And before that, they don’t really give too much attention unless the local government official, the city or police say that this community have a lot of gain and all that.

But 1994, they estimate a hundred thousand in the U.S., and most of them are in New York City, so this is the first choice, and remember we’re saying, whatever state outside of New York City, they call them out of state. So New York is the home base for the Fukienese. As you can see, East Broadway, that ‘Yidonglo,’ that east mall of east Broadway, eighty-eight east Broadway, that’s at the root of this community, the tree of this community. So most of them when they come, first they come here and see all the job, ah, say, office, that help people look for job, and help people to, um, let’s say, go to different places, you have bus stations and everything.

Of course, ten years ago, this not there. Not many. But still, they have large association here in New York City, a lot of Fukienese association, and so this is the prime, prime location for them. When they first, when they come in, first stepping stone.

And some people do go out of New York City, because there is not, not enough jobs in New York City for them. And most of the men, the Fukienese men are restaurant worker, and most of the lady are garment worker, so a lot of the couple, if they come in as a couple, they probably have to spread out, so the father will go out or stay to work, and come home once a week or twice a week, depends how far or how close you work. If you work far away in Tennessee or Ohio, you probably come home once a month or twice a month, so it depends.

People do go out because, no job. Especially after 9-11, a lot of more people move out of New York City, because job scarcity. There’s no, no, not much work. The garment factory, a lot of them closed down, so then they packed their whole family and moved to out of state or left the children behind and the wife also joined the husband and go to work in a restaurant.

Q: I have the impression, I think a lot of people have the impression that the Fujianese community tends to be a bit of a closed community. If you are not Fujianese, if you don’t speak the dialect, it’s very hard to get in there. Is that true? And because of that, are they, would you say they are more, ah, unified, than say the Cantonese or the other Mandarin speakers in Chinatown?

Ye: Well, I think that is true. Fujianese itself is a very unique community and unique population. If you know the history of Fujian, even back to China, a thousand years ago, they themselves have their own community and the geography of Fujian is like a, like a pot or a wok, you know, big, wide, everything, with sea, access to ocean, they have river, and they have farmland. They themselves is already in the valley of the sea and the mountain. So that community is very close because they speak Fujianese and that’s a daily language that it was, beside going to school and children have to learn the national language which was Mandarin.

And the village and the home, they all speaking Fujianese. And plus Fujianese, the way they come to America also contribute to why they have to stay close. Because a lot of Fujianes, in the early ‘80s, some they of course migrate as immigrant, but many of them migrate here undocumented, in a sense without proper document come here. So there is a lot of distrust with the government, even in Fujian, when you’re from China as a country. And there’s a lot of trust issue, you know, between government and ordinary peasant family or citizen. And it’s very difficult for them when they come here, they don’t know who they should trust. Government certainly is the last place that they want to go because the experience that they have with the Chinese government.

But then, going to other non-Fujianese, they don’t speak the language. It’s kind of hard for you to go, let’s say to a vegetable stand, to buy vegetable, to a Cantonese vegetable stand to buy a vegetable, if you only speak Mandarin or Fukienese. They probably not going to sell it to you. And that’s why, some I have seen in the past, when I walk in the street, people talking Mandarin, and want to buy that vegetable, it’s oh---you go to other, other store, they will never sell to you. Because they cannot communicate. So it’s that, it’s not that they have a very close, close community. It’s just that they don’t want to, don’t have the chance to explore around, and they don’t really know what’s out there.

As an example, a lot of the Fukienese are illiterate and they’re not educated. A lot of them do not even know how to write their names. I have been working with this Fujianese population since, like I said, since I graduate from from college in 1996, and I have a lot of Fujianese client, and then later on, I moved to another agency, which is this one, a Lutheran agency. And primarily our clients are Fujianese, so I kind of know them a little more. And myself is not a Fujianese, but I am able to work with them, because I sort of understand their culture, understand their struggle, and not understanding their language base, is something is a disadvantage, but they do see you as a individual, want to help them. When they see that, they certainly open up to you.

A lot of time, I think the community they say, “Well the Fujianese is very close, therefore we can’t help them.” It’s like, “I don’t want to touch it, this problem is too big.” But if you really look hard and really look through it, there are lots of thing you can do, even though you are not Fujianese. And even the Fujianese themselves have a lot of mistrust issue, and they don’t just open up to anyone.

Q: You think they mistrust the Cantonese? The other Chinese people, not just, say, American government and law and all that, that they don’t understand, but how about just other Chinese in Chinatown?

Ye: Well, I don’t think it’s a mistrust issue in the same way with the Cantonese. Ah, in terms of government, it’s really that’s an issue, because like I say, they come from different system, a government system. But in terms of the Cantonese, I would say, it’s, it’s a, they would see as a struggle, a competition. Maybe you remember back like ten years ago, like I said, or we said, Chinatown pretty much is occupied, fifteen years ago, by the Toisanese, the Cantonese, and there are factories all over the place, and there are a lot of business, and the Cantonese come in, they work, they earn a lot of money. Each week, they can earn a couple of hundred dollar, a thousand dollars, and depending on what kind of garment they’re working with. But for the past ten or fifteen years, there are more and more Fujianese come in, and the pie is that size, one size, but then you have more and more people come and try to share the job, that job market pie, that job pie, and then in this sort of work environment have to create some tension, if you know how the factory system works, that you work faster, you can earn more money, and you can work more garment. Or you cannot work fast, then if you have to work slow, then it’s how much hour you can work.

So the Fukienese come in, they come in with a lot of, they say, they invariably they owe people money the way they came, they owe money to other people, owe it to their family, or to their relative, or to their friend, and so they definitely want to work harder. So in terms of working nine to five, they probably work eight to eight. So that has created a lot of tension between the Cantonese and the Fujianese, and often if you go to the factory you’ll hear that, “Oh, the Fukienese taking our job, oh the Fukienese is ah, making us make less money.” Because some Fukienese, and remember ten years ago from paper you will see that Fukienese women have to stay in the factory overnight to work, and they only sleep three or four hour. It’s not that they wanted to. A lot of time, because the boss required them to finish the work. And they also wanted to make more money. And so, both parties probably contributed to it---But the Cantonese, there is no way for them to stay overnight or work twelve, fourteen hour. And they’re a bit harder, because the way they came, because most of the Cantonese come as a immigrant, with status---

Q: From Hong Kong---

Ye: ---From Hong Kong, or Toisan area. But a lot of the Fujianese they come without status, and when they come in, they already owe people a couple, let’s say, twenty or thirty thousand dollars, and they have to pay it back, and make them work harder. And it makes sense.

So at that it really create a lot of conflict in the community itself still have this kind of issue.

Q: You think part of, maybe there’s a little bit of resentment towards the Fujianese community because they have brought the prices down in a certain way, by creating so much more competition, like they can probably work cheaper than say, some, you know, as you said a person from Hong Kong or Toisan years ago, and because of that they, they’ve created so much more competition in Chinatown, that, that, everything is cheaper. And then the other communities have a little bit of resentment towards the Fujianese community for doing that, like for the buses for example, it’s so cheap, and that has created a lot of wars, and rivalries in Chinatown, and a lot of those are owned by the Fujianese community, correct?

Ye: Yeah, I think resentment probably is, you know, is the word, in a sense, with others in Chinese community, between the Fujianese and, you know, the Cantonese-speaking community. It need, in terms of pricing in the factory, because, like I said, I been here fifteen years and I’ve seen all this changing, and I care about this community, and, and I go to church, I know a lots of different kind of people, and they all share about what happened in the workplace in their community. So I learned a lot about these two community, and not just seeing, but also hearing, and what the people do, and also, seven years ago, I started working with this community and kind of realized that the problem even deeper.

Resentment certainly is the key word here. Because, like I say, if a factory owner can have someone work on this hundred piece of garment, for, let’s say for forty dollars, why I have to pay the Cantonese sixty dollars? So of course they would choose, let’s say, Fujianese to work for forty dollars. So that is a issue, like I said, job, um, competition.

But, ah, let’s say the job market is competing, and the price is going down, but the housing also competing, by going up. So, and so the resentment is that, we live here, and we pay, let’s say, they, they Cantonese probably say, you know, we pay six hundred dollar rent for two-bedroom apartment, and now you Fujianese come in and now we have to pay eight hundred because the landlord is raising the rent and want to, ah, kick them out so they can rent to the Fukienese for higher price.

So that is, is certainly is an issue. But I say, you know, the Fukienese themselves do not really contribute to that, it’s not that they asking for cheaper price, but they have no other way to earn money to pay back their debt. Other than selling their labor force, that’s their only way. And I think it’s a, in terms of the owner, and they also play a role here. But like you, as an example, why does U.S. industry, or U.S. business have moved to China, moved to India, instead of keeping the business here in the U.S.? Because of costs.

In China, you can do it you know, one dollar, yen, one, one, one, yen, or one shoes, but here in the U.S., it’s like one dollar in shoes, then that make a very difference, because usually U.S. dollar and yen is, one U.S. dollar is equal eight yen, you know. So it make a difference. So it all about business. But I guess, the community also suffer because of that.

Q: So tell us about your job today. You are the director?

Ye: Yeah, Director of Immigrant Service.

Q: Here at, ah---

Ye: At New Life Center.

Q: And what, what is---tell us about New Life Center. What is the purpose of the center?

Ye: Well, ah, this Lutheran, ah, social service, New Life Center, started a year and a half ago. Like, I, I, I, say a little bit about September 11th. When September 11 happened, my main office, like only two blocks away from World Trade Center, and part of the airplane wingtips that hit the World Trade Center fall on our main office building, and so that building have to close down. And then, the administrative personnel, or staff moved to our office, and at that time we were located in Christopher Street, Greenwich Village. So they moved to our office, and then we have no choice, then we move to Brooklyn, for one year.

And we stayed there, and there’s not much happen, and we keep doing the work we’re doing, helping this Fukienese community in different way. But more and more during that year we hear from our client, hear from community leaders, hear from churches and hear from the community, that they not really getting much help, or getting as much aid from the September 11 relief, the benefit or help. Then at that time, right after September 11, there are a lot, um, thing going on, you have a mortgage rent assistance, for the people who have been impacted and living in the zone, and you have people can apply for September 11 health insurance, or get a September 11th ESL class training, and you could get like three hundred dollars back every week to help you learn English, or you’re out of job---

And that help the family to pay rent or buy grocery. That, there are money that is definitely is helping. And also when the ESL course is done, you can go for, um, another seven week of vocational training, to learn some real job skill beside government factory, or beside the low, low skill work. They can go and learn some restaurant or other skill.

But it seemed that the Fujianese community not really understand what is happening and don’t know what is out there. So when we ask, the Safe Horizon, as, if you’re familiar with the system, Safe Horizon is, is sort of the, the gate-keeper of the September 11 Fund. If you want to access the September 11 program, or fund, you have to go through Safe Horizon, the on-going recovery program workshop. So when you work with that workshop, then you’ll get a white card, and that white card have your name and your basic information. That white card you can go and apply for health insurance, regardless you’re documented or undocumented, and you also can enroll yourself into ESL training classes, the vocational training classes. But some when we asked them, how many of Fukienese after a year, after one year really went through the workshop. Surprisingly, that, from what we heard from the September 11---from the Safe Horizon established that only a few Fukienese had gone through the workshop.

And I’m,, we’re very surprised, because this community ahs been here for, for so long, and if the estimate of the State Department is right, a hundred thousand already in 1994, and each year you have another ten thousand coming in, and New York City is the primary location that they start with, that they end up with. So, if we just talking about half of the Fukienese, and, and, in New York City, so from 1994, until 2002, and you already have like eighteen thousand, and there’s a hundred and eighty thousand Fukienese, but then half of them, let’s say in and out of New York City, you have like ninety thousand, at least, ninety thousand. Let’s say not all ninety thousand live in Manhattan Chinatown area, but we’re talking about half of that again. You have forty-five thousand Fukienese in Chinatown, and this is the closer imm---


Q: So you were saying that after September 11, the Fujianese community, very, even though it’s a big community in Chinatown and one that is so close to Ground Zero, you feel that it was alarming that such a small percentage of people actually went ahead and applied for 911 relief funds.

Now, is it because, that, are the funds, or, a two-part question. Are the funds available to everybody that, um, that qualifies, regardless of your status, because you said that a lot of Fujianese came undocumented. Is that part of what kept them away, ‘cause they are afraid that if they go and apply, the government might come after them because they are here illegally. Or, because they are so isolated because of culture, because of language, or whatever reason, that they are not aware, or they don’t know how to go and apply for these things. I mean, what is the problem?

Q: Well, I think you already said, the problem is related to the two questions that you just asked. I was, I’ll address the um, first question first.

You need---a lot of Fukienese are in, in the Chinese community undocumented. But also a lot of them are documented, families are here. But not just the undocumented Fukienese are not getting the September 11th -related service or benefit out there in the community. But those documented families are not receiving either. So what---that is the question that was start asking, calling community leaders, the community itself, and also churches and people that we know. So, we kind of realized that those undocumented in need are afraid that if they apply the government will come after them.

Q: Well, is that true? I mean, is the fund---

Ye: Well, it’s not. Because, as you know, September 11th Fund is set up beside the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Act), for MRI (?) program, you have to prove some sort of documentation. But there are a lot of program or service out there they say the September 11th Fund is contributed by, let’s say, Red Cross, Salvation Army, by general public, like us, who contribute thousand million dollars into the pool, to help the affected victim. The money is not, let’s say, government, restricted money that is related to the government. It’s for the people who need help, regardless of your status of documented or undocumented. Assuming you have, you qualify, assuming you need help, then they can help you.

But the problem is, two things. One the, the undocumented people, not being educated, what is out there and who qualify and what that will do to them if they apply or not to apply. It seems that they have no idea what is happening.

Two, the same with the documented one. The documented one they don’t really know what is available out there. And some people, they just think that this is not for them. Because, if you know the Chinese community structure, I think that is kind of related to your second question. The first one is that they don’t know. The second question is why they don’t know. Well, if you know the community structure----

Here in Chinatown we have several Chinese newspaper, and only one or two of them are simplified Chinese. And most of them are traditional Chinese character, when you see the newspaper. But if someone, let’s say, for example, from Fujian. You from a country that has been taught simplified Chinese. And now you come here and you buy a piece of paper, in traditional Chinese. It’s like, ah, let’s say native English speaker try to read a Hispanic paper. Can this person understand some of the words? Yeah, like commercial, ‘comercial,’ television, ‘television’. You can understand some of the words. But, do you think you can really understand the whole newspaper, what I’m saying. Well, no. Even the words look similar, and one or two words are the same.

Q: Is that because the two, the main papers are owned by Taiwanese and Hong Kong, and, and those two places write in traditional forms?

Ye: Yeah, there’s a lot of information, saying you can go here to apply this, you can go there to apply this, but the major, the three major paper that we have, the World Journal, Tsing Tao, and Ming Pao, you, you see it’s a traditional form of Chinese. But so, Fukienese don’t really understand what is out there. In terms of radio, you have 1480 (AM), and that’s a time when after 911, 1480 was started, twenty-four hour program. And they did a lot of promotion, people contribute a lot of money to here and there, and you can go apply benefit here and there. But it, for the Fukienese, that’s a foreign language---

Q: Because they speak in Cantonese.

Ye: Yeah, they’re talking in Cantonese, and that’s the only twenty-four Chinese radio station that we have. So you can imagine a Fukienese-speaking person, cannot read, cannot understand, cannot communicate with other Cantonese community people. How, how do they know? That’s one problem.

The other problem is that, when we went to um, meet with the FEMA and the New York Disaster Response Unit, and others, mainstream player about the need of the Fukienese community, when we mentioned about, do you know that the Fujianese community has not been served, or there is no service available to them, they kind of surprised, why is that? We have given so much money to the Chinese community-based organized to serve them. Well, it’s simply the fact that when the Chinese community-based organization, say, we will serve the Chinese community if we can get money. But when they get the money, they, yes, they need serve the Chinese population. But is it the entire Chinese population, or just portion of the Chinese population? So when we, that’s how I met, one of the staff that you mentioned, Charlie (Lai), at one of the meeting. And what we’re asking is that, the Chinese community, is the Fujianese community part of the Chinese community? Yes. Is the Fujianese community also in the zone area? Yes. But how come they’re not getting service? Well, some of those people from the Chinese community, based on what this agency, well, they’re different, because they don’t speak Cantonese.

Q: But they do speak Mandarin?

Ye: Yeah, some of them speak Mandarin. But if you look at the Chinatown community-based organization’s structure, most of those Chinese community-based organization are run by Cantonese, executive staff. Most of the staff are Cantonese speaking. The field staff might speak Mandarin, but when you asking do they speak Fukienese, oh, no, we just don’t have Fukienese-speaking.

It’s like, I’ll give you an example, and that’s, I talked to a general. I know that September 11th Fund has given a pot of money to one of the community-based organization, and now that organization has given that, a portion of that money to local Chinese-based organization. Chinese community-based organization. To hire a couple of staff to build a team and try to serve the Chinese community. So they hire new staff, and we asked how many of those staff speak Fukienese. None. How many of the staff speak Mandarin? Oh, two. And are you guys outreaching the Fujianese community? No. Why is that? Oh, because their location is a little bit far west, but the Fukienese is in the east of Chinatown.

So in the sense that, the community---I mean, I myself am Cantonese. I have nothing against the Cantonese. But, just because I am Cantonese, I can understand both language, I can understand what they say in the Chinese radio, or from others, Cantonese staff, about the Fukienese community. But the thing is that, if the money were given to them, to serve the entire Chinese community, they should do some effort to reach the entire Chinese community, not just portion of the Chinese community. They’re screwing the Fukienese.

So what happen the Fukienese that, if you have no staff who can speak the language, or are able to communicate with the language they can understand? There’s no way for them to understand. So, because of that problem, being that the Chinese-based community organization, not able to communicate with the Fukienese community, there is no intensive outreach to the Fukienese community, and now we see that there’s a gap, because one of the research studies done by Asian-American Federation, ah, a couple of years ago, they reported that it’s only, in the Fujianese community there is only 1.56 percent of the Fujianese have junior high or higher education degree. So you can imagine there’s 98.46 percent, or 98.44 percent of the Fujianese community, people in the community, have junior high or less education, so it mean that a big chunk of them are illiterate. So how can you communicate with illiterate, ah, people in the community? By word of mouth.

The way that you can understand. So we saw this is huge gap. Even after a year. A year later. September 11th , and we move from Brooklyn to this building November of 2002. That’s where we started. Because we saw the gap, and we move in, to this community, and we wanted to try to fill the gap, in the sense that, we’ve been working with the Fukienese community for seven, a couple of years, we have their trust, and we have the relationship with them already. And they don’t, and then too, for us, as a Chinese community-based organization, because we are Lutheran. This is a mainstream agency. But they know that we are helping them, and they know that we’re church, faith-based organization, and they know that we are here to help them, not to harm them.

So when we moved in, the first that we did is to create that flyer that they, we give out to the people, it’s a simplified Chinese flyers, with simplified Chinese characters, and with simple words, that even low-education immigrant can understand, so try to tell them who we are, what we intend to do, and what kind of service we can provide to them. So that’s how the word get out to the community, and then the Fukienese community start coming, a dozen of them, two dozen of them.

We propose, in one year, starting November 2002 to November of 2003, we proposed to serve one hundred families, because we only got one small grant for the Lutheran Disaster Response New York. So it’s called LDRNY. We got a small grant to start this program, and we started with two staff. Just two staff. And to help this community, and we have a Fukienese staff, primarily do outreach education. And that’s how we started, and the people come and within three month, and we already serve four hundred client in three months, and by ninth month, we have served a thousand, two hundred client. So it’s so far more what we budgeted or to planned to serve. You know, you see the need of this community is so, so big.

Q: Now you’re, the church here serves everybody, not just Fujianese.

Ye: Oh, yes. The church itself is a Cantonese-based church, and we, we, ah, proposed to serve the Fujianese community with a grant that we requested from LDRNY, because they allow the community-based organization already serving the Cantonese community, already because they speak the same language, they been serving them, that community for a long time, but the Fujianese is simply, is still covered by dust. It’s like a, September 11th dust still covered this community. The people still don’t see the need of the community, or even they see, probably they don’t really care. So that’s why, when I talking to Charlie Lai about the need of this community, he have the passion for that. I call them “underserved community,” and Charlie Lai called, actually probably “unserved community.” It’s so realistic, and how come a year later, you have thousand, ten of thousand of Cantonese already got a white card, already finished all those training program, and already got all the help and money, mortgage rental assistance---everything that they can apply, they already apply. They even applying for, you know, purifier and air conditioner, everything they can apply, they already apply. For the Fukienese they still have no clue what is happening in the community. So that’s why I call them ‘unserved community.’

Q: So it, it seems the main problem is language, here. That is, keeping the Fujianese community isolated, and it seems to me, perhaps, that they should not just be training to speak English, but maybe Cantonese. Is that, has that ever been thought of, so that the Fukienese can assimilate into Chinatown, a little bit more?

Ye: But you say, try to not teach them only English, but teach them----

Q: ---A little bit of Cantonese---

Ye: Cantonese.

Q: ----So they can survive in Chinatown better.

Ye: Right, but I ask you a question. In Chinatown itself, how many Cantonese restaurant you have, or how many Fujianese restaurant you have? If, like, you try to, they say, if entire U.S. move, population move to China, and then you tell China, say, now you should learn English, so that you can communicate with us, don’t you think we should think the other way around? The people coming to Chinatown, most of them are just worker, or business owner, but people who live in Chinatown, majority of them are Fukienese. Think about it. Why do we have to ask the Fukienese to learn Cantonese, to try to fit in, why not the Cantonese try to learn Mandarin? We’re not even asking them to learn Fukienese. Mandarin is the national language of the

Q: ---Of China---

YE: ---China, which is the official language. Everybody should know, as a citizen of, let’s say, Chinese, or if you call yourself, Chinese-American, it might be a good idea to just learn Mandarin, right, to help them. For immigrant coming in, like Fukienese, they already struggle, try to survive, and now you’re asking them to learn Cantonese to try to fit in. Now you’re asking a, monk to give you some hair. It’s very, very, difficult. So I think the community-based agency, they themselves have a mission to serve the Chinese community. When you serve, as you try to come out, whatever way you can, to help. Not to ask the people who come to you to help, ask for help, then you have to do something before we help you, let’s say if you want, like in buy your vegetable, example. If you want, if you want to buy vegetable from me, you have to learn Cantonese. If you don’t learn Cantonese, I’m not going to sell you a vegetable. I think that’s, the other way around. This is business, right? So the business owner, just say, oh, if I want to do this business, I should learn Mandarin, and so that I can have more customer.

So, I think the mentality that, I mean the question that you ask, probably allows those Cantonese community leaders probably thinking the same. Why they don’t learn, ah, Cantonese. That’s the same mentality, but that’s the problem, because the community is so huge. You talk about four, let’s say, you know, minimum instrument, you talk about forty-five thousand Fukienese, and you ask all of them to try to learn Cantonese. Don’t you think that a little bit tough? Yeah, it is tough. Instead of asking them to learn about ways as a provider to learn the language and try to serve them.

And I think that’s the issue here, with this community, and I think the resentment that we talk about before, that between this Cantonese and the Fukienese community, that is still playing a big part of that. And also the language barrier is one thing, but the Fukienese community need, what do they need is education. If so many people are illiterate, mean that the way they process information, it could be very slow, or very uneasy. So when you try to explain to them, the benefit that you apply, the September 11th benefit, is not related to government, but they still think that it’s related, then how can you help them to take the fear away? Simple, you educate them and give them some concrete information. And say, we, because we hire attorneys, immigration attorneys. And we ask immigration attorney to explain to them, instead of say, just us, we explain to them, so it take one of the level of fear away, but they have another level in term of legal. In social matter, they understand, well, this probably not going to affect me, even if I apply, and it will help me and help my family. But in legal matter, and how, how can it take that fear away, and if you come as a professional, immigration attorney, and try to explain to them the way the law works in America, then that really take the fear away.

So after they hear, from an attorney, their old fear gone, and then just come in, and to apply. So because of the way they were approached, and speaking the language that they understand, speaking the level that they can understand, and giving the, getting the right people to explain to them, the Fukienese-speaking staff, or immigration attorney, and so that people know they have nothing to risk, because they do need help, their family is decompensating, there is domestic violence, child abuse incidence is growing higher and higher and more, because the husband and wife no job, they stay at home. In the past they work, you see once a week, you don’t fight, you know, everything is good. But now, no job, you’re poor, you have limited resources, you see your child every day, that create a lot of conflict, and not everyone know how to resolve this kind of problem.

So, by helping them to get some of the help from the September 11-related system, actually relieves some of the family tension. And that we’re seeing that as the need, and that’s why we come in to provide this, try to fill the gap. And in our open house, like I say, the New Life Center open house on December 12th, and there’s hundred of community people from the community and from the city, and from the federal, labor department, and other people came, and we already said to all the public, we’re here not to compete, but we’re here to try to fill the gap, we try to build a bridge, so that the community-based, Chinese community-based organization can use us as a bridge to reach this Fukienese community. And that’s what we’re trying to do. And until now, we’re still doing that, and we have referred hundreds of clients to the Chinese-based community. And in some ways we screen them, they understand Mandarin. They have staff in their agency who can speak Mandarin, and we’re trying to refer them. But of course, if they don’t speak Mandarin, you know, and they speak Fukienese, and those agency have no Fukienese-speaking staff, why should we refer them, so that when we try to help them, whatever way we can, with the limited resources.

Q: Are you still being funded by any 911 money?

Ye: Well, after today, today is March 11th----

Q: ---Eleventh---

Ye: Two thousand and four---

Q: ---Four---

Ye: ---Um, we still get funded by September 11th Fund. We understand that our program had been closed because limited funding that have September 11th fund left. But since we started New Life Center, and we served this Fujianese community, with that small grant, grant of money from this LDNRY, is a private foundation, is a Lutheran foundation as a matter of fact, that we started and we sort of surpassed the number that we anticipated to serve in one year, and we have presented this problem to the September 11th Fund, and they also realized that this community is not being served, I mean, as properly, I would say. So they started funding us since last year, and so this year, when they asked us to, send them another proposal, and which we did, and then they funded us again. And because of that funding we’re able to continue to help the underserved population.

Q: Do you think there is not enough dialogue between the different associations, organizations in Chinatown? Or is there not a leader that is strong enough to lead this community?

Ye: Well, I clearly can say from the political point of view and from the community point of view, I think what we are lacking is that, like you say a strong leader. I think it is a matter of unity. The changes to Chinatown, you have, you probably have a couple of population. One, the people from different borough come to work , and you have lots of business owner, which involve this group, does not live in Chinatown. But then you have lots of resident in Chinatown, and, one, a big part of that restaurant is the Fujianese community. But Fujianese immigrant community is, that is, so, so, new to this country, they don’t even know what the law is. It’s kind of hard for them to get into the politic arena, but a lot of Cantonese have been here for so long they know what they can do to voice out for the Chinese community. But a lot of time, our voice has been split. You look at the history, how in Chinatown, we have candidates who come to run for city councilman, or city councilwoman. You have three candidates and try to spread the same amount of votes, among this same community. But in the end, none of them win, so who win? They say this time Ellen Garson win again. But from history, and if you really talk about Chinese, Chinatown history, I think ourselves, Chinese have to reflect and how to really think what is the best interest of the Chinatown. It’s not what is the best interest of my self or my group. It’s the entire Chinatown. So if we, if we, have small voices from here, from there, from there, those, they politician first they will not hear you. It’s true, the community if not working together, the energy and the force, is limited.

So if we have a, say strong leader in Chinese community. Let’s say you have hundreds of associations in Chinatown, could we say, Toisanese, Cantonese, Fukienese, or other, in northern part of China, and you have CCBA, you have so many association, but you know, if this organization united, but not just by name, united as a one identity and listen to one voice, instead of just talking here and there, you have a better chance in term of a political arena, in term of how to put a community together.

Look, Chinatown is a closer immigrant community to Ground Zero. But how come their resources is so limited to come down to Chinatown, if you really do a research study, compared to money that the, let’s say the September 11th Fund have, the Salvation Army and Red Cross receive. How, how many percent of that money really divert to the Chinese community to rebuild Chinatown? We’ve taught so many to rebuild Chinatown. But how much of the money really come into Chinatown, to help our community, to help the people being affected, impacted? If you look at the number is significantly smaller, significantly small. Why is that?

Well, because Chinatown is part of, I want to say part of lower east side. From years, I mean, I would say as a Chinese, I would say it’s part of lower east side in need, because each community have their own small mountain, and each association, on top of that small mountain, have their fire. But then this, small fires like is one candle, you can not really make much difference, but if you imagine you put all the small mountain together, you got a big mountain, and you put all the small fire together, then you see this huge mountain of fire. Don’t you think the whole Tri-State Area will see your area is a fire? Right? World Trade Center got hit. The whole world know. Why? Because it’s so tall, so famous, and it got hit. The smoke goes sky high, high. And the whole world will see it. But imagine if one building in China get a fire, maybe the people who live in Brooklyn have no idea, or people who live in the east of Chinatown will have no idea that East Broadway have a building that just burned down, right? So I think it’s a matter of pulling together as one community and then speak out for the community, but at this time, personally I feel that we did not really speak out as one community, we just here and there, and that’s why our community has not been served properly.

Q: But we, what is the thing that you think can unite us, because it’s from, it sounds like language does not unite us, there’s all---from writing to speaking, is all over the place, so what is the main thing that you think this community can agree on, to come together on?

