1994.007.026 Oral History Interview with Chun Wai Wong 1993/05


In this interview, Chun Wai "Billy" Wong discusses his arrival to America and living in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn as compared to his birthplace of Hong Kong, China. He cites reasons why he likes living in New York. Wong describes the culture and lifestyle of the working Chinese community; the differences between Mainland Chinese people and Chinese people from Hong Kong, the means in which the Chinese travel back and forth from the neighborhoods, shopping at food stores, and banking. Wong evaluates the economic changes in the two communities; new garment factories in Brooklyn, unionization, and health insurance in the factories in New York. Wong speaks about his job as a public school youth counselor; the characteristics of different groups of Chinese youth and problems with gang activity. He recalls his education as a computer programmer in the City University of New York colleges and work after graduation. He recounts his shift to study dance at Hunter College while working as a youth counselor. Wong talks about Chinese-American family life; including home ownership and celebrating various American holidays within their community. He also sees changes in Sunset Park as it becomes more populated. Interview conducted by Mary Lui.


LUI: Can you give me your Chinese name?

WONG: My Chinese name is Wong Chin Wai.

LUI: Can you tell me when you came to the Sunset Park area?

WONG: I came roughly nine years ago, on May 19, 1984.

LUI: Is this the first place that you came to when you came to this country?

WONG: Yes.

LUI: Where were you born?

WONG: I was born in Hong Kong.

LUI: Can you tell me what year?

WONG: 1964.

LUI: You just sort of lived in Hong Kong before coming here?


WONG: Yeah.

LUI: When you came here then, you were 19. You came with your family?

WONG: Yes.

LUI: How many people are in your family?

WONG: Total of 6, my parents and my brothers and sisters. I am the oldest. My grandparents came here, like. I'm not exactly--I think it's seven--My grandmother came here about 8 years earlier than us. My grandfather came here many, many years before. I don't even know how long. First of all, the real reason why we came is because of my grandparents.

LUI: So your grandparents came and then they brought you over.


WONG: Yeah. They brought us over.

LUI: Do you know what your grandfather did in this country?

WONG: The same old job. He works in a restaurant, as a chef.

LUI: In New York City?

WONG: No, in New Jersey. He worked many, many places. The last one was in New Jersey, I think.

LUI: Are your grandparents still alive.

WONG: My grandmother is still alive, but my grandfather died two months after we came.

LUI: Did you see him much when you were growing up?

WONG: No, not even my mom.

LUI: How long did you know that you were coming to this country? Did you always
know that you would be immigrating to the U.S.?

WONG: No, I knew it about a year before we came.

LUI: A year before you came?

WONG: Yeah, because we had to file all the forms. We had to do all of the medical reports, so then I knew what was going on. My mom told us, "We are applying for immigration in New York, to live with your grandparents." I don't know much about immigration, because at that moment, nobody said anything about immigration, because at that time, people thought that Hong Kong was the best place to live. Nobody even talked about 1987. Nobody talked about that. So and who cares? People asked me, "Why are you going there?" I said, "Oh, I don't know. I have to follow my parents because I am young." Also, I thought it was a new place, and it might be interesting. So I wanted to see. Another reason why
is that I feel like I get more chances to study in college than in Hong Kong,
because in Hong Kong, it is very, very, very competitive. So I felt like maybe I should come, even if I didn't immigrate here, I still thought about studying abroad, either in England or Canada, after I finished high school in Hong Kong. So, now I'm here.

LUI: So did you try to apply to study abroad after you finished high school?

WONG: I really think about that. In Hong Kong, it's very difficult. At that moment, they had only two universities in Hong Kong. It's very limited. A lot of
high school graduates try to fight for two schools. How can I do that? So I feel
like I have no chance, so a lot of people study abroad. They don't want to stay there and fight, and study day and night, no Saturday, no Sunday. I don't want this kind of life.

LUI: Did you have other relatives here in this country?

WONG: Yes, I have a lot of relatives here. Actually, we are the last family who came.

LUI: This is on your father's side or mother's side?

