Twenty-one years ago, I met a reverend who changed my life. But I didn’t meet him in a church, I met him in the living room of Chinatown—Portsmouth Square. I was a law student embarking on my first clerkship with what was then known as the Asian Law Caucus. They had asked this reverend to lead our summer orientation. During the orientation, the Reverend Norman Fong preached the gospel of social justice. He told us about the history of Chinatown, the history of the International Hotel, and the struggle for housing and tenants' rights that our community has waged block by block, unit by unit. He personified what it was to love a community, and in turn be loved by that community. In that moment, I committed myself to Chinatown. And after two decades of serving this community in one form or another, I feel deeply honored and humbled to succeed Reverend Norman Fong as Executive Director of Chinatown CDC. I feel equally honored to have developed a meaningful friendship with both Norman and founding Executive Director Gordon Chin along the way. It's no question, I have big shoes to fill—Norman and Gordon are both living legends in their own right. But I would never expect to fill these shoes alone. I am honored to work alongside the incomparable leadership and staff here at Chinatown CDC.
While the past nine months have been the most unsettling period of our lives, I bore witness to our leadership team and staff rising to the occasion to serve our community in heroic ways. In late March, Chinatown CDC mounted an immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis by launching Feed + Fuel Chinatown. In the first twelve weeks of Shelter-in-Place, our team helped provide 122,000 meals to SRO and public housing residents in partnership with 34 Chinatown-based restaurants, Self-Help for the Elderly, World Central Kitchen, and SF New Deal. We could only have accomplished this with the support of 300+ volunteers, foundations, and hundreds of individual donors.
What the future will bring is entirely uncertain. Chinatown is facing the greatest challenges any of us can remember. Small businesses are failing and residents are suffering. But even in these dark moments, I am reminded that Chinatown’s enduring legacy is one of resilience. This community has faced racist immigration exclusion and segregation policies, multiple great earthquakes, and waves of “redevelopment” and gentrification that have wiped out entire communities of color. Chinatown survived these crises time and again.
Today, grassroots leaders like the Community Tenants Association and Ping Yuen Residents Improvement Association; community leaders like the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and Chinese Chamber of Commerce; health leaders like Chinese Hospital and NEMS; non-profit leaders like Self-Help for the Elderly, Community Youth Center, and the API Council; and emerging leaders from our community's youth programs, including our own Adopt-an-Alleyway and Youth for SROs, can and will ensure that Chinatown survives this moment as well. We are resilient.