Ye: As long as you identify yourselves, as a Chinese community, or as a Chinese-American, with that word, “Chinese,” you already have a base to start with. If you consider yourself Chinese, then you can communicate in the sense that U.N. (United Nations). How come the U.N. can function? Is it all the U.N. people, or the representative of the U.N., speak the same language? No, they don’t speak the same language, but they have the same mission. They all, together, as a one identity, we’re the United Nations, we come from different part of world, speak different language, but we’re here as a one identity. And when you have meeting, you can use translation. If you don’t, really, speak Fukienese, then you’re Fukienese leader, I mean that, you’re a Fukienese leader, you don’t speak Mandarin, then while someone speak Mandarin, you can use ear prop and translation. All the Cantonese, they say, I don’t speak Mandarin. Then, can, you know, translation.

But I think language can be conquered. If U.N. can conquer that, Chinese community certainly have no problem, because you is talking about, there’s probably a hundred and eight different dialects, and we do a talk in here, probably less than ten dialects here, right?----

Q: ---Main ones.

YE: ---Main ones. So if you have ten different dialect, it’s not that hard to conquer. But only thing the Chinese community have to realize that, if we don’t reunite, we’re still going the same, year after year, so look at, for the past fifteen years, yeah, I see some progress in the Chinese community, but there is not much have done. Just look at the traffic light down Canal Street; you find the traffic run over a old lady, or old man, because they walk too slow and trucks have to run over them so they can get to Holland Tunnel. That problem has been presented for years. Is there anything have done with that? Not really. Why not? Because Chinatown itself is a land of no one. We voiced out to politicians. And politicians, why I have to do this to you? What you have done for me? When time of vote, how many voters contributed to me, to my party? Oh, sorry, not many. Then, why are you asking?

Q: So the problem is people, Chinese people don’t vote, so therefore we don’t have political power in the city.

Ye: It’s not that Chinese people don’t vote, it’s that, that, people who know how to vote, and people who know what votes mean, for the community, are not really working hard enough to educate the community to vote. Like I say, we’re, we’re living in the U.S., we have this voting rights. But you’re in China, vote is something new. When you talk about, let’s have a meeting of four hundred people, and talk about politics, you’re probably in the next hour you end up in jail, right?

But in U.S. it’s different. U.S., you can vote, you have the right to vote, you have the voice out, either against your country, or speak for your country, you could. But a lot of people are still, even though they become a U.S. citizen, but they don’t know what kind of duty and responsibility they have. In the past, say many years ago, before you become a U.S. citizen, they even teach you the duty and responsibility of a U.S. citizen, once you become a U.S. citizen. But now the so, everything instant, just pass the test and we give you the naturalization certificate, and now you’re a U.S. citizen. But what about the duty and responsibility? If the government is not doing that, then who will do that, and form the shoulder of our community-based organization, or association?

But if we’re not doing that enough, to make it voting day as a community event day, people would not really know about it. A lot of people, when voting day, do you think they know this is the voting day, or today is the voting day? No, they won’t know, no. Because they don’t read newspaper, they can’t understand. But if you make it your effort, and try to go out in the community and make noise about this, you have a better chance. Because we look at the voting numbers, it’s pretty slow---ah, pretty small. But we haven’t found more registered voter than the actual voter come out.

Q: You seem like a very passionate man who cares deeply about the community. How about yourself? Have you thought of running for something?

Ye: Well, you know, I, you know, I thought about it, but like you know, like you mentioned when you started, you know, I’m still young, there a lot of things to learn, and politics, it’s, ah, something big. Because running politics you need a different skill. Not just someone can speak and have the passion, you can do it. You need to have to the right connection, the right people, and know, know, the right people. Really know the big guys in the community, so they can you know speak for you or support you. Because otherwise to just go out there and say I’m here, running. They’ll say, who are you, where you come from? Right? It very, very true, because politics is money, money is politics, and in I’m just an ordinary family father, and it’s kind of, it will take me some time. You know, I wouldn’t say never, never, but I just say that I am still learning, I am meeting people, and now I’m, at this level I’m just a director, I’m just meeting director-level people, but, meeting with the an executive, and other, probably will take me some years. So. But I know there a lot of people out there who already know the whole system, who already know all the connection, and already know all the big guy. Those people probably have a better chance. As long as we pull together. We need to sit at one table and talk about the need of the community and put down our own agenda, our own selfish agenda, and what is best for the community is not what is best for me, or for my wallet.

If they don’t come with that kind of selfish agenda, certainly and Chinatown have better chance and better hope.

Q: Well, for someone who came, who left China at thirteen and then came here at nineteen, with no clear dreams or ambition, I think you have found yourself in a place, um, that you’ve done a lot for the community. Are you surprised, you look back, the last fifteen years, and where you are now?

Ye: Well, actually, I’m very surprised, even though a lot of my friends, my classmates, they also suprised, and how come you can come so fast and so high? I guess the word is passion. I have passion for the immigrant community because myself is a immigrant, and I’ve gone through so many hard times, and once I got here, and like I say, I called Chinatown it’s a cemetery, because I really see a lot of young people dying every day and gangs fight and struggle, and there’s lots of problems in Chinatown, and because my faith, because my religion background, that really help me to understand that humanity is not something selfish, you have to sacrifice. I could go out and do business and probably make a decent amount of money and go on vacation every six months, but I choose to stay in the social work field.

When I look back, I really feel that the kind of reward that I’m getting or I got is far more than money can buy, and it’s a surprise thing for me. I mean, I got an example, I, I enter Hunter Social Work School in the year 2000. I graduated in two and half years later, and I did not pay a penny to get that degree, because I get a scholarship from the Department of Health and Hygiene. And I look back, there’s so many people in New York City competing for that two, twenty slot, and I was one of them. How could I, can I get it, and how do other people when they’re able? Very one simple word: it’s because I care about the community, and I have done a lot for the community, and the, the people who look at that application also see that, and that someone can even do more if they have the M.S.W. degree (Master’s of Social Work). So they choose to, they give to me for free, and get this education.

So that really encourage me, that whatever I have done, even though I am not really get awarded in a sense, cash, but the system itself is awarding me, and they say awarding, and they give some awards to me. And I feel pretty good about that, and I’m so thankful that, in New York City, actually, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have recognized that, and I’m so, you know, proud of that as well. And so that really is a way to encourage me to continue, that one day, you know, when you need it and people will recognize you and award you for what you have done.

So, yeah, it is a surprise. I never thought that I would come to today and just thought I would also get more educated and I can do something helpful that can help the people and help myself, but this is definitely is a huge reward.

Q: So, my last question, um, since you said when you came to Chinatown, you see Chinatown as a cemetery. Are you optimistic that in your lifetime this cemetery will be filled with, or alive with life rather than, than, a graveyard? Do you think this can be done?

YE: I, you know, I’m a man of hope and a man of faith, I never give up something when we still have a chance, and I think Chinatown itself has a lot of potential, and Chinatown also have lots of potential people and leaders. I do see that, that things have changed, for the past fifteen year. Especially with the Giuliani administration, because he wipe out all the gangs. Other gangster and prosecute all of them, sort of kind of die, die out for a couple of years, and have changed a little bit. It’s not that scary for that era.

But thing, you know, change again. So what I really think that Chinatown, if we really want to say you know, instead of cemetery become a garden, it takes some hard work, and what this hard work mean is not just probably for this generation from leaders, but for the second generation immigrant leaders. Because if this generation cannot break the wall, to sit down and really talk, ask the question of what is best for our community and let’s work together regardless of what is our personal opinion and personal agenda, if they cannot do that, and I don’t think there’s much we can do, but we just keep going as a way in, sometime get a little bit better, sometime get much more worse, but I do place a lot of hope in the second generation immigrant, that the second generation immigrant, I myself was the first generation to consider, but hope the second generation will have enough skills that can speak different languages, Mandarin, English, Cantonese, and a lot of the Fukienese people already speak, just three, I mean the young generation speak the two or three language. I have a couple of staff who are Fukienese who can speak English, Cantonese, Mandarin, have no problem.

So I just you know, want to say that the second generation working with the first generation young immigrant, they can do something much more positive than what we could do in this generation. Because this generation if we still have that old mind-set, it will be hard. But I, I see the second generation it changing. When I talk about the second generation, like ABC, but when I talk about the first young generation, I mean, they come as a teenager, they see all the struggle, all the problem. So if this two generation can work together, I think we certainly can change the Chinatown into a garden, and in terms of keep being a graveyard.

But they, they do need to work together and communicate together, in the sense now in the schools. Sometimes, the ABC still pick on the new immigrant, ”Oh, your English is not so good.” But if those new immigrant children pick on them, “Oh, you call yourself Chinese, shame on you, you don’t even speak Chinese.” And if they continue with that kind of mentality, then that’s another war that they have to deal with. But so, I hope that this generation whatever we cannot do, but at least we can educate our children, educate our second generation or the young immigrant generation to break that wall, to live as a one community, and to work as a one community, and for the better future of Chinatown.

Q: Well, thank you so much for sharing your views and your vision with us today. Is there anything else that you want to say, that I haven’t asked you?

Ye: No, pretty much you asked a lot of good questions, and I think you also, I feel that you also know the community well, and the struggle, of course from the Chinese Museum, I can imagine you probably know the past, you know the present and hopefully you guys will do more to create a better future for Chinatown. Ah, you need, I think history itself can make men wise. Without history, we don’t know what is passed, what had happened. So history is so important, so I hope that more and more second generation and also the new immigrants’ children can have opportunity to really learn more about the history of Chinatown, and to interview like this certainly can help them to understand what kind of struggle, ah, we have gone through and what we are facing, and hopefully in the future this thing will not happen again. And certainly about this Fujianese community, after we have gone thought those September 11th meetings, and with FEMA, with the government official, and federal and local level official, we have told them so much about this community, I strongly believe, this idea of, that if there is another let’s say, incident or disaster that happen in New York City or any part of the country, certainly they probably are more, will be more sensitive, to each community, not just listen to what people are saying, but that they themselves would investigate and understand which community has not been served and why it hasn’t been served. Because, if they’re giving the money out, they certainly need, will need to hold the people who are getting the money accountable and responsible for getting the funds. Because the funds themselves come from different parts of sources, and some from people, ordinary people, and some from rich people, but certainly using that fund to the right community, and to the people that really need it is so important.

So I think after going to all the meetings they certainly have better understanding about the structure of Chinatown themselves, so the working group that they have, from what I heard is that they already have a map out, and yes, when you’re working with immigrant community you have to look beyond this group that you can see. So, so to speak, like Fukienese community, we call them, it’s a minority group within the minority group. So really, it’s need to help.

So, I think, I think that that probably will help us to understand, because Chinese community is one community, but in Chinese community you have another, you know, minority group, like a Fukienese. So I, I kind of feel that other community might have the same struggle, same problem, so I just hope that those government official, the state and local official and people who are giving out funding can be more savvy and more careful when they give out the money and need to hold everyone accountable.

And so that really help all the people who needed help, not just certain people who just happen to know how to get help. But there a lot of people, sometime they don’t even know how to ask for help, because they so, desperate and so badly impacted, like this community, that they don’t even know how to ask for your help, so I hope that this something that I share can be helpful, um, to become part of the history.

Q: Well, the Fujianese community is lucky to have you to help them here.

Well, I’ve been speaking with Henry Ye, of True Light Lutheran Church. Thank you so much for your time, and, and sharing your views with us. And my name is Lan Trinh. Thank you.

Ye: Thank you.

[end of session]

William Chiu, Male, 52 y.o. -- Insurance and travel agency owner

Interviewed by Florence Ng

Q: Mr. Chiu, could you please describe your life in Hong Kong before you immigrated to the United States?

Chiu: Actually, I spent even less time in Hong Kong than in America, just19 years. My memory dates back to when I was six years old. I vaguely remember that we moved from Kowloon Tong to Central District and lived on D'Aguilar Street, on the second floor, above some bar. I just recently went back and saw the place, so that’s how I know. I used to be a wild kid. My parents worked in the business of “home banquet.” Back then, there weren’t any cars on D'Aguilar Street, so we kids would go roughhouse in lots of places around there, playing “soldiers chasing thieves.”

Q: When was that?

Chiu: That was when I was six, around 1958. We moved to Central and lived on D'Aguilar Street for two years because the previous landlord forced us to move out. Two years later, we moved to Wo On Lane which was on the opposite side of D’Aguilar Street and still in the Lan Kwai Fong neighbourhood. Two years later, we moved to Wing Wah Lane. We lived there until 1963. My father was sick and had two strokes, so my mother wouldn’t let him work. They sold the business to their employees and friends. My father later accepted an offer to work as a chef in Japan at Liu Yuen [Restaurant] where he taught the Japanese how to cook. That was a lot easier. He only had to work eight hours a day instead of working constantly.

Q: How busy had your family business been?

Chiu: As far as I remember, during our busiest periods, we had 22 workers, four to five chefs, and catered several places a night.

Q: Was the home banquet business popular back then?

Chiu: Actually, there were not that many experts in that field. Some of them ran their own restaurants or worked in the restaurant business. People from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces liked to entertain their guests at home and have chefs come cook the meal. First of all, the atmosphere was a lot more cozy. Second, it was more convenient for them to chat with their friends and fellow businessmen at home. Usually, the homes were huge. Some of them had an entire floor, and some had a whole building in places like Kowloon Tong, Happy Valley and Mid-Levels. At his peak, my father was extremely busy every day, working from very early to very late.

Q: Mr. Chiu, why did you come to the United States?

Chiu: That’s a long story. My mother later told us that my father came to Hong Kong from Shanghai in 1950, while my mother came to Hong Kong in 1951. I was born in Hong Kong in 1952. In 1948, my father had come to Fuzhou city and married my mother. I have an older sister who was born in Shanghai in 1949. My father didn’t understand business at the time that he moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong. He had heard people say that he could make money selling towels, and so he spent all his savings on buying towels. But when he came to Hong Kong, nobody would buy them and he lost a lot of money. A lot of people from Shanghai went to Hong Kong for business. One of these men, who worked as a lawyer for the Xu family, asked my father, “Why don’t you come to my house and work as a chef?” So my father worked there, and the Xu family taught him a lot of dishes. They were wonderful. Mrs. Xu constantly taught my father how to cook Shanghai dishes. When Mrs. Xu went to Shanghai-style restaurants, she would ask the chef how he made the dishes, and when she returned, she’d teach my father how to do it. So my father can cook Shanghai dishes really well. After Mr. Xu immigrated to the United States, he missed my father and asked, “Master Chef, what can I do for you? Would you like to come to America?” My father said yes. My father had previously registered as a refugee and applied for immigration at a Catholic church, but there was no response. Mr. Xu said: “When I get there, I will find a way to apply for you.” But we heard nothing, all the way until I was a teenager, so we thought we didn’t have any opportunity to immigrate. Even my father brought it up, saying, “If Mr. Xu was there and had applied for us to go over to the U.S., I wouldn’t need to pay so much tuition and I wouldn’t need to work so hard. If you want to study abroad, go to Taiwan.”

Maybe fate arranged it. Before he died, Mr. Xu’s said that his last wish was that his promise to help Chef Chiu immigrate be fulfilled. Mr. Xu had a daughter, Mrs. Lee, the owner of the Lee Travel Agency. Mr. and Mrs. Lee enthusiastically searched everywhere for my father, but couldn’t find him. One time, leading a tour to Japan, they came across my father in Liu Yuen, where he worked as a chef. Mr. Lee asked my father, “Chef Chiu, do you want to come to the United States?” My father said yes. When Mr. and Mrs. Lee returned to the United States, they requested Mr. Yip of Zhi Mei Lou Restaurant to apply for us to go to America using the sixth preference. In less than three months, while my father was still in Japan, the application was approved. My father returned to Hong Kong and applied for our family. We have nine people in our family. My sister was in Denmark at that time and was not included. That was around August and we had six months to get the visa. You can see we had no idea of what United States was like, so why did we still want to come? That is a long story.

Hong Kong was annexed to Britain because of the Opium war. I didn’t know that before, I only cared about eating and sleeping, and my parents had to force me to study. I still remember that during the peak of my family business, servants would send me to school and take me home while I studied at Raymondi College.

In secondary school, the curriculum stopped when it got to modern [Chinese] history such as the anti-Qing dynasty movement and the Republic of China. After that, no more history was taught. That was in Form 4 [equivalent to Grade 10 in US educational system]. I was confused about modern history. Why was Taiwan protected by the U.S. government? Taiwan was recognised by the U.S. government and protected by it. Why was China called Shina? Some called Chiang Kai-shek Chiang Fei [robber Chiang]. Or Mao Zedong Mao Zei [thief Mao]? Why were things that way? The purpose of studying is to gain knowledge, so how can it be shameful to ask? Questioning is the key to acquire knowledge. I asked the teacher, “What are Chiang Fei and Mao Zei?” Who knew that I would create a huge scene? The teacher I had come across had followed Chiang Kai-shek in the army. Screaming “Do you want to live?” he came at me and grabbed my waist. Pointing at my head, he yelled, “You dare call President Chiang Chiang Fei? I’ll cut your head off!” I responded by saying that I only asked because I didn’t know, and that I could only know things by asking. “You still want to argue?” the teacher said. I was punished for my behavior. Without any reason, I was punished. From that day onwards, I started doing research, since the teacher would not explain things to me. If it’s OK to say Mao Zei , why not Chiang Fei? That was the beginning of my quest for political knowledge, because I had been wrongly punished and that was too upsetting.

From that day onwards, this teacher of Chinese literature and history deliberately gave me a hard time, so I studied extra hard and thoroughly learned the texts of Chinese literature and history. Later, when I no longer needed to study modern history, I relaxed, since I didn’t have to study it every day any more.

You know why Lin Zexu burned the opium in Humen? Why the Chinese were defeated by the British because of their anti-opium drug efforts in Humen? Why that would make Hong Kong become the colony of the British government? I hated the Japanese who invaded our country. I hated the British who smuggled opium into China and victimized the Chinese. I was also puzzled at why the swath of land making up China and Taiwan were divided up into left and right. I thought it didn’t make sense and was unreasonable. I was biased against the British government. If the British had not victimized Chinese, China wouldn’t be so easily defeated. So that was where I got my sense of warlike indignation.

I learned kung fu before. I think I already told her that I lived on D’Aguilar Street when I was young. My kung fu master used to do business on D’Agilar Street and lived in the building across from us. I was a wild kid and I was playing once on the stone staircases, which were wet and thick with moss. I was pretending to be a thief, and someone was chasing me, and I stepped on the slippery moss and slid. “Thump!” I had cracked open my head. The scar is still here. I was about eight. My kung fu master was across the street, and he stopped the bleeding and cured me. In 1964 we moved to Graham Street. The master also moved to the opposite side of the street from us. You could say it was fate. I started to learn the Cai Lifo school of martial art from my master Lee Pak-ling (also known as Lee Pak), who is the third generation of Cai Lifo.

Q: Is it because you didn’t like the British government, so you turned to the American government?

Chiu: Yes. Since the British government was a colonial government and took Hong Kong like that and suppressed the Hong Kong people. Especially within the government departments, where the government officials were bullying others. I thought, what kind of world was that?

Besides, in school, I learnt that the United States was huge, but had no idea how big it was. I had only thought of studying in Taiwan because studying in America was too expensive. But apart from Chinese literature and history- the only two subjects that were taught in Chinese- no other subjects were taught in Chinese in Hong Kong. I had no clue [what the other subjects were if they were taught ] in Chinese.

I wanted to be a doctor and study at Taiwan National University. At that time, only Taiwan was being recognized as China. The biology and chemistry tests were done in Chinese. It might be okay if the tests were carried out in English. But when it came to Chinese, I did not even understand what the questions meant. So I failed the Taiwan University admission tests.

Since my Chinese skills weren’t so good, and I couldn’t be a doctor, I decided to become a merchant. I wanted to really do it and work my way up from the bottom. I passed only three to four subjects in my high school graduation examination and did not pass the basic requirement of passing five subjects.

My god-mother worked for an American businessman whose name was Gibson and originally resided in Chicago. He referred me to his business partner Mr. Kent P. Koo. As soon as he met me, Mr. Koo said, “All right, come and work for us!” I worked as a low ranking junior in the Tak Sing International Export & Import Co. Ltd. Tak Sing International Export & Import Company is an exporter to the United States and Canada, specialised in wool sweaters and exports to Britain, United States, Canada and Australia. My god-mother’s boss, Mr. Gibson, was an American importer from Chicago. With her referral, one of the heads not only accepted me but luckily gave me a special favour. He said, “You may look at the files, you can look at anything you want.” Actually, that was not allowed. How come? Office hours started at 9am. I was there at 7:30am. I studied the files one by one. If I was free, I practiced typing. I re-typed some of the files. Some of the staff members were not happy about this. There were over 30 employees. Some directors saw me and told me, “Do you know these files are confidential and you are not supposed to look at them?” I answered, “The boss asked me to read them.” The director then said, “If the boss said so, let it be.”

Quickly, within six months, I mastered the concept of the trade. My boss was very nice to me. He taught me how to negotiate a business, how to get a sample, how to get payment, how to charge, how to get a letter of credit, how to write a confirmation, how to sell your contract to the bank, etc. After the six-month period, I was promoted three grades upward, but my pay remained the same. Besides typing, I checked the goods and worked on confirmation, etc. I worked in every sector.

Other juniors ran errands, but I worked as a representative. Others lined up and were yelled at by the colonial officials at government offices, but I would fight back. I disliked the way the colonial officials bullied others. Even though the people obediently lined up, they were still being scolded. I stood up and said, “Let me see your supervisor. There’s a problem with your attitude.” They were scared and let me go first. Hence, I could finish my assignments a lot quicker than other people. I always looked for their supervisors since I was representing Tak Sing International Export & Import Company. When other employees went out and carried a bag, I asked my company to buy me a briefcase. The accountant said, “Who do you think you are to buy a briefcase?” I said, “I represent the authority of Tak Sing company. I can’t do it without a briefcase.” He was dumbfounded and bought it for me. I used to wash the dishes and my hands became coarse, so I asked the company to get me some lotion. The accountant said, “Why do you want to buy lotion? Nobody is as fussy as you are.” I said, “If I hurt my hand from washing mugs, would the company compensate me for that?” Probably because of my good relationship with the boss, they didn’t refuse.

If I was determined to do it, I could finish eight to nine assignments in a day, even though I’d end up in a sweat. Therefore, my boss always praised me, saying “Well done!” and gave me tips to buy food. I was only 17 or 18 years old back then.

I worked at Tak Sing company for a year before I came to the United States. I studied accounting at night. Why? I thought accounting was indispensable. I could not work unless I understood accounting. Since I studied accounting before, I would test the accountants in my company, as they might not be certified accountants, and I had already started learning it in Hong Kong.

Q: Please talk about the moment you learned you would be coming to the United States. How did you feel?

Chiu: I was very happy when I learned I would come to the United States. My boss was working on business in North and South America, so I worked on business opportunities in Africa. I didn’t want to learn my boss’ business and steal it from him. I wanted to embark on a new path. It’s easy to do business in America, and he had large orders, but profits were small. My region on the other hand had smaller orders and bigger profits. Just when I was about to propose to my boss that we explore that region, my immigrant application was approved. I had to say goodbye to my boss and worked until December of that year. My boss was very understanding. He told me that he was a soldier in the United States during World War II. Later on, he went from the United States to Hong Kong and stayed here to do business.

When I came to America, plane tickets were very expensive. I wanted to do business, and so I had to search and ask all over to find the cheapest rates. Now, if I was doing a travel agency, I would be able to get the cheapest fare. I suggested this to the Lee Travel Agency and they agreed and helped us get the lowest fare. Why? Our benefactor was Mrs. Lee, or put it this way, Mr. Xu, Mrs. Lee’s father. If not for his words, we would still be in Hong Kong. I will never forget Mrs Lee’s good deeds to me and I will always remember Mrs. Lee and the Xus who offered us great help.

The Chinese lived a repressed life under the British rule. Even if we were British, we were considered second class citizens. They could distinguish you and say that you still needed a visa to go to Britain. That’s ridiculous. They recognized you as British subjects but not as British citizens. Their attitude was to discriminate against all British subjects. Only those in Britain were British. I thought that was undemocratic. Besides, I thought Britain was a country of thieves. Why? Her prosperity was built on selling opium. They invaded other countries for profit and stole the land from the Chinese. In school, Britain was called the land where the sun never set, and it seemed so glorious. When I learned that Britain invaded China because Lin Zexu, the governor of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, had destroyed their opium, I hated the British even more.

The British youth in Hong Kong really liked to harass Chinese youth. They walked with a swagger. When they passed by a Chinese youth, they’d elbow him hard. You were supposed to be scared. They wanted to make you avoid them. They were that way to everybody. I had the exact opposite reaction. If they hit me, I elbowed them back. They were in too much pain to say anything. I would say [sarcastically,] “Oh, I’m in so much pain! You really hurt me!” They didn’t dare say anything.

There was one British teenager who would hit Chinese in their stomach when they passed. When he passed by me, I knew he was about to hit me, so I punched him. He was in so much pain that he couldn’t speak. A lot of similar incidents made me think that opposite outcomes would result when things were being pushed so far.

During the 1966 fascist riot [in Hong Kong], there were a lot of fights. People in school were divided into leftists and rightists and I didn’t have a very clear idea what was going on. Some of them said, “We should sing Dong Fang Hong [Red Sun Rises in the East] in unison and fight against the British government.” Considering the conciliatory policy of the Hong Kong government, and the way that Chinese were suppressed, I disliked Hong Kong even more. I did not want to be a colonial subject. If I had to be a colonial subject, I would rather be an American colonial subject.

When we emigrated to the United States, we were thrilled. We bought our air tickets to the United States from the Japan Airlines. My father worked in Tokyo for eight years and made so many friends in Japan that his Japanese friends flew all the way from Japan to Hong Kong to visit my father. I also learned Japanese for three months but I never used the language. I had already thought that the airport in Tokyo was big, and I was astounded at John F. Kennedy Airport. It was as big as a world, with an impressive ambiance and a view that seemed to go forever. Others were jetlagged but not me. I was full of energy within the first three days after I arrived. That was in 1971, the first time I saw it snow.

I worked at Zhi Mei Lou as a waiter trainee. Zhi Mei Lou was located at where Subway Deli is now- at the intersection of East Broadway, Bowery and Doyer Street. The second or third store, south of Doyers Street and next to a mall, where Subway Deli is now was the location of Zhi Mei Lou restaurant. That was the restaurant which applied for my father. You can say we were a very lucky family.

Q: Was it very difficult to apply to the United States back then?

Chiu: If you didn’t have the right qualifications, your application wouldn’t be accepted. Why do you think so many people snuck off ships [into the United States] and so many overseas Chinese students over-stay and won’t leave? The American immigration policies were lenient, so then these people ended up staying. Most of the community leaders [in Chinatown] came here illegally on boats or over-stayed in the country while foreign students and never went back to China. Very few were legal immigrants. Very few of them were born here, especially the Fujianese. I remember there used to be only one Fujianese association with a rather paltry membership, only a few hundred people. Nowadays, in the tri-state area, we have, by a conservative estimate, 500,000 to 600,000 Fujianese people.

Q: You mentioned that your father applied for refugee status to the United Status through the church in Hong Kong. What happened then?

Chiu: The refugee application was like a boulder that fell into the sea, with absolutely no response. When we emigrated we had to report this in the application. Otherwise, I would not even know, because I was so small then.

Q: Was applying for a refugee visa hard?

Chiu: To put it frankly, unless you’ve got special skills and a sponsor, don’t even think about it.

The Chinatown of 1971 was vastly different from the current one. The amount of business in Mott Street was nothing compared to the current Chinatown. There were only two or three streets then. I came in 1971 and worked in Zhi Mei Lou Restaurant and as a waiter trainee. I was not given any salary and I had to pay for my round trip subway fare. At the time, the fare had just increased to 50 cents. Now it’s two dollars. I used to get up early. Back in Hong Kong, there was no such thing as being late for work, although things are different now. I used to get up at 4 a.m. and got there at 6 a.m..

Q: Where do you live now?

Chiu: I live at Setauket near Stony Brook on Long Island. It takes an hour and fifteen minutes to commute here if the traffic is good, but if there’s a traffic jam, it could take up to 4 ½ hours.

Q: Did you live in Chinatown back then?

Chiu: Back then, I lived in the Bronx because I had to learn to be a waiter trainee in Chinatown. My father’s friend got us an apartment in the Bronx next to his home, and I paid a dollar for subway fare each day to work. These people told me ahead of time, “We’re not going to pay you. You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner [with us], and we’ll teach you how to set and clean tables. If you learn fast, we’ll teach you how to take orders.” I trained at the Zhi Mei Lou Restaurant for a month. After a week, an elderly waiter told me, “Boy, I don’t care what others think. If you do a good job and give me a hand, I’ll give you a dollar a day so that you don’t lose money taking the subway.” So I earned twenty-one dollars that month from this waiter. He’s still in Chinatown now. When the month was over, they said, “You’ve earned enough and don’t need to come anymore.” Mr. Chiang asked me, “Do you want to be a substitute worker? I can let you work three days a week. Do you want to do it?” I said yes.

At that time, the Chinatown waiters had bad attitudes. Bowls were thrown on the tables, where they’d clatter loudly, and they wouldn’t refill tea for the customers. I had only worked there for one month, but I thought that behaviour was wrong. I set the table quickly. I cleaned up fast. I refilled the water fast. In one word, I was perfect. I’ll tell you something funny. I was a substitute and an unskilled fresh worker, who earned very little money and needed help from others. They didn’t want to share tips with me. They would just send me to the inside of the restaurant [which they seldom filled with customers], left me to work on my own, and sent over the “iron customers” who gave no tips.

