Sunday, December 18, 2011

1421: The Year China Discovered America?

This fascinating documentary examines the mystery surrounding the sailing exploits of the legendary Admiral Zheng and his 30 year command of a gigantic Ming fleet. The Chinese court burned all records of Admiral Zheng’s daring voyages and achievements, and unwittingly created a mystery that tantalizes the world 500 years later.
You’ve heard what the history books have to say about the discovery of America, but now prepare to have your entire perception of history forever altered with this remarkable release from PBS. Could it be that a fearless Chinese admiral actually discovered America nearly a century before Columbus made his historical landing at San Salvador? Travel back to the year 1421 and follow the legendary Admiral Zheng as he and his formidable Ming fleet travel far and wide to explore little-visited outposts at the behest of Chinese emperor Zhu Di.
Based on theories put forward by noted historian and best-seller Gavin Menzies, this thought-provoking take on conventional history proposes that it was Admiral Zheng who led European explorers to the West a whole 71 years after first setting foot on American soil.
On March 8, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from its base in China. The ships, huge junks nearly five hundred feet long and built from the finest teak, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di’s loyal eunuch admirals. Their mission was “to proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas” and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. Their journey would last more than two years and circle the globe.
When they returned in October 1423, the emperor had fallen, leaving China in political and economic chaos. The great ships, now considered frivolous, were left to rot at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost in China’s long, self-imposed isolation that followed was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America seventy years before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. Also concealed were how the Chinese colonized America before the Europeans and transplanted to America, Australia, New Zealand and South America the principal economic crops that have fed and clothed the world.
Now, in a landmark historical journey, Gavin Menzies, who spent fifteen years tracing the astonishing voyages of the Chinese fleet, shares the remarkable account of his discoveries and the incontrovertible evidence to support them. His compelling narrative pulls together ancient maps, precise navigational knowledge, astronomy and the surviving accounts of Chinese explorers and the later European navigators to prove that the Chinese had also discovered Antarctica, reached Australia three hundred and fifty years before Cook and solved the problem of longitude three hundred years ahead of the Europeans. 1421 describes the artifacts and inscribed stones left behind by the emperor’s fleet, the evidence of wrecked junks along its route — discovered in locations ranging from the middle of the Mississippi River to tributaries of the Amazon — and the ornate votive offerings left by the Chinese sailors wherever they landed, in honor of Shao Lin, goddess of the sea.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tyrus Wong Angel Island

Jack Hom 23 January 1918 - 25 August 2011

Jack Hom


Hom, Jack
23 January 1918 - 25 August 2011
Hom Mon Yong, known to his family, friends, and the community as Jack Hom, passed away on Thursday, 25 August 2011. He is survived by his devoted wife of 70 years, Dorothy, his son and daughter-in-law (Larry and Martha), his daughter (Cynthia), four grandsons (Michael, David, Tyson and Justin), two great-granddaughters (Zoe and Elyse), his seven nieces and nephews (Art, Sam, Frances, Mary, Doris, Mamie, and Homer); and Brian, who loved him too.

Mr. Hom was born on 23 January 1918 in the Guangdong Province of China and emigrated to the United States in 1931. He graduated from San Diego High School in 1938, distinguishing himself in mathematics, tennis and as an ROTC cadet. Shortly after his marriage to Dorothy in 1941, Mr. Hom joined the Army Air Corps where he served as a radioman for the duration of WWII. At the conclusion of the war, he returned home to Los Angeles where he and Dorothy operated a well-known Chinese restaurant, the Mee Hung Inn, on Los Feliz Blvd for the next 23 years. During this period, Jack was an active Rotarian, a member of the American Legion, and taught Chinese Cooking and Culture at UCLA. In 1968 he embarked on a new career in the financial arena, becoming a respected stock broker and financial planner. For 20 years he helped numerous people attain their financial objectives before finally retiring in 1988.

During his retirement, Mr. Hom turned his attention to helping others, donating generously to many charitable organizations including the Chinese Historical Society and the building of the Chinatown Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. One of his most satisfying acts, however, was the establishment of the Jack Hom Scholarship Endowment Fund. Since its inception, this Fund has awarded and continues to award a number of scholarships each year to deserving students. For his efforts, Mr. Hom was the recipient of a Special Recognition Award at the 1999 National Philanthropy Day ceremonies.

