September 11 Digital Archive

Frances Wong


Frances Wong



Media Type


Chinatown Interview: Interviewee

Frances Wong

Chinatown Interview: Interviewer

Ingrid Dudek

Chinatown Interview: Date


Chinatown Interview: Language


Chinatown Interview: Occupation

counsel. St. Vincent's

Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)

Q: This is the Chinatown Documentation Project. This is Ingrid Dudek. Today is December 26, 2003, and let’s just get started. Could you just state your name and your date of birth?

Wong: Oh, really? Date of birth, too? Wow. On the screen? Okay. Sure. [laughs] My name is Frances Wong. My Chinese name is Wong Lai Fong, and I use my middle initial, L. [birth date omitted per interviewee request]. Okay.

Q: And you grew up in Chinatown.

Wong: I was, yes, I was born and raised in Chinatown.

Q: Where are your parents from?

Wong: My parents are from Hoiping, which is right near a village right next to Toisan, China, and they---my father came here when he was sixteen, my mother came here when she was twenty-five. And so, my grandfather from, my paternal grandfather also came here when he was younger, so I’m kind of like, uh, I guess a, three and a half ----

Q: Generation.

Wong:----Generation, yeah.

Q: Your grandfather came here and stayed, or then he went back?

Wong: He came here and stayed. His name was Charles Wong. He is buried in the Staten Island cemetery. So, yeah, he’s here. [laughs]

Q: But your father was born and raised in China---

Wong: In China, right. He was born in---so they came, I guess he came here at age sixteen with his father. So I don’t know about my paternal grandmother, but---

Q: Your parents met here, then?

Wong: No, actually, my father went back to Hoiping to, ah, marry my mother. Right. So, and this was his third marriage. Yeah, it was really sad. His first wife he met in Hoiping, China, but she died, and then he immigrated here, and met someone else here, Dorothy Wong, and she also died, and then that’s when he went, um---so I have like, one sibling from his first marriage, two siblings from his second marriage, a brother and a sister, and then he married my mother and I have three brothers, older brothers, and I’m the youngest. So.

Q: So what’s the total, how many?

Wong: Um, the total is four and three, is seven.

Q: How old was he by the final marriage?

Wong: Oh, how old was he? I think he married at, the third marriage was at fifty-five.

Q: Really?

Wong: I’m not sure, but I believe that’s so, yeah.

Q: What did he do for work the whole time that he was here in the U.S.?

Wong: Um, laundry, the laundry, yeah, meaning, not laundrymats, but, you know, actual ironing of shirts and sending things out and pressing, having it washed and coming back to the laundry to press it. We had laundries on the Upper East Side, and the Bronx. And Brooklyn, actually.

Q: Did you mother work as well?

Wong: My mother worked as well, in the laundry, she managed the one in Brooklyn, and my father did the one in, on the Upper East Side.

Q: Did you and your brothers work in that as well?

Wong: Um, I escaped it. They all did, and I was lucky, I was young then, so I didn’t have to do a lot of the work. But, ah, I can remember my brothers working really hard, and I had the fun, so they would ride a bicycle, they would put me in the carriage and they would deliver the laundry to people and I would get the benefit of sitting in the little basket [laughs] when they drove through Central Park, I mean, when they rode through Central Park, so I was fortunate that way. My brother Paul did that.

Q: Where were you living when you grew up?

Wong: Where was I living? Well, I guess I was living, we lived in the back of the laundries, um, until age five or six, and then we came back to Manhattan here, in Chinatown, on Henry Street, where I went to P.S. 1, and P.S. 2, and I went to the local junior high school, which is Junior High School 56, and I went to the local high school, too, which is Stewart Park High School.

Q: So you’re local all the way?

Wong: I’m a local all the way. Except for when I went to college, and I went to Cornell for my Bachelor of Science degree in human development and family studies, and then I went to University of Penn, where I have my Masters in Social Work.

Q: When you say, " the back of the laundries," do you mean the ones in the Bronx?

Wong: The Bronx, and you know, I kind of traveled, you know, to all of them.

Q: You moved around?

Wong: Yeah, I moved around when I was ages one to five. Yeah, that’s the kind of life---I can’t remember a lot of it, ‘cause that’s when I was real young, but, yeah.

Q: How old was your father then, when you were born?

Wong: Um, he was probably around fifty-eight.

Q: Okay. Well.

Wong: Very interesting, huh? He actually, he, he, passed away when I was twelve.

Q: Oh. He was seventy.

Wong: So, yeah.

Q: And your mother?

Wong: My mother, um, passed away about three years ago, in 2000, and, ah, there’s a story in there that I would like to tell a little bit later, which has really effected my life deeply. Um, I don’t know, should I---I guess we could---

Q: Did you want to---

Wong: ---To talk about it now, or more about the pa----

Q: Well, could you talk a little more about um----

Wong: ---growing up in Ch----

Q: ---growing up, yeah.

Wong: Yeah, I would love to talk about growing up in Chinatown.

Um, I guess, ah, [sighs] in Chinatown, what really had a big influence in my life was playing basketball. So ages twelve or thirteen through seventeen, basketball had a major effect on my life. It gave me a place to have peers, a place to go to. Most of all it helped me develop my leadership skills, and my commitment to being in community. Um, even while I was growing up I always wondered, why did---well, my mother started, after the laundries, started working in the garment factories and the sweatshops, and I would go up and I would see all this poverty and struggle. And so I started writing papers when I was young about racism, I started finding out about um, Chinatown and the need for Chinatown, that ranged across the states because of fear of being attacked, you know, there are---numerous, numerous Chinese were attacked and killed and they were, you know, throughout our history, since the 1800s, since arriving here.

So I read a lot of that, and I said, Jeez, there’s just a lot of racism, it’s just so unfair. So, um, you know, I wrote papers, and then, um, basketball, even when we did tournaments, I ran some tournaments, and we even dedicated that to, we called it the Rock Springs Memorial for the people that died in Rock Springs, Arkansas, in Arkansas. You know, for the Chinese people that were attacked and killed.