WONG: On my mother's side. I don't have that many relatives on my father's side. I only have one uncle in China. He passed away last year. I have no relatives,
until when we came. We don't have many relatives on my father's side, but on my
mother's side, I do have a lot. My uncles, my aunts, a lot, a lot, a lot.

LUI: And all of them were already here in this country before you came.

WONG: Yeah.

LUI: So was your family sort of waiting their turn to come?

WONG: Yeah.

LUI: So your mother has a big family then.

WONG: Yeah. Not big, but bigger than my father's side.

LUI: Why did you come to Sunset Park of all places?

WONG: Because our family is kind of big, we are six people. At that time, the
rent in an apartment in China is very expensive. For six people, you need like
three rooms. A three room apartment in Chinatown, you can't even imagine how much you have to pay. At that time, they had to pay like a down payment. I don't know what kind of stupid idea is a down payment. It would be like a couple thousand dollars, and you had to pay the rent again. At that moment, if you lived in Brooklyn, you don't have to pay the down payment, you just have to pay the monthly rent. Also, when I came, I stayed with my relatives in this neighborhood. They had been living here for a while. Then we just move into their house temporarily, for a month. At the same time, we tried to find an apartment. Then we moved.

LUI: So your relatives own a house here?

WONG: No, they don't own a house. They rent an apartment. We kind of squeezed together for a month.


LUI: So it was six of you and--

WONG: Two of them, but they only have two rooms, two bedrooms.

LUI: Was the apartment owned by a Chinese person?

WONG: I think so.

LUI: Was the neighborhood full of a lot of Chinese people at that time?

WONG: No, not that many, not as many as now. Most of them lived around the subway station. They always have a kind of thing here that they want to live close to the subway, and they want to pick the area between 5th and 8th. Don't go beyond 5th, because anything beyond 5th is a Hispanic neighborhood. They
always say that the Hispanics are not good. They don't feel like they can get
along with the Hispanics, so they don't want to move to that neighborhood, to be alone. Also, they live between 65th and 58th.

LUI: You're talking about right now?

WONG: No, at that time, very square. At that time, a lot of kids in the neighborhood, they lived in that area. A&P is their favorite place to shop, because it's close and it's big, and that was the only supermarket at that time. A&P, right next to the subway station.


LUI: What was the address of your relative's house?

WONG: I can't remember, but it was the--at the corner of 60th street and 7th. Right now, this is the laundry at the corner of 60th Street and 7th Avenue. It used to be an apartment, on the ground floor. I lived over there. Now it turned to be a laundry.

LUI: Where was the first place you lived with your family?

WONG: On 8th Avenue, between 51st and 52nd.

LUI: That was considered to be outside.

WONG: Outside, because at that moment, this area is kind of packed. We cannot find an apartment here, because a lot of people have resettled. So to squeeze into this tiny group, it is very difficult at that time. That's why we think
about moving a little bit outside, and when we heard 52nd, we said, "Wow, ten
blocks from the subway station. It's kind of far." But the problem is, the rent is kind of lower than here, this area. So we said, "Okay, maybe we can take it." And the owner is Chinese. So my parents picked that.

LUI: How did they find the apartment?

WONG: I don't know. I really don't know. I think it was a friend of my mom introduced it.

LUI: Is that how most people find apartments here? They go through friends?

WONG: They go through friends. Usually, they go through friends. At that time, only like-- I don't have the numbers. There were not that many families living here, so mostly they know each other, and when they took the subway home, they
all talk to each other. They get off at the same station. They go to work at the
same station, at the same time. They are more like friends. Not even like looking for an apartment. Also, they introduce people to work. If this woman came here from China or from Hong Kong, and say, "Do you want to work in that garment factory in Chinatown? I bring you to my boss." We have a kind of tight relationship. We always talk to each other on the street, because at that time, people feel like they are kind of isolated with the other races. By the time they see their same group of people, they always like to talk, "Where do you come from? How's things going?" Things like that. They try to be helpful and
friendly, but not now.

LUI: They are not helpful and friendly now?

WONG: Not as friendly as before.

