Happy Mother’s Day & Happy Birthday Dad!

by Rev. Norman Fong

May 13, 2019

norman fong

I recently put flowers on my mom and dad’s grave site. I was feeling so thankful for all they did for us children and I also miss their wisdom as I faced many problems in life. Today (April 12) is “Mother’s Day” in America but it is also my dad’s birthday too. I wanted to write about lessons in life that I have learned from both of them.

My mom worked in Chinatown all her life and my dad worked in Chinatown for many decades too. They both worked so hard and never complained about their work even if it was low-paying jobs from sewing work to restaurant work. My mom, after working in a sewing factory ended up working for the many souvenir stores on Grant Avenue for decades with her boss and good friend May Louie. Even though she could have worked in downtown stores because she spoke English – she enjoyed working in Chinatown and seeing her friends at work.

norman fong mom and dad

Lesson 1: Working for Chinatown is not only important, it’s being a part of the community.
My mom also was a deeply religious person who was a faithful member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on Jackson Street – right next to the Chinese Hospital. She made all of us kids go to church there in the 1950’s and early ‘60s and of course, we all had to go to Chinese School there after going to Jean Parker elementary school. Don’t tell anyone (ha! Ha!), but I was kind of a wild and independent kid. I got in trouble for “little things” like talking too much in class and causing a little trouble in Chinese school too. In the old days, if you did something wrong or spoke out of turn, the teacher would send you to the Principal! He would have a stick or a ruler to hit your hand if you were bad. One time (OK, maybe more than once), as I went to the Principal’s office to be punished, my friend in front of me got hit by the ruler on his hand really hard that you could hear the slap on his hand so loudly. Then it was my turn, the principal looked at me and said: “I know your mom” and smiled and barely touched my hand with the ruler. (Thanks Mom! – Happy Mother’s Day).

norman fong church

When I got a lot older, I asked my mom: “How could you handle me as a kid back then and how tough was it – us growing up poor?” (Our family got evicted too and didn’t have a car or home). She told me that she made it through tough times, marriage, doing the same things for years as a job… what so many of us younger generations complain about… she said: “I made it through life’s many problems because of the Church”. She had great faith.

norman fong mom dad sister

Lesson 2: Life is tough but Faith can carry you through any difficulties.
I think I became a minister of faith because of my mom’s influence although I didn’t understand it when I was young. I tried to sneak out of going to church whenever I could. In fact, I disobeyed her as a kid and sometimes I’d sneak away to see my friends at the Ping Yuen or sneak away to get a bowl of gravy and rice for 10 cents – ha! ha! A few times, if my friend or I had any money – we’d order dim sum.

My mom really loved the church and community and I chose to follow her footsteps. Thank you Mom! Love you forever! Happy Mother’s Day.

Since it’s my dad’s birthday too, I want to share a little bit about him. I didn’t know anything about our history as Chinese in America in the early ‘50s and early ‘60s. We are now celebrating the 50th anniversary of ethnic studies which began in 1969 at SF State University. Prior to that, we didn’t learn about the great contributions of the Chinese in America and all the suffering we had to go through. Growing up Chinese in America back in the old days, we didn’t have “role models” and heroes. Luckily, in the late ‘60s, we had Bruce Lee though and so I did join a group of boys who tried to practice martial arts at North Ping Yuen – our hang out was there.

As I learned more about our Chinese history in America, I learned to respect and appreciate my dad’s life a lot more. As a kid, I didn’t respect my dad as much. I didn’t know how much the Chinese suffered and were not recognized by America. Hopefully, this year, our 150th Anniversary of building the transcontinental railroad, we will get the respect we deserve. Later in the 1970’s. I got closer to my dad. I asked him, did he have to go to Angel Island? He said yes, he was just 15 years old at the time. He said it was a terrible place. He didn’t want to talk too much about that history… My dad worked so hard, I didn’t get to see him that much. He sometimes worked a couple jobs in restaurants, a store, a farm worker, a janitor… Looking back, I am now so proud of him. He told me one time that he faced some racism when he was in the army-aircorp during World War II and how he worked with many in Chinatown to get supplies for the China relief effort. I didn’t know all that he had to go through in the early 1900’s ‘till World War II because of the racist Chinese Exclusion Act.

Lesson 3: Know your history and work for Justice
From my mom, I learned about Faith and Love for Community. From my dad, I learned about injustice and prejudice. I think from both of their lives, you can understand who I am and why I do what I do. Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Birthday Dad! I hope I will make you proud.

norman fong dad

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on May 12, 2019

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