So, what happened was, a couple of things. Basketball also gave me---it gave me, when I say leadership skills, I knew what I wanted to do, it just gave me skills, I developed a sense of competency, which I hope that kids now will develop. That’s why I’m interested in this Asian-American Youth Center, in developing a youth center in the community. Um, yeah, cause we used to just play outside in the parks, or played at P.S. 1, at Columbus Park. Anyway, so getting back to basketball. I also, it just so happened my coach was from Taiwan, and so he had a dream of taking a girls’ team back to Taiwan, to play against the Taiwan girls. We went to Hong Kong and Japan. So it was really pretty wonderful to have that when you’re growing up in Chinatown and the only world you know of is----Well, actually, in Chinatown, you would say that it’s Chinatown, but it was really very mixed at that point still. Where, you know, there were African-Americans, Latinos, um, and Jewish-Americans. So it was really a great community to grow up in, because, you know, I really, there were differences, but um, it, we accepted each other.

So, actually, so having all of that just really helped me to develop my sense of multiculturalism, um, my belief that we could really succeed together, and of course, I wasn’t a child of the ‘60s, I was a little young then, but I benefited from Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy’s moves, and it was just really wonderful.

Q: Because this would have been, what, in the early ‘70s?

Wong; In the early ‘70s, yeah, between ‘70---I played basketball in, I guess, ’73 to ’76, that was my high school days.

Q: And there were a lot of identity politics movement at the time?

Wong: Oh, definitely, yeah. At that point, um, I think we had our first riot. That Chinatown had the first protest against police brutality, down here in City Hall. And, I mean, you probably have pictures of that, but yeah, it was a really interesting time to grow up because, you know, I guess I’m a pioneer now, or then, but, still a lot, there were a lot of things happening, so it was really a good time to grow up. And I guess we were developing our awareness about things that shouldn’t be. Yeah.

Q: It was quite a different Chinatown then, too.

Wong: It was a smaller Chinatown. And mostly Cantonese, the people from Toisan, or Hoiping, or Canton. Or Hong Kong. And there were some people here, there were families still from China and from Taiwan. So there---but the first immigrants here were, and I’m sure that you already have this documented---were the indentured servants that, I don’t know if I should go into all this, yeah?

[sirens, and cross-talk about sirens]

Wong: Should I mention the indentured servants? I don’t think I need to, right, because other people----

Q: Sort of in passing, yeah. So let me just say it again, it was a different Chinatown then, cause probably there were also more residents than commuters like there are now too.

Wong: Oh, yeah, definitely more residents. We all, I guess at that point there were a lot of people that still lived in Chinatown. Um, but were looking to move out. Like my, I grew up in a basketball family. My brothers all played basketball, so I was very lucky to be in a family where my brothers encouraged me to play basketball. It gave me, in high school, you know I played high school basketball also, and having an outside team. It just gave me something extra. Also it was great on my extracurricular activity form for college. So.

Q: So these were also like community-initiative teams? They weren’t like the YMCA, they weren’t through school.

Wong: No, they were community-initiative, yeah. It came about from people like, actually you might know him, this guy named Tai Ma, who is now an actor, and he’s in Hollywood. But Tai, Tai’s vision was to have a basketball tournament. This is from, you may know Fay Chang, from Basement Workshop, or if you do know Fay Chang from Basement Workshop, so she developed Basement Workshop, Tai did, for probably one or two summers, I don’t know, these ah, basketball tournaments.

The Chinatown Y didn’t come about until maybe ’76 or so, yeah, so, but yeah, these were grassroots organizations just getting together and trying to get the kids together out there to play. And, I mean, right now I’m part of a grassroots organization, it’s called the Asian-American Youth Center, and our vision is to create and get funding for a youth center. And the youth center that we envision is one that has basketball and has, you know, a gym in it. But I, of course, since I’m into mental health, I would love to be able to lead workshops on leadership skills, get kids ready----I wish I’d had that, actually. That would have probably helped me to understand the world of politics a little better now, and how to deal with the politics.

But also just teaching kids skills about grounding, centering, um, knowing when to go forward and when to step back, when to be more aggressive and when to be assertive, and how, what’s the difference because we all fluctuate between being aggressive and passive, especially Asians growing up here, we are all very passive, and, but, we grew up in the schools here, so we learned how to be aggressive and assertive. So. Um, I would love to be able to do, to do some workshops with kids that way. And at St. Vincent’s we’re working, we’re doing mental health in the schools and stuff like that, but I think I’d like to do more large workshops just to do a skill development. Yeah.

Q: So your interest in sort of, um, community activity which maybe started, or you attribute to the basketball period in your life----

Wong: I think so. I think so.

Q: --- When did you start more sort of community social service work, actively, how did that come about?

Wong: Um, well, I went to---After high school, I went to Cornell. And at Cornell, I decided from then that it was very much a culture shock being up there. Because, here I am, I’m used to the city environment, and I’m used to people just related, but it was, ah, it was really different at that point. I was one of the few Asian-Americans that went to college in, I started in 1976.

So I had decided back then already, I said, after I graduate, I’m coming back to work in the community, and I decided I really then, never left the community actually. So I was able to get an internship there, where I worked with the Chinese-American Planning Council. I had one semester where I worked with youth. It was called Project Reach and it’s still in existence now. Don Kao does that now. But at that point, it was Peter Fong, and then David Chen. David Chen is now the executive director at CPC. But back then, you know, we were just all doing youth work. So it was a great experience. It was a prevention program, preventing kids from using drugs and also preventing them from going into gangs. Because at that point, there were kids that were really just dropping out of school, they didn’t have the bilingual programs, they didn’t have bilingual counselors, um, and there were a lot of, you know, new immigrants. As you know, probably in 1965 is when they lifted the, ah, what’s it called, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Chinese started immigrating here finally.