In accordance with his wishes, no service will be held and the family requests that donations to the Jack Hom Scholarship Fund should be made in lieu of flowers via the Friends of the Chinatown Library Fund.

Published in the Los Angeles Times on September 1, 2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Matt Fong dies at 57; former California state treasurer

Matt Fong dies at 57; former California state treasurer

The scion of a political family with deep roots in state politics, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1998.

Matthew Kipling Fong | 1953-2011
Matt Fong acknowledges cheers at the state GOP headquarters after being elected California state treasurer in 1994. In defeating Democrat Phil Angelides, he became the first Asian American Republican to hold statewide office. (Los Angeles Times)

Reporting from Sacramento -- Matthew Kipling Fong, a former California state treasurer who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1998, died Wednesday at his home in Pasadena after a long bout with skin cancer. He was 57.

Fong, a Republican, was the scion of a political family with deep roots in state politics. His mother, March Fong Eu, a Democrat, was elected to the state Assembly in 1966 and served as California's secretary of state from 1975 to 1994. She was later appointed U.S. ambassador to Micronesia by President Clinton.

Fong was born in Alameda on Nov. 20, 1953, and was reared in Oakland by his adopted parents, Eu and Chester Fong.

He was first exposed to politics working on his mother's campaigns. "When I was growing up, I remember every day after junior high for a couple of years, we rang doorbells," he said in a 1998 interview. "We walked almost every street in Oakland. We gave out those ugly potholders, and those bottle caps that never fit on any bottle."

He decided to register as a Republican in 1986, despite his family's Democratic Party ties. "The toughest part of the transition was telling my mother," he said. "She thought I was joking."

Four years later, Fong was encouraged by Pete Wilson, then a U.S. senator who was running for governor, to run for state controller against Democrat Gray Davis. Fong lost that race, but was later appointed to the Board of Equalization by Wilson, making Fong a rising star in state GOP politics.

Wilson remembered Fong on Wednesday as "a man of courage, of great intellect and a wonderful heart. He was a thoroughly decent, good man and one of the more talented public servants that I have been privileged to work with. I will miss him greatly."

In 1994, Fong again ran for statewide office, capturing the Republican nomination for state treasurer. Boosted by Wilson's landslide reelection and a national Republican tide, Fong defeated Democrat Phil Angelides, becoming the first Asian American Republican to hold statewide office.

In 1998, Fong bested car alarm magnate Darrell Issa in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, despite being outspent by more than 3 to 1, but lost a general election to Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

"In our Senate race years ago, Matt was a strong competitor and we debated passionately, but we always had respect for one another," Boxer said in a statement Wednesday.

After leaving elected office, Fong developed an interest in the issue of pensions, serving as a financial consultant and investor. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Fong to the board of a federal agency that helps administer pensions of more than 1.3 million private-sector workers and retirees.

Fong graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1975, and after serving on active duty until 1980 retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. His love of flying continued after leaving the academy. Fong was a licensed flight instructor and also was licensed to fly gliders.

He earned a master's degree in business administration at Pepperdine University, where he served on the board of regents until his death, and a law degree at Southwestern University School of Law, now known as Southwestern Law School.

In addition to his mother, he is survived by his wife, Paula; and their two children, Matthew Jr. and Jade.

Services are pending.