LUI: Why do you think that is?

WONG: Because it seems more and more people move in here, a lot of things happen. Right now, a lot of restaurants, a lot of stores, a lot of competition. People try to have the kind of feelings that people are moving here to try to compete with them, to try to--Like what I feel is, they try to move in here--What should I say? Let me see. Somebody told me that, I know it's a stereotype, "People from China, they only come here to make money. They don't care about the neighborhood. They don't care about the life here. They only
thing they need is to work to make money. They come here, make a lot of money
and go back to China." That's why they have a kind of cool relationship. They don't really talk. The only thing they want to know is where they can work. They work right after they land. Can you believe they work the same day after they land?

LUI: Are you talking specifically about people from the People's Republic?

WONG: From the Mainland.

LUI: As opposed to people from Hong Kong?

WONG: People from Hong Kong are different.

LUI: How are they different?

WONG: This is my feeling. I don't know if it's true or not. A lot of people have the same feeling as me. They feel like, people from China, they are kind of seeking a place they can make a living, to make a lot of money. They have
another kind of concept of value. They all feel like money is more important.
People from Hong Kong, they are more like, enjoying their life. They don't just come here to make money, but they want to enjoy their life. Their thinkings are different. Sometimes I feel like it is very difficult for me to get along with Mainland people, especially the old generation. They always ask you questions, and you feel embarrassed.

LUI: What kind of questions?

WONG: "How much do you make each week?" This is the second question they ask you?

LUI: What is the first?

WONG: "Where do you work? How much do you make each week?" What should I say? I feel like, "Why do you want to know that?" I feel like it's personal. Why should I tell you how much money I make? You want to know everybody, "Oh, you make that much. Oh, I am not making that much, oh I have to work more harder."


LUI: People from Hong Kong would never ask that?

WONG: They never ask that, because even people from Hong Kong, they don't ask their friend how much they make. They don't ask. They can tell by observing, what kind of clothing you wear, what kind of place you live, then they would know how much you make. But people from China, they have no idea. They want to know, "How much do they make?" I feel embarrassed too. But now, young people from the Mainland try to adapt to life in America. They are not really following the same kind of thinking, like their parents now. Even now, people just came here for a couple of months. They still have the same kind of idea. They have the same thinking. I teach English at night in Chinatown in Manhattan, to the
new immigrants. I still have some young folks who ask me this question, "How
much do you make to teach us?" I feel like, "Why do they always like to ask that?"

LUI: So how do you answer them?

WONG: I say, "It's personal." In America, you have personal privacy. You don't need to answer all questions. It's not China. In China, you have to answer all the questions, I don't care if it's personal or not personal. It is a communist country. You have no human rights. But here, you have human rights. You have privacy. You don't have to answer all the questions. If someone asks you the same question, you can say, "This is personal. I don't want to tell you that." This is what I think. So--


LUI: So I am just going to ask a question. You said when you came, what was your first impression of this area?

WONG: Interesting, and everything for me is interesting, because I had never been in America before. When I came, I feel the freedoms when I came, especially the buildings are not really packed. The streets are wider. It's not tall like in Hong Kong. When I was in Hong Kong, I used to live in, actually I don't know how to call it, those government buildings. I used to have a very tiny room,
where you could only fit one bed and one closet. I don't even have a place where
I can put a table. Very tiny room, and I share with my brother, with a double deck bed. This kind of tiny space. I feel so trapped. When I was in Hong Kong, I don't have this kind of feeling, because everybody had the same thing. When I came, I feel like, "I have a room. I have my own bed. I can put a table there." My living room is as big as my former apartment in Hong Kong. Even my living room is bigger than the apartment that I lived in Hong Kong. Great, I love this place. I really enjoy it. Everything to me is new, like World Trade Center or
whatever. I remember when I came here, like the third or fourth day, I can't
remember. I took a subway map, and I walked around the City Hall area by myself. I scared my parents. At that moment, I was 19. They thought I might get lost in the city. They worried about me. I said, "I'm old enough to take care of myself. I took the map. I got $20 from my grandfather. I went all the way to City Hall, and I went all the way up to the top of the World Trade Center by myself. I feel like, "Oh, God, no." I really feel like, "Oh, I love America. It's so big. You can see very far." Then I said, "I want to live here. I don't want to go back to Hong Kong, no way."