One of these “iron customers” was astonished at how I treated him and asked, “Why do you serve me so well? You’re so polite, you greet me, give me water and take away used dishes.” I replied, “You’re my customer here and since I represent the restaurant, shouldn’t I treat you nicely?” He was surprised and asked, “Don’t you know I’m not going to give you any tip?” I said, “That’s not important. You’re the customer, so I want you to be satisfied. If you’re satisfied, that’s enough.” Unexpectedly, he gave me a 20% tip when he checked out. The other waiters said, “Boy, we’ll share tips with you.” This is the way the world works. People will bully you if you’re new, but if you turn out to be useful, they’ll want to be your friend. But I left after three months. I believe they would have given me a permanent job if I wanted. But I chose to leave, since, first of all, I had to study. Secondly, I thought it was a waste to earn several dozens dollars each day. Fujianese people worked hard. We could work three shifts a day - eight hours a shift- without sleep. They worked until they died and remitted the money back home [in China]. Their ability to work was extreme. However, if I worked for Chinese bosses, I could not work two shifts.

I had originally intended to study, but I ended up not doing it. I went into a college and asked about the tuition and credit. They said I had to study 12 credits. I asked how much was a credit. They said two hundred dollars a credit. I asked how many credits did I need to study in a day. They said three credits. I cried: “Woah! How can I get that much money for tuition?” So, instead, I asked my younger brothers and sisters to study in high schools since it was free, and after one year residency in New York, you could study at NY colleges at their local resident rate, which was a lot cheaper. My father earned only six hundred dollars a month. I told him, “I will make money for you and we’ll pay off the debt first, until our financial situation improves.” My father agreed because it was too hard to sustain a family with only his [monthly] salary of six hundred dollars. My family needed three hundred dollars a month for living expenses and more to repay debt. We owed a lot to Mrs. Lee; most of the debt was for the air tickets. If I had to work two shifts to earn enough money, I could not work as a waiter in Chinatown. I wouldn’t earn enough money that way. So whatever places other people recommended to me, I went there and tried my luck.

The first restaurant I turned to was Reuben Restaurant, a first class restaurant at the time, which was famous for its cheese cakes and Reuben sandwiches. I went in there to enquire about job vacancy. The supervisor said, “Sorry, Sorry, we don’t have any vacancies for waiters.”

I asked, “How about busboy? Busboy. I would be very good at that too.”

He said, “If you’re willing to be a busboy, then we can use you. We need some busboys.”

I said, “Okay, then I’ll work as a busboy, and when you have an opening for a waiter, give it to me.”

The caption said okay. Actually, he didn’t know my abilities, and was not serious. He was a Hispanic captain.

It’s not just the Chinese that have pride. Non-Chinese are the same way. Hispanics, Blacks, Italians are all the same way. In each case, they’ll bully others. I thought, first of all, since I was a new worker, I should give way to others. If they crossed the limit and started bullying me, then I’d resist. I almost got in a fight with a Puerto Rican. Why? As a bus-boy, each person had his own station [with silverware]. Sometimes he’d take my stuff to use, saying, “Let me borrow it.”

I said, “No problem. We’re friends. We’ll work together, right?”

But when I ran out, and had to borrow silverware, he said, “Don’t touch my stuff!”

“That’s fine too. Let’s not fight about it. But next time, don’t borrow my things either.” I learned fast.

Next time, I didn’t let him borrow my stuff, and he said, “What did you say?” and punched me in the stomach.

I knew I should give way to them and not fight, so I said, “Fine. Don’t punch me again.”

He said, “What are you going to do if I punch you?”

I said, “This is your last chance. Don’t touch me again.” He punched me again, a total of three times. I fought back using the Cai Lifo punching style, and knocked him to the floor. He said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Chiu.” He didn’t bully me anymore.

Wasn’t that humiliating for him? Chinese should be willing to give way, but we can’t be too submissive. Three times is enough.

Q: Were you the only Chinese who worked in the restaurant?

Chiu: There were two Chinese, no, three Chinese workers. One was older, another one was about my age. I was the youngest, because I was only 19. They were timid and let people bully them. I wouldn’t allow that. I wanted the same rights, and I would fight for the Chinese people. I would not be silent and I wanted to fight against injustice.

Besides the other guy, there was one other employee who said I couldn’t handle him, and who wanted to fight. He tried to attack me, but I didn’t give in. Each time he came at me, I escaped him, and no matter how he came after me, he couldn’t catch me. I fought back in such a way that I immobilized him. He said, “Come on, let me fight.”

I immediately shouted for the captain. I said, “He started things. If he wants to fight, I don’t mind. But you have to be the witness. If he gets killed, it’s not my problem.” He tried to grab me, and I slipped past, but he was able to tear my clothes apart. He knew martial arts, but I was not scared. If I had to fight, I would beat him until he couldn’t stand, but I wanted a witness. The captain slapped him [in the face] and said, “Fighting during work hours! You want me to kill you?” He put an end to our battle, and this guy didn’t dare touch me again. In fact, he didn’t dare touch any of the three Chinese workers.

I have another interesting story. An Italian waiter always stuck out his finger while working. I asked, “How come you act so feminine? How come your pinkie always points out?”

He said, “It’s ‘cause I hurt myself. The doctor said it’s stuck like this permanently.”

I thought, “Why is this foreigner so ignorant? This is only a joint problem. I learned Chinese bone setting before, when I learned martial arts. This joint problem could be fixed, and I was confident that he could fully recover. I asked him whether he was afraid of pain.

He said, “I don’t feel pain.”

I said, “This time it’s going to hurt, but if you can take it, I can fix this for you.”

He said, “Don’t joke around. If you really can fix it, I’ll call you Dr. Chiu.”

I said, “Are you sure you’re not afraid of pain?”

He said, “No, I’m fine.”

I put my best effort into it. I said, “Give me your hands.” If you know how to fix joints and you are not afraid of pain, it can be cured.

Q: Is this Chinese bone setting?

Chiu: I said, “Give me your hands. Give them to me and don’t try to fight.”

He relaxed and let me do it. I turned and rubbed his pinkie several times and then I twisted it. He said, “Oh! Dr. Chiu, Dr. Chiu!”

After that, whenever he saw me, he called me Dr. Chiu. What his doctor thought was incurable was actually easy to fix. Pull it straight and apart, and put it back in its old position. I told him to hold it whenever he was free until it was completely healed. I helped people in small matters and caused them to respect me. There’s no problems, and the person will remember you forever.

I have some other funny stories. We shouldn’t let others discriminate against us. Some people always say, “People always discriminate against me.” I say, “Don’t discriminate against yourself, and then nobody will discriminate against you. This is America.”

Once, I was in the subway train, and an old white man was sitting next to me. I had always respected the elderly. But he said, “You dirty Chink! Don’t sit next to me.”

I said, “Who the hell do you think you are? You dirty pig!” I slammed against him with my butt. He was too shocked to move. I said, “Don’t try to discriminate against anybody. Everyone is equal.”

In America, I didn’t feel like I was a victim of discrimination. I learned to fight back. If you say something in a joking manner, I will do the same. If you can’t take it, that is discrimination, and I’ll give you more trouble for it. Hence, I gained a lot of respect from others, especially when someone thought he was superior. There’s no such thing as that. America is a democratic country, and I want the democratic ideal to be fulfilled.

Q: After working at Reuben, what else did you do?

Chiu: My father needed someone to help him to establish a restaurant in the suburbs. He asked me to come help him. My father had worked in Japan for eight years, ever since I was 11 years old, and I hadn’t had many chances to be with him. So I said I’d do it because I wanted to be with my dad. I had earned $300 a week at Reuben, and I only made $200 per month working for his boss. Even with tips, it was only $1000 a month, but I still agreed to do it. Because workers in Reuben were too messy, and also because the boss was Italian and thought he was better than everybody else, the restaurant was eventually closed down by the health department… It’s really too bad.

Q: How long did you work at Reuben?

Chiu: I worked there for about six months. I remember that when they had open positions for waiters, I asked for the job, but they didn’t give it to me. They gave the positions to their own people. They hadn’t kept their promise. So when my father asked me to work out of state with him, I went.

My father and I intended to open a restaurant in the United States. He would monitor the kitchen and I the dining area. We had bought a lot of decorations for the restaurant in Hong Kong. We put them into fourteen wooden cartons and shipped them to the United States. I knew the shipping company. They packed and shipped them free of charge because I worked for Tak Sing Company, and they treated me courteously. Picking the items up in the United States was fairly easy. I had been an importer in Hong Kong, so why couldn’t I do it in the United States? I asked around, cleared customs and had the goods delivered to my home by a Chinatown moving company.

My father and I helped somebody open a restaurant in Port Washington, starting from scratch. I taught them management skills and how to set up menus. My father taught the owner how to be a cook. I taught the boss’s son to be a manager. After they finished learning, my father went to Massachusetts and helped others open another restaurant. My father earned a monthly salary of $800 in Port Washington and also $800 in Massachusetts. I lowered my earning from $1500 in New York to $1000 over there. I was willing to earn less since I wanted to be with my father, to strengthen our relationship and also to take care of him. Later on, my father went to Boston alone because they only needed one cook. I went back to New York and saw that Reuben Restaurant was closed, but my colleagues said it would reopen soon. Fulton had screamed at the sanitation department and he thought he was better than anybody else. Unexpectedly, the inspector put a warrant [notice] to close the restaurant at once. They had to clear the violations to reopen. I helped them reopen but the business dropped drastically. After one week, my father asked me, “Why don’t you work here? There’s a vacancy at the Peking Garden in Lexington City, Massachusetts. I worked there as a waiter.

I have another story. Once, I was almost mugged while waiting for a long distance Continental bus from Washington Heights to Boston. I tried to get away from him, but he tried to get close, and so I got in a fighting posture. Luckily, the bus arrived, and I jumped on board and escaped.

I was robbed twice. The first time was in 1971 when I was a waiter trainee at Zhi Mei Lou Restaurant. I was waiting for the restaurant to open early in the morning. Three big black guys tried to grab me around my neck and pull me to the staircase. I was small but very nimble. I blocked them with my hands and escaped. I made a gesture indicating I was ready to fight. Suddenly, they said, “Oh, we were just playing around.” I was really surprised, but it turned out there was a policeman in front of us. I immediately told the policeman, “These people want to rob me.” The police said, “They haven’t done anything yet.” I was angry and yelled, “Robbery! Robbery!” But no one cared. I was mad. Why didn’t Chinese people help other Chinese? Why didn’t we unite together? Why do we let others bully us? The three black guys glared at me the whole time, but it didn’t matter. When Zhi Mei Lou restaurant opened, I went in to work. I did not see them again.

Oftentimes, when Chinese were robbed, no one offered any help, because they thought they had no status. In the old Chinese community, no one would care for you. There was a lot of garbage and it was filthy. Some people would even say the Chinese liked to look slovenly in order to get welfare. If that was true, Chinatown would be so prosperous and have such a huge increase in people during these intervening years. After the 9/11 tragedy, it was much worse for a while, but compared to 32 years ago, Chinese people have become stronger and self-sufficient. The Confucius Plaza, Chatham Square, Chatham Green, CITIC Ka Wah Bank and Wing Ming Building [at 2 Mott Street] are all good examples. We Chinese built them ourselves. Also, we have Heng Tung Building on Henry Street. So if we continue this way, Chinatown will once again be prosperous. Yes, 9/11 has victimised Chinatown. If the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association [CCBA], the Fujian Association and the Hakka Association could come together and promote Chinatown, then Chinatown can be revitalised.

Q: How was Chinatown back then?

Chiu: 32 years ago, Chinatown was rotten and not as booming as it is now. Chinatown has developed from a bad place to become a satellite town. If you don’t believe me, you can walk around Mott Street, Broadway, East Broadway and Grand Street. Look at the grocery, fish, meat and gift stores. Yes, the aftermath of 9/11 was a blow to Chinatown. The state of Chinatown before 9/11 was two or three fold more prosperous than what it is now. Of course, for Chinatown to keep growing, to get results, we need investments from the Federal, State and City government and to work together as a team. We also need continuous assistance from Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), I Love New York, Empire State, and so on. It’s not enough to have people work hard or to make financial investments. I believe in the Chinese proverb “the wool comes from the lamb”- we have to pay for our own expenses. We are not trying to take a lot from the welfare [system]. We only need to give out more. With the Chinese spirit, we strive to become stronger. We sustain ourselves. We work together as a team. These factors will raise up the current status of Chinese people.

I also notice that the officials have stopped being indifferent towards Chinatown and now show concern for the Chinese community. We have to thank the new immigrants who have made us a larger constituency. If we weren’t a large constituency, we wouldn’t attract so much attention now from politicians. I hope both new and former immigrants will cooperate and improve the community, and make this community more prosperous. The government should also help our community.

(Side 2 of tape)

Q: Mr. Chiu, I understand that you do a lot of business. How did 9/11 affect your business?

Chiu: I have been in the United States for 32 years. I worked in Chinatown for 20 years. Why was I away from Chinatown for 10 years and not develop any business in Chinatown? It’s because Chinatown was too rotten and sparsely populated, with people being bullied. Nobody cared when you were mugged. I thought it was a cruel place and I didn’t like coming there.

I went with my father to Massachusetts. It also had a Chinatown but was not as busy as in New York, with few Chinese restaurants. Two years after we came to the United States, we cleared all my father’s debts and borrowed money again to plan for our future. With our friends as references, the same Uncle Zheng who rented us an apartment helped us to open a take-out restaurant in Setauket. My father was in charge of the kitchen. I took care of the front and counter. I guess it was fate. The Chinese restaurant was in the suburbs and was not popular. We had to educate the residents about Chinese food. Thank God I know English. I had to introduce and promote Chinese food [to the people there].

Just when we started, my father died of heart attack. He had been in America for less than three years. The heavy burden of running the restaurant fell on my shoulders. I had to take care of both the kitchen and the front. In the beginning, I could not cook. Back when I had been in Hong Kong, I had done some fundraising events and cooked a few dishes for Caritas Youth Centre in Hong Kong with my parents giving me instructions. So the dishes that my parents taught me I could cook fairly well. I had only been with my father here for a short amount of time. I had not completely mastered cook. Besides a few of my dad’s good friends, I didn’t know anybody in the United States. I had to do everything by myself. I struggled on my own. I had to sustain myself. For 30 years in the United States, my father had wanted me to receive a United States education and work hard for a brighter future. He also had hoped that I could make a better life in America than we had in Hong Kong. Following these two principles, we had refused to take a single penny of welfare from the government, even when we were struggling. The government had once offered us help. We declined it. We did not want help. Instead, we strived hard - as my father once said, “If we grow the food ourselves, it tastes sweeter.” I have stuck to his principle all the time.

My mother was distraught at my father’s early death. She had to watch over us, and she couldn’t work. My mother had married him at an early age, and accompanied him to Shanghai. Two years later, she gave birth to me in Hong Kong. When I was eight or nine, my father went to Japan and worked there for eight years. During all these years, my mother met my father for only short periods of time. While in the United States, my mother expected to spend much more time with him. We thought we would be a happy family. But tragedy struck us, and my father died young.

Although insurance has long been popular in the United States, we never took out a policy. We, the Chinese, thought that it was unlucky to mention death and didn’t want to hear anything about it. We would rather insure ourselves by having more savings. I didn’t even understand the concept of insurance until I was running the restaurant. The agent of an insurance company was a customer in my restaurant. He asked, “How come we don’t see the fat guy (he didn’t know that was my father) cooking any more?” I told him about the tragedy. I said he was my father, and he had just passed away. He said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Oh, did he have any life insurance?” I said no. He didn’t believe in it. He asked, “Why not?” I said in Hong Kong, people weren’t interested in that. We talked about the concept of insurance. He said one thing, which hit me like a blow. He said, “If your father had had insurance, he would have been able to realize his dream, and you could now do whatever you want.” What he said was like salt in my wounds. I asked, “But who knows if you will really provide compensation?” He spoke very practically, “You don’t have to believe me. You can check it out and analyze it on your own.” I thought that was fair and I listened for three months before applying for a license.

There were 30 students. It seemed like I was the only one who raised questions. I asked tricky questions on all sorts of areas. Each time, I would say, “Maybe I’m not smart, but I really do not understand. Please explain it to me.” The trainer said, “You’re not stupid. In fact, you are the smartest one. The other students think they understand. In fact, they pretend that they understand but actually don’t.” Then, out of the 30 students, only three passed the licensing tests, including me. The trainer said, “Did I teach you something?” I said, “You are right.” The others failed. Of those three who passed the tests, I was the only one who has been working in the field for the last 30 years. Life is so unpredictable.


I forgot what your original question was—?

Q: I was asking you how Chinatown has changed?

Chiu: It changed in that there used to be many drunks on Bowery and now there’s none. Building prices have soared from several thousand dollars to a few million dollars. They’ve gone from having a few American banks to many Chinese-operated banks and banks with foreign capital. It’s an unusual thing in the US for there to be so many banks in such a small area. So you can’t say that Chinatown hasn’t changed.

The future of Chinatown is bright, but we need to work together with federal, state and city governments to rebuild Chinatown and make things better. We discovered that the government really wanted to help. I hope that the businesses in Chinatown and those who want to help Chinatown can all work together to present Chinatown on the Internet in the best possible way. We can let future generations see our incredible history, our moments of struggle, conflict and hard work; how we do business with foreigners and help them appreciate our culture and show a good example to them.

Q: Were you one of the earliest insurance agents in Chinatown?

Chiu: You can say so. My father passed away in 1974. I formally signed a contract with New York Life on April 28th, 1975. I planned to work for 20 years, and then I could retire. Actually I couldn’t retire. After 20 years, when I was named a Senior NYLIC Agent, and even after I was named a Post-Senior NYLIC Agent, I still could not abandon my clients. I have to work until I die.

Q: How does 9/11 affect your insurance business?

Chiu: 9/11 has a direct impact on my insurance business. Besides New York Life insurance, my company approved me to run commercial insurance, house insurance businesses and also property and casualty, homeowner, liability and bonds. Besides New York Life, I run investment, mutual fund, IRA, casualty, car, homeowner, clothing store, factory, garment factory, worker compensation, disability, bonds. You name it, I do it. Twenty years ago, I rented a place in Wing Ming building. Ten years later, I rented an office at 11 Doyers Street. Now I have this place.

Why did I skip some years in the middle? That’s because I operated a restaurant business out-of-state in Setauket, near Stony Brook.

Why did I join the insurance business? Because my father died within three years after arriving in the United States and he did not have one penny of insurance. Alfred Lapitino, the manager [of New York Life] told me, “Do you know there are many Chinese families who are just like yours? They need your help. You need to tell them the advantages of insurance.” From then until today, I’ve been serving people with the intention of bringing good news and benefits to Chinese people. We need more than just democracy, we also need what I call “protection.” This protection gives you dignity that others cannot destroy. In a family, even if one or two breadwinners pass away, someone will still bring in money for the family. This is New York Life insurance. It would be best if every family had insurance. If nothing happens, that’s great. The savings could then be used in retirement. A lot of our clients withdraw more from our insurance savings than they get from Social Security. Their Social Security benefits are only a few hundred dollars but the 30 years of insurance premiums that they’ve saved becomes a retirement fund. If people follow my advice, they can enjoy an affluent retirement lifestyle.

Q: How does 9/11 affect the insurance business?

Chiu: 9/11 hit the insurance industry hard, especially property and casualty insurance. The money that was paid out due to the collapse of the buildings has to be recouped by drastically increasing the premiums. A lot of businesses cannot afford these rising insurance costs. They say, “I cannot even afford to pay for basic food. How can I afford to buy insurance? I would rather go without insurance and save some. If something happens, I’ll just close down my business.” It’s hard to do business now because the premium is too high and customers would rather operate without insurance.

Q: How are insurance premiums different from those before 9/11?

Chiu: It’s a lot more expensive. During the last two to three years, the premiums are 40 to 50% more expensive. The prices increased 10 to 20% each year, adding up to a change of about 40 to 50%. The premiums had to increase in order to recoup our losses. But is our business completely gone? No, and in fact, we’ve made up for it in some other areas. It’s become easier to do life insurance, for example. People have clearly seen just how unpredictable life can be. When 9/11 occurred, I had been going over a bridge and I saw the buildings collapse. It was so sad. Tears kept pouring down my face. What I had thought was impossible had actually occurred.

Q: Where were you when 9/11 happened?

Chiu: I was at the far end of the bridge and I wasn’t allowed to cross. On that day, I had to take off early. Normally, I wouldn’t have left so early. When I could not cross the bridge, I called the 5th precinct in Chinatown in order to ask if they needed any translators. For instance, a lot of Chinese do not understand English. They might not understand what happened and need advice to escape from the disaster. I called and called. All the way until 6pm, no one answered the phone. Why? Everyone went out to rescue people, so there was nobody to answer the phone. It was like we were in a war where all communications were lost. It was lucky that I didn’t go to Chinatown, because you weren’t allowed to go out for two to three days. It was two to three weeks until I was allowed into Chinatown, and I had to bring along documents to prove my identity.

Q: What do you think of the 9/11 incident?

Chiu: I think having democracy is good but too much democracy is a disaster. Why is that so? Why was it so easy for the terrorists to commit this crime and use our own resources to hurt us? It’s because the United States is too democratic which allows the young, fresh graduates- I think most of the airline workers are young people, who are carefree. They lead a leisurely life style with good food, nice homes, good education and put pleasure before work. When they work, they are not serious enough. Every employee should be paid to work - not chatting, and not joking. These workers missed the terrorists, let them hijack the planes for an hour and were unable to stop them and let them hit the World Trade Center. This whole situation shows us that the American government and the public education system of the United States have to change. If they cannot improve and become stronger like the Chinese and if they don’t motivate themselves but instead are content with ease and comfort, bad things will eventually happen. Don’t blame Bush, who might have ignored the intelligence. Don’t blame Clinton for not working diligently. We should learn from John.F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.” We should contribute our talent to improve Chinatown. Although 9/11 was cruel, if everyone contributes, Chinatown will prosper twice as much.

If you don’t agree with me, just go out and look. Look at the new Chinese immigrants in East Broadway for instance. Wasn’t there a depression here after 9/11? Not only East Broadway, but also the other areas, we need customers from outside. And so do the jewellery, gift and restaurant industries.

Let’s go back to the Columbus Park project. We can find ways to build a six-,seven-, eight- story underground parking lot and allocate space for several thousand parking spaces. Customers can come and not worry about parking or paying for the parking fees. Chinatown will become a shopping paradise and dining paradise. More customers would come to Chinatown and the place would prosper.

The government has researched possible parking sites. Columbus Park is one place they’re considering. I hope the government will approve the Columbus Park project. I dare say that this project would, without a doubt, solve all parking problems for the federal, state and city agencies. We won’t have to worry about that anymore, and it will cease being a controversial issue. We have to do things with precision, without confusion or misunderstandings. Actually, a lot of things have been done wrong. I think one story of the Columbus parking lot could provide 300 parking spaces. A seven- to ten- story building, if it was entirely for parking, would create 3,000 to 4,000 parking spaces, and this would allow more people to come to Chinatown. Chinatown could improve things, and business could increase. Parking fees could become cheaper. Anyway, it’s just a single place so it would be economical. We could keep a park on the surface. We’d only have to build underground. We can build it with today’s technology.

Q: When will this project be implemented?

Chiu: The project is still being researched. I am one of the advisors of Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. We’ve already held two meetings. An announcement will be made in April, with our purpose being to develop Chinatown. I hope they will approve the project this time. We’ll have to do a lot more public relations work and lots of events. We have a whole bunch of plans. In fact there is a meeting at 10 AM tomorrow to discuss these issues.

Q: Mr. Chiu, how was your other business besides the insurance? Could you discuss them with us?

Chiu: It’s not just my business. Take the tourist industry as an example. Almost all agents closed

after 9/11. A lot of them had worked together, and had the help of wholesalers. Afterwards, they all negatively influenced each other, and most closed because there was no business at all. Tourist agencies cannot function scattered in different places. Our family tourist business did not have any business because nobody was willing to travel. Now it is better. We continue to have some hotel reservations, car rentals and travelling business. Domestic travel is still weak.

We don’t know if things will recover, especially because airlines make direct sales and have a monopoly. They don’t need a third party to be their agent. Travel agents will disappear. Only a few will survive. There won’t be as many as before, because they can’t make ends meet.

Q: So, where is Setauket Travel Agency?

Chiu: In fact, now we have only one office for all our businesses. We had tried to divide into branches. Now we have just one, in order to minimize costs and survive. We’re not accustomed to getting relief funds, and we feel that we’ll find a way to get through this period. If we can’t succeed, we’ll just close.

Q: How is 9/11 affecting your business?

Chiu: 9/11 takes away a large proportion of our travel business. We’ve only got our old, loyal customers, and there’s not many of them. It’s a lot worse than it used to be.

Q: Are most of the travel packages domestic ones?

Chiu: There is almost no more domestic business. Foreign customers stay away because of SARS and anti-terrorism measures. Many of them had a hard time getting a visa to the United States. On the other hand, we get new business whenever new immigrants gain green cards. They go back to Mainland China or Hong Kong and travel there. If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t have any business at all.

Q: You have been in the tourism business for more than 30 years?

Chiu: I’ve worked in the tourism business from 1971 to the present. After I came to the U.S., I was involved in the business for a short while. And then I was in Long Island and worked in a travel agency at Setauket. And then I bought the business. When I moved the business to Chinatown, I kept the name Setauket Travel. The Chinese name was called Liu Feng, named after my father’s hometown. Both names refer to suburbs. Now the travel agency is called Chinatown Travel because we moved it to Chinatown.

Q: Do you think the tourism industry in Chinatown has reached its nadir?

Chiu: Chinatown’s tourism industry in Chinatown is in the midst of its deepest depression, and is struggling to survive. Now it’s time to unite. If everyone works hard we can make it and find some opportunities. Otherwise, it’s really going to be tough.

Q: Besides that, what other businesses do you have?

Chiu: Import and export. I was importing jelly fish heads. After 9/11, we ended up overstocked and couldn’t sell them. I suffered a huge loss. The goods stayed in the warehouse and could not be sold. I had to discard them. It was really horrible. When the customers do not pay, I won’t reorder the same product. We won’t import that product anymore. So that business is practically over.

Q: Why was imported food especially affected?

Chiu: Because after 9/11, the restaurant business diminished and individuals had less income. When the economy is so weak, who’s going to buy luxury items? Jellyfish are expensive. They cost between seven and ten dollars a pack. Second-rate jellyfish costs three dollars.

Q: How much did you lose?

Chiu: We actually lost thousands and thousands of dollars, a total loss. The storage and other expenses we already paid for could not be refunded. The loss was huge.

Q: You have so many different businesses. Was 9/11 a huge blow to you personally?

Chiu: It was a heavy blow to everybody, and it was also a heavy blow to me. Luckily, my insurance business survived. You can say that was my last fallback.

Q: Mr. Chiu, you’re Fujianese. What is the difference between the old and new Fuzhou immigrants here? Or what are the differences between the way Fuzhou used to be and the way it is now?

Chiu: There’s a huge difference between recent and past Fuzhou immigrants. In 1971, you could distinguish between the locals and the ones that entered illegally on ships. Ninety-five percent of them would cover their heads. They were always staring around with their heads lowered. I pitied them and didn’t want them to be caught. I would pat their shoulders and talk to them. They would be very scared and stare at me. I talked to them first in Cantonese. If they did not know how to reply, then I would use the little bit of Fujianese that I had learned as a kid. If they were Fujianese, I would tell them, “Don’t walk in such a timid way. People will know you’re an illegal immigrant off the boat and you will be arrested. Walk like me and nobody will catch you.” I dare say, a lot of people will remember what I’ve told them. Ha ha.

Q: Why was illegal immigration so easy back then?

Chiu: It was not so easy. At that time, sailors had boarding passes to come on shore, but they didn’t go back. This was called “jumping ship.” They had no other way. Most of them just “jumped ship.” They worked on the ship as seamen, as sailors, as crew, as cooks or helpers, or as deliverymen. They escaped when they came to the United States and didn’t go back to the ships. “Jumping ship” doesn’t necessarily mean that they literally jumped from the ship into the sea and then swam ashore.

Like the overseas students who liked staying in the United States and looked for a sponsor, and then never returned. Or some people came by tourist or business visas and decided they wanted to stay. These are all just ways to change your position. If you’re rich, you can apply for a tourist visa or do business here and end up getting permanent residency. All the different methods are fine. There’s nothing wrong with them. People who weren’t as privileged used other methods which fit them.

“Do I oppose anyone who came to the United States illegally?” In fact, no, I think Americans and their ancestors came to the United States illegally and invaded the country. That created America. American-born citizens should not be anti-immigrant and should not sanction illegal immigrants. If they do, that’s like a slap in their own face, unless they are Native Americans. No one should oppose immigrants, or they themselves should not be here.

But we should have a way to make immigrants follow the right path to immigrate, because a small number of immigrants committed crimes in the United States and endangered both the Chinese community and public safety. We also see some Chinese being oppressed, bullied, assassinated and murdered. If you can unite and help each other mutually, we will have more power. Why? If we are plentiful in number, we will have a lot of votes, and then elected officials will do more for us. If we work against each other, the politicians will manipulate us. We need officials to work for us and be our public servants. They have to represent us and work for us. Otherwise, we’re completely useless.

Q: Mr. Chiu, after all these years, you must have been back to Fuzhou a few times. What was your impression?

