By Rev. Norman Fong

July 2, 2018

The 4th of July brings back so many memories for me growing up in Chinatown. As a little boy, I remember Independence Day as the time when all the tourists would come to Portsmouth Square and Grant Avenue to buy firecrackers. We grew up poor, so the neighborhood kids always looked forward to earning a bit of cash by selling firecrackers.

In the late ‘60’s when I was older, I learned that firecrackers had grown to be a “big business” in Chinatown. The gangs were making lots of money selling them. A large source of those firecrackers came from the Chinatown’s Public Housing buildings. I remember a huge police raid decades ago when they came into Chinatown to put a stop to the illegal firecracker business.



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Mrs. Chang Jok Lee

After the raid, the sellers wanted someone to blame, and Mrs. Lee, a community leader at the Pings became their target. Someone poured tar in front of her apartment and all over her door trying to scare her. I am so proud of her because she did not move out, like many other fearful residents tired of the crime at the Pings… She said she will always stay and fight for the residents, but to this day, she dreads the 4tth of July and Firecrackers. For me, Mrs. Lee is a symbol of strength and independence that actually illustrates the spirit of “Independence Day”.

July 4th and the birth of America is about fighting for our “Independence”. In 1776, it was America’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. You all know the history right? The 13 colonies wanted to be free from Great Britain that wanted to bully and control the American colonies. Freedom and Liberty is what America is celebrating and so people blow off firecrackers and enjoy Fireworks across the country.

American Patriotism is important and as Chinese Americans, we should appreciate all those who have fought for our country’s freedom and democracy. A few weeks ago, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging Congress to honor the 13,000+ Chinese-Americans who served in World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian award in the United States. Did you know that Public Housing across the country was built to help Veterans and their families after World War II? Almost all the original residents of the Ping Yuen were Chinese Americans who served in the US Military. Chinese Americans fought to protect America’s independence and freedoms too.

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Eddie Chen of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, which spearheaded the proposal to honor Chinese American WWII Veterans. (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

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WWII fighter pilot Ronald Won shares his wartime memories at an event at San Francisco City Hall prior to the resolution going to vote before the Board of Supervisors. (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

This Wednesday, take some time to appreciate that “Spirit of Independence” that made America a “Nation of Immigrants” (as President John F Kennedy wrote) and celebrate our local heroes in our communities that continue to stand up for independence and freedom. As Chinese Americans, we know the dark side of America too. There are bullies who want to pick on people who don’t look White. There are prejudiced Americans who will always look at the Asians, Latinos, Muslims as forever foreigners… We know those “Ugly Americans” who want to limit “Independence” to some Americans. Happy Birthday America! Happy Celebration of “Freedom and Independence” by appreciating all those modern day heroes who continue to stand up for freedom and equality for all.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on July 1, 2018

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