Q: What do you mean, just to back up a second, by "culture shock" in Cornell?

Wong: ---At Cornell? [laughs] It was a non-Asian, um, it was really more of a white environment, and it was very hard at that point, because I was looked at differently. Um, I had, um, I felt different, very, very different. Not like I was here---I mean, I was here----I grew up in Chinatown and you know, there were African Americans and Latinos and Jewish, but going there, there was not a lot of that, it was mostly people from all over the country, but white. So it was just very different there, and I felt different, sometimes devalued. Sometimes devalued. Sometimes, um, good, but mostly I felt racism. Yeah, mostly. And actually it was great because Cornell had racism courses and I went, and I took a racism course, and then after I graduated I continued to work in Chinatown in the Adolescent Vocational Exploration Program, where we were able to, like, place kids in the summer with other people in the different professions, computer, typography, everything. And then, they really got a lot from those programs.

But then I went to the University of Pennsylvania because they have a dedication to eradicate racism, and so we had to take courses on American racism two years, for two years. So, um, it has been a pretty interesting experience. After the University of Pennsylvania I came back to Chinatown. I worked in the Chinatown Health Clinic, just developing their services for Chinese-Americans, and then I worked at the Chinese-American Planning Council, developing a program for Asian victims of domestic violence. Back then we called them "Asian battered women." But, um, we also, and it was quite difficult watching women struggle, because they were being beaten, they came here and they didn’t know what their rights were. And actually a lot of these women are more fortunate because they’re here. In China they might have continued to be beaten, but because they were here, they could see a different life, so I was glad to provide that service that they could live violence-free, and that they didn’t have to accept or tolerate it. In Chinese there’s a huge word for "tolerate" and for years and centuries, you know, women have tolerated being beaten. Being psychologically beaten, too, by their husbands.

Q: Is it a program that’s still running?

WONG: The program is not really running right now, but there’s also the Asian-American,---there’s the New York Asian Women’s Center, that is still in existence, and I had volunteered for the hotline back then. So there was a 24-hour hotline for women to call, for Asian women to call, that’s in different dialects of Chinese. So, um, recently----I don’t know if I should talk about this, but recently one of the women came here, um, and the struggle still goes on. She still has no place to go, she’s still a new immigrant, she’s beaten, she has no place to go, so I’m very glad that she was able to go to, you know, a shelter. A shelter. So, yeah.

Q: You’ve worked at an incredible number of different social service centers, and probably have had a wide range of experience. Do you feel like different kinds of services, say, education or youth services are maybe more successful than others, or what kind of outreach is necessary to get the community to respond? Or is the community ready and waiting to do what they need to do?

WONG: The community is not ready and waiting. It’s really very interesting how the media---media is very important all over. Even when I was at Cornell I was thinking, Jeez, if only the Chinese had a radio program we could do more public education. Well, lo and behold, it’s been very wonderful. You know, we have now the public radio station, 1480, um, and so that has proven to be--- you know, if you get on that program you become a household name and people believe in you, and it’s just, it’s pretty incredible that we’re able to reach more people. So, um, I think, actually 1480 is now, but back then it was the Sino-cast radio station, and the Cheng Hua radio station, and you had to buy boxes from each radio station to hear, to get the news. Now, you know, we’re lucky to get the 1480 and we’re trying to use that. Even though---- so services, through the radio and through newspapers really helps, so people need to develop, in my position, need to develop relationships with the media.

Um, I guess, ah, the other thing that effected me---well, I’ve been in the community working for a long time. I had gone into administration in health care at Governer (?) Hospital, and I was the director for the Quality Assurance, Quality Improvement Program. But, um, and it was really good to work in administration. You saw the other side of how things work, and I felt like I could make an influence in the quality of care that the community would get in the hospital.

But what deeply effected my life was that my mother got sick. And, um, it was a time to decide career or family. And definitely, I think, career came second. Family was really more important, although you know, all my life I had been very interested in my career, I wanted to take care of my mother, and that has made a big difference in my life. Because it made me really appreciate the time that I had with my mother, because I knew, she had probably---when she developed renal failure she probably had two years, three years at the most, and so I really wanted to spend that time with her. And it’s made me just appreciate life more, appreciate people, and I decided after that experience that I didn’t want to go back into administration directly. I decided to go to St. Vincent’s, to---I wanted to be of service to the community, and not just to the Asian-American community, but to the world, and that’s why, um, St. Vincent’s has a program called the World Trade Center Healing Services, um, dealing with people that had losses from 9/11, whether it was um, a personal loss with family members or a fiancée, or a job, or just that they were still continuing to have trauma and nightmares from just reliving the experiences of 9/11. I just wanted to be of service that way. And it’s made a lot of difference, a lot of difference, knowing that I can help people just normalize and have their lives back.

Q: Has this been a very successful program?

WONG: I feel that this program has been pretty successful. People in the Asian-American community, though, still have not come out a lot. You may know through the Asian-American Federation that they did a research study and only, they did their research in the community, through families, but one thing I can just tell you in terms of percentages, there is the Asian Life Net, which is a hotline for Asian-Americans to call about services. From 9/11, for two years, there was only a four percent increase in the hotline, which was not really a lot. I mean, no matter how much media we did, not a lot of people came out to talk about their 9/11 experiences.

So, I --- my skills, I’ve really worked on helping people with trauma. And I feel like for the people that I’ve worked with it’s been very, very effective. In terms of what we’re doing here at St. Vincent’s. So, um, ---

Q: How do you get clients there? Are they referred to you, or do they come in?

WONG: Both, yeah. They’ve been referred to us, they’ve seen it in newspapers, and we haven’t gone to the radio yet, but we will be. I’ve only been here for six months, so---

Q: But do you feel there’s like an extra cultural reluctance to seek out, specifically therapy?

