Keep Hope Alive

by Rev. Norman Fong

August 26, 2019

norman fong

As a kid growing up poor, I always felt happy and didn’t even know I was poor because kids aren’t aware of things like that. However, as I grew up I encountered some difficult situations that changed my attitude towards life. Some of those situations are not related at all to being poor. We all face different problems in life, especially here in Chinatown. We have to keep hope alive and stay happy! Never take the gift of life for granted. You can look at the same situation as a positive or negative. There are people who are more negative about everything and complain a lot. I’ve learned to not let anything drag me all the way down and that there’s always hope for something positive out of a negative situation.

I’m going to share with you eight times where I faced a VERY difficult situation but was able to learn from it and grow from it!

hope sign

1. Getting a sheriff’s notice (1970s) that my Mom didn’t even understand. It said that we had 30 days to leave our home, which was a very cheap low-income housing unit. I think that was the beginning of gentrification in Chinatown. I imagine so many people worse off than me facing eviction today. Having experienced my families own eviction made me sensitive to others. I remember the I-Hotel eviction and how eventually Chinatown CDC got to rebuild it in 2005!

ihotel eviction

2. Facing racism – I got beat up by some Italian teens on my first day of middle school in North Beach just for being Chinese. I was so mad at the time wondering why I was attacked but later on in life, I had friends who were white, black, and Latino that made me see that people are people. And prejudice is prejudice. In the long run, as my Mom taught me, it’s about balance. She said to me, “Not all Italians are bad. Did you know our Landlord, for many years, was Italian? And never raised the rent! It was a Chinese who bought the building and evicted us.”

3. Hearing from my Mom that my Dad felt really bad and unsuccessful in life because he never bought us a home or a car. When I heard that, I didn’t know he felt that way! In America, there’s a lot of pressure to achieve the “American dream”. Looking back, I’m so proud of him though. Even though we were poor, he worked so hard for us! We really have to respect those who paved the way.

4. Hearing my close friend was killed by a DRUNK DRIVER! – My very close friend in high school was killed by drunk driving. It was devastating to me and my first reaction was to know who the driver was! I was sad and angry, and thought how UNFAIR IT WAS! Because some guy got really drunk and didn’t think it was dangerous to drive, my close friend was now dead! What made it worst was the criminal, while in the hospital, escaped custody and we never got justice for my friend. Looking back, it taught me in my teenage years that life isn’t like Disneyland where everything is perfect and always fun. We all can lose friends or a loved one at any moment because of someone’s reckless behavior. This taught me to not take life for granted and to advocate for MORE public safety.

5. Seeing my old elementary school classmate later becoming homeless. – Thinking back on us as kids playing and laughing to seeing them later in life become homeless really broke my heart. I learned that homelessness can happen to anybody! Even to my old friend. We all should have compassion. It hit home and I’m so glad that at Chinatown CDC we can do something about it!

homeless sf chinatown

homeless sf chinatown

6. Seeing so many people STILL HAVING TO live in SROs and facing various types of problems like the overcrowded conditions: shared bathrooms and kitchens, and lack of personal space. – So many families having to live in SROs in Chinatown in a wealthy country like America continues to upset me. The SRO families don’t have personal bathrooms or kitchens, which seems basic to others. My dream one day is that we’ll get enough funding from a billionaire or the government to completely replace the SROs with nice apartments, so everyone has their own proper home. I was so happy when we were able to relocate an SRO family to bigger and better housing. The young son was so surprised that he was getting his OWN ROOM. That was a great moment to witness.

sro family

sro family

7. My first funeral as a minister was for my friends’ brother who killed himself with a gun. Young people thinking suicide is the only way really shocked me but also made me very sad. It woke me up to the real world and that life as a minister was not just about sermons and weddings. My job, in reality, was about being there for people in their good times but most important, also their toughest moments.

8. When my parents died. – It’s never easy losing family. I cried like a baby. Because when you have your parents who cared for you for so long die, it almost feels empty without them. Other relationships helped fill the emptiness like my wife, my son, and friends. But it’s part of growing up and we all have to face it. I treasure more now what they taught me in my early life. Some of those lessons I didn’t fully understand till now!

norman fong mom dad

I’m sharing these difficult memories with you in the hopes that if you’re going through a similar struggle, there’s always a way to learn something from it but also that it’s important to share your personal stories with others around you because THERE’S ALWAYS SOMEONE ELSE in a similar situation as you. Please talk to others to share your happiness, your pain or struggles, and keep hope alive!

peace sign

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on August 25, 2019

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