LUI: Before coming, did you think that you might want to go back to Hong Kong?


WONG: Yes, before I came, I always thought, "No, I am not going to stay there. After studying, I will come back here, get my degree and come back home to work." But now I say no way. I have traveled back to Hong Kong twice in the past nine years. I feel like Hong Kong is a wonderful place, and I love that place because I was born there. I have a lot of memories, but it won't help, because I feel like the living conditions are so poor. Even though they own an apartment there, it's too tiny compared with those here. It's not as tall as those here. I
feel trapped in Hong Kong. I don't like the weather. It's too hot and too humid
especially. Most of my old classmates, they work, and we don't really write to each other that much, so I feel like I don't really have that many friends. I have never been working in Hong Kong before, so I feel like, "What can I do in Hong Kong?" I feel like the job opportunity for me is not as good as here. If I can work that hard in Hong Kong, I can work that hard in here, and make more here than in Hong Kong. So, I come here. I really want to stay.

LUI: You don't sound like you were disappointed with what you saw here.


WONG: Actually, a lot of people feel disappointed here, but for my thinking, it's kind of different, because I feel like, I know there's no perfect places. There's no place that's perfect to everybody. For me, I know some things in the city I don't like. There's a lot of crime, a lot of violence, a lot of gunfights, a lot of things. But I feel like, "It happens everywhere." In Hong Kong, nine years ago, nobody using a machine gun to rob. Right now, in Hong Kong, they use a machine gun to rob. They shoot everybody on the street. So there's no place safe. So, what I have to do is, OK, I want to stay here. I want to live here. I also think about like, "OK, New York is not a safe place anymore, maybe I could move out, may be New Jersey, maybe Long Island." But I
don't even think about leaving America. I love this country. I love this
country. I feel like I really have freedom here. Another important factor is that I feel less peer pressure here. In Hong Kong, there's a lot of peer pressure.

LUI: What kind of peer pressure?

WONG: For example, if you don't make a good living, a lot of people talk about you. They try to compare. People in Hong Kong always like to compare. They feel like, "Oh, for example, the son who lives next door, he makes more money than you do now. He works for a big company now. Why shouldn't you work harder and make more money? Oh, he wears something, a lot of name brands. He has a car." In
Hong Kong, there's a lot of materialism. If you don't wear something name brand,
or really fashionable, people look down on you and say, "Oh, how much do you make?"

LUI: Here they don't do that?

WONG: Here, I don't think so. They don't judge you by your clothes. Yeah, they don't judge you by your clothes. That's why I feel free, I feel free to grow. Yeah, even though I get on the street like with jeans. I still go to Lincoln Center, to see the ballet. They don't care. As long as you're clean and neat, that's all. In Hong Kong, no, they don't. You have to wear an evening gown or a suit to see a ballet. No way, forget it, forget it. That's why I love it. Also,
that's one reason why we don't really get along with the old generation from
Mainland China. They always have to compare. I feel like they don't feel confident about themselves. They always have to compare. They try to make themselves feel more easy in pleasing the other people. They always pretend to be wealthy. They want to be catching up, because they always feel like, "Oh, I'm from China. I'm not as rich as those people from other places like from Hong Kong or some other place. So they feel like, "Oh, I should make more money. If I'm a wealthy person, people won't think I'm from China." They always have this
kind of thinking. That's why they push themselves to work very hard. They even
push the children to work on weekends. They work in the factory. They work at home at night too. They sew at home. You can't believe it. 9 or 10:00 at night, you can hear the machines going. I feel like, "What kind of life are they having? They don't know how to enjoy their life."

LUI: I think we have to stop because you have to go.

WONG: What time is it?

LUI: 5 after 11.

WONG: Okay.

LUI: Okay. We'll continue on Friday. Okay?