WONG: Yes. Um, well, right, no one really wants to think of themselves as going to therapy in the Asian community because you’re considered crazy, and there’s so much shame and stigma attached to going for therapy. So what we’ve done at St. Vincent’s since 9/11 is provide auricular acupuncture, or ear acupuncture, and so we’re hoping to extend that to the Chinese-American community, and perhaps they would come for more services with ear acupuncture. We’re hoping to reach people more that way. Um, and just today I had---this is 12/26/03, and just today I had a new client, and he has gone for services, and I don’t know how successful I’ll be, but, I use a little hypnotherapy in my sessions, and I try to get people to feel safe. That’s one of the first things about healing, is to get people to feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, it’s hard to heal. So, um, yeah.

Q: How do you deal with, um, sort of an abiding sense of shame? Is that something that you always have to work through when you’re dealing with the Chinese community in this way?

WONG: Somewhat. I think by the time they come here, they’ve gotten over some of that shame. And what we do is we do work it out further here, by talking about it a little more, helping them to feel more grounded, centered, more entitled. I think a lot of the Chinese don’t feel entitled to anything---to the services, to the relief----so I think the Chinese-Americans are still having----they’re still on a learning curve. You know, they’re still learning to be in America, ah, learning what rights they have.

Q: So that’s what you would attribute the reluctance to, sort of culturally?

WONG: Um, could you---

Q: Well, in terms of low numbers, or in terms of outreach, or in terms of people taking advantage of the services, despite the media, and despite----


WONG: I think, okay, for instance, someone read the article and she just kept it in her drawer for a month before she came for services. I think people want to, but it takes time to develop the inertia to say, "Okay, I’m going to go for it, I’m going to call." And even if we say all the services are confidential, they’re still afraid that something could get out there, and they don’t trust that you won’t tell anyone about it. And that’s why I guess, um, going out there and doing hotline work, on the radio stations may help. Work, actually at the New York Asian-American Mental Health Coalition is developing a conference called Stigma, and so we’re trying to see what will de-stigmatize coming to the services.

Maybe, maybe in the next ten years we could combat that. Cause there’s been a stigma attached to going for mental health services for such a long time, I don’t know if we can combat that, but hopefully, yeah.

Q: Can you talk generally at all about what kind of [?] and issues people have, without being too specific, maybe across generations, or, are they professional, or are they just---

WONG: Oh, definitely, there’s a lot of professionals in the Chinese community that saw the whole collapsing of the towers, and they were very effected. So we’ve seen a couple of them, but not enough. The Chinese community were here. You know, they saw the towers falling, and some people, some people can’t stop crying, they go into the bathrooms to cry, um, ah, there are people that have lost their jobs because of that, and SARS then effected the Chinese-American community, and we just, just, one thing after the, the blackout, so, it’s just been taking such a toll on the community.

Families still have maybe both---what’s the word for it----both parents still are out of jobs, and that really has a big impact on mental health. So, um what else ---

Q: Can you, then, can you also direct them to other services?

WONG: Um, yes, but there’s, there’s still only a couple of services, like there’s the Chinatown Manpower, where you could learn computer skills, there’s not a lot of---I mean, what they really need, the Chinese-American community, is jobs, but we don’t have a lot of jobs. But what I could do though is at least help ground them and heal those wounds that they’ve developed. And what we find with a lot of the Chinese-Americans is that they’re re-living that day, and they’re as anxious and depressed, so they’re reliving, and the anxiety and the depression doesn’t help.

Q: And are the services here, how do they work? Are they free?

WONG: The services here are free. Everything is free. And I would say the results are quite good. I would say after three sessions, some people are ready to go. After one session, [laughs] a professional woman was---I think what I do mostly is help connect people back to their resources, internal resources, their own skills, their own strengths, and feeling safe. And that goes a long way. That goes a long way in helping people to regain their sense of independence, their sense of themselves and their identities. Yeah.

Q: How long do you anticipate this program----

WONG: This program’s going to go on a long time. St. Vincent’s really wanted to develop a trauma center, so, hoping I’m that, you know, we’ll be able to help more people, and especially, um, actually we’re just launching some of our outreach to the Chinese-American community, so I’m still hoping that we can be effective that way.

Q: How would you say, um, this experience has changed your own relationship to your career and Chinatown, in terms of what you want to do and what projects, what parts of the community you want to engage and work with?

WONG: Um, well, I’m probably doing too much right now, but you can’t help it, ‘cause you want to do a lot. This experience makes me appreciate life more, appreciate my friends, you know, it’s like, Joe was just here a minute ago, and I just said---he’s the administrator here---and I just really appreciate him, because I guess we’re always under threat, and we never know when, so it just has taught me to appreciate life more, and so, you know, I take time to say, "Geez, that was really nice of you---" you know, Joe, I just appreciate all that he does. He even bakes brownies for us. So we have good support here.

But I’m working on the Asian-American Youth Center, which is a non-profit organization. Everyone on the board is a volunteer. Then there’s always Friends of Columbus Park. As I mentioned, I grew up playing basketball at PS 1 and at Columbus Park. And at Columbus Park right now we’re trying to rebuild, there’s money there to rebuild the pavilion, and what we’re trying to do is get the Parks Department to accept the community’s suggestions about how they re-do the park, what they do with the park and how they re-do the pavilion.

The pavilion could be a community center. Right now it’s not, it hasn’t been utilized in about fifteen years, and it’s gone to the pigeons, and there’s money now, but, you know, we’re trying to work with the politicians, to get the Parks Department to understand that the community really needs their space. It’s just so important here. There really is no one community center here. Can you believe it? I mean, there’s the Chinatown Y, there are schools, public education schools, but we’d love to have a community center, where you can go and ask questions about what’s it like to be an immigrant here, what kinds of things should we learn. There are a lot of programs that try to do that, but there’s no one community where you can just go---there’s churches---but it’s different. It’s different, yeah.