Former California Treasurer Matt Fong Dies

Matt Fong. (AP)
Matt Fong. (AP)
SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — Former California state treasurer Matt Fong, a Republican who lost a challenge to Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, died Wednesday after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 57.
His wife, Paula Fong, told The Associated Press that her husband died at their home in Pasadena with family and their son by his side. Matt Fong was the son of March Fong Eu, who served 20 years as secretary of state and was the first Asian elected to statewide office in California.
“He was alert up until this morning. He was asking what we’re going to do today,” Paula Fong said. “He was a great and wonderful person, a wonderful husband.” She said he had squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.
Matt Fong, an attorney and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, was elected state treasurer in 1994 and served one term. In 1998, he unsuccessfully challenged Boxer for her Senate seat. Boxer issued a statement commending Fong for a distinguished career of public service.
“In our Senate race years ago, Matt was a strong competitor and we debated passionately, but we always had respect for one another,” Boxer said.
During that campaign, Boxer’s attack ads cast Fong as holding positions on abortion, gun control and the environment that were out of step with the majority of Californians. She started calling him “part of the extreme.”
In contrast, Fong presented himself as a social moderate. He believed, for example, that abortion should be legal during the first trimester.
He ran at a time when the party still favored centrist Republicans.
Fong, who was drawn by the party’s strong support of the military and small business, was able to edge out the more conservative candidate in the GOP primary. He ran against Darrell Issa, a wealthy car-alarm manufacturer who is now a member of Congress and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
During the 1998 race, the San Francisco Examiner reported that Fong had donated $50,000 to a conservative religious group for a poll that would support a campaign against same-sex marriages in California. He then signed a one-page letter pledging to maintain AIDS funding and to support laws against hate crimes and job discrimination as a way to appease the Log Cabin Club, a gay Republican group.
Fong, also has Democratic ties through his mother. Eu was the first Chinese-American elected to the state Legislature and just the second woman elected to statewide office in California. She served as secretary of state for nearly 20 years before resigning in 1994 to become U.S. ambassador to Micronesia.
She sought the Democratic nomination for the job a second time, in 2002, but lost to Kevin Shelley.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who served with Eu during his previous stint in the governor’s office, expressed his condolences to the family. State senators adjourned Wednesday’s session in Fong’s memory and honored him for blazing the trail for other Asian-American politicians.
“On behalf of all Californians, I wish to express gratitude for the service that Mr. Fong provided to our great state during his term as treasurer,” Brown said in a statement.
Former Gov. Pete Wilson, a political mentor to Fong, remembered him for his intellect and heart. Wilson helped launch Fong’s political career when he appointed him to the state Board of Equalization in 1991.
“He was a thoroughly decent, good man and one of the more talented public servants that I have been privileged to work with,” Wilson said in a statement.
As state treasurer, he encouraged smaller firms to compete for lucrative underwriting and advisory work on state financing deals, started a program to teach money management skills to elementary students and helped prevent the Orange County bankruptcy from impacting other counties, according to Ron Rogers, who was Fong’s campaign manager.
Current state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, said Fong “never forgot he was managing taxpayers’ money and never failed to put their interests first.”
Fong also earned an award from the Simon Wiesenthal Center for persuading Swiss banks to provide restitution to Holocaust victims whose assets were being held by the banks.
After losing the U.S. Senate race, Fong went on to run his own consulting firm and served as counsel to the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton in Los Angeles, where he specialized in transactional law and governmental relations.
He recently celebrated his 33rd wedding anniversary with his wife. Last month, Fong was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Southwestern Law School and delivered a commencement speech.
Paula Fong said her husband will be buried in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he attended the Air Force Academy. In addition to his wife and mother, Matt Fong is survived by his father, Chester Fong, his sister, Suyin Stein, daughter, Jade Fong, and son, Matthew Fong II.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

LA Chinese Theaters

Kim Sing Theater 

"Courtesy of Elisabeth L. Uyeda,"
My inaugural post to this blog was the views of City Hall, and the Kim Sing Theater was mentioned.  It is one of those buildings that escaped demolition owing to a cultivated city historic building preservation code.  Down the street though, at Figueroa and Sunset, more than one structure fell victim to the mammoth footprint of the residential structures of the Orsini development in recent years.

These photos were taken in 2002, at which time the interiors were already being worked on.
(Click on the image to zoom in)


Anonymous said...
Betty, Tonight read your first post about the Kim Sing Theater. I saw the place every day from 1980-1988, because I worked across the street at Evans Community Adult School. And I saw it every day since 1988 as I drove onto the Pasadena Freeway. Yak at you soon. I will try to jog my memory about the theater and what I saw in 1980-1988. Who would have thunk....


Hurray!  The former Kim Sing Chinese Theater is protected from demolition.  Some years ago, the building was privately bought and converted to a design and living space.  The marquee and exterior have historic building preservation status.