Chiu: I have gone back and taken a look at Fuzhou. In 1980, 10 years after I immigrated, I went back to Fuzhou via Hong Kong. My mother had lived a hard life with my father. She followed him from Fuzhou to Shanghai, then to Hong Kong, and finally to the United States. She didn’t return to Fuzhou during all this time, until 1977. I did not have enough money to take her home to see her parents. I took out a loan from the bank in order to fulfil her wish. Then my mother wanted to apply for her parents to come to the United States. In 1980, I went back to Fuzhou and applied for visas for them in Guangzhou. They came to the United States via Hong Kong. My maternal grandfather asked my mother, “If I die, what will you do with me?” My mother said, “If you like, I will bury you here with my late husband.” My grandfather said, “No, it’s too quiet here. I have to return home.” My mother said, “You don’t have to be in a hurry to go back. Stay here. If you pass away, I will send your body home.” My grandfather said, “What if you don’t send me home? What will happen to me? It’s livelier back there.” He insisted on returning to China. He said it was nice we settled down in the United States. He was an old man, after all, over eighty years old. If he stayed here, he could only look at the sky and the four walls in the house. Although we lived in a [two-story] colonial house with front and back yards and have a big family, he was still not used to it. He went back to China with my grandmother. Two years later, he passed away at the age of 90. I heard the news when I was attending a New York Life educational conference in West Virginia. I went back with my mother to take care of his funeral ceremony in China and then we returned together. My grandmother came to the United States several times, but she got bored and went back.

As far as what I saw when I returned to Fuzhou in 1980 – I wept continuously from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. Why? China was so miserable, dusty and without infrastructure. I thought, China is so poor that it’s no wonder others look down on it. In Shanghai, I was trapped in traffic jams all the time. It took two hours to drive 12 miles and I would have gotten there faster walking. Everything was so backwards and miserable.

It was even worse in Fuzhou. When the wind blew, yellow sand scattered every where. The buildings were worn out. There was nothing there. China was really miserable. That was in 1980.

When I returned again in 1982, I saw some changes taking place. I was there in 1984 for my grandfather’s funeral. In 1983, representing this community, I raised funds for a dragon boat contest there to promote athletics. Each time we led a tour from the United States to Fuzhou, I saw changes. And in September 2003, last year, there were highways and skyscrapers everywhere, the streets were orderly, and the buildings were so tall you couldn’t see their tops. In 1980, there were so many bicycles that you could not even cross the street. Now, we have skywalks built across the second floors of the buildings. We don’t have to cross the streets on the ground floor. We can follow their example and cross the roads on the second floors of buildings in Chinatown or combine skywalks with escalators for the elderly. Let the cars have the road. We could also have businesses on the second floor. I think it would be a nice thing and a huge plan for development, and in the future, it could be expanded when there is more investment.

We need this kind of construction in order to develop our Chinatown.

Q: Do you think Fuzhou became prosperous as a result of immigrants returning to their homeland?

Chiu: Not just recent immigrants, but also past immigrants who returned to invest in properties and in business. And it wasn’t just in Fuzhou City, but also in suburban areas such as Changle. They completely remade these places. There was more construction work in the suburban areas than in the cities. The roads and highways are so advanced that from Fuzhou to Xiamen, it takes only one hour, while it took eight hours in the past. Transportation is convenient. There are lots of new buildings, but not so many people living in them. Thus, the price of the buildings is not so high. The price will go up only when demand is greater than supply. Currently, there is more supply than demand.

When I organized a tour for [U.S.] policemen to visit China, they said, “Now I understand why the new immigrants will risk their lives to come to the United States, willing to send home money home and repay a huge debt. For if they work hard for a few years in the United States, they could return to their homeland and build three- or four- story buildings. They don’t use red bricks, rather they use beautiful white tiles, and build fences. The homes are very classy, like those of the rich.

Q: What other public service positions do you hold within the community?

Chiu: While I was working, I never thought of returning. One major task I did was to help out with burials. When Golden Venture crashed, 10 persons drowned. On behalf of our American Fujian Association of Commerce and Industry Inc., we claimed the bodies, buried them and located their families. Four of them were very lucky in that we could identify them, notify their families and have their bodies returned. The other six were not so lucky. We had to bury them. Mrs. Amy Chan of Ng & Chun Fook Funeral Services and Mrs. Ying Kam, Yu Tang donated $10,000. We donated our manpower. Ng & Chun Fook paid for the rest. Everyone got involved in this charity work in a different way. We are still searching for the families of the deceased. One of them we may be able to locate. Ten years later, a Chinese reporter asked me to make an appeal one more time in the newspapers. A Chinese family had been looking for their son who had been missing for 10 years. But there was only one drop of blood [on the cotton gauze] and it may not be enough to identify the DNA. We need about one square inch of blood to identify the DNA. If the person identified is their son, we will have one more body to return to their family.

Q: Were most of the Golden Venture passengers Fujianese?

Chiu: Most were Fujianese, and there were also many from Wenzhou City. The second family who claimed a body was from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. When they came forward to claim the body, the immigration officer ordered the family member to be arrested. It was only after we called this inhumane treatment that they released the family. America is a democratic country. They felt bad when we said they were undemocratic. Then they released the names of 10 who drowned and let people claim them. Every family had to claim the body with my signatures and approval, because I was the person who claimed their bodies.

Q: What is the moral of this tragedy for immigrants?

Chiu: Frankly speaking, it tells immigrants that America is no paradise. Whenever I returned and explained that, they did not believe me, as if I was lying. I told them that America is a “slave training camp”. No one should work over 13 hours but I worked at least 13 hours every day during my 32 years in the United States. So I told them the Untied States is a “slave training camp”. They argued, “But why are you still there?” I said I had no choice. They would not believe me.

They said the United States was a paradise. I said the United States was a paradise as well as a hell. If you cannot earn enough money, you are in hell. If you earn enough money, anywhere would be a paradise. That’s true not only in the United States but also in China. I told them, you’re already very fortunate and don’t even know it. I said, in China, you get food even if you don’t work. In the United States, if you don’t work you don’t eat. No one believed in me back then. Upon their arrival here, they realized I was telling the truth. They told me, “I should have listened to your advice. I didn’t listen and now I’m in trouble.”

Q: When the Golden Venture tragedy happened, did it act as a warning in China and Fuzhou and cause less people to come to America?

Chiu: I thought they did a good job of keeping the story a secret. Not a lot of people knew about the Golden Venture. Chinese people living outside of China knew more about it. Some overseas Chinese knew about it from foreign television. They knew from news report that I helped in burials and held a Buddhist funeral ceremony at the shore.

The biggest project we worked for in the community was to reopen Grand Street Station. We finally succeeded in demanding a subway line between Grand St. Station and DeKalb Avenue- saving our passengers time walking and transferring. When they repaired the Manhattan Bridge, they originally planned to complete it in eight years. Instead, it only took two years and Grand Street Station had already reopened. That’s how the community is rewarded if we work at it.

I was also involved in the Chinatown cleaning campaign but it wasn’t that successful. I think Chinatown should have our own private garbage trucks. Whenever the trash cans get full, they can pick it up. It’s worth it to pay more and get better service. If Chinatown was cleaner, more tourists would be willing to shop here. After all, everything is cheap in Chinatown.

As far as the roads go, Chinatown has lots of potholes. East Broadway is already improved. I made a complaint last month about a fund that was already approved to redo the road surface at the intersection of Doyer Street and East Broadway since they had claimed that they didn’t have any funds. I said, “That’s no excuse. I know the federal funds have already arrived. I can accept other excuses but not this.” After one week, they finally started working on the road. But they didn’t dig the usual seven inches. They only replaced two or three inches. It was only surface work. They replied that different methods would be used for complete renovation. I hope this project works, because there are two spots in East Broadway that always sink even after repeated fillings. It would benefit Chinatown if the problem is fixed.

Besides these projects, I personally think there are not enough parking spaces in Chinatown. Everyday, we hear complaints, that government employees have taken away our parking spaces. Why can’t we build an underground parking lot with three to four stories and let them park their cars and not occupy surface streets. Or we could build a few skywalks with escalators for the elderly and allow pedestrians to move around without walking. They wouldn’t block traffic, and elderly pedestrians wouldn’t get hit by cars. Wouldn’t this project make Chinatown more prosperous?

Q: When will these plans be implemented?

Chiu: I think LMDC has accomplished 70% of what I would desire. I think these things are very important and necessary. Chinatown is vastly different from what it was 30 years ago, even though there was a drastic drop-off after 9/11. If Chinatown is going to improve, the parking problem must be solved. If we do not even have enough space to live, how can we have enough spaces for cars? If one has to pay 20 to 30 dollars for parking while having dinner in Chinatown, people will choose to eat close to where they live and save money.

I also have hopes for the 2nd Avenue subway station project. I hope it will start soon and that will make Chinatown prosper. For 32 years, Chinatown did not have her own subway station. It would be a big convenience if we had a subway spot at the intersections near Mott Street and East Broadway and Park Row. Just dig a hole in East Broadway or Park Row and that will be the underground subway station. The project should start as soon as possible. It will help revitalize Chinatown.

Q: Mr. Chiu, you mentioned that the relationship between police and locals was not so good in the past. Has it improved recently?

Chiu: The police-civilian relationship has changed drastically in recently years. I went to the police plaza headquarters and explained to them how Chinese people feel. Don’t assume the Chinese are opposed to the police. I also suggested the police should be courteous and have a better attitude towards Chinese people. Through networking, I got to know some officers better and I brought them on a trip to China. They realized that most Chinese people are good-natured. Only a handful of bad ones need to be dealt with. The police treat Chinese citizens a lot better.

There was once a police action on East Broadway to arrest illegal peddlers. When the police arrived, the peddlers fled. After the police left, the peddlers set up their booths again. For a long time, the police could not make any arrests. They were mad. A Chinese policeman grabbed a child and threw him into a police van like he was throwing out garbage. All the Chinese people were stunned. They asked me to confront the policeman. The arrested boy was frightened because he had no legal status and he also worried that he could not survive upon release since the police might take revenge on him. Both the arrested and the arrester were Chinese. This was the first time that the Chinese policeman had done anything like this. Someone said, “If we don’t teach him a lesson now, he’ll be even worse in the future.” They thought that policeman was as bad as colonial police. When I confronted him for the first time, he was mad. But we could not blame him, he had gotten fired up. I was angry too.

   I told him calmly, “I know you are very mad at this moment and very agitated. But let me tell you one thing. If the child you threw was my son, I would pull my gun out and shoot you. You are doing something very stupid; you’re not behaving like a police officer. If you don’t want to say you’re sorry and apologize for this act, I’ll make your life very difficult. Do you want all the reporters in front of the police station, and see your name in the newspaper? You’ll lose your job.” He said, “Fine, I apologize.” Then he closed the door and apologised to the child and his family. They all greeted at me. I wanted everything to be resolved peacefully. If he knows he was wrong, and he corrects his ways, that’s all I want. I don’t want to cause trouble for one person. If he lost his job and went on welfare, how would we benefit? We want a good community. We have to work together. Everybody will make some mistakes, right?”

Q: When was that?

Chiu: It happened a few years ago. Now we have community police officers and youth explorers. When youngsters see something happen, they immediately tell the police so that they can halt the crime and make an arrest. We have community days and sponsor the local precinct during community activities on important days like Christmas. We sent in gifts and gave out fingerprint kits, car detailing products and other things. These are events that improve the relationship between police and residents.

Q: How is the 5th precinct police station in Chinatown different from what it used to be? Is it still at the same location?

Chiu: The location is the same as 30 years ago. I have known some captains and lieutenants. They are nice people. Some of them are really nice to the Chinese, especially Ronald Lekos. He is Greek and took good care of the Chinese. There is also a Thomas Chen. In the future, we might have Michael Lau. I call him Captain Lau. He is a community officer at the Police Plaza.

Q: Would you say that you are very satisfied with the current police-civilian relationship?

Chiu: Speaking frankly, they could be even better, of course, with more funding and manpower.

Q: Mr. Chiu, you have children here. What hopes do you have for them?

Chiu: Frankly, Chinese people always say. “Children are insurance for old age.” But we can’t have that same expectation now. We say that child-rearing is educating elites now. I hope they gain academic knowledge while learning Chinese customs from their home. Then they can accomplish even more than us. We can’t control the result, because American education over-emphasizes liberty and democracy. And they overdo it, so that you can never completely… My elder son was a student in Binghamton University. He joined the National Guard Reserves and is learning to repair Black Hawk helicopters to prepare for a position as a crew chief. He also learned how to use machineguns. Last year, he taught the new soldiers to shoot. It is nice if he will contribute to our country. My hope is that he studies even better in the future.

My second son is a fresh man at Stony Brook University and he is a good student. He wants to be a scientist, not a money-maker. I hope he can be a distinguished scientist. It would also be good if he contributes to his family and himself.

Q: You have been living in the United States for such a long time. Now that 9/11 has happened, what do you think of the United States? Do you still think that United States is a good country?

Chiu: The United States is an excellent country. We should have democracy but not too extreme. If kids are allowed to have too much democracy or misuse democracy, a lot of things will happen, including cults, groups running money scams in the name of democracy and so on. We should not just sit here and do nothing. We should point out the risk.

Q: Do you have anything to add?

Chiu: I was going to ask you the same question. Sometimes I have so much to say that I could talk endlessly. I could talk for three days non-stop.

Q: Do you have any hopes for Chinatown?

Chiu: We have to live together and cooperate. We have to make Chinatown prosper by keeping peace and not arguing. We should not try to gain credit for what others do. Instead, we should work as a team and Chinatown will become better. We hope we can double our prosperity within three or five years and not wait another 30 years. If we are willing to cooperate and make Chinatown prosper, I believe we can do it and we will succeed.

Q: Thank you for your interview. Today is March 30th, 2004. This is the Chinatown Oral History Project of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas. The interviewee is Mr. William Chiu. The interviewer is me, I-ching Ng.

Chiu: Thank you.

(End of tape)

Tony Wong, Male, early 50s -- Sino Television

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: Well, today is April 1st, 2004. I’m sitting in the office of Tony Wong, here at Sino Television on Broadway. Tony, let’s start off in the present. Tell us a little bit about what Sino television is and what you do here.

Wong: Well, Sino Television has been in operations for the past six years. We started off in Flushing, Queens, actually. First we started on one channel, Channel 78. It’s a 24/7 Chinese language TV station. Then, after two years, when Time Warner roll out its digital platform, we were given two more channels, and they’re all on digital format. So right now we move our operation back to Manhattan, because we have a radio station here as well, also in Chinese language.

By locating these two properties here, we thought that we could utilize our resources better and serve our Chinese public better.

Q: Okay. Well, we’re going to have plenty of time to talk more about your work and the role that I know Sino Television has played in the Chinese community. But first, we want to learn about you, as an individual. Have you always been interested in media? What was your background?

Wong: Yeah, I have always been interested in the media. First of all, I was born and grew up in Hong Kong. I came here to study broadcasting. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Eastern Washington State University in the West Coast, and I came here for my graduate study. And I was very, very fortunate that right after graduation I found a job with WNBC, Channel 4. And I spent a lot of years at NBC, and I have never taken up any other professions, other than in communications. It was either in television or on radio, or in marketing in the media.

Q: And what year was it when you first arrived in America?

Wong: I arrived here, I believe it was September 1st, 1971.

Q: Wow. A long time ago. [laughter] And did you have relatives in America?

Wong: No, no, no. I didn’t. I had, actually, no. I went to a very small town, Spokane Washington. I didn’t know a single soul. But I was very, very, fortunate. You know, I had a college professor that didn’t know me but they were very kind people and they played as a host family, and so when I first came here, I stayed with him, and he was also in the business as well. He was a professor teaching journalism, but he was also a local anchor person at a local TV station. So, I can say that personally and professionally I’ve been involved with the media almost all my entire life in the States.

Q: So when you were in Hong Kong, now, were your family always in Hong Kong, or did they come from China, or elsewhere?

Wong: My families were always in Hong Kong, yeah. Even my parents, they, as far as I know, they claimed they were born in Hong Kong.

Q: And you didn’t have British citizenship?

Wong: At that time, I had a British passport. But whether that is considered a British citizenship, I don’t know. I think, shortly after I got married here, I and my wife traveled to London, I was still holding a British passport, and I believe I still had to apply for a visa to get into London. So I don’t think that is a British citizenship.

Q: And you didn’t consider going to school in England instead of America?

Wong: Well, not that I didn’t want to, I think at that time the general consensus was that going to England was too expensive. And I grew up in a very poor family. I mean, the fact that I could come here was a miracle itself. I was able to find a college that even for out of state students I think at that time it was like three thousand dollars, everything included, room and board and college tuition. So, it’s a matter of necessity rather than preference. If you ask me what would I have prefer, I probably at that time, I probably would have said London because I think a degree from England was worth more than a degree from the United States, you know.

Q: And what did your family do in Hong Kong?

Wong: My mother---my father pass away when I was eight years old. My mother had four children. My mother owned a vegetable store, like a stand. I basically grew up on the street there.

Q: So very working class.

Wong: Very. Very. Extremely. Yeah.

Q: And when you decided to come to America, did you know already you wanted to pursue a career in media?

Wong: Yes, Absolutely. First of all, I always [coughs], even when I was a kid, I always dream of going abroad, you know, and the fact that I wanted to go into the media is because at that time I wanted to be a camera person, that maybe I can afford to travel to different parts of the world, and go either photo shooting or movie shooting, but I never get a chance to do that. But I’m doing something that is related to production.

Q: But Hong Kong in the ‘70s, as far as television, only has several networks---

Wong: Only one. TVB.

Q:---TVB. And like---

Wong: I don’t even, at that time I don’t think TVB, no---

Q: ATV didn’t exist yet?

Wong: No, ATV didn’t exist. I think it was just TVB. Like any kid, I thought that when I finish my study here then I would go back and be a “big time” director or whatever, you know, but life takes on different turns.

Q: Did your mother encourage you to pursue this line of profession?

Wong: No, not really. No. I think my mother was too busy to, you know, not that she didn’t take care of us. I think she tried very hard to take care of us. She worked very hard to support the family, and so a lot of decision was really left with us. I picked a school, I make my, whatever arrangement, you know. But she didn’t think that it was necessary for me to go away. She felt that there are always opportunities if I really work on it. You know, even back in Hong Kong, if I wanted to do something, if I really put my mind to it, I can still make it.

But then, I have a different agenda. I think that learning something is one thing, but to travel to another part of the world and really experience it is another. And I think I made a very good choice.

Q: How did you support yourself? I mean, three thousand is nothing in today’s world, but in 1971---

Wong: It was still quite a lot of money. I think in the first year, before I came, my uncle, my mother’s brother, actually, he kind of support me initially. And once I got here, I immediately took a job as a dishwasher at college, and then I think after six months or so, I took another job working at the library, in addition to being a dishwasher. Then at night, after being a dishwasher at the cafeteria at college, then at night I would take maybe two or three nights a week I would work at a local restaurant to be a dishwasher again.

And then, in the summer, I work as a farmer. Then I like, working for Green Giants, Del Monte, you know, picking peas and things like that.

Q: So ’71, as a Chinese---and you spoke English when you came to America?

Wong: Yes, yes.

Q: But Spokane, Washington, is not, is not a---

Wong: It’s quite a culture shock. Because that, you know, in movies or in magazine or newspaper, you always think of United States as New York City. So when you got off the plane, go to a place where, you know, you don’t see any sky scrappers and it’s flatland, it’s farming, so you know, it’s quite a culture shock. You know, you’re there, oh, this is the United States. You know, “am I in the wrong place?” I think, you know, Hong Kong is much more sophisticated, much more advanced than the United States. But that’s what I meant, you know. That you could learn only so much from textbooks, movies, or whatever. You have to visit the place and really experience it.

Q: Did you have a hard time assimilating?

Wong; No. Because I really like, even when I was kid before I came here, I liked Western music, Western movies, I had no problem assimilating, at all. But of course there are things I don’t know, like slang that people use, I wouldn’t---I cannot tell the difference. I wouldn’t know the meaning. But in generic terms, I don’t think I had a tough time fitting in. I fit in pretty well.

Q: And you pursue a degree in what, now?

Wong: In broadcasting. Radio and television.

Q: For four years, after that, and you got your first job as what?

Wong: No, actually, no. Four years I, I finished in three years. When I came I was already a second year student because the educational system is different, the British system and the American system is different. After high school, in Hong Kong, I went to two additional year as quote and unquote, like a, in Hong Kong that’s considered like pre-college classes. So when the student from Hong Kong come here, the American colleges already recognize that that’s equal to one year’s worth of credits, or whatever.

So when I came, I was second year already, and I finish in three years, and then I want to go to graduate school and I was accepted by Kansas, Syracuse or New York City. My professor told me that if you are going to pursue a career in television, there are two places. Either you go to Los Angeles, or you go to New York, and I was already in West Coast for three years, so that’s why I came to the East Coast. And then I did two years in Brooklyn College. Right after I graduate, I got a job at WNBC.

Q: As what?

Wong: As an on-air promotion coordinator. Then, I moved pretty fast, actually. I spent less than two years, no, I spent a year there, and then I moved to another area called “sales traffic,” spent two years, I was made manager of the department. But that really is not the area that I want to pursue.

Then, after two years there, I landed a job at the network, you know, to be a on-air operation manager, and that’s where I really get to see what television is all about.

[cross talk]

Q: It seems you were moving up the corporate side of television, not so much the creative side.

Wong: Correct, yes.

Q: But what happened to your dreams of becoming a director---

Wong: [laughs]. No, and again, you know, I guess it is fate. Then I got a call from a schoolmate, not a classmate, he was two year senior than I was in Brooklyn College. Asked me if I were interested in making a little money shooting commercial. I said, sure, why not. And so I, as a production assistant, we were doing commercial in Chinatown for the owner of Sino Television. At that time, he already put programming on Manhattan Cable, you know, that’s back in ’74, ’75, a couple of hours a night. So, and that’s how, I---the connection was made to my current employer.

After that, then he started a television station, not a full-time, like, 12 hours a day. But it is on the ITFS system. It’s on microwave. But it was quite an elaborate set up. We have a studio in this building, on the first floor, and I got to do production, okay. But if I had to back track a little bit, while I was working at the corporate management side at NBC, because we were in management, and during strike or whatever, then we have to fill these jobs. If there were a neighbor’s strike, the tape operator is not working on a camera, people are not working, or if there’s a director’s strike, and then the management have to fill in the job. So I got my training, doing directing job, I got my training doing camera work, so, and I use those training and do it in Chinese language here. It seems that it worked out perfectly. I made my money during the day and then at night I got to produce news program in Chinese. I got to do some magazine type format shows, where we interview accomplish Chinese residents here in the city.

So, I got a lot of job satisfaction out of that. That’s the creative side. But now it’s different. I’m in a very good position where I and the people that work with me, can work together, and we can design studios, design the equipment, pick out equipment that we want to use, and we also work together and try to see what kind of programs that we want to produce and serve the public better.

So, it’s fun. It’s very hard work, it’s very difficult, but it’s fun.

Q: I want to take you back a little bit again. Now, at what point did you decide, “I’m going to stay in America, I’m not going to go back to Hong Kong and work for TVB.”

Wong: At which---[laughs]---Ah, I, you bring up a very good question. I---even though when I was working for Channel 4, I went back to Hong Kong from time to time. I had many, many talks with TVB, talking to different level. Never came to term.

I just feel that it was too much to give up, and it’s too much a risk. Plus I was getting older, I have children here, where their welfare is my concern, and I’d like them to go to school here and all that.

Q: ---in this profession. Do you think that you could climb as high in this country as, say, a foreigner in Hong Kong could?

Wong: It depends on which area. There are accomplished, very accomplished Chinese broadcasters in this country. I mean, my boss, the owner of this company. This company ranked I think number 25 as a group owner in this country. For a Chinese, I think it’s well accomplished. There’s another fellow, John See, the head guy for Encore, plus there are some accomplished broadcasters in the writing field, for instance, scriptwriter, you know, that may be difficult. Director, we have accomplished Chinese director making to Hollywood now.

It’s much, much, easier, nowadays, than when I was just graduating from college. In those days it may be difficult. Nowadays I think it’s much, much easier. Not that it is a piece a cake, I don’t think so. But certainly it is a lot easier. I think, well, if you talk about discriminations, there is always going to be, it just depend on how you’re going to take care of it.

Q: At what point did you join Sino on a full-time basis?

Wong: Well, actually, I joined Sino a little more than six years ago.

Q: Oh, okay, so there was a lot of time between NBC and this---

Wong: Yeah, there were, there were, when I left NBC, then I, landed a job at a Hispanic, Spanish language educational station. It was a start up operation, and the, the guy sold me the job because he brought up two points, he said, “Well, you have managed in an English language environment, you have managed a Chinese stations, now it’s a Spanish language, it’s a good challenge for you.” And I think he was right. I don’t speak Spanish, but I did it for him. I helped him do the start up, and I worked there for a few years.

Then, after that, I was involved in the radio business, you know, I team up with a partner and we build a radio station in New Jersey. That took me a couple of years. After we built it, we sold it, and that’s the time I start working for Sino TV.

Q: And you came in as what, at the beginning, at Sino?

Wong: At Sino? The general manager for the TV station. Because I work for them before as a part-time, you know, when I was working for NBC. They know I can deliver, they know my work style, they know how I work.

Q: How is this station funded?

Q: This is a privately owned---

Wong: It is a privately owned. We have no, we have no affiliation with any organization, any companies. It’s privately owned, and it’s strictly commercial broadcasting. There’s no political overtone, there’s no propaganda, it’s strictly broadcasting. And the owner is also an American-educated person. He graduated from Syracuse.

Q: He is Chinese, yes?

Wong: He is Chinese. You know, I think we more or less have the same dream, doing things that we want to do. Except that he is a business person.

Q: And where is Sino seen?

Wong: In the city.

Q: In the Tri-State Area?

Wong: Not in the Tri-State, in New York City, and also in part of New Jersey, well, yeah, part of New Jersey, like north Bergen County, along the Hudson River, and Staten Island, all the five boroughs of New York City, plus Mount Vernon and Westchester County.

Q: So you’re not at all seen on the West Coast?

Wong: Not yet, not yet. But we’re getting there. Very close, very close. I think we, if we can get our act together, I think we can be up and running in a month or two.

Q: At the moment, it’s a 24-hour running channel?

Wong: Yes. Yes.

Q: And what kind of programs and languages do you broadcast in?

Wong: Well, we have three channels. One analogue channel and two digital channels. One digital channel is for movies, 24 hours movie channel. And that movie channel has movies from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. But in addition to that, I think we are the only movie channel airing Hollywood movies in Chinese language. I think we’re the only one in the country.

Q: With subtitles, or voice over?

Wong: Voice over. Dubbed in Chinese. And so, then the other channels, we have news, we have drama, we have public affair programs, education programs. These programs are from China, from Taiwan, and also from Hong Kong.

Q: How much is produced here, in New York City?

Wong: Here, in New York City, on a daily basis, we produce one hour Mandarin news, half hour Cantonese news. On a weekly basis, we have one financial program, taped at Wall Street, then another public affair program, it’s a talk show, interviewing accomplished Chinese in the community.

Q: So all of the shows are in either Cantonese or Mandarin, is that right?

Wong: Right. And some of the shows, they are in dual audio channel, SEP, meaning that the people at home, then can press the SEP button, they can either pick the Mandarin language or the Chinese dialect.

Q: You said earlier that Sino TV doesn’t have any political agenda. From what I’ve seen in Chinatown, it seems almost impossible for any organization, any Chinese organization to not have a preference, meaning leaning toward either China or Taiwan, something, there are, like for example, are your broadcasters, your on-air people, are they mainly from China, are they from Taiwan, from Hong Kong, everywhere?

Wong: Yeah, they’re everywhere. They’re everywhere. And I can, if you look at our program schedule, we have a number of hours of programming from CCTV, which is from China, we have a number of hours of programs from Taiwan. As a matter of fact, we have less programming from Hong Kong, and that’s not by design, that’s because of the financial burden. It’s more expensive to import programming from Hong Kong. We have a satellite dish here looking at CCTV on a 24-hour basis, any program that we want to use, we just pass it out. The same with the Taiwan.

We want to have a philosophy that we are the liaison between the public and the world. The world means the mainstream society here. The world means Hong Kong and China, and Hong Kong, so that they can keep in touch with what’s happening in their homeland.

You know, with a 24/7 type of operation, I think we have plenty of opportunity to present different views, you know, for people, I mean, they make their preference, and we just want to present it.

Q: But there’s no regulation, or pressure of any kind [cross talk]---

Wong: No, no, no. As a matter of fact, we’re on cable. If it’s just a regular UHF or VHF, we need a license or something like that, but this is on a cable channel. The cable operators are not giving us any type of sponsor, censorship. But it’s just that our principal, we want to be able to not only to entertain, but to educate and inform the public. And I think it’s very, very important. You know, you mentioned in the community, there are people leaning left, right, and sometimes, when you have an agenda, you may not present a very balanced point of view, and we want to be in a position, or at least we try to be in a position that we can offer different viewpoints, so that people can make their educated decision.

Q: Sino Television I know is not the only Chinese broadcaster in New York City. There is several dozen others. What differentiates you from the other broadcasters, and are you the leader? I mean, are you the biggest?

Wong: Well, I think that’s up for other people to decide, but I think the difference is we are very independent, and local. There are other Chinese services, you are right, but they have affiliation with Hong Kong. Either their mother company is in Hong Kong, or in China. Then there are other services that are not full time. But we operate our channel, as I said, just like a commercial broadcasting station. It is strictly from the view point of what kind of programming we can provide to the public, in order to generate commercial advertising, in order to generate subscribers, because that’s where we get our funding, so we run things quite different from other Chinese television services.

Q: Do you think part of your role is to be kind of a bridge between the Chinese community to the mainstream American community in any way?

Wong: Personally, I hope so, and I think from the business point of view, we hope so. I think that is the key to the success. We serve a public, or a group of people that may have language problem, they may not be watching CNN, they may not be watching FOX News, and I think we would like to be in a position to bridge that gap, to make them aware of what’s happening in this country, what’s happening in New York City.

And we also serve a group of people who watch, or who understand the language who may be watching CNN or may be watching MSNBC, but they want to find out what is happening in China, or Taiwan. They may read the New York Times about the Taiwan election but, to hear a different point of view from a news coming from Taiwan, I am sure it will present them with a different perspective.