[Interview interrupted.]

WONG: There were a lot of changes in this neighborhood since 1984 until now, nine years. I have been living in this neighborhood for nine years, and I saw a
lot of things change, especially the number of Chinese population increased
tremendously. When I came here in 1984, I know that Chinese only lived in three blocks, close to the subway station, either on 8th Avenue or 7th Avenue. They rarely moved all the way to 5th or 4th, because at that moment, 4th and 5th Avenue are Italian and Hispanic neighborhood. They don't feel like they get along with those people. That's why they want to move together. That's how people always do, not just Chinese, Korean or some other races, they always like to live together. They form a kind of bonding between their own races.


LUI: When you first moved here, you said you moved out to 52nd Street. Was your family worried about that?

WONG: Yeah, we worried about it, but we tried to look for a place that was close to the subway station, and also close to our friends and relatives. That was our attempt. But at that time, not that many Chinese families owned a building or a house in the neighborhood. That's why the supply of apartments owned by Chinese are very limited. We don't want to rent an apartment that is not owned by Chinese, because we feel like we might have a communication problem with the owner. We don't know how to deal with those people, because we are newcomers. We
don't speak that good English, especially my parents, they don't speak English
at all. We rather get in touch with Chinese. Even though the apartment we found on 52nd Street also owned by a Chinese family. I remember the owner's name is Mr. and Mrs. Lur, and they have three sons, who were born here.

LUI: So they have been here for a long time.

WONG: They have been here for a long time. I don't know how long. Their sons are American born Chinese, so you would know how long they have been here, at least fifteen or twenty years. I remember that when we first moved in that place, we had to walk all the way, like eight or nine blocks back to 60th Street and 8th Avenue, in order to get in touch with some other people. At the beginning, we
felt so isolated, because we lived in a place that was surrounded by a
non-Chinese group.

LUI: What group?

WONG: A Hispanic group. The kind of culture they have, we don't know what it is, and the stores around us are not Chinese stores, so we have to walk all the way back to 8th Avenue and 60th-59th Street , because at that time, there was one tiny, small grocery store on roughly 59th or 58th Street, on 8th Avenue. We could buy some Chinese groceries over there, but not that sufficient. But the favorite place for us is to go to A&P, between 60th and 61st Street on 8th
Avenue. That's our favorite supermarket.

LUI: Is it still?

WONG: No, not now. It seems we have a lot of Chinese grocery stores and vegetable markets, a lot of Chinese supermarkets opened, so we don't go there that often. Especially the price is not as low as those Chinese stores. Also, I remember at that time, my mom had to carry a whole lot of vegetables and food, everything, from Chinatown in Manhattan, to the entry on Canal Street all the way back to here, on the subway station. She usually called us to go all the way to the subway station, to pick her up, because she cannot carry all that junk and walk for ten blocks.

LUI: She did this once a week?

WONG: No, she did it like twice or three times a week, I can't remember how often but that's what she usually do. When we first came, we don't get used to
having pizza for dinner. We don't want pizza for dinner. We don't want to have a
burger. "Oh, we want Chinese food." So we have to do that, especially the rice, they usually store it in a big bag. We had to take those shopping carts all the way to the subway station to pick up my mom, and put them back home. That was a terrible experience I had never had. I felt like, "Oh, what kind of life is this?"

LUI: How long did you have to do that?

WONG: I did it for like two or three years, until the first grocery store opened on 60th Street and 8th Avenue. I remember the--I think I am right, the name of
the store is [Unintelligible]. It doesn't exist anymore in this neighborhood. It
moved to Avenue U.

LUI: Why did they move there?

