CHINATOWN SENIORS SHOULD BE HONORED!


By Rev. Norman Fong

May 7, 2018



It’s incredible seeing our seniors who are a century old and yet still going strong! We had a recent birthday party to celebrate four of our seniors living at Chinatown CDC’s Bayside Elderly Housing project which opened in 1990. I remember seeing the senior residents so happy to be in our building because there was a big elevator too (since most of the old Chinatown buildings do not have elevators). One of our seniors is actually 105 years old!

Since 1990, I have seen so many of our seniors doing amazing things like helping us advocate for more affordable housing at City Hearings, going through earthquake preparedness trainings & even teaching our youth how to cook & make different Chinese crafts. We all need to appreciate our seniors more & learn from their stories & all that they’ve seen in their histories.

bayside elderly housing
Bayside Centenarians Birthday Party. Pictured: Supervisor Aaron Peskin, Rev. Norman Fong, and residents


When my mom & dad were seniors, they finally shared some stories with me about living in San Francisco & problems they faced. Most of the time they did not like talking about the past, probably because it was hard times in San Francisco Chinatown and there was so much prejudice against the Chinese. I did learn though that my dad came in 1919 through the Angel Island detention center because of the Chinese Exclusion (which was created 136 years ago today, May 6th). I heard of some stories from my dad like when he served in the US Army/Aircorp, he was made to be the cook because he was Chinese. I’m sure you know that in the early years, the Chinese were allowed to flourish as Cooks & do laundry work because it was considered ”Women’s Work” and the White working men’s parties didn’t want the Chinese to enter their businesses…

However, when there was a shortage of workers, the Chinese were allowed to come in to work at much lower pay. My dad’s first job as a teenager was to work in agriculture in 1919 when they needed farm workers. Of course everybody should know the Chinese were needed to build the railroads and the 149th anniversary of the completion was on May 10, 1969. The sad part is that the Chinese were treated so badly & over 1000 Chinese actually died building the railroad but were kept out of the celebratory picture at Promontory Summit, Utah taken that day.

may 6

norman fong mom dad
Rev. Norman Fong's mom and dad


My mom was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown around the same time that my dad came to Angel Island. She also had to face racial prejudice against the Chinese & Asians. She told me once that she had to wear a sign that said she was Chinese not Japanese because during World War II, Japanese Americans born here like she was were arrested and taken away to these internment camps. (Of Course we all should know that history now). I knew what both my mom & dad were telling me then: “Be careful: there is racism out there!”

To all you young people out there. Talk with your parents or Grandparents. Learn from their histories. Learn from their experiences. I wish I talked to my parents a lot more. I know my dad’s birthday is this month and he would be 113 years old. This year, I plan to go visit his home village in China. I said I would one day and he wrote down the name of the village for me so I would remember.

Remember to Honor & Appreciate the life struggles of our Chinatown seniors. They love it when their children or grandchildren come and visit them at Bayside Elderly Housing! A lot of the seniors who live in old Single Room Occupancy Hotels in Chinatown don’t want their kids to see their tiny room & how they live, but come and visit them anyway! The secret to the long lives of our centenarians is seeing their grandkids, being cared for & feeling that their lives still count for somebody. I know I Honor my mom & dad every day I care for Chinatown. Happy birthday Dad. Happy Birthday Mayor Ed Lee (his birthday is May 5th). Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month everybody. Honor our seniors. Take them out for dim sum!

ALSO: A SPECIAL THANKS TO WILLIAM JEW (who recently passed away) BECAUSE HE HELPED 12 OF THE SENIORS BECOME US CITIZENS BY TEACHING THEM ENGLISH & HELPING THEM WITH CITIZENSHIP CLASSES BACK IN THE 1990’s AT BAYSIDE ELDERLY HOUSING.

william jew wife lillian jew
William Jew




Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on May 6, 2018
 
 
 
 

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