9/11 Chinatown Documentation Project

This project includes interviews of people that lived or worked in the lower east side during the events on September 11th, 2001. The interviewees reflect on the tragedy and discuss how their lives and the lives of others in the community were affected by it. The interviews help to paint a portrait of how the New York Chinatown we know today was shaped by the events of that morning.

Thumbnail Image

2014.036.011 Oral History Interview with Mirian Yau Oyola October 17, 2003

In this interview, Mirian Yau Oyola recounts her family’s migration from Guangdong, China to Panama and reminisces about her childhood growing up on a ranch and in a large Asian community in Panama. She chronicles her family’s eventual move to New York City, familial dynamics within a mixed family, the difficulties of cultural assimilation into American life with a Chinese stepmother, and the stark contrasts between life in Panama and America. Growing up in Brooklyn, she recalls how her neighbourhood was segregated by ethnicity down to the streets that they lived on, illegal child labor in Chinatown sweatshops, and a family scandal that created an irreconcilable rift. She recalls her involvement with the Chinatown YMCA, work as a youth counselor, and the waves of ethnic Chinese immigrants over the decades. Mirian reflects on the duality of her life being of mixed race (half Chinese and half Hispanic), the cultural expectations placed on her, her struggles with cultural identity, and the distinct emptiness she felt not being fully of either cultures. Mirian vividly recounts the day of September 11th, to which she was an eyewitness, and the confusion and mad scramble to reunite lost children to their parents that followed. She explains her patriotism and describes all the ways that she is proud. She recalls the fears that she felt for many of the children in Chinatown and surrounding neighborhoods in the aftermath of the events.

Thumbnail Image

2014.036.013 Oral History Interview with Tony Wong April 1, 2004

Tony Wong, General Manager at Sino Television, was born and raised in Hong Kong. He immigrated to the United States to study broadcasting at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Tony recalls his initial struggles as a student coming from a poor economic background and how he eventually moved to New York City, receiving a job offer at NBC right after graduation. During his time at NBC and in Sino TV as a part-timer, Tony would learn a myriad of skills including production, directing, and programming. Tony would eventually move on to work at different companies before returning to Sino TV as a full-time employee. He would describe Sino TV’s area of operation, and programming variety, and emphasize their stance on being politically and culturally neutral regarding the different Chinese communities and political views. Later in the interview, Tony shares his thoughts on Chinese unity and stereotypical “passiveness” and observes a change in this following the 9/11 attacks. Tony notes that following the 9/11 attack, the Chinese community banded together to help local recovery and rescue operations and fundraised 1.5 million dollars for the World Trade Center Fund and the American Red Cross. He also highlights other efforts to create programs that promoted Chinese activism for not only disasters but also for political purposes.

Thumbnail Image

2014.036.014 Oral History Interview with David Chen July 10, 2003

During the interview, David Chen discusses his experience as a Chinese American activist and director of the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), and his theory of activism. When Chen was younger, he rarely spoke. He would always wait for someone else to say the right thing, to which he would then agree. One time, as a younger student, he was forced to present a project because two of his partners did not show up. One of his classmates expressed how well-spoken he was and at that moment, Chen realized that his voice could be heard. Chen believes that in order to be an activist for peace and justice, one must see the bigger picture. Effective activism should start with institutions because that is how change can be enacted. He believes that anyone can be an activist as long as they talk, remember, observe, and are skeptical of organizations. He states that while spontaneous change comes from the bottom, sustaining change comes from the top, more specifically, from organizations. Chen joined the Organization of Chinese Americans in order to advocate for what he wanted to stand for and speak freely on those subjects. However, he also believes that a successful organizer does not talk too much because activism is about observing the smaller issues. As an activist, he believes that trust must be gained from individuals. Chen agrees that the Asian American rights movement was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. Overall, he believes that society as a whole has become more willing to change and hopes that individuals, especially young activists, continue to act, give voice, and intellectualize.

