Unsung Women Heroes

by Rev. Norman Fong

March 25, 2019

norman fong

In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women. I’d like to acknowledge some extraordinary women from Chinatown that are “Unsung Heroes” in the Past, Present and will be in the Future.

One of my favorite woman leaders from the past is Mrs. Bao Yan Chan who was the former President of the Community Tenants Association. She spoke with great authority and was very loud and articulate. A lot of people know Rose Pak as the vocal leadership of Chinatown in the 1990s+ but more behind the scenes, it was Bao Yan Chan who grew the voice of Chinatown’s grassroots leadership. She was fearless in speaking out against evictions. She was the leader behind saving the Notre Dame Senior Apartments – the largest expiring use project in San Francisco back then. She spoke out loudly to save the Chinese and Russian speaking senior residents there. She also accompanied me to go all the way to Washington DC to advocate for the Chinatown Central Subway station funding. We met with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Feinstein. How many Chinatown residents do you know that would leave Chinatown to go all the way to Washington DC to fight for our new subway?

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Mrs. Bao Yan Chan

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Community Tenants Association

Today, CTA is a powerful organization but we need to appreciate the pioneering woman leadership that helped grow the association. Mrs. Chan was a teacher in China and she had that spirit to do justice that inspired so many people – including myself. She helped read out loud the Chinese paper to her co-residents at Notre Dame who could not read. She was a born leader. Her picture is on the front of our Chinatown CDC program office on 663 Clay Street. What a powerful woman and leader! I will never forget her. There are all kinds of leadership we need to uplift and celebrate. So many women have led the way in recent decades like Rose Pak, Mrs. Chang Jok Lee (Ping Yuen), Anni Chung, Sarah Wan, Supervisors Sandy Lee Fewer, Mabel Teng, Jane Kim, Carmen Chu.

carmen chu
Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu

There are many more woman Warriors today who are doing work behind the scenes that we should celebrate. Cathie Lam is one of those woman warriors who quietly behind the scenes have shown so much leadership. As Chinatown CDC finishes up our work of renovating all the hundreds of public housing units at the Ping Yuen… it was Cathie Lam quietly behind the scenes that had to relocate every household for years so that we could fix up the buildings. That is tireless and sometimes thankless work. She’s been with Chinatown CDC for forty years.

cathie lam
Cathie Lam

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Youth leaders that have come out of Chinatown CDC's youth programs

There are so many young leaders that have come out of our Chinatown CDC youth programs too who are now leaders of today and the future. I am so proud of all of them that are pictured here that were part of our Adopt An Alleyway Youth program which began in 1991. Many of them became staff and board members of Chinatown CDC. Some went on to be staffers at City Hall or became youth commissioners or worked for the city. Rosa Chen is on the staff of Chinatown CDC but now serves on the Parks & Recreation Open Space Advisory committee (PROSAC). Many of our former youth became aides for various Supervisors. Women and young women from Chinatown have become great leaders for the city or will be in the near future. It is very exciting to see so much women leadership in the present and the future. I see great leadership potential from new recently appointed woman leaders such as Ivy Lee, Jenny Lam, Jen Low (Chief of Staff for Norman Yee).

When I think about the role of women in our society and the community, I am so proud of how far we have come but want to acknowledge that we still have so far to go. Many women are still NOT recognized for what important roles they play in society. Too often women are taken for granted to be just behind the scenes to raise kids or just support their husbands. I have been so impressed by the many woman warriors there are in our community.

I really appreciate seeing women leadership grow. I remember for example when Jade Wu was living in an SRO and later became a peer leader for all the SRO Families in Chinatown. Now she has become an aide for State Assemblyman Phil Ting! The world has changed so much and we should never take the role of women for granted. March is the one month in the year where we all need to appreciate the women in our lives and those taking leadership in our community or in San Francisco.

jade wu
Jade Wu

When I was a child going to school in Jean Parker Elementary School (on Broadway and Powell Streets), I remember that my mom was President of the Parent Teacher Association. She also was a “Den mother” of our Chinatown “Cub Scouts” that met at Chinese Recreation Center (now called the Betty Ann Ong Recreation Center). I know my mom became a leader because she wanted to watch over me as a kid, but she also taught me about the fearless strength of woman leadership when given the opportunity. Let us never take for granted the woman in our lives and in our world – Happy National Women’s History Month everybody!

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on March 24, 2019

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