Growing Old at Chinatown CDC

By Rev. Norman Fong

October 2, 2018

norman fong

I am a “Senior Citizen” now and have been a part of Chinatown all my life and have been so thankful to serve my own home community. Whether it’s through my work at Chinatown CDC, or through my home church, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown. I’ve also been playing in an old Chinatown band called Jest Jammin’ which is celebrating its 50 year anniversary in October. I’ve loved working with Chinatown youth whether at Cameron House or Chinatown CDC. Some folks have asked me “Why I have stayed working for Chinatown all my life?” The answer is simple – I want to “Grow Old” in and with Chinatown because it’s our home and Chinatown CDC continues to be impactful. We are making a big difference.

This past Friday, along with 800 people, we celebrated our 41st Anniversary as Chinatown CDC. Our work is so important and impactful. We now have 3,876 tenants living in our Chinatown CDC properties! We are rebuilding all the Chinatown public housing for a new and brighter future thanks to Mayor Ed Lee who asked us to become the new owners. We helped rebuild the International Hotel which I remember in my younger years as one of the saddest days ever- seeing the seniors getting evicted. In 2005, Chinatown CDC rebuilt the I-Hotel and I remember being so happy to bless the new building. Recently, over 6000 people applied to be on the wait list! We also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Ping Yuen Residents Improvement Association (PYRIA) and honored them on Friday.

41st anniversary gala

41st anniversary gala

international hotel

ping yuen

mosaic mural

990 pacific

Recently we celebrated a New Mural on Wentworth Alley done by our youth! Our youth are fantastic and volunteer their time to build community… We also bought an old SRO on Clay Street in Chinatown to save it for the community. A few weeks ago we celebrated the rebuilding of 990 Pacific and the seniors there were so thankful. We continue to work with the SRO Families and seniors living in Chinatown and welcomed back home the residents of 801 Pacific Ave that went through a terrible fire. They’re all back home. In many neighborhood fires, most get displaced but our community and our staff worked hard to take care of these residents. Working with SRO families, the seniors of the Community Tenants Association and the thousands who live in Chinatown has been an honor for all of us at Chinatown CDC. It is hard work but so meaningful.

Growing up with the Chinatown community and Chinatown CDC has changed my view of the whole world. Some lessons I’ve learned:

#1. Never give up: The example of what happed to the I-Hotel shows that if you never give up, we can save Chinatown. It took us decades to rebuild the I-Hotel. As the oldest Chinatown in the country too, we can never give up on preserving our history, culture, residential housing and small businesses that make up our Chinatown. There are so many other Chinatowns across the country that have lost their residents and businesses.

#2. Do what’s best for the community, not your self-interest: I have seen different politicians come and go. Sometimes, we have had community divisions siding with different “interests” in the community and we waste a lot of time fighting for those self-interests instead of what’s best for the community. Certain people use politics to gain personal power or want to make some deals for their economic interests. Be smart and watch out for what’s best for Chinatown and not just for the benefit of a few individuals.

#3. Always engage the residents who live in the community: For the longest time, the actual residents who live in Chinatown – were excluded from the big decisions made at City Hall… but now, we have built up the resident associations to speak out on their own whether it’s CTA or the PYRIA or residents of various buildings. I am so proud to have seen our community residents voices respected and listened to by today’s civic leaders. Let’s keep it that way.

#4. Work for Unity: This is one of the hardest lessons in life. I have seen people and organizations say terrible things about each other in order to get their self-interested projects completed or to gain the political favor of others. I have heard “actual lies” made up just to discredit someone on the “other side” of their interests. We have so many interests and so many organizations in Chinatown, it sometimes is so easy to divide. However, I have seen everyone come together too. Some of my best memories include the time we all joined together on the Vincent Chin case in June of 1983. I remember everyone contributing on the streets, every store on Stockton Street marched through Chinatown with cans. I remember the whole community coming together to advocate for immigrant rights and all the family associations contributing funds so that many of us community leaders could fly to Washington DC to fight against these terrible immigration laws that would end the preferences of brothers and sisters… Like the Golden State Warriors always say: “There’s Strength in Numbers”… don’t just play for yourself… work together. Yeah Team!

I like the Chinatown CDC Team and I’m growing old here… but I like all the community players in the community – residents, small businesses, family associations, non-profits, churches, etc. when we work together. We have common dreams we need to push the city to help us actualize. We have city departments that may not be giving our community their fair share yet. There is a strong need to make this city more responsive to our needs as our “poverty” is well hidden inside our Chinatown SROs. I’m growing old but when I think of what we can do together – I feel like a youth again. Happy Birthday Chinatown CDC!

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on September 30, 2018

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