And I think in that sense, I really think that we serve as a liaison, or a bridge, not only to the public who have a language problem. We want to serve the entire Chinese public that, you know, to the mainstream society and also to their homeland.

Q: So on the topic of language barrier, we know that a lot of people in Chinatown, because they don’t speak English, have a lot of problem assimilating to mainstream America. But even not mentioning those, we also know that in the last ten years, the Fujianese community has been the fastest growing. But yet, your station only, and all your programs, both television and radio, only broadcast in Cantonese and Mandarin. I don’t have the exact numbers, but what happened? Well, who is serving the Fujianese community? Where are they going to get their information, if they don’t speak English, they don’t speak Mandarin, they don’t speak Chinese, and I think a lot of them can’t even read, because they are from the rural areas. So where are they going to get information?

Wong: Well, I don’t know your assertion is right. You bring out a very good point. We tried to, at one time, you know, having the same thought that you have, tried to find Fukinese radio personality to do, let’s say, a three hours program at night. And the response that I receive, that because the Fukianese, they speak Mandarin. They don’t necessarily have to be listening to Fukianese language. So I think, when you look at this, I think, down the road, I really don’t see that much a deal. I think it’s more and more geared toward Mandarin, rather than Toisanese, or Cantonese. Right now, yes, there’s still a sizable Cantonese-speaking group here, but I think eventually, I think it’s going to be mixed.

Our Cantonese stations, there are a lot of Mandarin-speaking listeners. They call up, they ask, can we speak Mandarin, and we say, yes, by all means. And they’ll give their viewpoints in Mandarin, they will ask questions in Mandarin.

Q: As you know, that’s not reality, because Chinatown is very much divided in that way. There really isn’t one language that really unites everybody.

Wong: But isn’t that the problem, though?

Q: That is the problem, and I have heard from different people in the Fujianese community that say that they are very isolated, because so much of Chinatown is not servicing them, you know, as a result they as a community need to build so many things for themselves, because there is not much for them in Chinatown, because of the language barrier.

Wong: Well, I don’t know. I think we should look at it as the services for all Chinese rather than one special group.

Q: Do you think Chinatown as a community is a united community, because we’re all Chinese?

Wong: Well, as a whole, I would say, yes. As a whole, I would say that they are making progress. Look at Chinatown, after 911 the business may suffer a little bit, but as a whole, I think it is still very prosperous, certainly better than when I first came to New York, so you mentioned something that, there are groups that build up certain things to ascertain the need.

Whether I agree with it or not, I think it is a positive thing. At least people are doing something .You know Chinese, they are very, traditionally they are very passive. And now, if they recognize a problem, they are doing something about it, I think it is pointing at the right direction.

Q; So let’s talk about, you mentioned 911. You are located at 449 Broadway, which is just about a block from Chinatown and not so far from Ground Zero. How has that event impacted this business, or your role as a community broadcaster?

Wong: Well, I have to say that I really, nobody would like to see another incident like 911. But that happening, ironically kind of put us on the map. We launched the radio station, the Chinese language station, I think a few months prior to 911, and when it happened, as you mentioned, because of the proximity, you know, we see what happened, and fortunately, our transmitter were not affected. We were on the air. We give out information, we tell people what happened, and we play a very, very, important role during that period of time, because, you know, at one time I think there wasn’t any, even newspaper. People don’t know what to do, so we have people practically calling up, you know, my son is in school, you think that he can come, what train will he be taking, and what can be done, what can I do?

So, you asked earlier, whether I see that Chinatown is united. I think if it is not united, I think it certainly has made substantial improvements towards that direction. Not only do we play the direct role or the principal role in giving out information, but the people themselves, the public themselves, you know, when they hear questions, if we don’t know the answer, they will call up and give out the information. And I think in the old days you don’t see this type of thing happen. It wouldn’t.

Q: You mean Chinese people participating in that way?

Wong: Yeah, right, I mean, actively participating in the process. You know, for example, we announced on the air that if you have gloves, if you have water, the fire company they need this material, or police precinct, they need these items and all that. Then, they would go there and donate this material. And while we are still giving out these public service announcements, then an audience, a listener would call up and say, “Oh, I’ve just been to Fire Company XYZ, they don’t need gloves anymore, they got plenty of them. You should donate it to another company.” So they themselves really take part into the whole process, and they would not sit back and let other people do it. And I think for Chinese, I think that was really a giant step forward, ‘cause in the old days, you know, everybody just doing things for themselves, they don’t care what other peoples are doing.

But in this instance, they really did a terrific job. Our radio personalities were on the air day and night, and we have Chinese restaurants they prepare their food and they brought it up for us. They also would ask us to help them to deliver food to the police, to the police precinct or the police headquarter, ‘cause they really wanted to help. And then they felt that they are part of the society. And that’s something that in my 30-some years here, I have never seen that until that time. I was really, really, very impressed. And yes, a lot of people give us credit for doing a fundraising, and raise so much money, but I think the credit should really be going back to the people in the community.

I mean, they made a point that they wanted to demonstrate that they cared. ‘Cause a lot of people say, “Ah, the Chinese, they come here, they make the money, they go home and retire,” and all that. But they made it a point to show that they care, they are part of the society and they want to be very united, and they want to tell the mainstream that they are united. And I think that that is a very strong message.

Q: There’s something else that you’re talking about, donations and money. I think you’re being modest. Your station actually collected over a million dollars, which is something that---

Wong: Yeah, 1.45 million---

Q: Which is completely unprecedented in this community---

Wong: Absolutely---

Q: How did that happen? Who initiated this, how did that happen?

Wong: Well, my boss always gave me credit, that I initiated it. No, it’s not. I think the ones that, who initiated it was really the people in the community, and they call us up, you know, a lot of people call up the station and say, you know, we want to do something, I want to write a check, I want to donate money, where do I send this check, and we always educated them. You know, “You just write, Red Cross.” But for some people, even writing “Red Cross” would be a problem. They don’t know how to spell “Red.” You ask them to write a whole address, it would be very, very difficult. And then they said, “Can we just bring the check to the station, and you write it for us.”

Q: Bring you cash, and then they---

Wong: No. They said, “Well, I don’t know how to write, can I bring the check to your station, you write it for us?” Yes, for one or two, yes, it’s okay, but, you know, and then we get a lot of requests. Then somebody would say, “Can we just give you the money? You write it, you send it. We trust you. You do it.”

So, we did fundraising before. Our company did some fundraising before in the community, and it had been successful as well, but we hate to do that, because no matter how you do it, people always suspect that you take portion of the money, you know---

Q: There’s corruption involved somewhere---

Wong: Yeah, into your own pocket or whatever. That’s why we really didn’t want to do it. But the request was really, really, overwhelming. And then, I convinced my boss that, you know, we really have to do something, because if there were five phone calls, four would be asking us to do this type of thing. So then we say, “Okay, we’ll do it, you can send cash, or you can walk to the station, we’ll give you a receipt right away, we are not going to take your money.” And when we first started we thought that hey, the most maybe fifty-thousand, a hundred thousand. I think the first couple of days we already reached over a hundred, like two hundred thousand, something like that. And the momentum just kept on going. It just kept on going. And then, when it gets to a million, then people will call up and give us credit and say, “Oh, your station is doing great, we really support your station, without your station we don’t know what we would have done, you know, how we could have functioned, let’s do it for, let’s do it and reach the number to 1430. At that time our call letter, you know, our frequency was 1430.

And, so, they did it. They just keep on writing check and keep on coming, and we really-- -at 1430 we stop, we say that, no more, we’re finished, we’ll take this money and we’ll donate it to the World Trade Center Fund and also to the Red Cross. But there was some money that was already in the mail. That’s why it was 1.45 million dollars. [laughs].

But that is, you were talking about unity. I think that really demonstrates that if the Chinese want to show their unity they could do it. They really could do it. A lot of people give us credit for it, we receive a lot of awards for it, but I really, each time if I have to give a thank you speech, I really think that the credit really should be the people in the community, cause they never did anything like before. Never.

Q: But, this outpour of generosity, which is surprising, as you said for Chinese people, because a lot of times they just look after themselves---

Wong: Right, exactly.

Q: But do you think, in part, that’s because the location of Chinatown was so near Ground Zero that in same way Chinatown was kind of attacked, the effects of it. If this had happened, say in Harlem, do you think the Chinese community would have reacted the way they did?

Wong: Well, it was a tragedy. And I think the magnitude of the incident was so great that yes they would have done it. To this extreme, I think you have a point, because of the proximity, they would feel more, the impact, they would feel a lot more, because they’re here, they see it, they smell it. I mean, you, I don’t know where you were, for a month we were here. It was horrible smell, horrible.

Q: Let’s stop there and we have to change tapes.

Wong: Okay.

Q: So you were talking about this, sort of surprising unity the Chinese people show in the aftermath of September 11th. So as a broadcaster, I mean, obviously you saw that people truly trusted you and looked towards you as a reliable source of information, because every station, every network, everybody was showing the same event, and this many people tune into you. What do you think, you know, why are you in that position, where people came to you, when they didn’t go to another one of the Chinese stations and donated this much money?

Wong: Well, I could think of a couple of reasons. I think number one is that we have been in the community for more than twenty-six years, so I think we have the grassroots Chinese public support. I think that’s number one. I think number two is really the power of the medium that you can reach out to so many people, and whatever you say is immediate. And during that time, where they cannot understand the mainstream reports, there were no newspaper, ah, transportation, if they live in Queens they cannot come out, if they live in Brooklyn they cannot come out. Even if they live in Chinatown, they may have difficulty getting through different streets, and we more or less became their friend. And when you can provide information, when you become their companion day and night, then that certainly build up that trust. And when they come here, they see that it’s a legitimate operation, you know, and it’s the word of mouth. And that’s how we build the trust.

And I think building the trust is through the way we present ourselves. With our programming, with our coverage, we did, I think we did a very, very good job. It was day and night. Even our DJ, they knew it, ‘cause they heard the same voice. It was almost 24 hours without interruption. And that was something that they never had experience with. Because in the past, you may listen to a program, and you turn it off, or another DJ come on, but this, on the 24-hour basis, it’s the same group of DJs that going to be there. And some of our DJs are touched, you know, even cry on the air, and we also interview people, family of the victims, they were here, we interviewed them. It make such a strong impact to the listeners.

So, that’s why we earned their trust.

Q: You think Chinatown was under-covered in the mainstream media, given how close it is to Ground Zero, and as a community where there’s actually a lot of residents---

Wong: Oh, yeah, absolutely, in my opinion, yes. No---we raised 1.45 million, right? Yes, we got a lot of coverage, but I can even quote you an example. I don’t have it now, but I think on a daily basis, during that time, during that period of time, if somebody gave us sixty thousand dollars charity they may have their photos and a big space on the newspaper. But we got our space, but not as prominent as, you know, other groups.

Q: Do you think that’s because the Asian community doesn’t have a leader? Chinatown doesn’t really have a distinct leader to represent the community in incidences like this, to stand out, and----

Wong: [laughs] Well, I think historically, as a group, we have never been very vocal. As a group, we have not been very---I’m not talking about leader or no leader, but as a group, we have not been very vocal. We did not, we were not very active in participating in the political process.

Q: So you said that 9/11 has put your organization on the map in some way, and I know that you presented Mayor Giuliani with the check ---

Wong: Right.

Q: --- at City Hall, so with all that exposure, what has that meant? How has that resulted in anything, a change in programming, or the way you see your responsibility in the community? Has it resulted in any change, this event?

Wong: Well, I think, as I said, it put us on the map. I think it makes us, selling our commercial time easier, in the community. But it just reinforce the fact that we have to ascertain the community needs in our programming, and I think that’s very important. I always advocate for providing a forum for the public to voice their each opinion, to discuss issues, on our radio, and I think we did a very good job on that.

Q: So if the Chinese community could come together during this 911 tragedy, you know, two years, more than two years have passed now, do you think that brief unity has resulted in positive changes in Chinatown? Do you think people, different groups talk to each other more, or there is more work towards rebuilding Chinatown together? Or everybody went back, to their own separate places after this event?

Wong: Well, I never, I never pay attention to what different groups are doing, so I really cannot answer that question, but I think it does show that the incident, or that time demonstrate that Chinese as a group, if they want to do something, they can unite and do something and achieve whatever goal they set out to do. Now, whether leadership, whether there’s a group that want to lead or has demonstrated that they want to lead, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t pay attention to local politics that much, but I am just very proud of the fact---and it changed my perspective. It really has changed my perspective. I’ve been here for so long now, and that really has demonstrated that---you know, I never thought that Chinese would pay that much attention to what’s around them. Chinese always, you know, they make sure that their children get good education, they make sure that they have enough money in the bank to put food on table and pay rent and all that.

But I think now, they have become more aware of events that happen around them. And I think that’s very positive.

Q: So does your station do, have you done more public announcement, or increased programs to educate the Chinese community?

Wong: Yes, we are. As a matter of fact, earlier I mentioned about political process. I think voter registration. A lot of people, they don’t understand the power of having the right to vote. So we want to encourage people to register. I think several weeks ago we had an event here---we have a magazine we publish, a weekly magazine. It’s a very popular magazine. And each Saturday there are people coming to pick up the magazine. And one Saturday we started the voter registration. And on one, on a three hours period, we registered close to two hundred people.

Now, two hundred people may sound a very small number, but when you figure in that most of the people, I shouldn’t say most---some of the people, they may not be resident. Some of the people may not even, you know, have legal status. Okay, so when you can sign up two hundred people that have the qualifications to vote, that’s a huge number in a three hours period. And we intend to do more, between now and the election. And I think that really would bring the awareness to people, that if they want to do something, if they want to get the kind of benefits that they want, or that will affect their children or whatever, voting is a very powerful tool. And we hope that we can achieve that.

Q: So as a whole station, where are you leading your team for the future? What more can Sino Television do?

Wong: If---[laughs]---I tell you, if I can achieve, by providing entertainment, and educating the public, and become a bridge between the Chinese community and the mainstream community, I think I have achieved it, and I have done a very good job. And that is a constant process. I mean, you cannot stop. Entertainment, yes, you can upgrade a program, you can import whatever program. But to really ascertain the community needs, you have to really pick out special issues, social issues, focus on current events, government program, they may make an impact to the Chinese-American way of life.

I think it’s very important for us to really, on one hand, bring awareness to the Chinese public, and on the other, to provide a forum for them to air their opinion. It’s almost an outlet to them.

Q: For their life in America.

Wong: Right. For example, we had our grand opening of our television facility here two weeks ago, and the Manhattan borough president came and do the ribbon cutting. And subsequent to that I wrote her a letter and thank her for her participation. At the same time I asked to do a weekly program with her, or even a monthly program, as the borough president. That is what I meant, a liaison, between the community here---

Q: You’re trying to get Chinese more involved.

Wong: More involved, and they’re, I think little things, you know, sometimes they may feel, like you say, they may, certain group may feel isolated. I think as a group Chinese sometimes they may feel that they are isolated. They may not know how come, you know, I park this car here, how come I got a ticket. They may have that. How come I have to pay for the, the getting rid of the tree in front of my house.

But if you put a public official, and answer the question, these type of question, they, it bring it closer to the mainstream society. They feel that, ah, they pay attention to us. And that’s the kind of role that we want to provide.

Q: And is there any goal to take your station nationally, so that it can be seen all over America?

Wong: We hope so, but that is a business decision. I think the success of a station, like I said earlier, is really based on local presence, and doing nationally, I think from the entertainment point of view, it may be good, but in terms of different communities, you still have to have local presence there. And that will be a challenge when we go national.

Q: And do you plan to stick around for this challenge? You’re going to stay with this company?

Wong: [laughs]. I don’t know. I think it’s fun. But I think there are a lot of people who work here, they know my philosophy. And we are working towards that goal, whether I’m here or not, whether I manage it or not, it doesn’t really matter.

Q: That’s a good sign. A sign of a good manager. If you leave, everything still works. Right?

Wong: Well, thank you.

It’s very important. Otherwise, I think the power of the media will get lost. I think doing business, making good business is one thing I think is important, but ascertaining the community needs is also very important, so---you are in media, so you don’t need me to tell you that.

Q: So looking back, you’re happy with the choices you made? You’re okay that you didn’t become Ang Lee?

Wong: [laughs] Um---

Q: No regrets?

Wong: No, I don’t have any regret. I’ve been very lucky. I mean, who would have thought that a boy growing up in a poor environment can be where I am? Not that I’m very accomplished, but doing something meaningful. And I think that’s very important. Am I happy? Yeah. Overall I’m happy. We should always aim high.

Q: Well, you’re still young. There’s still time.

Wong: [laughs] The camera lies, okay? It’s right here.

Q: Well, I think you’re probably surprised that you have shared this much with us that you didn’t anticipate to, so---


Wong: Yeah, it’s my whole life history.

Q: But since the camera is still rolling, is there anything else that you want to say, or tell the public, that I haven’t asked you?

Wong: Um, I, no, I think you asked me just about everything.

Q: Okay, well, in that case, then, thank you Tony, very much for your time---

Wong: My pleasure, my pleasure.

Q: And my name is Lan Trinh.


Joseph Chu, Male, 71 y.o. -- Social worker

Interviewed by Teri Chan

Q: Mr. Chu, would you say your Chinese name and English name?

Chu: I am Joseph Wah Chu.

Q: When were you born? Where were you born?

Chu: I was born in 1933 in Toishan County, Guangdong Province, China. I studied in my hometown and then went to Guangzhou for high school. After China had been liberated (1949), I moved to Hong Kong.

Q: How long did you live in Hong Kong? When did you come to the United States?

Chu: I lived in Hong Kong for over ten years. I worked and studied there. I studied at the United College of Chinese University of Hong Kong for four years. I was a teacher for several years. I came to the United States in 1965. I lived in San Francisco for one year and then I moved to New York in 1966.

Q: After you came to New York, what did you do?

Chu: When I was in San Francisco, I worked as a busboy. I then worked in a department store for several months. The first job I had was a busboy in the House of Chan.

Q: Where was the House of Chan?

Chu: The restaurant was in midtown. Back then, the restaurants in Chinatown were small, and not as big as the Jing Fong Restaurant and the Silver Palace Restaurant. House of Chan was the biggest among the Chinese restaurants.

Q: How big was it? Who were the customers?

Chu: The kitchen had more than 10 workers. The dinning area also had more than 10 workers. Most of the customers were foreigners and there were few Chinese.

Q: How long did you work in that restaurant? Did you change vocations after that job?

Chu: I worked as a busboy for a few months. I purposefully wanted to learn to be a waiter. Then my friends opened a restaurant in Chicago. They asked me to help. I worked in Chicago as a waiter for more than half a year.

Q: Did you return to New York after working in Chicago?

Chu: Yes. I returned to New York in 1967 and worked in a restaurant as a waiter. My wife came and we were married in 1968. I continued to work as a waiter in a restaurant.

Q: Why did you choose New York and not Chicago?

Chu: Because I had a lot of friends, coworkers and classmates in New York. We had been good friends in Hong Kong. Hence, I chose New York. And also, job opportunities in New York were better. When compared with San Francisco and Chicago, I chose New York.

Q: How long were you in the restaurant business?

Chu: Not too long, about two to three years. Then I found a job in an American company, working from Monday to Friday. I still worked in the restaurant during the weekends.

Q: What business was the American company? What did you do?

Chu: I worked in the office of an electrical appliances company. The work hours were good, from 9am to 5pm. I still worked as a waiter after work. Not only was I so diligent; people at that time used to work seven days a week. The salaries were not high and actually, were low. I had to raise a family and had to work two jobs, seven days a week. The salary I earned on weekends was tax free (not reported). Back then, I was just like the other hardworking Chinese workers, working seven days a week.

Q: How were the fringe benefits then?

Chu: My job at the American company had weekend and holidays off, as well as medical insurance. Benefits were good. The Chinese restaurants did not provide benefits. I was happy with the medical insurance provided by the American company which covered my family. The standard of living was pretty good then.

Q: How many children did you have after your marriage?

Chu: I was married in 1968. My eldest daughter was born in 1970. My second daughter was born in 1972. My third daughter was also born in the 1970s. I worked in the American company for several years. There was an energy crisis and economic recession in 1974. Many companies closed down and a lot of workers were laid off. My company laid me off. By then, the Long Island University just started its bilingual program. I enrolled and studied there until 1976. After graduation, I worked in a company in New Jersey. In 1978, I started working at the New York Chinatown Senior Citizen Center.

Q: When you first came to the senior center, what was your work? What was the name of the senior center then?

Chu: The senior center was called Chinatown Senior Citizen Coalition Center. It was established by five community agencies. Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) was one of them. Hence, it was called Coalition Center. The senior center started at the basement of the St. Andrew Church. It was moved to 70 Mulberry Street in 1978. I have been working there ever since.

Q: This senior center was held by five community agencies. Besides CPC, what are the other four agencies?

Chu: The other four are Chinatown Service Center, Chinese Service Center, Chinatown Progressive Association, and The Immigrant Social Service. And also…….

Q: I will verify the names. Where was St. Andrew’s church?

Chu: St. Andrew’s Church was opposite from the Municipal Building (on Chamber Street).

Q: Was it opposite from City Hall?

Chu: Yes, although it was not far away from Chinatown, the streets were not good for seniors to walk. The seniors had difficult walking from Chinatown to there. The streets were too narrow. There were not very many members then. When we moved here to 70 Mulberry in 1978, membership increased steadily.

Q: When you started working, how many members were there? Where did the seniors come from?

Chu: Most of the Chinese immigrants came from Toishan. Over one hundred lunches were served (daily). We didn’t have as many staff as now. There were several workers in the kitchen, three workers in the office, two part-time workers helping with registration. There wes not many staff.

Q: What was your position?

Chu: I first worked in social work.

Q: What were the areas in social work?

Chu: Helped seniors with registration (to enroll as a member), filled forms, read letters, answered welfare questions and minimum psychological counseling.

Q: What kinds of benefits were provided to the seniors?

Chu: I helped them to apply Medicaid, Food stamp, senior housing. The benefits were not as good as today. The seniors at that time were not very complicated and didn’t have as many problems as today, such as domestic conflicts. Now, we have a lot of benefits but the waiting time for senior housing is very long - takes many years from application to approval. The benefits at present are more plentiful than the past but the eligibility is more limited. I remember the seniors who came in 1960’s would immediately get their green cards upon arrival to the United States, and then apply for their benefits. Now they have to reside in the United States for several years before they can apply.

Q: How do they know that they are eligible for benefits? Do they read the newspaper, or by words of mouth?

Chu: Back then, the senior center had staff to help them to apply. The Social Security Agency also sent their staff (to the senior centers) to explain the benefits. There was also a Social Security Agency staff stationed at The Chinese Consolidated of Benevolent Association (CCBA). Most of the seniors lived alone. Although a lot of seniors live alone now, population in Chinatown was not as densely populated as it is now. Not long after coming to the United States, the children of the elderly reside or work elsewhere for convenience’s sake. The seniors would not move with them because of inconvenient transportation. Hence, their living conditions were bad. The buildings were old and had plenty of rats and roaches. The buildings also lacked water and heat. There were many housing problems. Even though the living conditions were bad, the seniors would not complain because they liked living in Chinatown. Sometimes, our staff had to negotiate with their landlords because there was no water, electricity, or heat in winter. If the landlord was not willing to turn on their heat, we had to file complaints with the government agencies. The social problems they faced back then were not complicated.

Q: Besides your senior center, were there other senior centers?

Chu: Besides New York Chinatown Senior Citizen Center, Chinatown had Greater Chinatown Community Association, and CPC Project Open Door Senior Citizen Center.

Q: What were the differences between these three centers?

Chu: Greater Chinatown Community Association is the oldest, and was managed by the Catholic Church and didn’t have government funding. CPC Project Open Door Senior Citizen Center was first managed by the NYC Department of Human Resources. After more than ten years, it was returned to the NYC Department of Aging in 1990s. Both were funded by the government agencies and their managing styles were mildly different.

Q: You mentioned the senior center started with one hundred members. How many are there now?

Chu: The membership on registration book is over two to three thousand people. A few hundred come everyday to the center for activities. Over one hundred lunches are provided every day. Some members do not have lunch but attend activities such as Mahjong games, singing, sport activities or Tai Chi martial art. There were three hundred members. Now, we have at least five hundred members show up every day.

Q: What kinds of activities are there in the senior centers?

Chu: The biggest activity is lunch. We also have Chinese music group, choir, Tai Chi class, English class and chess art group. There is dancing every Saturday. In addition to these activities, we also have Chinese painting, calligraphy and poetry classes. There are numbers games every week and news broadcasting every day. Winter activities are less than summer. When the weather is warm, we have trips, mostly for free.

Q: Where did most of the trips go?

Chu: Most of the trips were one day trips. We started early and came back late. We have gone to parks and specific sightseeing, such as the Bear Mountain. We started early and came back late. The seniors like this a lot.

Q: Where do the seniors come from?

Chu: In the past, most of the elderly were Chinatown residents. Now, many of them come from uptown, Brooklyn, Queens and even Staten Island. The members are very active and are vastly differ from those of 1969. The members at that time only loved to play Mahjong and rarely go on trips, they would rather stay in Chinatown.

Q: Why are Chinese seniors living outside of Chinatown?

Chu: Chinese seniors lived outside because Chinatown housing is old and worn out and living space is very limited and saturated. When I first arrived, the best residential area was the Two-Bridge government buildings. Confucius Plaza (on Bowery Street) was not built at that time and it was only a desolate spot. After the Confucius Plaza was built in 1970’s, Chinatown had a good residential area. When young Chinese women immigrants first came here, most of them belonged to the 23-25 union (Garment Union) and worked in the garment industry or laundry industry. Chinese men used to work in restaurant or grocery stores. There were not many job choices.

Q: You mentioned that the senior problems at present are more complicated than in the past. How are they more complicated? Can you give an example?

Chu: When I said it is complicated, it does not mean that it is abnormal. Take domestic conflict as an example. The families in the past were simple. Young generations studied hard and were obedient to their parents. The American news reported a warm and happy picture of the Chinese families. Later immigrant policy became more lenient. As more immigrants came, the family structure became more complicated. Some youngsters went astray. Society changed and Chinatown had more gambling places and gangs, thus creating more family problems. Later, when the immigrant policy of the United States was tightened, some people came illegally: some of them came by visas and did not return; some came by marriages, whether real or fraudulent marriages. Some of our male members also did the fraudulent marriages. Some of them even got into trouble. They helped the women get residential status and were kicked away. Some of them had trouble even before the women had gotten green cards.

At the same time, when the children got their parents to the United States, the parents found out that life was not what they expected upon arrival. It is not so easy to find jobs and their living standards are worse than in China. For instance, they were doctors, engineer or teachers in China but they would not be able to find similar jobs in America. They can only be inferior workers in restaurants, garment factories, groceries or be a dishwasher. If they ran into a bad economy, there would be even more family problems such as the seniors not getting along with their daughters-in-laws or grandchildren. Some seniors told me that they had to open beds at night and fold them up early in the morning (for their sleeping arrangement). Or they had to sleep with their grandchildren. After a few years, the children grew up and the seniors couldn’t share the beds with their grandchildren anymore. Some of them had to sleep in the living rooms so it was inconvenient. There are many similar complaints. This is a social problem. I wish the government has more funding to address this problem. The senior housing is a huge issue.

Q: Are there senior housings for the elderly?

Chu: Chinatown has a senior house, which is Chung Pak Building on Baxter Street. Further away there are several senior houses. The waiting list for Chinatown housing is very long. Take Chung Pak Building as an example, when the building was built, there were eighty-eight units available but five thousand application forms were filed. Some members have a waiting list numbering of one or two thousand plus. How long do you think they have to wait? Therefore housing is really a problem.

Of course, there were some government housing buildings near Chinatown. But public safety was such a concern that people dared not to move in. If they moved in, they had to go home early or would not go out at night, otherwise they might be robbed. Now public safety is much better. Back in the 1970s, it wasn’t that safe. When some of the seniors were robbed by Puerto Ricans, they dared not utter a word because they were afraid of revenge. The seniors would put ten dollars in their pocket just in case they came out of the elevators and ran into a robber. They figured this money was part of paying rent. Even if the robbers looked familiar, they wouldn’t dare to identify them in case of revenge. By the 1980s, the situation had improved. Police patrolled more. Underground gambling was closed and gangster activities were lessened. Public safety improved. More police patrolled government housings so crimes rates went down.

Q: How is the public safety in Chinatown now?

Chu: It is getting worse recently. When mayor Giuliani was in office for those few years, public security was best. The 5th precinct also improved their services. There were more patrols and more action against illegal gambling. The public safety was improved.

Q: Why is public safety worse than the past few years?

Chu: Perhaps after 9/11, more unemployed people tend to make money by illegal means. Public safety is worse in the past two years.

Q: On the date of 9/11, where were you and what were you doing?

Chu: In 2001, I had retired but I volunteered in the senior center. On 9/11, we took the seniors for a trip to Long Wood Garden (Pennsylvania). Our staff, Alan Tran and I, led the trip. The seniors boarded the bus on 8:30am on Canal Street. The bus left at 8:35am or 8:40am. When the bus turned from Bowery onto Worth Street and Centre Street at 8:45am, we saw a huge crowd running on the streets. Alan asked, why were there so many people running? I said maybe they were chasing after thieves. The bus went on. We saw that the tower of the World Trade Center closest to us was on fire. The passengers and the driver all shouted. The driver said it’s burning! I took a few pictures with my camera because I thought it was similar to the bombing of the World Trade Center’s basement back in the 1990s. I could not imagine that it was an airplane hitting the building. The bus doors and windows were all closed so we couldn’t hear the noises, we only saw people running and the police cars and fire engines. We thought it was the same kind of bombing as before, didn’t think it was so serious. As our bus continued to pass thru Holland Tunnel to Pennsylvania, we talked about the previous bombing at World Trade Center and said it was easier to rescue (because of the lower level). I said maybe they need to have helicopters and drop some chemicals to keep the fire under control since it was so high up. Once we came out the tunnel, we saw an airplane so I added, “Here comes the plane to put out the fire!” Everyone saw the plane. The plane and our bus moved at different directions so we did not see the plane again.