Q: Do you feel like it’s difficult to get the city to acknowledge that need, as well?

WONG: Um, yes, I do. But I, we don’t know yet what to do, because we’re still pioneers, and we’re still struggling to understand the political system here and how to effect change. Yeah.

Q: Which just sounds like a lot of the early ‘70s community-building work---

WONG: ---Yeah----

Q: ---which is what you’re returning to.

WONG: Yes, I am, yeah.

Q: I also wanted to ask, um ---I’m drawing a blank--- Can we stop for a second?

WONG: I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes a mirror is grounding---


Q: Okay, sorry about that. I wanted to back up and talk a bit more about the trauma program at St. Vincent’s and how that’s organized. Is it directed only at the Chinatown community, do you deal with other kinds of clients----

WONG: Oh yes, I do. I deal with all kinds of, a multicultural clientele here. Yeah.

Q: And is it, is the program pitched to different communities? Or do you think this problem of entitlement is in some ways uniquely Chinese or also an immigrant experience in general?

WONG: It is. You’re right. It’s an immigrant experience. We only have so much funding, but we’re trying impact the adults and also the children and the adolescents, so St. Vincent’s has been able to go into the school system, so at Schulz Park High School there is a Chinese counselor, there is, um, in IS 131 there is a Chinese counselor, St. Joseph’s there was one, she’s on maternity leave. But yeah, we’ve been trying to go into the Chinese community.

And, yeah, there are English-speaking counselors, also. There are about twenty-five staff in the school systems. There’s only about four of us working with the adults. So I’m, ah, someone else and I are pretty much it for the Chinese-American community, but I don’t just work with the Chinese-Americans, I work with other clientele too. Yeah.

Q: So you speak with Cantonese speakers, and English speakers---

WONG: ---and English speakers, right.

Q: Would you say there are any sort of, generalized qualitative differences between the clientele you get from different communities compared to Chinese communities?

WONG: Hhmmm. Qualitative, generalized---I think that there are more coping skills in non-Chinese communities, because they’re coming here as----okay, if it’s professionals in the Asian-American community, I think they have more coping skills.

Q: What do mean by professionals?

WONG: Um, I mean the Asian-American professionals, and, you know, people who work in banks, or stockbrokers, or ah, that, that, people that work down here in the Wall Street area. Yeah.

Q: And then, compared to----

WONG: To the Chinese---

Q: --- to other kinds of ---

WONG: ---Chinese immigrants who have only been here about two or three years, or even ten years, who are now out of jobs. I guess it has to do with the English language again, you know, depending on your ability to speak English, you can get different jobs.

Q: Can you talk more about how the community responded to the SARS scares?

WONG: How the community responded to it.

Q: At least, through your clientele, through your observations.

WONG: Well, we---the community knew that we weren’t affected by SARS, but there were so many rumors and people who wanted to believe that there was SARS in the community. Yeah, we had a march in, I think April or so, where we walked through Chinatown trying to let everyone know that, you know, "Chinatown is safe!" Even Mayor Bloomberg and Hilary Clinton came to the Chinese community to let people know that it was really safe to eat in Chinatown. But we were still deeply effected by it, still, economically it cut the community. It was pretty hard. I think we’re just starting now to, people know that there’s no SARS here.

Q: I’m wondering also, do different kinds of issues of racism come up in your experience, in terms of, for example, how people perceive Chinatown and people deal with that in their daily lives?

WONG: Can you ask me more about that?

Q: Well, in terms, for example, of rumors of SARS, and then, how that effects people personally, or perhaps racism in every day life, say on the job, or just in the city. Have you come in contact with much of that, do you feel like that’s part of a major issue for people in general?

WONG: I’m still not understanding your question, I think. I’m not sure---

Q: Well, I’m just curious about, um---

WONG: On my job here, or the community----

Q: Well, your job here or your general experience in direct service centers.

WONG: Oh, okay, let’s see. Racism, I, when I went to the University of Pennsylvania, we were defining as race plus lack of resources plus fighting for those resources. I, I would say that yeah, SARS and the impact on Chinatown, there was an element of racism there. Sure, it was not knowing about this foreign population. Again, you know, we’ve only really been here for thirty years now, since ’65. Is that thirty years? It’s only twenty-something years. I mean, even though we’ve been here for a long time, but there was that Chinese Exclusion Act, and it wasn’t repealed for a hundred years. And so we’re still catching up. And so people still aren’t understanding.

We’re the model minority. We’re really doing well in schools, we’re in colleges, but then what about the new immigrants in this Chinese-American community, and how, how do people look at them? Well, you know, it’s always class. There’s class and race differences, and sometimes in the community right now it’s class and race. And what I mean by that is, you know, they look at people who have different ways of expressing themselves, who seem perhaps, I would still use the word "savage," because they still probably think of Chinese as different, maybe having the lower class savage practices, as not being health. So, you know, why would you want to go to a community that still has a high rate of tuberculosis, a high rate of this and that, and so it has effected.

I guess the other thing that recently came up was, well, was the Chinese-American, is the Chinese-American community still experiencing racism in politics and from, like the police department. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Park Row issue. The residents in Chatham Green and Chatham Towers, because they live right near, um, the First Police Precinct, they’ve had their lives changed as a result of 9/11. Majorly impacted, because they’re right there, and the streets are closed, and they have to live in a police state, so the kids grow up thinking they’re unsafe. So can you imagine what that is like, a police state? They always see police cars there.

Plus, it’s effected, it also has taken away parking. So people, when they come, they used to come from let’s say, New Jersey or Long Island to come shop in Chinatown, there’s no parking. That whole street has been blocked off, and then the municipal parking was right underneath there. That’s been blocked off. So, yeah, I mean, so many things have affected the Chinese community.

Q: So you see all these changes impacting the Chinese psyche?