But what is lacking are stories from the Chinese American community, and Los Angeles community as a whole, as to how the theater played in our lives.  I decided to send out an email blast in September, 2010 that included my commentary:

"As many of you are aware, the building exterior, especially the marquee, has been retained while the interior was gutted and renovated by its owner, as the article below from the October 1, 2006 Los Angeles Times described. When I read the article 4 years ago, I thought of the absence of stories by Chinese Angelenos to support the fact that the theater was one of the primary cultural spots for Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans to head to for leisure. Bravo that the exterior of the building is protected from alteration. But where are the stories?

I am requesting for persons to submit their recollections about the theater, attending the theater, etc., so that I may compile them on a page on my blog.

I recall accompanying my parents there in the 1960s. While my parents sat and watched, my brothers and I roamed the lobby as restless kids do. I remember looking at the posters of Chinese beauty contestants. It was the theater, the corner grocery store at Ord and Spring (now CBS Seafood Restaurant) and the Lung Kong Tin Yee Association that our family mostly frequented."

The theater stood on the outskirts and away from the main business and shopping areas of Chinatown.  Yet, it was one of the regular destinations, among other spots in Chinatown, as these following responders can attest:

From J.L.:

hi betty, in response to the theatres in Chinatown..............I used to see movies at the one on North Broadway one block north of Lung Gong........and the other on Spring street...............I think it was the Ting Sing theater...........I use to go there with friends from the westside to watch the Kung Fu movies with the one arm swordsman.............I think his name was Wan Que............the market on Ord St. you were referring to was Kwong Ack Wah..........the proprietor was GEE BAK.............the nice man that gave kids candy.........

he had the coolest walkin refrigerator on hot days............did you know we used to rollerskate at the Alpine rec center in the old days...

sorry,........that I did not frequent the Kim Sing.............but I went to Lung Kong for the Chinese operas and the annual dinners for the whole clan.

From W.L.:

I remember the sticky floors, Chinese beef jerky, the moist and dried plums we'd eat like candy and orange soda for some reason...but that includes the other Chinese theaters we frequented as kids. The one just off Sunset and Spring St and the one off N. Broadway and Cottage Home St.

From H.L.N.:

Reading your blog on Kim Sing Theater brings back lots and lots of old memories. Yes, in the 60's, my parents did their weekly Chinese grocery shopping on the weekends. It went something like this: Saturday, dinner in either Yee Mee Low, Phoenix Restaurant, or that other place I can't remember. They were all near Philipe's Sandwich, there was a roast duck and pork place on that particular street. I bet your mom knows!! I even remember YOU working in Chinatown. Before Dad passed, he and I went into that place you used to work. We had coffee and a pastry. And I remembered you!

Dinner and a movie. The movies were a choice of Kim Sing, or used to be two others too. Near Philipe's also. And another where Empress Pavilion is now. Do you remember Yee Sing Chong Market? My Mom's old family Dr. Samuel Yen Eng.

Sunday: grocery shopping, movie and dinner. I remember Kim Sing, because Anna and I would also wander the lobby because we could not sit still. I remember starring at the movie posters, thinking it's an entire World in there. In those days, it was always a double feature.

Did you get to know the owner's daughters? One was May-may and geez, can't remember the older sister. Anyway, we used to wander around to the camera room. I'll never forget the paint on the walls was thick and I used to wonder why. Now, I think it's because they just kept it fresh looking. Yes, it must've been an old building. I remember like four openings above the first row of chairs as you enter the seating area. Bathrooms were on the left wall and pay phones with the folding doors beyond that. Past the four openings, was the doorway to the other side of the seating.

On occasion, Anna and I would explore the neighbor business. It was a Mexican market. When I smell peppers and some kinds of tortillas cooking, it brings my memories back to that market. It was always dark in there for some there was only one light bulb illuminating the entire market. In reality, it was probably the size of a 7-11 is now. When you're young and little, even small spaces seem larger in your memory.

Lots of times, I would go with my Dad to see American movies. Mom and Anna usually went the Chinese route. But have ya considered the theater houses in downtown too? I remember seeing Bonnie and Clyde, The Cyclops, Sinbad, and One Million Years B.C. (with Raquel Welch) and many, many others. I used to love when that velvet curtain came down at the end of the show. Dad used to buy Milk Duds for me and let me hide under his coat when there were scary movies. I loved it.
From C.O.:
What a surprise to get this email... My sister, another friend and I used to go see martial arts movies at Kim Sing all the time in the 70s and 80s. Starting with the kung fu movies which vilified the Manchus and fought with patriotic fighters often trained by Shaolin Temple monks to sword-fighting movies that were more romanticized (like Sentimental Swordsmen), we saw a heck of a lot of movies during those days. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon brought back a lot of memories for us—the effects and photography were just a lot nicer and better.