The driver had a son who was supposed to work at the World Trade Center in the afternoon. He used his cellular phone to call his son for updates. His son was watching television and speaking to our diver. When the driver told us what was broadcasting on the television, then we knew how serious it was. The fire was caused by a plane hitting one of the towers, it was not a bombing. The plane that we just saw after coming out of the tunnel was the plane that hit the second World Trade tower. We only knew at that moment that terrible things had happened and we were scared. When the bus finally arrived at Long Wood Garden, we weren’t in the mood for sightseeing. Soon, the bus driver suggested that we leave because the tunnel might be closed. The highway was congested. After few hours, we could not return to New York. The radio said all bridges and tunnels were closed. We tried to return by Staten Island. The bridges were also closed and cars in the highway were not moving at all. We stopped at a place in New Jersey. The driver suggested that we take the Path Train if they were running. Alan and I went to check. A policeman passed by and said the Path Train was about to leave for New York City. Alan and I returned to the bus and brought the seniors to broad the train. The driver stayed with his bus. We brought the seniors back to 34th Street in New York City. The seniors then took the subways home. Everyone had a long day.

Q: Did you or any of the seniors have friends and relatives working in the World Trade Center?

Chu: My eldest daughter worked in Water Street , near the World Trade Center. She told me afterwards that she got out of the subway at 9am. Every means of transport had closed down. With no subway and no bus, she could not return. Because she bought a condo at Brooklyn Heights, she walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to get home. The other two daughters did not work downtown and they had no problem. When we gathered later on, many members told their stories. Some members who lived in Queens, Brooklyn and uptown had to walk several hours home. More than ten seniors who lived either at Queens or Brooklyn stayed overnight at the senior center because no one could pick them up. They returned home the next day. Not so many stayed overnight.

Q: Did you call the senior center on 9/11, to ask the director for instructions?

Chu: We talked over the phone. I told the senior center that we had arrived safely at the destination. At the same time, (I was informed that) many members in the senior center saw the towers on fire and collapsing. Many people in Chinatown saw it. They saw it at the corner of Columbus Park and watched the tragedy as if it was a movie.

Q: How was the situation at the senior center after 9/11? Did you come to Chinatown?

Chu: There was no transportation for one day. After that day, subway and bus returned to normal schedule so people returned. Those who lived far away didn’t return because of the transportation uncertainty. In those days, there were fewer members at the senior center. People from Queens, Brooklyn and uptown didn’t return.

Q: They did not show up because of transportation problems or other problems?

Chu: Transportation returned to normal but the seniors worried something might happen and did not come.

Q: How did you feel?

Chu: Me and the seniors experienced wars so we were not as frightened by 9/11 attack and explosion. We are old and not scared. We were only worried about the transportation. We were concerned for our young generation. We worried about the social unrest after 9/11 and the economic decline, the effects on the younger generations’ jobs and employment. The seniors worried that these kinds of situations would make their children lose their jobs or lose money on their businesses. The seniors themselves experienced wars, so emotionally they were not scared by the changes.

Q: Which wars did you refer to?

Chu: Our seniors went through World War II, many had experienced the conflicts between (China’s) communist and Kuomintang struggle, and the communist regime. Compared to these wars, this was minor.

Q: How did your senior center help the seniors? And help them to discuss (this event)?

Chu: After 9/11, the seniors were relatively calm. Some of them worried that the business of their friends and relatives would be affected. Some of them worried that their children would lose their jobs. These were more indirect. The most direct effect was the air pollution in Chinatown. Many weeks later, air quality in Chinatown was terrible. There was a certain smell to it. There were lots of floating pollutants in the air which directly affected our health.

Q: Did the government help?

Chu: After 9/11, government reacted fast and established a 9/11 assistance center. Those in need could apply for air filters and air conditioners. Those residents who lost economically after 9/11 were also helped. Our seniors benefited from the policy. They could apply for new air conditioners, air filters and rental assistance. The benefits helped their lives and financial situation.

Q: How sufficient were the benefits?

Chu: It was not necessary enough, but it wasn’t bad.

Q: You just mentioned that the seniors worried most about the younger generations’ jobs and business. Did the government help the younger generations?

Chu: Yes, Chinatown established a development council to bring in business. After 9/11, Chinatown was very quite. People in the other boroughs such as Queens would not come to Chinatown. Business dropped drastically. The government established a tourist promotion agency with Chinatown business to promote Chinatown. A lot of performances and activities were made to attract more tourists to our restaurants, tourist agencies and other agencies. Business recovered to a large scale and now Chinatown is almost as busy as before.

Q: Some seniors did not show up after 9/11. When did they return?

Chu: After 2-3 weeks, the seniors came back because they felt everything was normal again. The seniors were afraid of detours in transportation. They did not know how to transfer. For example, they used to take the 6 Train to Chinatown. If there was a detour or a train did not show up, they did not know how to cope and they would not come.

Q: Is this due to language barriers that the seniors did not know how to transfer?

Chu: Yes. It still is a problem. On weekends, less seniors come to the senior center, especially from Brooklyn, where there is always subway construction. The subway always had detours. The seniors could not read the subway map or ask for help so they did not know how to transfer. That’s why they don’t come to the senior center during weekends.

Q: There are maps, flyers and notices available in Chinese languages in Chinatown and Flushing. Would this help the seniors?

Chu: They should but the seniors did not feel comfortable so they wouldn’t show up. They would rather rest for a day.

Q: Besides Chinatown, are there Senior Centers elsewhere?

Chu: There are a lot of senior centers in Brooklyn and Queens, especially in Queens. Some are managed by Chinese and others by Americans. Many seniors are members of both Chinatown and Queens senior centers.

Q: If they had already moved to Queens and Brooklyn, why did they come to the senior centers in Chinatown?

Chu: Although some members moved to Queens and Brooklyn, many of their friends and relatives are in Chinatown. At the same time, they come to Chinatown to see their doctors, visit friends, or do shopping.

Q: After 9/11, how did you know there were 9/11 services available?

Chu: After 9/11, the government set up a special department to help out victims of 9/11. An office was set up near where the old Chinese American Bank was. They had news, flyers, and outreach to senior centers. They explained their benefits to the residents of Lower Manhattan, including housing assistance, air filters and related welfare. The application procedures were simple. Applicants would just go to Chinese American Bank on Park Row. They also sent staff to our senior centers to explain and fill out forms. It was very convenient.

Q: How complicated was the application form?

Chu: Our staff was used to filling out forms for the seniors. The applicants mainly needed proof of residence in Lower Manhattan. Sufficient proofs were phone bills, Con Edison bills and rent receipts.

Q: Since a lot of seniors lived with their children, could they have those proofs?

Chu: The young people could also apply for the 9/11 benefit. Of course many seniors lived with their children who suffered job or business loss because of 9/11. Hence, a small business assistance project was set up to subsidize the businessmen who suffered loss.

Q: What do you think of the business subsidy?

Chu: I have heard that business was bad after 9/11. Some small business received direct economic assistance and financial aid. Hence, there were not many stores closed down due to 9/11’s bad economy.

Q: You said that 9/11 was not so frightening compared to other wars. What wars did you experience?

Chu: During World War II, I was several years old and still living in the village in Toishan County. I heard the machine guns and canister explosions. My family brought me to safe shelters often. Some members were older than me, some younger. Besides World War II, they experienced (China’s) civil wars, or internal power struggles of the Communist China or many wars before they finally came to America. Hence, they thought 9/11 was only minor and were not as frightened. The seniors were more worried about their children’s’ unemployment and business, family problems, and the heavy burden of their youngsters.

Q: What kinds of family problems did they have? Can you give me an example?

Chu: For example, if the senior’s son and daughter-in-law were unemployed. They would be bad moods and may get into arguments with the senior. There was one senior who came to sit in front of the senior center early in the morning, waiting for it to open and didn’t leave until closing. After that, he still sat in the park for a long time before going home. Because the son and daughter-in-law were unemployed and the place they lived together was very small. He slept in the living room so he had to open his bed at night and in the morning. If he stayed at home for a longer time with the son, it was easy to enter into an argument.

Q: Can they apply for government senior housing?

Chu: We tried to help them to apply senior housing. The waiting list was so long. Those who were lucky can get it pretty fast and some have to be on waiting list. Some of them get notified to look at housing immediately. If they didn’t mind the location, taking the trains to mid-town, then it’s easier. But if they only consider locations near Chinatown, whether it’s senior housing or low-income housing, they have to wait for a long time.

Q: How long is the waiting list? Why such a long list?

Chu: The waiting lists are so long because of too many applicants, especially near Chinatown. We have a lot of seniors living in the low-income housing on 5th Street and Avenue B.

Q: If they have to live in Chinatown, how long do they have to wait? 5 years? 10 years?

Chu: Many years.

Q: When you first arrived, a lot of seniors came from Toishan or they were old immigrants. Have there been any changes? Where do the current seniors come from?

Chu: In 1960, when Mainland Chinatown was still a closed country, our members came mainly from the Toishan and Four County (in Guangdong) areas. After China established foreign relations with the US, more immigrants came from Mainland China and Taiwan. Chinatown seniors are mostly from Guangdong Province and they speak Cantonese. A few of them speak Mandarin. If classified by occupation, immigrants from Mainland have higher education level than the older immigrants. Although this is the case, many of them still couldn’t find the same type of jobs as before. For example, the people sent by CPC to work as kitchen staff (in the senior center), many of them were college graduated and were engineers, doctors, etc. But since their occupations and qualifications in Mainland are not recognized in the United States, they can only work in labor intensive work.

Q: Besides the language barrier, are there other barriers…?

Chu: Yes.

Q: How many senior centers are there in Chinatown now?

Chu: Chinatown has more senior centers. The old Chinatown includes only Mott Street, Bayard Street and Mulberry Street. Anywhere past Canal Street was Little Italy and many Italians lived there before. There were only a few passers-by on Bowery and beyond Sun Sing Theater (on East Broadway & Market St). Chinatown has expanded several times. Many seniors come from East River (Lower East Side) and Little Italy, which becomes part of Chinatown now.

Q: What are the new senior centers in Chinatown?

Chu: Besides the New York Chinatown Senior Citizen Center, the CPC Project Open Door Senior Citizen Center, and the Greater Chinatown Community Association that have existed for a long time, we have LaGuardia Senior Center near Governiur Hospital. This area used to be an American area and now is considered Chinatown. We also have City Hall Senior Center, which is a city agency operated senior center. It used to serve the Americans and it is one of the oldest senior centers. Now it serves mostly Chinese. Although Chinatown is not big, we have several senior centers.

Q: Why are the seniors going back and forth between senior centers?

Chu: The seniors like to have multiple memberships in different senior centers. They have different preferences. Take lunch, for example, everyone has different taste. If they are near Mulberry Street then they will come to us; if they are closer to CPC Project Open Door, they go there; if they are near City Hall or come by 4,5,6 subway, they will go to City Hall Senior Center. Members also like to go the centers where the staff have similar backgrounds with them. For example, City Hall Center attracts a lot of Mandarin speaking members. Similar backgrounds come together. Seniors who come by B, D, Q trains may go to CPC Project Open Door which is next to the (Grand Street) train station. Some choose by activities and services. Some people like dancing, Tai Chi, or Cantonese classics songs. Some like our Mahjong games, singing, painting and calligraphy. Some come to us when we have trips. Some like our dancing on Saturdays. Some attend the activities of City Hall Senior Center. The seniors are very active nowadays.

Q: In the past ten years, many Fuzhou immigrants have applied for their parents to come here. Do you have a lot of Fuzhou senior members?

Chu: We don’t have many Fuzhou senior members, only a few members. Perhaps they live further away from us. They are more likely at LaGuardia Senior Center and less at our center. When they attend our activities, they are able to communicate with our staff in Mandarin.

Q: Can the Fuzhou members communicate with the Cantonese or Toishan members?

Chu: Some members do not differentiate languages. Communication depends on personality. Whether they speak Mandarin, Cantonese or Fuzhou dialects, they can play mahjong, chess together. Some are friendly. Some alienate themselves.

Q: Besides senior housing, are there other problems?

Chu: Housing is a major problem. Older immigrant members do not have financial and medical care problems. They have retirement benefits. If they have financial problems, they can apply for welfare and food stamps. New members have more problems. It is more difficult for them to get benefits in a short period of time; they have to work for a number of years first. CPC always sends us some seniors who are new immigrants in their 60’s because they haven’t met the income requirement to apply for medical insurance. Because of government policy and restrictions, we cannot help them.

Q: What do you think Chinatown can do to help these seniors?

Chu: In the past recent years, Chinatown has many social agencies trying to help these new immigrants, such as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and Chinatown Manpower Project, Inc., which provide English or employment training classes, free citizenship classes and welfare applications. There are more services for Chinese than in the past.

Q: Are these services for seniors and other age groups?

Chu: They are for all, indiscriminate of their ages.

Q: How do you want Chinatown to change? How can Chinatown help the elderly?

Chu: First, I wish that more low income housing will be built for the people. The economic structure has changed drastically from a few thousand garment factories to only a few. The door for immigrant women to work in a garment industry is almost closed. We have more stores but not skilled training for new immigrants. I wish more social agencies like the Chinatown Manpower Project or CPC to provide more employment training classes, to enable more new immigrants to get training so they can integrate into the society and find jobs. Once they have a better standard of living, then they get to do other things.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Chu

Chu: You’re welcome.

(end of tape)

Chris Chan, Male 47 y.o. -- Chinese Progressive Association

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: Today is May 24th. I’m sitting here with Chris Chan of Chinese Progressive Association, otherwise known as CPA here on 83 Canal Street. We will talk more about the asthma-related work that CPA has done the last couple of years, but first we want to get to know you, who you are. Chris, tell us a little bit about where you’re from.

Chan: Actually, I’m from Hong Kong, via Macau.

Q: In Macau?

Chan: Yes, I was born in China, but I moved to Macau when I was 2 years old. I grew up in Macau. After high school, I went to Hong Kong.

Q: Ok. Where in China are you from and why did your family move to Macau?

Chan: I’m not quite sure, but I think after the Communist took over China, my parents wanted to leave that environment. They found a way and went to Macau. I grew up in Macau and spent my childhood in Macau.

Q: So this is the 60s, the 70s, what era are we talking about?

Chan: (laugher) Yeah, probably around 1960, early 1970. After high school, I found a job in Hong Kong, then I moved to Hong Kong.

Q: In Macau, did you go to a bilingual school? Did you study Portuguese?

Chan: It was not a bilingual school, but a normal school, which was Chinese. When I was in the 10th and 11th grade, our school started having Portuguese lessons as one subject. So I did have a chance to learn some Portuguese.

Q: What was your childhood in a Portuguese colony like? So you have no impression of China, obviously since you left so young?

Chan: Yes, because Macau and China are really close, I do know what’s going on in China. The memory I still have of childhood: I remember everybody would send something back to China…

Q: Money?

Chan: Yeah, money or goods, or they would physically bring something back China for their relatives or families. That’s very common for that period.

Q: After high school, you got a job in Hong Kong as what?

Chan: As a construction worker (laughter). In Macau, that many businesses. The main business in China is casinos.

Q: In Macau?

Chan: Yes, even now, it’s still casinos. Besides that, there’s not much else you can do. So, after I graduated from high school, it was hard to find a job. Then, I had a chance to go to Hong Kong. Any job that I can find, I’d love to do it. Finally, I got a job in the construction field.

Q: You mean manual labor kind of construction, as in building?

Chan: Yeah, building. Hong Kong has lots of high rise buildings. At that time, the real estate was a really booming business. So it was easy to find a job.

Q: This was in the 80s?

Chan: This was around late 70s to early 80s.

Q: So the real estate was really booming in Hong Kong at that time?

Chan: Right. Right. To be a construction worker, even if you don’t have the skills, they’ll hire you and train you at the work site. Learn it and practice it.

Q: In Hong Kong, why did you decide to come to America? When did you decide to come to America?

Chan: In 1984. 1984, April.

Q: What made you decide to come to America?

Chan: I had a chance to come. My sister was already here. She was married and was able to apply for us to come.

Q: So your sister sponsored you to come to America?

Chan: Right. Before that, she came here to study college. After that, she got married and got citizenship and she sponsored us to come.

Q: How old were you when you came?

Chan: I was born in 1957. So in 1984….27? Yeah, 27.

Q: So already with work experience in Hong Kong and a little bit of English. Some English skills from Hong Kong.

Chan: (laughter) uh, not quite.

Q: Not quite (laughter)?

Chan: Because in Hong Kong, I just worked and also it’s predominantly Chinese. Most people speak Chinese. Of course in Hong Kong, English is very common, but working in the lower level, most people speak Chinese. Only a few words in English and not correct pronunciation. For me, I would consider it as no English at all. I did have difficulty when I first came here, for a period.

Q: So you came straight to New York, ‘cause you already had a sister here?

Chan: Right.

Q: What was your impression of New York City?

Chan: Um…because my sister lived in Queens. My first impression was that New York is not a modern city (laugher). Compared to Hong Kong where there’s a lot of modern building and high rises. Here, it’s all concrete buildings. Queens is almost like a suburb. And back at that time, in my area, the tallest building was six stories high (laughter).

Q: What area of Queens was this?

Chan: Kew Gardens.

Chan: It was not what I know of New York City. But of course once I visited Manhattan, it’s different. I didn’t know Manhattan that well, because three days after I landed in New York, I found a job in Chinatown (laughter). So I just deal with my daily life in Chinatown. I didn’t have a chance to see the real face of Manhattan. Everyday, I just traveled from Kew Garden to Manhattan and go back home. That’s all.

Q: What did you think you were going to do once you got to America?

Chan: I didn’t have any plans. I just needed to find a job because I needed to survive. In my pocket, I had only $60 (laughter) when I came to New York. The next day, my sister showed me how to go to Chinatown. I bought a newspaper and started calling. I was really lucky. Three days later, I found a construction job in Chinatown to do renovation.

Q: Is it similar to the sky scrappers you worked on in Hong Kong?

Chan: Not quite. Because the wall is (sheet?) rock, it’s not cement. The structure is different, but it’s okay. I feel it’s easier for me to work. It’s just a little different than in Hong Kong.

Q: So you worked for Chinese people when you came?

Chan: Yeah.

Q: And you didn’t have to use English too much.

Chan: No, not at all. I still remember…ah…once around my house, I walked on the street and there were some Americans on that side, I was so really afraid that I walked on the other side (laughter).

Q: To the other side of the street?

Chan: Yeah, I was afraid to face those people. To ‘hi’ or whatever. Yeah, back at that time, I was afraid. But after about one and a half years in Chinatown, I felt that I needed to break the wall. If I decide to stay in America, I really need to learn English. I started to find those ESL classes to participate. Back at that time, I didn’t know there were any free classes, that the community provides free English classes. So I just go to those paid ESL classes. I started at the grass stage, like ABC.

Q: Very basic.

Chan: Yes, very basic. But back at that time. I still didn’t know where would provide those courses. Seems like none. When I went to join those classes, it was pretty advance for me. No bilingual teacher and I don’t know what’s going on, what they’re talking about (laughter). I still remember the first class I went to, three days later, I just dropped out. I totally did not know what’s going on. I can’t follow it. I tried to watch the news on TV, listen to the radio. Pick it up little by little. Once it hit me to really make my decision to spend time in English, it was two years later after I worked in Chinatown, after the payday, I really wanted to treat my brother to McDonald’s for a meal in midtown. But when I went there, I can’t order (laughter). They didn’t know what I’m talking about and I wanted to….

Q: This is two years after you arrived in America?

Chan: Yeah, I wanted to order a Big Mac and french fries. I kept saying ‘potato chips’ and they said ‘we don’t have it.’ Later on, we just went back to Chinatown and had dinner. After that, I really think how I can live in America for two years and I can’t go to McDonald’s to have my meal? That’s a real shame for myself. It really gave me great encourage to find ways to learn English.

Q: So two years into living in New York City and you cannot order a Big Mac and french fried meal at McDonald’s and you felt very bad….

Chan: Yeah, very bad.

Q: And you decided to study, I mean really study English.

Chan: I spent time from class to class, school to school, read newspapers. And some friends introduce me to where there are classes and if it fits into my schedule, I go. It took me a long time to overcome.

Q: So you were still working as a construction worker in Chinatown during all this time?

Chan: No, after I decided to learn English, I quit my job and found a warehouse job in midtown with an American company. I tried to get out of the Chinese community and tried to force myself into an English environment to pick up English.

Q: What did you do at this warehouse?

Chan: It was a fabric warehouse. Textile. They had different designers in their company and make those textiles and they will print and ship it to the warehouse. The other companies would go there to get the materials. My job was to cut the textile to them, how many yards they need and keep the records. A lot of tons of different designs, pattern by pattern.

Q: Did that job force you to speak English?

Chan: Yes. Yes. It was getting better. Later on, I changed a few times. But still, I finally came back to construction. I was familiar with that.

Q: The first time you came to Chinatown, those first two years, what was your impression of Chinatown?

Chan: Chinatown, at that time for me, was an enclosed separate area from outside. That’s what I feel. In Chinatown, you don’t need to speak any English. You can survive purely in Chinese. You can make your living and everything just speaking Chinese. At that time, I thought Chinatown was pretty old. The stores and restaurant, the food that was served was in old style. And the products sold in Chinatown were old in style too. In Hong Kong, you will see new things. In Hong Kong, it’s different, there’s lots of new products from different countries are flown in Hong Kong to test the market. In Chinatown, the feeling is like back in the 16th century!

Q: Very far behind Hong Kong.

Chan: Yeah, right.

Q: You felt comfortable in Chinatown?

Chan: Yes. People are friendly. A lot of Chinese are willing to help each other. That’s how I felt.

Q: You didn’t know anyone here besides your sister?

Chan: No. I did join a church in Chinatown (laugher). So I very quickly established some friendship in the church.

Q: How long did you work in the warehouse before you found your way to CPA?

Chan: The warehouse I only worked for about a year, then I switched to another job. I had a chance to find another job as an architect, prospective drawing. It was a Taiwanese company. They needed an assistant to draw the prospectives. I loved drawing ever since I was in Macau. I learned how to do it at that company. I spent one and a half year at that company. Later on, I had another chance to work in a development company as a construction development. A lot of Chinese people will buy houses, knock it down and build 3, 6 story buildings. I had a chance to work there. Later on, I started my own business as a construction company. In 1999, since real estate was not that active, I closed my company and went back to school.

Q: At what point did you become active at CPA?

Chan: Since 1989, the June 4th event after that. Not long after that, I went to City College. The first college I went was LaGuardia College. Since I was back in school and closed my company, I needed a part time job. Somebody told me that CPA had an opening for a community organizer and I just sent in my resume and started working at CPA in 1992.

Q: Before that, did you participate in any community activity at all?

Chan: I was active in the church. It was not exactly community work, but helping church members. Back to the June 4th event, I was really active in those and had a chance to know about different organizations. I started getting more interested and know more about community services. So I (became) interested in this direction.

Q: So this is really different from construction work.

Chan: Really different (chuckles). Totally different. I work in CPA, I love it. After I graduated in college—my major is art and computer graphics.

Q: What do you like about working at CPA?

Chan: CPA as a grassroots organization provides direct service to the community. It gives me a chance to really see the community and also understand their issues, problems. We can get hands-on experience on how to help them. You can see the results, how your work can reshape the community. That’s gives me a deep impact.

Q: What are some of the services that CPA offers to the community?

Chan: CPA has a number of services to the community. First is immigration rights. We have a citizenship program to help people who qualify or want to know about citizenship and procedure. We handle cases and do the follow up too. We provide English classes, citizen class. We do handle cases and also educate them about how and what they can do. Besides that, CPA is concerned with environmental issues. The Chinatown area has a lot of environmental problems, so CPA is really concerned about that and educate the community. For example, we’re concerned about lead poisoning for those old buildings. Chinatown has a lot of old buildings. Chinese people do not understand this issue, but this one you can protect if you know what’s going on. You can protect yourself. You won’t get hurt. Also the asthma issue and smoking. Smoking in the Chinese community is really popular. Youth smokers are increasing. We try to stress this in the community, especially the teenagers about smoking and second smoke.

Q: Let’s talk about one of the studies you did you, I think in 2001?

Chan: 2002.

Q: 2002, you surveyed 580 people?

Chan: Yes.

Q: In the Chinatown area. Tell us about that study. And where exactly were the borders? What areas did you survey?

Chan: Since 1996, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) released a report for diesel population in the Manhattan area. The report indicates that Canal Street is one of the higher polluted streets in the city. We think this is a really serious issue. We also know that CPA members and friends have asthma issues. That’s why CPA wants to find out more about the asthma issue in Chinatown area. Before that, we did some report, and got the statistics from DOH. The statistics show that the Chinatown area asthma situation for children is very low…

Q: Very low?

Chan: yes, very low. Of course this is the hospitalized rate. They get the data based on who has asthma attacks and has stayed in hospital overnight and they got this data. In Chinese community, not that many people would go to the hospital and would stay overnight.

Q: Where did you get this statistic?

Chan: DOH. Department of Health. We feel that this only shows a part of the situation. Also after 911, pollution is even worse. That’s why we have decided to do the asthma survey to find out the real face in the Chinatown area. We grouped a lot of volunteers together and researched the survey. We went out on the streets, in the park, library, and different places in the Chinatown area to do the survey. Some surveys, we can’t count it because some people that we interviewed were not living in the Chinatown area. Some of the surveys we can’t use it. Finally, we surveyed 580 families all over the Chinatown area, not in any one specific area. We found out that we saw a surprise. According to statistics, (in a) five family household, already has at least one member with asthma in the household.

Q: How did you conduct the survey? Is it just randomly asking people on the street in different public places? Did you give people a breathing test? What did you do exactly?

Chan: Random pick….

Q: Of questionnaires?

Chan: We spent about three months up setting up the questionnaires.

Q: Give me a sample of a few questions that were on this. How do you determine if someone has asthma or not?

Chan: In our survey, first we ask them where does the person live? Also, do you have a breathing problem? Do they diagnosis asthma by a doctor and when? We ask such questions.

Q: Is your study carried out in the same or similar way that EPA does that when they came out with the statistic that Chinatown is more polluted than other areas in New York City. How did they get that information? Is there a similar method that you both use? Do you know how they do it?

Chan: I forgot. When we set up the questionnaire, we got the example from, I think, the DOH and the EPA, those example.

Q: You modified it?

Chan: Yes, we modified it. Mount Sinai Hospital also conducted their own research too. We got the different ways and compared them and set up our own sample.

Q: There are lots of non profit organizations in Chinatown, why did CPA stand out and do this?

Chan: Actually I don’t know why, but it seems in the Chinatown area, we all should be concerned with environmental issue, but maybe because of funding or not that many people feel that it’s a serious issue because asthma, lead poisoning, and smoking does not have immediate effects on health. They have long term effect, not immediate. We know that these are serious issues, and we also know that asthma, lead poisoning and smoking can be controlled. If you know what’s going on, you can project yourself.

Q: Did you make a point of studying people of all different ages? You said that 580 families were surveyed, from elders to kids?

Chan: Right. If the kids were under 16 years old, we’d leave them out of the survey. The survey is for 16 and up. We went to the senior centers also to conduct survey the elders. During the survey process, we found out that not that many people understand the asthma issue, especially the elders. Most elders have the concept that asthma is a children’s problems. “Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to do anything. If they grow up, the asthma will be automatically gone.” Something along those lines. They think if you have asthma, just do some sports, jogging, run, or swim, make your body stronger and the asthma will be gone. That kind of concept. Most of them also believe that over-the-counter medicine can cure asthma if you take it consistently over a period of time, it will be gone.

Q: So it sounds there are two things here that your study shows: one is the environmental factors within Chinatown, the air quality itself…

Chan: Yes.

Q: Secondly, it’s asthma and those two things are related. But for example, you mentioned elders. I imagine that because a lot of them come from China, where smoking is very a normal habit for men. And depending on where they live, if they live near a factory or in a big city like Guangzhou where the pollution is very bad, a lot of these people may have come with already a foundation for asthma, you cannot really show that they got asthma in Chinatown. Do you understand what I’m asking? How much of the problem is created here in Chinatown and how much is carried over from say China and personal health?

Chan: That’s a good question actually (laughter). In our statistic, 51.1% of asthma sufferers are teenagers. As a whole, asthma patients are 1/3 of their diagnosis of asthma is since they moved into the Chinatown area. That means that before they came to the U.S., before they came to New York, they did not diagnosis anything, but since they moved into Chinatown, especially after 911, they have breathing problems. Those symptoms came up more serious. It might be as you said, carried over from their homeland. But the facts have shown us that after September 11, the whole is getting worse. That’s the facts we saw.

Q: The last study that was done before 911 was in 1996 by EPA?

Chan: Yes. But that one only showed diesel pollution. It’s not the whole thing, the air quality. But after September 11, I’d like to say it’s a really serious issue. I work in Chinatown. That day, I was in Chinatown. After that, I didn’t come to Chinatown for just one day. I continued to come to Chinatown everyday. I still remember I can smell the smell from the air even after Thanksgiving.

Q: So we’re talking about two months.

Chan: The first two, three weeks was terrible. Even with closed windows, everywhere, there was strong, weird smell in the air.

Q: Do you remember if the EPA did any studies, pollution studies, at that time in Chinatown as a direct result of September 11 being so near…the World Trade Center being so near Chinatown?