WONG: Psyche and mental health. Yeah, all these kids are growing up and thinking it’s not safe, it’s not safe. I walk outside and I have to have police protect me.

Q: So then could you also talk more generally, either from professional experience or personal experience about how Chinatown has changed for you? Cause you’ve been here for awhile and you’ve also been very active for a good portion of that time. Cause there’s new immigrants, there’s new issues in the city government, all those things.

WONG: Ingrid, I’m not sure how to answer that right now. [laughter]

Q: How would you talk about the future of Chinatown?

WONG: Yeah, I know, I want to give hope but I can’t feel it right now [laughs]. Okay. Got it. Okay. Oh, Gosh, the community is just so large, at this point, and it just makes me really happy that we finally have a larger percentage. The New York Chinese-American community is one of the---it is the largest Chinese-American community [aside: I’m sorry] across the country. It, okay I’ll say that again. The Chinese-American community is the largest across the country, for New York, and I think it’s, yeah, according to the 2000 U.S. 2000 census, it is the largest in Chinatown, Manhattan.

And what’s wonderful is that we finally have some numbers, and hopefully, we’ll develop some voting capacity. I want to encourage every single person to go out there and register to vote, ‘cause that makes all the difference, all the difference in the eyes of the politicians. We need to develop our political power. And all the, the Chinese-American----because we have so many dialogues in Chinese, we’ve always had a lot of differences. People, the Chinese don’t know how to work with each other. And I, I guess through my days of working on facilitating this and facilitating workshops, I’m really hoping to facilitate some of that. But I don’t know. Really, a lot of it has to come from heart. People have to feel like they can trust each other. I’m really hoping that the Chinese-American leaders can work together to develop the community, and get services for the community, not just for oh, okay, my little pocket or my little pocket here. It’s again, scarcity of resources. But, um, you know, maybe the leaders can decide after we get the money how to divide it, but----

Q: Do you feel like there’s a possibility for that, because it seems to me that in some ways your experience is very unique in that you’ve stayed in the community and you’ve worked and lived here. Whereas often there’s a high turnover rate, some people choose to move out or not necessarily to reinvest in the community.

WONG: Could you say----

Q: Do you have a sense that there’s sort of a growing critical mass of interest in working on these issues in Chinatown?

WONG: Oh, yes, I actually sense that how 9/11 has effected people is that they are more interested in living life to its fullest and maybe contributing. I mean, for one, I said, that’s where I want to be, I want to work with people who have trouble still with 9/11. I wanted to be of service to the world that way. And then, to my community to. So, I’m hoping that, you know, this message will be brought to a lot of people and that more people will come out to help. So. Okay. That’s a wrap? [laughs]


Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)

<p> 問﹕這裡是唐人街文件
<p>王﹕不是﹐實際上﹐我父親回到開平娶的我母親。這是他的第三次婚姻。是啊﹐的確很不幸。他在中國開平認識了第一個太太﹐但她死了﹐後來他移民到這裡﹐然後又在別處遇到了Dorothy Wong﹐後來她也死了﹐然後他又回了---。所以﹐我有一個繼兄弟姐妹是他第一個太太生的﹐還有兩個是他第二個太太生的﹐一個是哥哥另外一個是姐姐。然後他就娶了我母親﹐一共生了四個孩子﹐我有三個哥哥﹐我是最小的。</p>
<p>王﹕洗衣服﹐我說的洗衣服不是去自助洗衣店﹐而是熨襯衫﹐送衣服﹐熨平﹐洗﹐再回來熨。我們在Upper East Side﹑布朗士區﹑布魯克林區都有開店。</p>
王﹕我母親也在洗衣店做工。她負責布魯克林的洗衣店﹐我父親負責Upper East Side的那一間。</p>
<p>王﹕我住在哪裡﹖我想我們住在洗衣店的後面。等我到了五﹑六歲的時候﹐我們搬到曼哈頓的唐人街﹐在亨利街。我在那裡上的P.S. 1和P.S. 2﹐然後在附近上的初中﹐是在第五十六初級中學﹐後來又上了附近的高中﹐Stewart Park中學。</p>
<p>這些我都聽到很多﹐使我感覺到有很多的種族歧視﹐實在是不公平。於是﹐我就寫文章﹐甚至在我們打籃球打比賽的時候﹐我參加了幾次比賽﹐我們將其命名為Rock Springs Memorial﹐為紀念那些在阿肯色州Rock Springs遭攻擊致死的中國人。</p>
<p>所以﹐有這麼幾件事情。打籃球還使我---它讓我---我講的領導才能是指我知道我要做些什麼﹐我從中學會了些技巧﹐增強了我的自信心﹐這也是我希望當今的兒童能夠學會的一些東西。這也是我為什麼對Asian-American Youth Center感興趣的原因﹐要在社區建立一個青年中心。是的﹐因為我們曾經經常在外面的公園裡玩兒﹐或者在P.S. 1﹑Columbus Park玩兒。現在再談回打籃球。很湊巧﹐我的教練是從台灣來的﹐他有一個夢想﹐即他要帶一支女子隊去台灣﹐和台灣的女子隊打比賽。我們去過香港和日本。<br>

<p>王﹕沒錯﹐是的。在那時候﹐我想是我們組織了第一次運動。那是在唐人街舉行的第一次反對警察暴力的示威遊行﹐是在City Hall。你也許還能見到那時的照片﹐成長在那段時期的確很有意思﹐我想我都成了元老了。那時發生了很多事情﹐所以﹐成長在那個時期還是蠻不錯的。我想我們逐漸養成了一種反抗意識。是的。</p>