Thumbnail Image

2014.036.015 Oral History Interview with David Chen July 13, 2004

In this interview, David Chen discusses his work at Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) as an activist in New York City Chinatown. Chen is the director of CPC, a private organization started in 1965 serving the public and focusing on low-income immigrant families, mostly Chinese. Services offered include language classes, translations, daycare centers, job training for adults, senior citizen care, childcare, and Meals on Wheels. Prior to his work at CPC, Chen worked for the mayor in Chicago. While there, he constantly questioned why there was no Chinese funding. While in college, Chen studied to be a social worker and community organizer. He explains that he was not good at chemistry and did not want to pursue medicine or law like his parents expected him to. During college, he and his friends volunteered in Chicago Chinatown, which is much smaller than New York City. In Chicago Chinatown, Chen and his friends taught English classes but there were not many job opportunities in the community, so he decided to work for the government. On a visit to New York City, Chen fell in love with how densely populated and large Chinatown was and was told that there were many job opportunities available. He applied for a position at CPC as a youth director twenty-three years ago, accepted the role, and moved to New York City. Chen was part of "Project Reach", which was an at-risk prevention program for troubled kids. He describes Chinatown as a transient neighborhood in that there is constantly an influx of Chinese immigrants every few years. CPC serves those immigrants by helping them get entry-level jobs and helping them get their foot in the door. By doing so, he hopes that secure immigrants who have gotten aid from CPC would be able to help the next wave. Asked about his upbringing, Chen shares that he is from an upper-middle class family and that his father was an engineer. He was originally born in Shanghai but his family moved to Hong Kong while he was a baby. He came alone to the United States during his final year of high school and focused on school in order to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. The last part of the interview briefly covers 9/11. Chen notes that in the recovery and aftermath, Chinatown was largely ignored although it was an adjacent neighborhood to the World Trade Center. Chen also describes how important Chinatown is to tourism because of its restaurants and shopping venues.

Thumbnail Image

2014.036.016 Oral History Interview with Wing Ma November 7, 2003

Wing Ma (Ma Wing Guo) was born in China to a poor farming family who moved to Hong Kong as refugees when he was age two. Wing talks about his life growing up in Hong Kong with his mother working in the garment industry and his father working as a chef in Manila. He studied until post-secondary school before moving to the United States to train and work as an engineer. Wing would eventually join the garment industry as a factory owner, and describes the industry decline over time due to overseas competition. This would also lead to his own factory closure. He details workers pay, union benefits such as healthcare, and his involvement with union negotiations as a member and president of the Garment Manufacturers Association. Wing also talks about his involvement with other community organizations following his transition into the liquor industry, such as the Asian American Advisory Council under Peter Vallone and Community Board Three. He shares his experiences acting as a liaison between the government and the local community and shares some of the positive changes this brought to Chinatown. During the September 11th, 2001 attacks, he recalls being shocked and upset that he was unable to reach friends and loved ones. He talks about the effects of the attacks on Chinatown through his personal experiences as a building landlord. He recalls the mass exodus of tenants from the area and the difficulty in obtaining support from relief funds for the Chinatown community. He discusses the need for the government to subsidize and support businesses returning to the area to improve the local economy. He also encourages the Chinatown community to become more active and participate in local government or social work. He concludes with a discussion of his thoughts on the future of the garment industry and alternative job prospects for Chinatown residents.

Thumbnail Image

2014.036.017 Oral History Interview with William Chiu, March 30, 2004

William Chiu, born in 1952, begins this interview recalling his childhood growing up, learning and working in Hong Kong. He talks about his father’s work as a chef and his father’s fateful opportunity to immigrate with his family to the United States. He describes his education and reasoning for desiring to go to the United States. William recounts his first job working as a waiter in training before beginning to work with his father in the restaurant business. He also describes the working conditions and his experiences dealing with discrimination towards Chinese people during his time in Chinatown and the Bronx. William and his father would eventually open a Chinese takeout restaurant in Long Island near the Stony Brook area, with William working the front and his father working the back. He expanded his enterprises following his father’s passing and started businesses in real estate, travel, and food imports. He reflects on the impact of the 9/11 attacks on Chinatown and the economic downturn it has caused residents as well as the businesses he owned. William also describes the community advocacy work he has done for the Chinatown community, especially in police relations. He concludes the interview with his thoughts on Chinese unity and hopes that his children would carry on the family’s cultural values.