Chan: I heard, but I’m not sure if I remember. Yes, they did, but not in the Chinatown area. Also, after 911, people were only concerned with Chinatown from the south of Canal Street. I feel this is really funny (laughter) because what’s the difference with this boundary, the air is free flow. Actually, our office location is north of Canal. But still I can smell it everyday.

Q: So because you are by location, north of Canal, were you eligible for air filters or any of the 911 fundings?

Chan: No. No (laughter).

Q: So CPA as an organization, because of your location, did not get any 911 money?

Chan: No. No.

Q: Then how did you fund the asthma study?

Chan: I forgot the fund, but it’s a very small grant.

Q: So it was a private grant?

Chan: I think it was a private grant. CPA is mostly funded by private foundations. Government funds, we did not get that much because we are not a big organization even though we do a lot of quality work for the community. Since the budget cut from the government, we really have a hard time getting funding. We have funding for an English class right now that provides free English class. But this funding is not a 911 funding. It was from before. CPA did not get 911 funding for job training, English classes…

Q: The technical boundaries for the area that is considered Chinatown that is eligible for air filters and fundings and all that is between Canal and Pike? Is that what it is?

Chan: In that area and below. As for filters, later on, if you’re eligible, you can get it at home.

Q: Regardless of where you are?

Chan: As long as you got affected by the air. I know that a lot of people who live in Brooklyn’s Sunset part area also got it.

Q: (interruption)…Chinatown was just polluted because of the traffic. We have the Manhattan Bridge, not so far the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s just a lot of traffic congestion in this area. Diesel pollution, you were talking about earlier. So Chinatown was already bad long before 911. Has the EPA or any other environmental organizations do anything to clean up the air here? What to your knowledge has been done to address this problem?

Chan: From what I know, right now the government is not doing that much in the Chinatown area. Right now, it’s getting worse because of 911 effected the air quality and the tour buses. These private companies have tour buses that go to Boston, Washington, Philadelphia…

Q: On East Broadway?

Chan: Yeah, on East Broadway. And the casino buses on Bowery. The big tucks and big buses. Also, the bridge has non-stop construction. A lot of repairs on Canal Street. Constructions, tour buses, diesel trucks still go through the Manhattan Bridge….

Q: So all these things have nothing to do with 911? These things are just in Chinatown already?

Chan: It’s just getting worse. After 911, it’s just like coincidence. Just the whole Chinatown area is getting worse, the air quality. Getting worse and worse.

Q: When you did the study, it was over how long of a period?

Chan: We conducted in 2002 Spring and had the final results in 2002 August.

Q: So just in 6 months? Did you go back to the same families? How did you collect the information?

Chan: We didn’t do that much follow up because of manpower and we don’t have any money to do the follow up job. Right now, we’re developing an asthma project this is on- going in the Chinatown community. CPA has plans to do this better. The first thing is to do more education. Second thing is to improve the environment. The third thing is air quality monitoring. In these three directions, we’re working on. Right now, we’re applying for some grants and see if we can have funding to do it. It would be in these three directions.

Q: Education meaning educating the community, to let the residents and business, people who work and live here know what’s going on in their environment. So with the results of this study, what have you done with it? How is that used towards getting more attention or meetings with councilmen? How are you approaching on a government level so that changes can be made to address these problems?

Chan: On a government level, we’d like to see improvement of the environment. We just had some brainstorming. For example, this summer, we worked with other groups, we’d like to make a video documentary to give a rough idea of the Chinatown area air pollution. We work with a group of teenagers, give them training about this issue and what idea they come up with. We hope the 10 minute documentary tape is a tour in the Chinatown area to address those environmental issues. We also have another idea, we haven’t got a concrete idea because we have a core group to develop that. Another idea is tree count in the Chinatown area and compare that with environmentally healthy communities, things like how much green areas. If we got this done, the second step is we’d send it to the councilmen.

Q: In your study, it was mainly for asthma. You didn’t do environmental study in terms of what is in the air besides diesel after 911?

Chan: The air monitoring actually we’re getting information. We’ve already contacted field organizations that’s doing the monitoring. But it really involves technical stuff and professionals. We have ideas to work with some university professors and Phd projects to see if they have interest in finding out the air quality in the Chinatown area. But we definitely know that is not enough. That only one monitoring station on top of the post office.

Q: That’s what we have right now?

Chan: Yes, right now, that’s all we have. The street levels don’t have it. We’re going to do more research and see which groups are interested to do street level air quality.

Q: Seems to me that there are two ways, if any changes is going to come out of this. Things like traffic, and all that, that’s the city government level. But things like the tour buses, that’s a Chinese business community level. That’s not the government saying you have to park there. That’s business people who are Chinese. So do you make any efforts to approach those groups and say maybe they have to park their buses somewhere else, cause they are also contributing to the air quality problem in Chinatown.

Chan: Definitely. After we get more job done, we’d like to contact them, those business organizations and see what they can help to improve that. As for the government level, maybe after more study, we may have suggestions on which streets should turn into a one way. Those diesel trucks should detour and not go directly through Canal. But we need to do more work before we can say that.

Q: Do you think those business people are going to care? Those tour bus company on East Broadway and those casino buses, do you think they will care that in some way they’re contributing to the pollution problem in Chinatown? Or they care just about the business?

Chan: Yes, they do care about the business. But if we can find a better solution to accomplish their business and also care about the environment, that will help the tours and the community business also. It must have some mutual benefits. But if nobody see or find this mutual area, of course the situation won’t change a bit. If we spend time and research to find this mutually benefit area, it might happen.

Q: After talking to many people in the Chinatown community, I always get the feeling that they feel the government level, the city level, is not paying enough attention to Chinatown, especially after 911. But it also seems to me that the community is not really looking after itself in many ways.

Chan: In my personal opinion, those business organizations, they work their own. Or they’re only concerned with how to make the business grow instead of environment. But they do know that the bad smell, especially in the summer, everybody knows that that is a bad thing for tourism. I’d like to point out that our neighbor across one street, Little Italy, they have restaurants next to each other on the whole street, but they don’t have that smell. What did they do? How come they can do that? If we can improve it…

Q: Are you saying that Italian restaurant owners, maybe they work together better in some way than the Chinese?

Chan: I don’t know. I think somebody else should do some research. How do they handle the garbage? How do they keep the streets clean? How do they run their business without that bad smell (laughter)? After we study it, then we can see if Chinatown can adopt it. Can Chinatown do that? I think they will see that it’s good for them that if they put a little extra effort, or pay a little more attention, they can make the environment (better) and get rid of that smell. I think they’d do that because that deals with the business issue. If the front door is clean and has no smell, of course more people would come.

(Tape change. Interruption)

Q: You were saying that you were impressed with how Little Italy, who is on the same streets, Mulberry and Mott, just one block over, manages to not have the same smell that Chinatown does (laughter). I’m going to ask you something that sounds almost unethical, do you think Chinese people take pride in their environment? Because if you look at China, would you say that Chinatown is in some way a smaller scale, a small replica of China, of the way people live? Of the way people do business? The way people interact with each other? Walking through the streets, I see that many vendors have no problem just pouring everything onto the streets. Just dumping everything, all the trash onto the street. In many ways, do Chinese really look after their environment?

Chan: I’d like to say that they don’t have such concepts. That’s why we need to educate them. I think the Chinese people, the character, they don’t like to be dirty. But they don’t know what to do. No body can set up a model for them. I’d like to pick Hong Kong as a model. I remember, back in the 60s, there was a lot of garbage on the streets. But the government had a movement that encouraged people to keep the streets clean. They even created a cartoon character, a garbage bug. Then the city changed. Then people know that that’s good. In Chinatown, no body takes action, ring up the bell and take this issue seriously.

Q: You think education is one part, that they don’t understand the impact their actions can have on the environment, on the pollution.

Chan: Yes. They don’t have the plans to tell them what to do. Not only to educate them about the concept of keeping the environment clean is good for them, but what to do and how do it. Personally, I’ve been wondering, just across the street, Little Italy is a totally different area. We can spend time and study and see how Chinatown can adopt it or find a better way to do it.

Q: Is there any dialogue with the Little Italy community to see how they keep things cleaner?

Chan: I didn’t work in this field, so I don’t know personally. But I do know there are groups who are really concerned about the environment, not only us, like Clean Up Chinatown. They formed this group as a special concern group of street cleaning in Chinatown. Probably they would better than me.

Q: I think I read in your studies that one of the causes is cockroaches.

Chan: Yes.

Q: As we know, Chinatown has a lot of restaurants and lots of homes above restaurants and it’s impossible to keep those buildings cockroach free whenever you have restaurants below. Do you think there’s a connection between the number of asthma sufferers in Chinatown and the fact that so much of Chinatown relies of restaurant business?

Chan: I don’t know. I won’t say that it’s related because the trigger for each asthma patient may be different. It’s not only the cockroaches that trigger or smell. Sometimes, it may be smoking. Sometimes maybe perfumes. No matter what, I would like to say that it contributes to the pollution in the environment. Also this one can be controlled and can be changed.

Q: Cockroaches can be controlled? Is that what you mean?

Chan: No, the whole. Yep. Even the cockroaches can be, to a certain extent (laughter). They just need to pay a little more attention. It’s possible to do it.

Q: You said in your survey that you found one out of five people….

Chan: Households. One out of five households.

Q: Or one person out of five household?

Chan: No. Five families has one family.

Q: One family out of five.

Chan: Yes, at least in the household has one who suffers from asthma.

Q: And this is much higher than what the Department of Health defines as asthma sufferer, which is someone who has been hospitalized overnight. You’re saying that a lot of Chinese people suffer from asthma, but they don’t spend time in a hospital.

Chan: Because Chinese has the habit of relying on over-the-counter medicines, which are imported from China.

Q: Or maybe herbal medicine?

Chan: Yeah, maybe herbal medicine. In those Chinese drugstores, you can find different medicine for head to toe. It would cover your whole body (laughter). Even if you lost your hair, take this one, or whatever. You name it, they have it. Whether it works or not, it’s hard to say. Most Chinese would take them. That’s a habit dating back to China. If they have a problem, the first thing is they would go to the drugstore, instead of going to a doctor. They go to the drugstore to find modern or herbal medicine to cure that part of the problem, and if that doesn’t work, then try another few things. If afterwards, they keep getting worse and worse, then they have no choice but to go to the doctor. So the doctor for them is not a priority. The priority is those over-the-counter medicine.

Q: There is a perception then for Chinese people that asthma is not as serious as it is. Something that they think will just go away when they get older.

Chan: Yes. So they don’t treat asthma as a serious issue, like smoking. Everybody smokes, what’s the big deal? Why make it sound like a monster? We need to change the concept. We also work on smoking. Most people don’t know that just one cigarette contains how many substances. If they know that it contains over 4,000 chemicals that would harm their body, I think they would deeply think would they want to pick up a cigarette and light it up? They don’t have a chance to know. That’s why we take education as a first step.

Q: To your knowledge, does the EPA or other agencies, conducting air quality or air pollution studies in Chinatown on a continuous basis to see if after September 11 rally has introduced some new unknown elements in the air in this area?

Chan: From my memory, I don’t know. The EPA did a study on air quality, but they did not release any data.

Q: Aside from CPA, which is a small organization, aside from what you’re doing on your own, what else do you think, what can the EPA do better? What can other organizations do to address this problem? This is a major problem in this area that I think requires a lot of groups working together to deal with it, from the traffic to cleaning….a whole lot of things combined.

Chan: CPA is taking steps to work with other groups. Hopefully this connection will grow. Get more organizations involved, interested in this area and issues. CPA does not work on our own, but we try to cooperate with other organizations. For example, CPA worked with six different hospitals, work together and let them know about the concerns of Chinatown. We’d also like to work with bigger groups, like the coalitions, see if they’re interested and help on it.

Q: It would be interesting now, over two years later since 911, to be able to track and see if…well, we know the air quality has certainly gotten worse since 911, but you really don’t have a clear idea whether there’s a lot more asthma victims or what other potential health issues could result from the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Chan: So far, no. We do a lot of work, but because we’re small in manpower, the whole picture is still a fog. In order to get a clear picture, we need to get more organizations involved. That’s what we hope and are working on.

Q: How aware do you think or how concerned is the average Chinese person in Chinatown about all of this? If you’re a new immigrant, you come to America or New York, most likely you’ll come to Chinatown, probably for work or something else. Do you think they think “Ah, the air is bad there, maybe I shouldn’t live there?” Do you think that crosses an average Chinese person’s mind?

Chan: No. Our location is on Canal and close to East Broadway, that’s where a lot of new immigrants, like the Fujianese, live. We work with a lot of Fujianese, documented and undocumented. The first thing in their mind is totally not environmental issue. They need to struggle for their living, so the first thing is to make money. How to settle down, get a better life. A very common issue is they send their kids back to the homeland in China in order for the mother to be able to work. That’s a very sad story. Their main concern is how to make money and how to make more money (laughter). There’s a lot of sad stories. The environmental problems do not cross their mind, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t tell them. We try our best, through different channels, to educate them. At least how to protect themselves in their daily lives.

Q: Give us a few examples of how people here can protect themselves. One, obviously is to not smoke.

Chan: For example, they didn’t know that smoking is that harmful and second hand smoke too. They don’t have such concept, because in China, it’s not a big deal. Everybody does it, at home or whatever. So we tell them the real situation. We ask them if they really need to smoke, if they do, then at least leave the room. If they (smokers) can’t, then you leave the room. Also, lead poisoning, especially in old buildings, they should know don’t open the fire escape windows. The window shields, peeling paints, you should pay more attention. The cockroach problems that you mentioned before, they just need to pay a little more attention. The two bridges in Chinatown, Manhattan and Williamsburg, have heavy lead dust in that area. People who live around that area should pay more attention. Don’t open the window. Use air filters or air conditioning at home.

Q: It sounds like you have a lot more work to do. First step is you need to get funding to continue the studies. Then once you have all the results, you’re hoping to connect with various groups within Chinatown, as well as city and government levels.

Chan: Right now, CPA is a member for different mainstream coalitions. For example, New York Immigration Coalitions, Asian American Federations, and New York Stop Smoking Coalitions. We’d like to bring the different groups together and hopefully in the future solve the problems in the Chinatown area.

Q: Okay, it sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you (laughter). I wish you much luck with all of that.

Chan: Actually, it’s not just me doing it or CPA doing it. CPA has a lot of volunteers. I’d like to give a high credit to those volunteers, from the English class, to the citizenship class, to the environmental issues. Every time, those volunteer contribute their time, they really care about the community, they work together and get the job done.

Q: We’ll talk about one last thing. There been various hearings about the system of the streets set up by the EPA, if you’re above Canal Street, you don’t get certain aides. Can you just give me an idea if this is a silly idea? It obviously doesn’t work to section off areas that way.

Chan: Right, definitely. EPA right now is very good with providing free home testings for those effected by 911 to check their homes’ air quality. But it’s not enough. As you said, it’s only below Canal Street. It cuts Chinatown in half.

Q: And air flows everywhere (laughter).

Chan: Right. It’s good, but not enough. Personally, I feel more. Not more free home tests. It’s like taking aspirin for a headache. It doesn’t really treat the main source. The main thing is outside, the air quality. I hope EPA thinks more about the outside quality. How to improve the area. The Chinatown area is largest residential area close to Ground Zero. Not only Chinese live in this area, but mixed people. The residents who live in this area is the frontier victims from 911. Those funding should be more concerned about this area or do more. But how to do and what to do, I think they should study more. Like some streets can be blocked totally for walking. No commercial traffic in residential area. I think this may help the pollution. The whole traffic system can be re-planned in the Chinatown area. Right now, the population is growing. No matter what, they should do more study and find a better solution for this area.

Q: It’s going to be very challenging I’m sure ‘cause all these problems did not happen over night. It’ll take a lot of efforts from a lot of organizations to make some good and permanent changes. I thank you and CPA for taking an active role and getting people to be more educated and doing your part. Thank you personally for your time and CPA for the work that you’re doing. Is there anything else you’d like to add that we have not talked about?

Chan: No. No (light laugher).

Q: Thank you very much. My name is Lan Trinh.

[end of session]

Shi Yun Chin, Male, 50s -- Garment worker

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: Today is May 24, 2004. We’re at #193 Centre Street. Sitting with me is Mr. Chin. Mr. Chin, could you please tell us your story, tell a little bit about where you were born?

A: I was born in China’s Guangdong Province, in Taishan Prefecture.

Q: Oh, you’re of Taishan descent?

A: Because of the civil war in China, my family was forced to flee to Hong Kong.

Q: What year was that?

A: It was either in the 1950s or 1960s, I don’t remember very clearly.

Q: Either way, it was after the Communist Liberation?

A: I went with my parents to Taiwan, and I grew up and was educated in Taiwan. My maternal grandparents immigrated to America very early, and I myself immigrated in 1976.

Q: Let’s slow down a little. Why did you go to Taiwan and not stay in Hong Kong?

A: At that time I was still small. Maybe it was because my father had economic or political reasons causing him to go to Taiwan. The Nationalist Party and the Communist Party were enemies then, and maybe that’s why he had to go.

Q: How old were you then?

A: 2 or 3.

Q: So you were very small then, and you really grew up in Taiwan.

A: Yes. I grew up in Taiwan and was educated there. Later, my father immigrated [to America] in 1974, just when I was fulfilling my military service. Men all have compulsory military service, and after I finished it, I came to America.

Q: So why did they come to America?

A: My parents came because my grandparents had come. For example, if I had come, I would wish that my children would follow me.

Q: So your father came first while you were serving in the military, and then you came to America later.

A: Right.

Q: How long did you serve in the military?

A: Three years.

Q: Why did they choose New York City?

A: Because my grandparents had chosen New York.

Q: Why did they choose New York and not California?

A: I’m not really clear on that.

Q: The year you immigrated to New York, how old were you?

A: That was 1976, and I was 24 or 25.

Q: When you came, did you already understand English?

A: In Taiwan, I had finished high school, so I understood a little bit of English.

Q: So after you came, what impressions did you have of America? Were you afraid of coming to a foreign place?

A: I wasn’t afraid because the culture in Taiwan is already very close to the West, and more open to the world. I had a certain understanding of Western things, and didn’t feel it was foreign. It seemed like the movies, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, they all talked about America, so I had already absorbed a lot of Western information. For example, the Communist Party is an iron curtain, and I’m not saying they’re bad, but they are more closed off, and so people from China lack information about this area, and for that reason it’s harder for them to adjust. Coming from Taiwan, I had this kind of information, this environment, and it was easier for me to accept things.

Q: So previously your impression of America was from television, books, or from the letters you got from relatives living in America telling about life there.

A: The information I got was that America was an advanced, free country, and that there was an American dream.

Q: You have an American dream. What is it?

A: At that time, I was young, and I had my own aspirations. Men just want to create their own business, establish their family and career, and make their lives complete.

Q: Back when you were in the military, what was your dream job?

A: Before I had come over, I still didn’t know what sort of careers available in America would suit me. After I arrived, I would have to see and experience things, and then I would know, because you can’t predict things in advance. My parents were working in the garment business, so I also entered that line of work, and because of their influence, I knew a little bit about that field [of work]. In New York during that period, Chinese people had two careers, working either in restaurants or in garment manufacturing, and the numbers employed were really huge, so I joined the garment manufacturing business without even thinking.

Q: So your parents did garment manufacturing in Chinatown?

A: Right.

Q: And how old were they at the time?

A: Between 50 and 60 years old.

Q: Wasn’t it very difficult to adjust to beginning work for the first time in garment manufacturing when they’re already between the ages of 50 and 60 years old?

A: Not really, because Chinatown’s population was tightly clustered, and as far as language goes, it was relatively easy to communicate, so daily shopping was easier, for example, and there were newspapers and magazines, there were Chinese theaters, and they could go out easily and walk around.

Q: You said that you entered this profession without giving it much thought. Have you ever considered going to college?

A: Yes, I’ve thought of continuing my education, but my parents had to work, and I have a lot of siblings, so maybe due to financial problems, I just couldn’t do that. Originally I had thought of studying and working at the same time, but I couldn’t do it in that environment, I had to work full-time. I was already in my twenties, and I had to be independent.

Q: Before your parents came to America, what sort of work did they do in Hong Kong or Taiwan?

A: My father was a public official in Taiwan, and my mother was a housewife.

Q: You entered this profession in your twenties, would that be considered rather young?

A: It would.

Q: So when you first entered this profession, what did you do?

A: When I first entered the profession, the normal jobs for men were sorter and presser.

Q: What was it like as a sorter?

A: When products arrived, you separated them out, then you arranged the manufacturing process. For example, the accessories to a pair of pants, the buttons, the label, the zipper, you would separate the parts out and send them out. This was considered men’s work.

Q: So you weren’t actually making the clothes?

A: I wasn’t actually making the clothes.

Q: Did you receive formal training before you began this work?

A: I didn’t get any formal training. Just start in the midst of it, and I’d watch what others were doing and do the same thing.

Q: That was in 1976. What was the salary like then, for example, how much could you make a week?

A: If you worked five or six days a week, you could make 300 dollars a week, and that was considered pretty good, because expenses were low, and you could get by.

Q: And at that time, you were in your twenties and didn’t have a family to support?

A: Right.

Q: You entered that profession very quickly. Did you feel like your American dream was a disappointment, in that as soon as you arrived you started working in a garment factory?

A: Everyone has a different American dream. I think that I didn’t have enough education or talent, and I couldn’t reach some high standard, but I could take care of myself in America, I could live peacefully and enjoy my work, and without expecting too much, I could get by.

Q: In this profession, where there were so many female garment workers, did you enjoy the work?

A: I enjoyed this work because of my firm conviction in working hard and getting along with others. I respected my profession, and I got along well with others.

Q: You did factory work for a long time, you worked in this profession for a long time, but did you often switch factories, jumping to new work when there was better pay?

A: I worked in the garment industry for over twenty years, but I only worked in a few factories, because my relations with the employers and with the workers was very good, the employers treated the employees very well, so there was no need to switch places, just to put forth my effort and reap the rewards, and I wasn’t “exploited.”

Q: [Did you say] “Fall short”?

A: No, I was speaking Mandarin Chinese. My Cantonese isn’t so good.

Q: Oh, your Cantonese is very good. So you didn’t think about changing your profession. You continued in it all the way.

A: Yes, I just kept doing it.

A: Lots of people have said that garment work has reached its swan song, some of that due to the government and some of that due to private individuals. It seems that after the government signed the agreement with Mexico, combining the economies and such, America’s own production ability decreased, and the opportunities for employment also decreased.

Q: Have you ever lost your job during the last 20 years?

A: Yes. For example, if the garment company running our factory didn’t send us enough work and orders, then we would be laid off, but we could collect unemployment benefits, because we had insurance.

Q: Have you ever been unemployed for one or two years?

A: Even if New York has weakened, there’s still at least some much work to do.

Q: When you came to New York, you had family here. Have you ever thought of moving to any other place?

A: No.

Q: Have you ever wanted to move due to factors like the weather, and so on?

A: No, I’m used to it.

Q: When you came in 1976, did you live in Chinatown?

A: No, I lived in Manhattan. I worked in Chinatown.

Q: Then have you always worked in Chinatown? What was your impression towards Chinatown in 1976?

A: There was good and bad, because in the 70s, there were gangs, and that was all bad, they would disturb the peace and tranquility in the community; the good thing was that it was easier to adjust, because it was a Chinese community, the clothes, food, housing, are work were all convenient, and it was more interconnected.

Q: When did you establish your own family?

A: In 1979.

Q: When you met your wife, what was your profession?

A: She was also working in the garment industry, but she stopped work after having a baby, and then she stayed at home as a housewife, because she wanted to take care of the children, and manage the household.

Q: Did you ever join a union?

A: In ’76, when I started work in the garment factory, I also joined the 23-25 Union.

Q: Why did you want to join the union?

A: Because it had security and benefits. They offered worker’s protection, and they had benefits like health insurance, holiday time, lots of good things.

Q: Now, did your bosses give you any pressure about joining the union, did they tell you not to join the union?

A: No, because America is a free country, so they can’t reject you [based on that].

Q: What were the employers like?

A: My own employers were Chinese, some of them are from Hong Kong, and some of them from mainland China.

Q: Now, in the twenty years that you have been in Chinatown there have been a lot of, in the 70s, there were lots of Chinese from Taishan in Guangdong, and in the 80s, a lot came from Hong Kong, and then in the last ten years, a lot have come from Fuzhou, so what kind of problems come about when so many Chinese people from different regions are in the same place?

A: In my own experience, there haven’t been any problems, at work everyone gets along, there aren’t any quarrels, because everyone is working. I’ve heard that there have been arguments, but they weren’t a big deal.

Q: But newly arrived immigrants without any status are willing to work for cheaper pay, and that creates competition. As a Chinese-American who has been here for much longer, do you feel that they are stealing your jobs or forcing down your salary?

A: Personally I haven’t come across such a thing. I’ve heard others say that, but still it’s not very common. The employers have to run things according to the law, and they don’t want to risk trouble. If the employer doesn’t follow the employment laws, and he tries to exploit his workers, then he’ll have to take responsibility, and I don’t think my employers would be willing to do that.

Q: So you’ve never felt any influence?

A: I’ve worked at several garment factories, and the garment factories had really perfect regulations, for example, fire equipment, and children not allowed in the factories. They were really excellent.

Q: So the laws were very strict. Now, all the way until now, you’ve never actually made the clothes, you were responsible for arranging…?

A: No, I worked as a presser.

Q: Oh, you are working as a presser?

A: I’ve always pressed clothes.

Q: In English we call it “presser.” Because I haven’t worked in the production of clothing, I don’t understand the process of manufacturing clothing. At what point does clothing reach you to be pressed?

A: When the garment factory produces a pair of pants, first comes a strip of cloth, there’s the trunk of the pants, and there’s the pockets, and it enters the clothing factory, and the female textile workers sew up the trunk of the pants, sews on the zipper, adds the buttons, and the legs, and completes the pants, then there’s some string cutters who clean up the ends of the strings, and then they come to us and we use steam to make them flat, make them beautiful, and complete a pair of pants.

Q: Do you sit as you do the pressing, or do you stand?

A: I stand while I press. Because of the location of this equipment, I need to stand while I do it.

Q: Now you work seven hours a day, how is it that you don’t get exhausted?

A: Once you get used to it, you won’t feel exhausted.

Q: Have you ever suffered any work-related illnesses?

A: I’ve never had any work-related illnesses.

Q: I’ve heard lots of female workers say that they sit for such long hours that their hands and legs develop problems, isn’t that true?

A: Also some of them have pain in their hip bones.

Q: And you are very healthy?

A: The main problem is that on hot days I feel really hot, because in that work environment, it’s not possible to have air conditioning, because there’s the steam, so air conditioning wouldn’t work. But as long as there’s air flow, it’s OK.

Q: When you add on other machines too, isn’t it very hot?

A: I can put it like this, that’s why we have fans and air pumps, in order to make the air flow. The important thing is the structure of the factory, and whether it has been designed well or not.

Q: When 9/11 took place, you were working in your factory. Where is it located?

A: It’s on Canal Street, between Lafayette and Broadway.

Q: Is it close to this building?

A: Yes.

Q: What kind of impact did 9/11 have upon your life?

A: Basically the time around 9/11 was extremely difficult days for America, New York and for Chinatown. I myself personally suffered, because after that day, a lot of my work had all but disappeared. The traffic had been tightly restricted and the garment factories didn’t open, there wasn’t any work, so we didn’t get any income, and in that way we were impacted.

Q: Is that because of the quarantine, and the raw materials couldn’t get inside?

A: Yes, the materials couldn’t get in or out. And people’s attitudes changed, they became more hesitant, so there were many weeks that we couldn’t do any work.

Q: And that wasn’t because there were no people to work, there were still people ordering products and there were people working, but rather it was because vehicles couldn’t get in?

A: Yes, because we were right next to the place where those repeated disasters had occurred, and so our traffic was greatly controlled.

Q: So how long was your factory closed?

A: Two, three weeks.

Q: What did you do during that time?

A: I stopped working. I didn’t go to work.

Q: And what about your income?

A: Since we weren’t operating, we didn’t have any income.

Q: In this kind of situation, what help could your union provide?

A: After 9/11 occurred, the entire world, all of America helped out New Yorkers, and people like us who lost our work, who suffered, the organizations like the Red Cross, Safe Horizon, and the union, they all offered assistance and help. For example, some people had no income for several weeks, and some couldn’t pay their rent, or they couldn’t buy food. The Red Cross first helped these people.

Q: Mr. Chin, did you yourself apply for economic assistance?

A: Yes, because I had suffered, I was a victim of 9/11.

Q: And was that because your factory had temporarily closed?

A: It had temporarily stopped operations.

Q: Now how did you know about [the economic assistance], did the news report that you could go to these organizations and apply, or did you hear from something else?

A: I saw it in newspapers and magazines, from the news in newspapers, and from what my friends said, what they told me.

Q: How many places did you go apply?

A: I applied at the 9/11 Safe Horizon because the 9/11 Safe Horizon helped victims a lot. Because I was a victim.

Q: Even though you don’t live in this area…

A: Because I worked in the area that was affected by the disaster. For example, there was a one-time cash subsidy. Later, they helped us apply for a few months of health insurance. Later they held training classes, those lasted 13 weeks, and they taught English, computers and business skills.

Q: Which one did you select?

A: I selected both English and computers.

Q: How is your current English level?

A: I can understand a little spoken English, and I know how to press some of the computer keys.

Q: If you were to move to a city without Chinese people, would your life be difficult?

A: Due to my life experience, I wouldn’t be afraid. The greatest fear one has is fear itself. If you aren’t afraid, then even in a difficult environment, if you have willpower and you’re throw yourself into things, then everything will be fine.

Q: So for thirteen weeks you studied English and computers, and…?