Kim Sing was an outlet for the Shaw Brothers production company movies. Less popular for us were the ones by Golden Harvest shown at the theater just west of Broadway on the northern end of Chinatown. Sing Lee on Spring Street was okay but mostly played modern themed movies but once in a while came out with a good martial arts movie.

When my sister and I actually took kung fu lessons, it wasn’t uncommon to go and see other class members at Kim Sing. At the time, Chinese martial arts movies were popular among high school and college students--I recall seeing former UCLA and NBA basketball player Kiki Vandeweghe there with friends while he was a student.

We’d sometimes sit and watch 2 showings of the films—talk about a long afternoon at the movies... It was great when 2 good movies were paired together. Often it was a martial arts period film and then a modern movie.

We had our favorite actors and knew some of their background. Some were actual participants in the Asian martial arts competitions (Chen Kuan Tai was a champion in 1969) and a few came up through the ranks of studio sponsored classes.

Some other favorites: Fu Sheng, Ti Lung, can’t remember other names who played supporting roles or villains but will recognize faces ... Some of the names of fighting styles were interesting: drunken monkey, white eyebrow (!)

Below is a response I received September 11, 2010 from D.Y., for whom the theater had a profound impact on life growing up nearby:

Going to see the Chinese movies at Kim Sing Theater was the only entertainment my family had while I was growing up in LA Chinatown in the 1960’s. We lived on Alpine Street at Yale Street, near South China Bakery (you must remember their almond cookies which were the best in my humble opinion.)  Every Sunday afternoon, after all housework and homework were done, my mom, my two younger sisters, and I would walk up Alpine to Kim Sing to catch the 2:30 (or was it 2:00?) afternoon show. Our friends, the Chengs who lived on Hill Place would wait for us at the steps of the Croatian Church on Grand Avenue so that we could go to movies together. My mom would pay the 75 cents adult ticket while we three kids got in free. There was an understanding between the theater owner and its patrons that kids were to make purchases at the snack counter to make up for the free admissions. I would get a bottle of Orange Crush soda, while my sisters would get either 7 Up or Coca Cola and we usually got the salted shredded red ginger strips and the salted dried plums or maybe some MM’s (no popcorn here). My mom would sometimes bring dried water melon seeds to crack and snack on as did the other movie goers. That theater floor must have been a mess by closing time!  It was always a double feature so we wouldn’t leave the theater after 6 pm to go home for dinner.

Unlike you and some of the other Chinese American kids, my sisters and I actually stayed with our mom and watched the movies. We loved the fantasy ones which had “magic” (special effects) in them – fairies, genies, sorcerers, giants. Our second favorites were the marital arts ones which we called “fighting” movies back then. Mr. Cho Dat Wah and Ms. Yee So Chow were the best screen couple when it came to sword fights. Can anybody else remember their four part movie, “Buddha’s Palm”?  Hong Kong movie makers were making sequels decades before Hollywood did. Then there were the comedies, particularly those featuring the rotund but extremely talented couple of Mr. Leung Sing Bo and Ms. Tam Lan Hing. Romance movies with dashing Patrick Tse Yin and sensuous Patsy Kar Ling finally showed a Chinese couple kissing on screen! Then there were dramas with Mr. Ng Choi Fan and Ms. Pak Yin who made movies commenting on the evils of feudal thinking or on social ills. Bruce Lee co-starred in their Hong Kong movie “The Orphan” before coming to the US in 1958. I remember watching it at Kim Sing. Now you can only view this movie at the Hong Kong Film Archives. And lastly, the costume films which included opera singing which usually starred Ms. Yim Kim Fei and Ms. Pak Suet Seen were somewhat less enjoyable, but we loved watching them anyways. As you may remember, these films were usually only in black and white, so when there was one in color, it was a special event!