<p>王﹕不﹐這些是社區組織的。發起人有﹐實際上﹐你也許也知道﹐有個人叫Tai Ma﹐他現在是演員﹐在好萊塢。但Tai Ma的願望是組建一支籃球聯隊。這是由﹐你也許知道Basement Workshop的Fay Chang﹐如果你真知道Basement Workshop的Fay Chang的話﹐是她建立Basement Workshop的﹐包括Tai﹐但他也許只干了一兩個夏天﹐有關籃球聯賽的具體情況我也不太清楚。</p>
<p>在唐人街﹐直到76年左右才開始有了Y﹐這是些剛剛成立的基層的組織﹐目的是吸引孩子們參加比賽。現在﹐我也屬於一個基層組織﹐叫作Asian-American Youth Center﹐我們的目標是籌建一個青年中心。<br>

<p>而且要教授孩子們一些基礎訓練﹐集中精神﹐知道何時向前沖何時向後退﹐何時應該有闖勁何時應該有自信的技巧﹐以及這些技巧之間的差異﹐因為我們總是在主動和被動之間徘徊﹐尤其是在這裡長大的亞洲人﹐我們都是很被動的﹐但是我們在這裡的學校長大﹐所以我們懂得怎樣抓住主動權和表現自信心。我很想能夠給孩子們組織一些講習班。在我們工作的St. Vincent's﹐我們在學校進行精神健康等的教育﹐但是我還是想多舉行一些大規模的講習班專門提高某些方面的技巧。</p>
<p>所以﹐在那個時候我就已經決定畢業之後要回到社區工作﹐而且在那之後我從來也沒有離開社區。我在社區的Chinese-American Planning Council實習。有一個學期我帶了一些年輕人﹐組成了一個叫作Project Reach的組織﹐這個組織現在還存在﹐現在是由Don Kao負責。但在那時﹐是由Peter Fong負責﹐後來是David Chen。<br>

David Chen現在是CPC的行政主管。但在那時﹐我們只是做一些年輕人的工作。所以﹐這對我是一個很好的經歷。那是一個預防的項目﹐防止孩子們使用毒品以及參加黑社會。因為那時有的孩子綽學﹐他們學校裡沒有雙語的課程﹐也沒有雙語的輔導員﹐但那時有很多新移民。你知道﹐Chinese Exclusion Act是在1965年左右被取消的﹐在此之後﹐大批中國人才開始移民到這裡。</p>
<p>王﹕在Cornell﹖[笑] 那裡沒有亞洲人﹐那兒基本上是個白人的天下﹐那段時期的確很困難﹐因為別人用不同的眼光看待我。我感覺我跟週圍的其他人非常非常不一樣。跟我在這裡很不同﹐我是在唐人街長大的﹐從小到大週圍有黑人﹑拉丁美洲人和猶太人﹐但那裡沒有這麼多其他種族的人﹐那裡的學生大多來自全國各地﹐但都是白人。所以﹐那裡很不一樣﹐同時我也感覺到我跟其他人不一樣﹐有的時候感覺被人家瞧不起。大多情況下還好﹐但我能感受到種族歧視的存在。是的﹐大致如此。實際上﹐這也是件好事﹐因為Cornell有開種族歧視方面的課程﹐而且我也有上。在我畢業之後﹐我繼續在唐人街的Adolescent Vocational Exploration Program工作﹐我們負責安排孩子們的暑期活動﹐讓他們有機會和從事不同職業的人接觸﹐比如計算機﹑攝影等。他們的確從中受益匪淺。</p>
<p>後來﹐我又去了University of Pennsylvania﹐因為他們那裡長年致力于消除種族歧視的研究項目﹐而且我們必須上兩年有關美國種族歧視的課程﹐整整兩年。那是個很有意思的經歷。從University of Pennsylvania畢業之後﹐我又回到了唐人街﹐在唐人街的健康診所工作﹐發展那裡對美籍華人的服務。然後我又到Chinese-American Planning Council工作﹐開展一個有關亞洲人因家庭暴力而遭受傷害的項目。在那時﹐我們稱其為“受虐待的亞洲婦女。”這些受虐待的婦女的確很可憐﹐因為她們被打後跑到這裡﹐但不知道她們的權利是什麼。但實際上這些婦女還算幸運﹐因為她們至少是在這裡。要是在中國﹐她們可能會繼續被虐待﹐<br>

<p>王﹕社區一直不是非常響應。所以說﹐媒體的宣傳是非常重要的。甚至在我上Cornell的時候﹐我都一直在想﹐如果能辦一個中文電臺的廣播節目﹐我們能夠做更多的公共教育。後來﹐果然不出所料﹐這些都有搞﹐而且還都搞得很不錯。現在我們有一個公共廣播電臺﹐1480。如果你有參加電臺廣播﹐你會成為家喻戶曉的人物﹐別人也會相信你﹐所以﹐能夠通過這種方式擴大知名度是很好的事情。現在有1480﹐但以前是中廣電臺(Sino-cast radio station)和Cheng Hua電臺﹐而且你必須要從每個電臺那裡購買接收器才能夠收聽到廣播和新聞。現在﹐我們很幸運能通過1480廣播﹐我們也一直儘量充份利用。<br>

<p>但對我生活影響最深的是我母親的病。當時我必須在事業和家庭兩者之間做出選擇。我覺得事業肯定是次要的。家庭是非常重要的﹐儘管我一生都很喜歡我的職業﹐我還是想照顧我母親﹐這給我的生活帶來很大的變化﹐因為這使我非常珍惜同母親在一起的時間﹐因為我知道她可能---當她腎功能衰退後﹐她頂多能再維持兩﹑三年﹐我的確想和她多相處一些時間。這使我更加珍惜生命﹐珍惜人﹐在此之後我決定不再直接負責行政事務。我決定去St. Vincent's---我想為社區做些事情﹐不僅是為美國的亞裔社區﹐而是全世界。因此﹐St. Vincent's設立了一個叫World Trade Center Healing Services的項目﹐以幫助9/11的受害者﹐不論他們是因為9/11失去了親人或未婚妻﹐或是工作﹐還是因為經歷了9/11而受到精神創傷或經常做惡夢。我只是想以這種方式幫助他們。能夠看到通過我的幫助別人能夠重新恢復以前的生活我就很知足了。</p>
<p>王﹕我認為是很成功的。但亞裔社區很少有人跟我們聯系。你可能聽到Asian-American Federation有做過一項調查研究﹐他們有通過家庭調查做了一些統計﹐有一點我能肯定的是﹐有一個Asian Life Net﹐<br>