A: And also studied some skills for the garment industry. I guess you can say my profession is that of presser, and I learned some new skills, such as how to make the products the best possible, how to operate, how to run things, and I increased my skills, and stopped using outdated methods which would overtax my body’s energy.

Q: But you’ve already done this line of work for so long. Surely you’ve already learned everything you need to know. In those 13 weeks, did you really learn anything knew?

A: I did, because during all these years, I was just focused on working each day, and I had no opportunity to learn anything new.

Q: Did your factory have training every so often?

A: No, it didn’t.

Q: So you just used your same methods for ten or fifteen years without any changes?

A: Without changing at all. During those six weeks, I learned a lot of stuff.

Q: Recently, the garment production business has gradually been outsourcing to foreign countries. Have you thought about changing your line of work?

A: If I wanted to change professions, to speak bluntly, I’m too old for that, my age won’t let me adapt, to start over anew, because I’m not a young man anymore.

Q: You don’t look old.

[The interviewee laughs.]

Q: Do you fear that there will be no more work in this field?

A: I have a lot of confidence in it, I’m certain there will still be work.

Q: So you would say that the amount of work might decrease, but it won’t disappear?

A: It’s just like food, it’s not going to disappear. Just as people will always need food, there will always be a need for clothing, people will definitely need to wear clothing.

Q: But your salaries can never be as low as those in China?

A: Well, that’s talking about the ability to compete. Our strength here in New York is that we can produce clothing more quickly. That’s something that China and Southeast Asia can’t keep up with, don’t you agree?

Q: So if the order is not large, you can finish the job quickly in a short amount of time and provide the goods, while distant places can’t do that.

A: It seems that in the business world, a single day’s difference is quite significant.

Q: Let’s go back to discussing those thirteen weeks. Besides training, was there any other subsidy?

A: During those 13 weeks, we didn’t work, we gained knowledge, and we studied for 35 hours every week. During this time we couldn’t work, so there wasn’t any salary. But the 9/11 compensation gave us 300 dollars a week.

Q: Was this 300 dollars less than what you were making at the factory?

A: No, because…

Q: You said that in the 70s, you made 300 dollars a week, and if you’re still only making 300 dollars a week, how is that enough for your daily life?

A: Because I wasn’t going to classes every single day, and I would use my mornings, I would first work for 4 or 5 hours, and then go to class. I would go to classes according to their schedule, and in that way I had the 300 dollars in compensation, and besides I had a bit of salary from my work.

Q: So you were still working, you didn’t completely stop work?

A: Yes.

Q: How long was work halted after 9/11?

A: It completely stopped for two or three weeks. Afterwards, it came back very gradually, and became stable. The garment factories’ progress slowly returned to normal, and then there were the training courses, that kind of education. Because of 9/11, a lot of the garment factories closed down, because they couldn’t maintain themselves.

Q: And that was because materials couldn’t get in?

A: And it was also because the garment factories had to bear everyday operating expenses, such as rent, utilities, and at the same time there was no product, and they couldn’t keep it up.

Q: But your factory didn’t have that problem…?

A: Our boss and workers both understood each other’s situation, that we were in the same boat, and we worked together to get through those difficulties.

Q: What kind of teacher did you have during those 13 weeks, was the teacher Chinese or White…?

A: There were Whites and also Chinese.

Q: There were Chinese?

A: The Chinese teachers used Chinese to explain things. It seems that for the English classes they used non-Chinese [literally: “foreigners”], and it seems that the computer teacher was a non-Chinese, at least that’s the way it was in my class.

Q: At the time, did you think about changing your job? Did they encourage you to study new professions?

A: There was a bit of everything, but they knew that the students’ levels didn’t reach so high, so they didn’t remind us that we should change professions. In the computer classes, we could only learn the most basic stuff, so we couldn’t change careers based on that.

Q: Did studying computers help you in your work after you finished the classes?

A: At the moment, we don’t have any need for computers, there’s no need for computers at work, so learning about computers was a matter of gaining personal knowledge.

Q: Which organization provided the 13 weeks of training?

A: The 23-25 Union.

Q: Did the union run the classes themselves, or did another organization take responsibility for the teaching?

A: I think it was the CWE, I think that organization’s system was very good, they started classes on time, and after we finished there were tests. After putting forth so much effort, they also wanted to know what kind of results there were.

Q: Do you think that 13 weeks was sufficient? Would you like to continue studying?

A: I think that, if it didn’t affect my work, I would like to continue studying, because people desire to increase their knowledge, and gain better knowledge.

Q: After the economic assistance ended, how did you get by?

A: I returned to my position as a worker, and worked normally.

Q: Did you work the same amount afterwards, or did you do less?

A: In our factory, we had dozens of people go do the training, so it affected the amount that our boss was able to produce. After those 13 weeks were over, we all worked very hard for the boss, because we had a responsibility to the company.

Q: Your children have all grown up now. Do you wish for them to follow you in this career?

A: My children have already grown up. They’ve graduated from college and found jobs. They don’t do this line of work. My older daughter is working as an accountant, while the younger one works at Bloomingdale’s. I think they’re doing very good, they’re doing management work.

Q: So your American dream has more or less been fulfilled in your children’s lives too, hasn’t it?

A: We Chinese want our sons to grow up to be like dragons and our daughters to grow up to be like phoenixes, so now that they have had this measure of success, I feel a bit of satisfaction.

Q: How long do you plan to work before retiring?

A: To put it directly, I will work until I can’t, and then I’ll retire.

Q: You look like you’re in excellent health, isn’t that right?

A: A person’s health is very important.

Q: You’ve worked in Chinatown for many years, what changes do you think Chinatown has undergone in these decades? Other than the increase in population and the widening of the roads, what changes have taken place among the Chinese people, or in the Chinese community?

A: The changes have been very dramatic. I’ll tell you something funny. At that time, when I first came from Taiwan, all the Chinese in Chinatown spoke Taishan-style Cantonese, and at that time if someone on the street spoke Mandarin Chinese, I would have thought it was really weird, and I’d look up and see who it was, because there were really few people that spoke Mandarin Chinese. Nowadays, if you don’t speak the Fuzhou dialect, people think it’s really strange, because Chinatown has so many people from Fuzhou now. So the change in 20 years has been huge.

Q: Do you think that such different Chinese people can unite?

A: I have the feeling that they have their own cliques. Taishan people have Taishan circles, and I think that interacting with them is a lot easier.

Q: Well, considering that you’re not from Taishan either, which circle do you feel like you belong to?

A: I have my own friends, my own partner, I’m more easy-going.

Q: Besides the union, are you a member of any other groups?

A: Community groups or that sort of thing, no.

Q: Why is that? You don’t feel the need, or…?

A: I don’t know. I feel that those are groups for long-term Chinese-Americans. That’s the way I feel.

Q: You’re not old, but you have been in America a long time, so do you consider yourself to be…?

A: I’m also a long-term Chinese-American, but I also have my own circle. Besides work, on Sundays I go fishing with my friends, go have fun.

Q: We’ve already talked for a long time, Mr. Chin, but do you feel that we’ve forgotten anything, about life, work, or your personal views…?

A: To joke a little, I think you’ve already mastered me as a subject. Ha ha…

Q: Ha, ha – well, we’ll stop here then.

A: Thank you.

Q: Thank you!


Agnes Wong, Female, late 50s -- Seamstress

Interviewed by Lan Trinh

Q: Today is May 21st, and I am sitting with Agnes Wong at #193 Centre Street. Ms. Wong has 30 years of experience working in the garment industry in Chinatown. Let’s start our conversation with Ms. Wong’s background. Where are you from, Ms. Wong?

WONG: I immigrated to America from Hong Kong.

Q: Were you born in Hong Kong?

WONG: I was born in mainland China. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, we came to Hong Kong because my parents were fleeing the Communist Party.

Q: Where in mainland China was that?

WONG: I was born in Guangdong’s Boluo, in mainland China.

Q: So you moved to Hong Kong when you were very young.

WONG: We came to Hong Kong when I was about 3 or 4 because mainland China was going through chaotic political changes, and it was being ruled by the Communist Party. So we came to Hong Kong. I grew up in Hong Kong, studied in Hong Kong, and lots of my relatives had already moved to Hong Kong to live.

Q: What did your parents do in Hong Kong?

WONG: My father helped manage a church. He worked at the church, and my mother was a housewife.

Q: So why did they decide to immigrate to America?

WONG: My parents didn’t immigrate to America. After I finished my education in Hong Kong, I worked for a few years, and by luck I met my husband. Originally, he had known my uncle, and had come to Hong Kong to seek him out. We were lucky in that everyone met each other. I became friends with him. Later, my aunt strongly encouraged us to start dating, and we finally fell in love and got married. Because he came from New York, in America, and had a job, after we got married and had some children, we immigrated to New York.

Q: So your husband had been in New York for a long time?

WONG: He worked in New York with my uncle.

Q: Around what time did they arrive [in New York]?

WONG: They came in the 60s, very early. On the other hand, my children and I came over in 1973, no, it was Easter of 1974 that we came.

Q: Did you work in Hong Kong?

WONG: Yes, I did. I did some different jobs. In the beginning, I was a secretary for a weaving factory, as a counter. Those yarn factories produced lots of yarn every day, and I calculated the workers’ wages, and kept track of how much product they produced each day. Later, the number of factories in Hong Kong increased a bit. The Japanese started establishing factories in Hong Kong, and some electronics factories were created. At that time, one of my classmate’s brothers acted as a trainee in a Japanese electronics factory because he was a good student, and later he advanced up to the position of engineer. I worked for several years at his factory. This brother of my classmate was extremely advanced in electronics, and later on he did a joint venture with the Japanese, opening a factory in China. He did a great business there, and was able to financially establish that business.

Q: So you came to New York on Easter of 1974. At that time, how old were you?

WONG: 27 or 28 years old.

Q: Did you understand English?

WONG: You could say I understood English. I had finished high school and had studied at an English-language academy, a women’s academy.

Q: So as soon as you came to America, you went straight to New York?

WONG: That’s right.

Q: What were your thoughts of New York before coming to America?

WONG: I originally didn’t have any opinions about America, just that I would be changing my surroundings. As soon as I came to New York, I saw that it was a huge city, and that it was prosperous, just like Hong Kong, and that I could study things here, start a new life, a new environment, learn new things, like that.

Q: So your husband was always in New York. Did you ever think of moving to another city, like in California or some other state?

WONG: I never thought about that.

Q: When you first arrived, where did you live?

WONG: When I first arrived, I lived for about a year at #125 Henry Street in Chinatown. I thought the place was pretty small. Later we bought a place to live in Brooklyn.

Q: What were your impressions of Chinatown when you first arrived?

WONG: At that time, I thought that Chinatown was far behind, it wasn’t as advanced as I had imagined, there weren’t as many people and it wasn’t as flourishing. There was work, but it still wasn’t my ideal location. Hee hee!

Q: So it wasn’t what you had imagined.

WONG: It wasn’t the kind of place I had been hoping to find.

Q: What had you imagined America to be like before you came?

WONG: When I was in junior high school, we had an English teacher from Britain. He was also an assemblyman in Hong Kong, and he said: “When you grow up, if you have a chance to go to any cities in America, then go see the Hudson River while you are in New York, and the skyscrapers. You are young enough that, if you have that kind of chance, it would be great to develop in that environment.” Maybe it was what he said, because I thought that if I had the chance, it would be great to develop myself over there. So I had envisioned America as being very advanced, very prosperous, with lots of job opportunities, and that it was a pretty good place. But after I came, I only saw Chinatown, and I realized that it wasn’t the New York I had imagined.

Q: So you didn’t have any chance to see other cities?

WONG: No. Of course, later on I changed my views, and I saw that New York was a very prosperous and advanced place, that it was an economic and fashion capital, that the population and opportunities to travel were all very good, and at that time prices were very cheap and the work opportunities were good, the hours were really good, everything was great. It was just a little bit foreign to me.

At that time I had thought about doing some job for [non-Chinese] Americans, but they didn’t want to accept my diploma. They insisted on a college diploma. Or else they asked if I was a citizen, and how long I had been in America. I went to a number of American jobs and didn’t succeed. But it wasn’t an option to sit around and not work.

I thought about going to study, to increase my knowledge. At that time, Chinatown only had two organizations where you could study. I asked around at both places, but neither seemed to match my level. It was all very basic English, and it didn’t match my level, considering that I had completed Form 4 in Hong Kong. So I didn’t pursue studying at any other school.

Q: How did you start work in the factory?

WONG: A relative of mine on East Broadway opened a garment factory. It’s a little past today’s 888 Restaurant, and he had started the garment factory on the second floor. He said: “If you have free time, how about coming to work at my garment factory?” I said, “But I don’t know sewing, and I have never sewed before in my life!” He said, “You’re this smart, you’ll learn quickly.” I said, “How can I count on sewing to make a living when I don’t even know how to hold a needle! How can I sew?” He said, “You’re fine, you’re fine, you’ll learn quickly.” Later on, I tried it. At that time the working hours were very good. We started at nine and left at six, and if we worked on Saturdays, we earned overtime pay, there were long vacation times, and there was special holiday money on top of it. At the time the standard of living was very low.

Q: But your husband also worked?

WONG: Yes, he was a cook in a restaurant. He was the head chef, and his income was really good. So we were only in Chinatown one year, and then we bought a place in Brooklyn. And at the garment factory, I learned very quickly to make pants, and immediately joined a union. While I was working at the factory, an agent came to the factory and said, “If you work in this profession, you have to join the union.” I said, “OK.”

Q: Why did you want to join the union?

WONG: Because the agent told me, if you’re living in America doing this kind of work, you have to join the union. Once you join the union, the union will protect the workers’ benefits. So all my fellow workers joined, and there was nobody who didn’t join. Just as long as you were a worker or colleague, then you could join, and if you manufactured clothes you joined the union for clothing manufacturers. So I joined the 105 union for clothing workers.

Q: Did you always do sewing?

WONG: I never understood how to cut it, because when the clothing material came, it was already cut into pieces, and Westerners [i.e. non-Chinese] sent it over, and we just did work on that.

Q: Was your boss a Chinese person?

WONG: All of my bosses were Chinese.

Q: So how did you feel about the environment, working in a garment factory?

WONG: Back then, the conditions in the garment factories were passable, but they didn’t provide air conditioning, they had fans. The boss treated the workers well, very friendly. The boss appreciated your feelings. Of course they were good to me, and they were also very good to the average worker. Even outside of the relationship between the employer and the employees, there was a special kind of good feeling. It was great.

Q: So did pretty much all the people working with you join the union?

WONG: 100% joined the union. There was nobody who didn’t join the union. Everyone joined it.

Q: Did the boss like you joining the union?

WONG: He supported it. It was the boss who told the workers to join the union, not the workers who said they wanted to join the union. The boss called for the workers to join the union, saying, “You should join the union. Having a union is good. The union will give you Blue Cross, you’ll get pay if you take days off, and there’s lots of things that are good for you.”

Q: So the boss encouraged you to join?

WONG: Yes, the boss encouraged us to join.

Q: Speaking from the boss’ perspective, did he have to pay you more money after you joined the union?

WONG: Oh, at that time the money for worker’s benefits and protection was partially paid by the employee and partly paid by our boss. But at that time the boss was doing very well, and so the boss was willing to share some of the money with us. He wasn’t stingy, he was happy about it. We produced lots of clothing every day, so he felt he ought to give the workers a share.

Q: How much did you make every week?

WONG: At that time, we worked 36 hours a week, five days a week. We usually didn’t work on Saturdays. At most we’d work 40 hours, because we did piece work, rather than being paid by the hour. If you work by the hour, then in one week you could make 300 to 350 dollars, depending on how much work the boss gives you, all according to the hours worked. But we didn’t have a minimum salary, we didn’t have minimum pay, we got paid according to how much we did.

Q: In your case, were you a fast or slow worker?

WONG: I did piece work, and at that time I was still young, and my hands and feet were fast, so every week I made between 200 and 250 dollars. I was asked by Mr. Wang, a friend of mine who worked in a bank, “Would you like to get a job? You can come work at my bank.” I asked, “How much salary will the bank pay me each week?” He said, “When you first start out, you can make between 150 and 160 dollars a week. I thought, “That’s all? Working in the garment factory is better.”

Q: Was it very difficult working as a seamstress? Your hands, your feet, and sitting while doing all those movements?

WONG: At first I really wasn’t used to it, and so it felt very unpleasant, but because every Friday, after I got my pay, I could buy so much with just fifty dollars, that made me very happy and I didn’t even think it was hard. While I was working I could chat very pleasantly about personal things with my colleagues next to me, and it didn’t seem so difficult, not like at first, when I felt I didn’t understand anything, and wondered how I was going to make it.

Q: But together with your husband, your income was quite good?

WONG: We really had a wealthy lifestyle then. Every month I made over a thousand dollars, and together with my husband, we made about 1400 or 1500 a month. It was really good.

Q: Did you keep doing it, or did you change careers?

WONG: I kept at it. In 1979, I switched to work at the union in Lafayette. That union was different, because at that time a number of the seamstress unions were separate. The seamstress unions included the 23-25 branch, the 105 branch, and the 199 branch. My old branch was the 105, and after I changed work, my union switched from 105 to the 23-25 branch. Now it’s UNITE.

Q: About how many members are in UNITE today?

WONG: UNITE has about, well, nowadays they have only about 1,000 members in Chinatown to be accurate. Before, when they were at their peak, they had about 10,000 members.

Q: Do most of the new immigrants join the union?

WONG: New immigrants go half and half. When they start work at a garment factory, about half join, and about half decide to think about it first, think about whether or not they should join. Because the economic situation is very difficult at first, and they feel they want to save everything they can, they don’t want to pay the union dues. Or they might just want to think it over more clearly, understand whether it has a benefit for them, before making a decision about whether or not to join.

Q: Can anybody join, or do you need to have legal status before you can join?

WONG: Anybody can join, there are no restrictions, and you can join even if you don’t have legal status, because the union protects not just the rights of those with status, but also protects the rights of those without it. A lot of workers nowadays, especially those without legal status, they don’t understand that you can join even without status, and so they don’t dare join the union. They’re afraid of government connections, and they’re afraid of creating trouble. That’s a big mistake. Actually, they are also immigrants. To put it another way, just last week, the members of the union’s political committee met with senators and we presented five demands. The first was a New York Health Plan. The second was a minimum wage, that is, to increase the minimum wage.

Q: [Are you referring to the English phrase] “minimum wage”?

WONG: Yes, the minimum wage. We want it increased from a little over five dollars to seven dollars per hour. The third demand was the “Empire Zone.” If business move from wealthier areas to older communities, then they should gain tax breaks, and this would create a lot more employment opportunities.

Q: How much is the monthly union membership fee?

WONG: The monthly membership dues are $23.20, and the dues for a half year are $139.20. Each time people pay the union dues, I write down how much they paid. I pay half a year at a time, but some people prefer to pay every month.

Q: You said that people without legal status in this country fear that if they join the union then the government will come and look for them?

WONG: Actually, it’s not like that. Actually, if someone without status joins the union, then the union will demand on their behalf that the government pass laws, that they should change the laws, saying that new immigrants to America are also living and spending here, and that we wish the government will pass a law that allows them to gain legal status, to gain a green card or temporary residency which they can later change to a green card. We are also constantly meeting with congressmen to discuss these issues. You know how it is with making laws -- you need many years of demands and battles before you can “reap the rewards.” Like right now, the battle for children’s health insurance, it’s been a matter of going to representatives and senators many times, calling upon them and repeatedly making requests, before we finally got a result.

Q: You said that one of your demands to Washington is an increase in the minimum wage. Do you fear that right now -- so many of the garment factories in Chinatown have already closed because they can’t compete with the labor in third world countries like China, because it’s so cheap there – do you think that if you raise the salary of the American worker, these factories might not be able to continue existing, and that the opportunities to work will decrease even further?

WONG: This is also a problem, because frankly, the workers’ salaries in China are very low. Most businessmen look for cheap labor, in order to reduce their costs. In America, labor is expensive, and it’s impossible to deny that we lose some work opportunities. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue in this line of work, that they can’t operate any more. The ones that want to leave have already left. But New York still needs some garment factories producing here in New York. It seems that some seasonal clothing needs to be sent to market quickly, and sometimes things produced abroad aren’t up to standard and can’t be sent back to China to be fixed. Sending it back and forth costs a lot of time, so they have it done right away in New York. So the garment factories still have a future, they can still make it. If you say that the high wages in New York will impact the garment industry, well, lots of American cities have wages higher than those in New York. Why does New York have such a high cost of living, rent, food, phone, gas, everything all together, and I’ve also heard that after Labor Day, it’s going to get even more expensive. And the wages are always low, and don’t match the cost of living, and if it can’t match the cost of living, people will all move to other places; if people move to other places, there are no workers, and there’s no businesses, and without business, there’s no work, so where will the business opportunities come from? Where will the businessmen and their businesses come from? New York is a place where people are clustered together, so it’s easy to find workers. If people are looking for workers, it’s easy to find them in New York. And actually, it’s also easy to find work in New York, especially manual labor or low-level work. It’s much easier to find that. A lot of organizations and such don’t even ask you if you have legal status when they’re looking for workers, and they’re willing to hire you. This is a great benefit for those who have just arrived in this country.

Q: When 9/11 took place, you were still working in Chinatown?

WONG: Yes.

Q: Then did 9/11 influence your factory?

WONG: Yes, the impact was huge. The factory simply didn’t have any clothing materials coming in, because the vehicles weren’t allowed into New York. They weren’t allowed in. The workers had already cut the fabric but they couldn’t send in the clothing material. We stopped work, and only collected unemployment.

Q: How long did you stop work?

WONG: For 3 months.

Q: So at that time, you didn’t have any income at all?

WONG: We didn’t have any income at all. We just collected unemployment.

Q: Did you collect any of the 9/11 economic assistance money?

WONG: Personally, I didn’t go get any. A lot of my colleagues went to apply, because after 9/11 there were many months, about 3 or 4 months when there was no work, and later, when the factories opened, there was still very little work to do. They would typically be open only one or two days a week. A lot of time they were just sitting doing nothing, and whenever a small order arrived, they immediately began production. You couldn’t do anything about it. You just sat there not doing anything for so long, and so when I saw that there were things to study, I went and signed up for them, for the 9/11 courses. I studied computers and English.

Q: Why didn’t you go apply for some of the economic assistance?

WONG: I thought, since I immigrated to this place a lot earlier, I thought that I could get by. If I could support myself financially, then don’t worry about it, and just leave this opportunity to others. Maybe there are some people who have just arrived and don’t have any economic foundation and need to pay rent, and who have young children. They should try to get help, and if the factories aren’t open then they don’t have any income. As far as we go, we already have our own home, we worked for many years, and we could get by and survive, so we didn’t feel like going to too much trouble. So I didn’t seek anything of the economic nature [i.e. economic assistance]. Later on I saw that a lot of people were taking courses, and other coworkers said to me, “Why don’t you go study? You can go study, and it won’t affect anything else.” So I went and studied the final group of classes, it turned out to be the last one.

Q: When was that?

WONG: In July or August of 2003, I finally went to study, and altogether I studied about 6 weeks.

Q: I heard people say that the classes were for 13 weeks.

WONG: I studied for 6 weeks, then studied again for 6 weeks, and the entire length of time was 13 weeks.

Q: What did you choose to study?

WONG: I choose computers and English.

Q: Why did you study English? I see that your English is already very fluent, isn’t it?

WONG: No, my English is of no use. Lots of times I can’t express what I want to say. Lots of times I have to think about it first, and I often need to ask someone good at English to help me, ask them “Is this the right way to say something? Is that OK?” I finally force myself to express a little of my thoughts, but my English isn’t that good.

Q: Then do you feel that 13 weeks of classes were useful?

WONG: They were very useful. First I learned some simple computer functions, and learned a little English. They taught very simple superficial stuff, so we couldn’t learn a lot.

Q: Where did you study?

WONG: I studied at City Hall.

Q: And which organization arranged it?

WONG: I’m not really clear on which organization it was. I think they said it was the 9/11 Fund.

Q: And did you see information about it in the newspaper?

WONG: No. One of my coworkers was studying there, and introduced me. I think they said it was the 9/11…

Q: What kind of people were most of the teachers?

WONG: The majority was White, but there were also one or two Chinese. They were Taiwanese students, studying in the university here.

Q: Do you think they understood your circumstances?

WONG: They all understood really well. During classes they asked us some questions, and my colleagues all answered very honestly.

Q: Do you think that those 13 weeks of studying were useful, outside of getting a little money?

WONG: Of course it was useful. My fellow workers had spent their whole lives without ever studying, and they didn’t even know the alphabet. After studying for 13 weeks, at a minimum they could write their own names, their address, to say their own address and where they work, their phone number, and so on.

Q: You learned very basic English, so it wasn’t useful to your work…?

WONG: I think that it was useful to me personally.

Q: So it wasn’t useful towards your work, but it was useful to you personally. Have you ever thought of changing careers?

WONG: Up until now, I have never thought about changing careers.

Q: Is that because you feel that you are too old and no longer have that chance, or is it because you like your work now?

WONG: I still like the sewing work that I do now, and that’s one reason. The second reason is because I’m older. Going to look for work when you’ve already reached the age of retirement – people will want to use someone younger, they won’t consider using someone who’s about to retire. So I didn’t think about changing careers.

Q: And your factory closed for four months, is that right?

WONG: Yes.

Q: And later, did it return to normal?

WONG: Later the factory was continuously open. Recently it’s become a bit busier.

Q: And have you always worked at the same company?

WONG: No. During my time I’ve changed garment factories many times, and during these decades the change has been huge. I’ve worked in about four or five factories. I’ve had a good, friendly relationship with every boss. When some bosses stopped [running the factories] and took up some other business, they were succeeded in the management by their children.

Q: And do you hope that your children will follow you in this career?

WONG: Of course not. But I have two sons who are working in the restaurant business, but they’re not doing it in New York, they’re working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Q: What do you think is the biggest change in Chinatown?

WONG: The biggest change is the change in population. Back then, rent in Chinatown was really cheap. The rent in 1974 was 120 dollars, and that was for a place with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, even though the rooms weren’t that big. Back then I rented a place for 135 dollars, and then after a year the price was raised to 150 dollars. The monthly rent for a place with two rooms or more reached 180 dollars, and nowadays of course, it is many times more than that. Back then, there weren’t so many people selling vegetables and groceries on the roadsides. Back then everything was sold inside stores. There weren’t so many teahouses and restaurants, not to mention the great extent to which it has expanded, Chinatown has expanded as far as Delancey. Few people went that far, even Bowery, some workers selling jewelry there, at night they didn’t want to go by, they were afraid to go past there, and some workers said, “Hey, don’t go there, those non-Chinese will grab you, there’s people who drive cars to come and grab you and take you away!” Back then the women really knew nothing. They told these stories and got so scared!

Q: You’ve been here for such a long time. Are you satisfied with your life here?

WONG: Oh…. I think that I didn’t make the wrong choice. I think that in America, especially life in New York -- New York is a place with very convenient transportation. I can have a car, but also I have the freedom to not have a car, because public transportation goes everywhere. As far as family life goes, personally, I have a home, I live very comfortably, because I entered a career in the sewing union, and at the union I’ve constantly been learning new things, met a lot of friends, and I’ve learned a lot from my friends, the school and from my union organization during the summer. I’ve participated in lots of different activities, I joined the Chinese Labor Union of Women, the Asian Pacific Association of Labor Alliance, the worker’s organization, and I’ve also joined some political activities. I really like listening to other people talk. I think when I was younger I wanted to study more but didn’t have the chance. After coming to New York and entering a career as a seamstress, joining the union allowed me to take lots of different classes. Even though I spent quite a bit of money and time, my knowledge of society has increased a lot. So I am very satisfied, and I feel very happy.

Before I arrived, I had thought that once I got old I would go back to Hong Kong and live out my life there. However, my siblings now tell me, “Hong Kong housing prices are very low now, so go back! In America, housing prices have become very expensive, so if you sold your place and went back there to live, you could retire already.” No way, I answered, I want to return to New York to live. At that time, when I was on the airplane going on vacation, I heard the song, “New York, New York, I love New York.” I really liked it. When I came back here, I felt that this is really my home, and I’ve already got lots of friends here.

Q: Thank you very much. You told us so many of your stories and experiences in Chinatown.

WONG: Thank you very much, Ms. Lan, you’re too kind to me.

Q: Thank you very much, Ms. Wong.

WONG: Thank you.

[end of session]

Zhong Yue Zhang, Male, 49 y.o. -- Immigration lawyer

Interviewed by Florence Ng

Q: This is one of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas’ oral history interviews regarding the 9/11 experience in New York’s Chinatown. Today we have invited Zhong Yue Zhang, Esq. for an interview. The interviewer is I-Ching Ng. Mr. Zhang, could you tell us a bit about when you came from mainland China to the United States?

ZHANG: I came to the United States on March 19th, 1989. I came to America because an academic committee let me attend an international conference. The international conference mainly focused on the management of transnational corporations throughout the world. And I had focused on writing about the direct investments of American transnational corporations in China, their behavior patterns, and also researching the investments of Japanese transnational corporations in China and the investments of European transnational corporations in China. That was my own field of research. I had been at Fudan University in China for fourteen years, including both undergraduate studies and teaching there, and finally earning a Masters degree as a graduate student in the field of international economics. During that time, I came in contact with a great amount of Western economic thought. Later, I also went to Beijing University as a visiting scholar for one year. That was from 1980 to 1981. During that time, I attended the Western Economics Research Meeting of China, and I was the youngest committee member there. So, because of my background at Fudan University and Beijing University, I had the opportunity to make contact with the best circles of learning in China at that time. In particular, I was able to be in the forefront of research in studying Western economies and the field of foreign direct investment. As an undergraduate, I had studied British and American Languages and Literatures. In early 1977, when I graduated, there were very few students who had finished four years of college study, and I was in the British