I actually watched more Chinese movies (hundreds) than my friends who are from Hong Kong. My parents never took us to see American movies with the exception of Disney cartoons. I knew more about the Chinese movie stars than the American ones until I was in high school. I saw the Chinese version of “Little Women” years before seeing the original American movie. Looking back now, I can honestly say that by watching Chinese movies while growing up made a positive impact on me. Firstly, I learned standardized Hong Kong Cantonese. Secondly, with the absence of Asians in the movies and televisions, I grew up watching Chinese playing “normal” roles whereas in American media, we were usually stereotypes and unbecoming ones at that. With Chinese movies, while there were evil villains, clowns, geeks, wanton women, there were also handsome and brave Chinese men and beautiful and strong Chinese women. I also learned from these movies about moral values, the importance of family, loyalty, friendship, justice, and though not true in real life, that good guys always win by the end of the movie. But more importantly, going to Kim Sing to watch movies with my family was one ritual that was purely for leisure and enjoyment.  We could forget about school, work, and our own woes and worries and laugh or cry together for a few hours every Sunday afternoon.

Thanks for bringing up Kim Sing Theater. It brings back a lot of good memories.

I told D.Y. that in the 1970s I worked in Chinatown at a store called Mama Quon's, owned by the Quon Brothers of the Grand Star Restaurant.  D.Y. added on September 13th:

One of the blogs on Kim Sing mentioned the daughters of the theater owners. I believe the older sister’s name was May while the younger sister was Mamie. They were surnamed Wong. I remember May manning the ticket booth and there was also a Mrs. Tom, a middle aged lady who was always knitting while she sat in the ticket booth.

The other theaters were Sing Lee on Spring Street and Gum (Kim) Do on the corner of Cottage Home and Broadway.

Also, someone mentioned going to dinner at Yee Mee Loo at the corner of Ord and Spring Streets. My dad worked there as cook from its conception in the 1940’s until he retired in 1970.

Mama Quon was a local legend, so I remember her well. By any chance, did you know the Hong family that owned Hong Kong Low Restaurant? Or the Louie family that owned the House of Louie Gift Store? One of the brothers, Raymond Louie was my algebra teacher at Nightingale Jr. High while one of sister-in-law, Catherine Louie was a business teacher and later a counselor at Belmont High. Phoenix Bakery is another Chinatown institution. Gosh, there are some old places that are still around while others are gone – Yee Sing Chong, Grandview Gardens, Kwan Lee Lung, Johnny’s Liquor store, Lime House (replaced by CBS Seafood) on Ord, Sam Sing Meat Market (where they had “Blackie” the gilded pig in their window), etc. I haven’t check to see if Moytel on Yale St. is still around or not.

Years earlier, during World War II, the theater nor the neighborhood was known as Chinese.  A historical account, Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon, chronicles the troubles of Mexican American youth and their participation in the "zoot suit riots."  The book recalls the summer of 1942 when sailors from the Naval Armory at Chavez Ravine nearby swept through the Alpine/Figueroa neighborhood looking for "Alpine boys."  The Carmen Theater operated at that corner and was infiltrated one night as sailors barged in and beat several young boys inside who were wearing the provocative zoot suits.

A.W. told me on Sunday, September 19th, about his visits to the Kim Sing Theater during those years when martial arts films were screened.  He said he would attend every weekend and often it would be standing room only in the theater of those viewing the Shaw Brothers' movies.  A.W. said that before that the theater's business was very slow, and movie-going attendance really picked up after martial arts films were shown.

I chatted with Gilbert Hom. at the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California's exhibit table on Saturday, October 23rd at the Fifth Annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar .  He point out that Kim Sing Theater was the first to screen a Communist Chinese film, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.  (According to Wikipedia, the film, made in 1970, was based on a contemporary Chinese opera.  The film was shown over and over again to inculcate and indoctrinate the people towards Communist ideology.)  President Richard Nixon opened China's participation with the U.S. and the world after 1972, so I gather that the film's release in Los Angeles was enabled by Nixon's efforts.  Learning of this, I also gather that it was a rather avant-garde move by Kim Sing, especially as the Chinese community was probably very conservative.

"Courtesy of Elisabeth L. Uyeda,"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chinese American mayors overcoming Bay Area's history of discrimination

Chinese American mayors overcoming Bay Area's history of discrimination

San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan have long battled poverty, discrimination and fear in the Bay Area. Now, they have opened doors to new political influence.

