By Rev. Norman Fong

September 10, 2018

norman fong

Tuesday is September 11, when everyone in the United States will remember the heroes of 9/11/2001 when terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York City. For Chinatown, we remember a very special heroine who grew up here in San Francisco’s Chinatown – Betty Ann Ong.(: 鄧月薇) She was the hero - flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first airplane to become hijacked during the September 11 attacks. Shortly after the hijacking, Betty Ong notified the American Airlines ground crew about the hijacking, and bravely stayed on the telephone for 25 minutes while looking at the hijackers and relaying vital information that eventually led to the closing of airspace by the FAA for the first time in United States history.

betty ong
Betty Ann Ong : 鄧月薇

I remember going to the Ong’s house that night for prayers as they feared Betty was on that flight… and later we found out it was Betty who was the one to call it in. It took the family and many of us community leaders in San Francisco years to get Betty Ong recognized as a true hero! A decade later, we got to rename the Chinese Recreation Center in her honor. Her family and many of us in the community were so happy to celebrate and honor her as a true national heroine! When we opened the Betty Ann Ong Recreation Center in 2011, my band played in the center and I remember seeing her brother Harry Ong dancing too! (See picture).


As we face difficult situations in life, always remember to be thankful for those heroes who have helped us. As a pastor, I have seen so many people going through tough situations and I am always amazed at those other people who step up to help someone who is sick, dying, facing tragedy and are in need. On 911, please be kind to those fire fighters, cops and hospital workers who are first responders to dangerous situations.

There are also so many people who are every day heroes in Chinatown who may not get the recognition they deserve. So many people, for example, donated money to help the fire victims of the Stockton / Pacific Ave fire. I remember so many people donated money to help this one high school kid living in an SRO who needed another place to live because his heart machine could not work in a building where the electricity was unstable (SRO). He also needed a new heart and I remember that a miracle took place because we found him a new place and we got help to get him a heart transplant! The people who helped us get the heart and housing are real unsung heroes.

I wanted to celebrate a couple unsung heroes of Chinatown that have not been fully recognized: Yvonne Lee and Gen Fujioka. Recently, a few of us celebrated Yvonne Lee’s retirement and birthday! Her sister Frances called some of us to the surprise party. Yvonne worked at Self Help and served on the SF Police Commission as well as the US Civil Rights Commission. She’s the one who dragged me to Washington DC to advocate for Immigrants Rights many times. The other unsung here is an attorney who has worked in Chinatown for many decades! He is Chinatown CDC’s Policy Director and formerly an attorney of the Asian Law Caucus. His heart has always been with Chinatown and with our residents who face unjust evictions. (See pictures of both Gen and Yvonne).

gen fujioka
Gen Fujioka

yvonne lee
Yvonne Lee

mrs chan
Mrs. Chan

There are so many heroes that come from Chinatown – many are just every day residents who stand up, shout out, dance and sing when needed for the good of others. On the wall of Chinatown CDC’s program office – we put a picture of Mrs. Chan who was one of our Community Tenants Association heroes in the past. Think about it, who are/were your heroes when you went through hard times? Appreciate them – some may be in your own family.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on September 9, 2018

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