<p>我的確在幫助那些受創傷的受害者的方面很有技巧和經驗。我自認為我的方法對我治療過的病人都很有效﹐我指的是我在St. Vincent's的病人。</p>
<p>王﹕是的﹐沒錯。他們不想讓別人認為他們在亞裔社區尋求心理治療是因為他們精神有問題﹐一般來講人們都會認為看精神醫生是件很羞愧和丟臉的事情。所以﹐9/11之後我們在St. Vincent's舉辦了耳部針灸﹐希望能夠以此在華裔美國人社區擴大影響﹐希望他們能夠做了耳部針灸之後再到這裡來接受其他方面的治療。我們希望以此擴大影響。今天我剛剛﹐今天是12/26/03﹐今天我剛剛接收了一個新病人﹐我不知道我的治療是否有效﹐但我使用了一點催眠療法﹐我想讓病人有安全感。治療的首要一件事就是要讓他們有安全感。如果病人感到很不安﹐治療就很難再進行下去。</p>

<p> 王﹕比如說﹐有人看到文章報道後﹐又把它放在抽屜裡﹐一個月以後才到這裡治療。我想人們還是有這種意識﹐只是需要一段時間才能打定主意﹐說“好﹐我現在就要去了﹐我現在就要打電話。”盡管我們跟他們講所有的治療都是保密的﹐他們還是怕別人知道﹐你跟他們講你不會告訴別人他們就是不相信。正是因為這個原因﹐我猜想通過建立熱線電話和電臺做廣播的方式效果要好一些。實際上﹐New York Asian-American Mental Health Coalition在搞一個叫作“Stigma”的研討會﹐我們想研究一下到底用什麼方式可以讓別人覺得接受治療不是一件羞恥的事情。</p>
<p>王﹕醫療服務是免費的。所有的治療都是免費的。而且﹐效果還是蠻不錯的。可以說﹐接受三次治療後﹐有些病人就康復了。一次治療之後﹐[笑] 一位職業婦女---我想我的任務主要是幫助人們找到他們從前的感覺﹐內部的資源﹐他們的技能﹐他們自己的力量﹐以及安全感。這會花很長的時間。幫助人們重新獲得獨立感﹑他們對自己的感受和認同需要很長的時間。是這個樣子的。</p>
王﹕這個項目還會搞很長時間。St. Vincent's很想建立一個創傷中心﹐所以﹐希望我們能夠幫助更多的人﹐特別是﹐我們剛剛開展了對華裔社區的宣傳活動﹐所以﹐我還是希望這樣做的效果會好一些。</p>
<p>但我現在在Asian-American Youth Center工作﹐那是個非盈利機構。所有的董事會成員都是志願者﹐都是在Columbus Park認識的朋友。我先前提過﹐我小時候在PS 1和Columbus Park打籃球。現在﹐我們要在Columbus Park重建一個亭子﹐已經籌足了資金﹐我們的目的是想讓公園管理部門接受社區的建議﹐包括重新修建公園﹐如何更好地利用公園﹐以及重建一個亭子。</p>

<p>問﹕不好意思。我想回到剛才的話題﹐再談一下St. Vincent's的創傷項目﹐它是怎樣組織起來的﹖是不是只是針對唐人街的社區﹐還是說同時也接收其他病人﹖</p>

但我們想幫助成人﹑兒童和青少年。所以﹐St. Vincent's得以走進校園﹐我們在Schulz Park High School有一個中國輔導員﹐在IS 131也有一個中國輔導員﹐在St. Joseph's也有一個﹐她現在在休產假。是的﹐我們盡力想走入中國社區。</p>
<p>王﹕社區民眾知道我們沒有被SARS傳染到﹐但是實在是有太多的謠言﹐導致人們相信社區裡有SARS傳染。我們四月份在唐人街組織了一次遊行想讓別人知道﹐“唐人街是安全的。”甚至市長Bloomberg和Hilary Clinton都有來中國社區向別人展示在唐人街就餐是安全的。但我們的確受此影響很大﹐社區也因此遭受了經濟損失。是很艱難。我想人們才剛剛知道這裡沒有SARS。</p>
<p>王﹕好的。種族歧視﹐在我讀University of Pennsylvania的時候﹐我們把它解釋成種族﹐加上資源的缺乏﹐再加上為爭取資源的努力。我覺得就SARS和對唐人街的影響來講﹐這裡面是有種族歧視的因素。誠然﹐這是對這些外裔群體缺乏了解。再有﹐我們來這裡只不過才有三十年﹐從65年算起。不是三十年嗎﹖僅僅是三十幾年而已。我的意思是說﹐儘管我們在這裡有很長時間﹐但排華法案在一百年之後才被廢除。所以﹐我們還是在努力發展﹐很多人體會不到這一點。</p>
<p>另外一個有關華裔社區受歧視的例子是政治方面的﹐比如警察局。我不知道你是否聽說過Park Row事件。在Chatham Green和Chatham Towers的居民﹐因為他們離第一警察區比較近﹐<br>

<p>王﹕我是有信心的﹐但是現在還是不是非常地確定。[笑] 這個社區的確很大﹐在現階段﹐能夠看到我們佔了很大地盤我已經是很開心了。根據2000年的人口普查﹐紐約市曼哈頓的唐人街是全國最大的華裔社區。</p>



“Frances Wong,” September 11 Digital Archive, accessed March 31, 2023,