Edwin Lee, Jean Quan
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan joins San Francisco’s interim mayor, Edwin M. Lee, at his swearing-in ceremony. She called his appointment a “moment of history” although she teased her old friend for being a “placeholder.” (Paul Sakuma / Associated Press / January 11, 2011)

When City Administrator Edwin M. Lee became interim mayor of the City by the Bay, San Francisco got much more than just a low-key replacement for Gavin Newsom, who has taken his gelled hair and actress wife to Sacramento.
    Lee is the first Asian American mayor of this dense and diverse city, where Asians account for nearly a third of the population and the scars of history run deep. Lee's ascendance, activists say, is a milestone a long time coming.
    And he's not alone in the Bay Area. Although its Asian American population is half as dense as San Francisco's — 15% compared with 31% — Oakland beat its flashier counterpart to the punch.
    Jean Quan, elected in November and inaugurated eight days before Lee, teasingly says she's the real thing while her longtime friend is a "placeholder."
    "We've been giving San Francisco a bad time," Quan explained.
    Still, when Lee texted Quan that he was saving her a place at his swearing-in ceremony, her response was swift. She would never, she said, miss such a "moment of history."
    History united Lee and Quan long before they became the country's most prominent Chinese American mayors. Decades ago, they fought together against poverty, discrimination and fear, demons that have long plagued California's Chinese immigrants.

    A happy crowd packed City Hall's graceful beaux-arts rotunda, elderly Chinese men and women with bright green "Ed Lee" stickers on worn lapels, young attorneys, activists, municipal workers hanging over railings two, three and four stories up.
    Cheers rang out and cameras flashed as the frugal, funny and unassuming 58-year-old descended the grand staircase to take the oath of office last week. In the crowd was a proud who's who of Asian American accomplishment, Northern California style:

A record four members of the Board of Supervisors, all recently elected — President David Chiu, Carmen Chu, Eric Mar, Jane Kim. Assessor-recorder Phil Ting. Public Defender Jeff Adachi. State Sen. Leland Yee. Chinatown power broker Rose Pak.

In the sea of dark suits, Quan, the first Asian American woman to lead a major U.S. city, stood out, resplendent in bright red.

But threaded through the celebration was a deep vein of painful remembrance.

Newsom, now lieutenant governor, reminded the crowd of a sober ceremony in the same spot 17 months earlier, when he announced that the city would apologize officially for its "very shameful past."

The Gold Rush and hopes for economic opportunity drew thousands of Chinese immigrants to California in the mid 1800s, with most landing in and around San Francisco. Home to the oldest Chinatown in the United States, the city became an incubator for a national wave of anti-Chinese sentiment.

Mayor Andrew Jackson Bryant demanded in 1876 that the Board of Supervisors appoint a commission on the "Chinese problem." The city appealed to Congress and the president to restrict Chinese immigration. The supervisors imposed fees on Chinese laundries and passed laws prohibiting overcrowding that were enforced only in Chinatown. There were anti-Chinese riots and attacks on Chinese-owned businesses.

Then came the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed by President Arthur in 1882, which effectively halted Chinese immigration for a decade and denied citizenship to Chinese immigrants.

By the turn of the century, the San Francisco Department of Public Health had shuttered all Chinese-owned businesses and quarantined and barricaded Chinatown.

That ugly history is a major reason that it has taken so long for Asian Americans to blossom here politically, said San Francisco State political scientist David Lee, who is not related to the new mayor. Cultural hurdles, low voter registration rates and candidates who ran purely ethnic campaigns also kept Asian representation from growing.

"There were institutional barriers put in place by government to prevent the very thing we're seeing now, the true political empowerment of this community," he said.


In 1977, Ed Lee was a young law clerk with the Asian Law Caucus, studying at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall and helping organize tenants at Ping Yuen, a sprawling public housing project in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Ping Yuen's elevators and hot water heaters regularly broke down. Burned-out light bulbs were not replaced. Security was lax. Complaints to the city housing authority fell on deaf ears. Then a young woman returning home from her garment district job was attacked.

The elevators weren't working the night someone tried to rape Julia Wong, 17, on an upper floor of the complex whose name means "tranquil garden." Her assailant threw her over the balcony, but she lived. So he dragged her back upstairs and threw her off again, which killed her, Lee said.

With Lee's help, tenants waged the first-ever rent strike against the San Francisco Housing Authority. San Francisco's new mayor remembers draping a banner that announced the action over an upper balcony. After several months, the city agreed to upgrade the facilities.

The residents "came from China and Hong Kong, where the landlord was the ultimate law," Lee said. "If you cross-eyed them, you were evicted.... We tried to teach them to demand their rights."

When Lee and Quan met as young activists, tenants' rights were his forte, labor actions hers. In 1976, San Francisco's International Hotel was targeted for demolition and both stepped up to organize for the low-income Filipinos who lived there.

"Jean was a firebrand, much more out there than I was," Lee recalled. "I did legal observing. She was in the street, protesting the evictions."

Lee became a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, where he helped integrate the San Francisco Fire Department. In 1989, Mayor Art Agnos tapped him as chief investigator to enforce the city's new whistleblower ordinance.

He has worked for the city of San Francisco ever since — as executive director of the Human Rights Commission, director of city purchasing, head of the Department of Public Works and, most recently, city administrator. He has never aspired to elected office and does not plan to run for mayor in November.

Agnos describes Lee as "charming, self-deprecating and competitive." Power-broker Pak, who reached Lee when he was on vacation in Hong Kong to try to convince him to take the interim job, says he is both honorable and dedicated.

About nine years ago, Pak and Lee were part of a city delegation to Beijing. The group had toured the Summer Palace and was scheduled to meet with President Jiang Zemin. But Lee, then head of the public works department, was nowhere to be found.

"His wife started to cry...." Pak recounted. "And so we had to look for him."

He had gone, Pak said, "to study garbage cans."


Jean Quan was the first member of her extended family to be born in America, but it wasn't until she got to UC Berkeley that she knew "why I had a sister who I had never seen."

Like many Chinese immigrants in the Bay Area, Quan's family had been split apart by the Chinese Exclusion Act. Her great-grandfathers had moved to California in the 1870s to build wine caves in Sonoma County and work on the railroads.

But because of the federal legislation, "they weren't allowed to bring their families, weren't allowed to naturalize," Quan said recently.

When the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed all they had, her paternal great-grandfather and his three Chinese-born sons petitioned to remain in America. Because all records had been destroyed, they claimed citizenship, joining thousands of so-called "paper sons."

Yet each generation of the early Quan family was forced by the exclusion act to return to China to marry. That's what her father, George Quan, did in 1920, when he wed May Wong. He returned to California and earned his citizenship after fighting in World War II.

But he was able to bring only his wife to America. Because of the tight immigration restrictions, daughter Lai Oy and son Tai Jue were left behind.

"Thousands and thousands of Chinese American families were split and suffered," Quan said. The pain of that separation — along with the family's sacrifices to support her older sister in China — helped turn her into an activist.

Quan, 61, was born a year after her mother arrived in the East Bay suburb of Livermore. She was taunted growing up: "Chung chung Chinaman" and "You're a Jap!" Her father, who ran a Chinese restaurant, had died of lung cancer by the time she was 5. Her mother worked long restaurant hours and took in piecework from a garment factory.

At Berkeley, Quan marched with Latino and Filipino farmworkers. It was her future husband, Floyd Huen, who introduced her to the Asian American Political Alliance and trained her focus on her own community.

In 1969, the alliance joined with other minority groups to successfully demand ethnic studies programs on campus. Quan was the first to teach a Berkeley class on Asian women.

In the late 1980s, Quan was working as the Service Employees International Union's first Asian labor organizer. Lee sat on San Francisco's Human Rights Commission. The friends joined forces to try to improve working conditions for janitors.

These days, "now that we're both mayors," Quan said, they can laugh together about their shared history.

And on some issues, she thinks, they'll probably work together again. She'll just "pick up the phone and say, 'Ed, how do we fix this?'"

For now, though, Quan said, she is preparing for the feasts, including Wednesday's White House dinner for China's president, to which both Quan and Lee are invited.

"I suspect we will be invited to a lot of joint banquets, because the Chinese community is beside itself with pride," she said. "I'm learning to be like the queen of England. I hear she only takes one bite of each dish."