WONG: It's because there's a lot of competition here. At the beginning, they make a lot of money, because they really saved the energy. You don't have to carry a lot of things from Chinatown all the way back to Brooklyn, especially in the snow, in the winter when it snows heavily. You can't carry things and walk, so that store became a popular place for Chinese people to shop for their own goods. Later on, more and more store opened, but not a big one. They have small shops, to sell some typical Chinese groceries. That one called Winley
supermarket, is the first Chinese supermarket in this neighborhood. I have seen
a lot of stores closed out, and the owner rent it to Chinese people to try to run their own business. The Chinese restaurant called Ocean Palace? It used to be a repair shop, for refrigerators and washing machines. This neighborhood wasn't that popular at that moment. In '84. It wasn't that popular. Not a lot of people walking around the streets. Because the store on 8th Avenue is not very big, usually people shop on 5th Avenue. 5th Avenue was the typical shopping neighborhood for Hispanics, not 8th. After Chinese people took over 8th Avenue,
they started their own business. They opened the grocery store, some other
things like supermarket, or stationary store, a lot of different kinds of stores, in regard the need of Chinese population. Whatever we need, they open. I remember that on Sunday, a lot of Chinese people take the train, the whole family goes to the train station, and go to Chinatown to have the Chinese dim sum. That's what we usually do. We all say, "Let's go to have dim sum." We have to spend like half a day to travel all the way from here to Chinatown. We wake up in the morning at like 8:00, in order to go to Chinatown. I hate to do that, but now, we don't have to do it anymore, because we have restaurants here. You don't have to travel that far, so we can wake up late.

LUI: So the restaurants here are as good as the ones in Chinatown?

WONG: I think so, especially people try to figure out what Chinese need. There's
a daycare center there, restaurants, grocery store, book store, a lot of
business related to Chinese culture, or the Chinese style of life. I am expecting that more and more will come in, especially I'm expecting to have a bank open soon, because that is the only thing we still have to travel to Chinatown for, to cash a paycheck or to get money. But now, there's one Citibank
on 63rd or 64th on 8th. That's the only bank on 8th Avenue, Citibank.

LUI: That's the only bank on 8th Avenue?

WONG: That's the only bank on 8th Avenue, that's the only bank, Citibank. Not all Chinese people know how to use a Citicard. A couple years ago, Citibank tried to attract different kinds of people to deposit money in the bank. They changed their touch screen machine, with different kind of language, that really helps to keep people coming in. Still, some old people, and some people from Mainland China don't even know a single English word. They still need to go to Chinatown. Especially, the Citibank on 8th Avenue doesn't have a service desk,
just the three machines. It's not really a bank, it's more like a cash stand, to
get cash. I think if one of the banks in Chinatown opens a branch on 8th Avenue, they should make a lot of money. Some people that work long hours, they only have one day off, Sunday. Usually, banks don't open on Sunday, so they have a problem in doing that. That's why in Chinatown, Manhattan, all the banks are open on Sunday, just to fit the needs of those groups. That's why I'm thinking that this will be a potential neighborhood for any bank to open their branches here.


LUI: Have banks looked into coming here?

WONG: Some people have told me about that. Some people are interested, especially some people thinking about buying A&P, and using that place to build a shopping center, a big shopping center, with a bank in it, for Chinese. A shopping mall with restaurants. That would be more like a place for people to get together. If there is a place that which can fill all their needs, people would love to go.

LUI: Where did you hear about this from?

WONG: I hear about it from a lot of people in the restaurant. Businessmen, they all talk about it, because the site on A&P, it's very suitable. It's close to
the subway station. It's on 8th Avenue. It's close to the Chinese neighborhood,
and on that place, you can build a 3 or 4 story building, with a parking lot, like the one on Thirteenth Avenue and 60th Street, the Pathmark? Something like that, have a big store, have a mini-shopping mall, a lot of stuff. It works. Nobody would like to travel to Chinatown just to buy something they could not buy in here. They don't want to take an hour there, and then to shop, and take an hour train back here. Nobody wants it, especially right after 1985, the N train changed from an express line to a local line. Since the reparation of the
Manhattan Bridge, they changed to a local line, a lot of things change. People
have to ride longer hours on the train. That's why, all those minivans come out and take people from here to Chinatown. It's a shuttle bus.

LUI: That started in 1985?

WONG: It started in the end of 1985, because people need it. We used to take the express N train from 8th Avenue to Manhattan, just for thirty minutes, thirty minutes. It stopped right here: 8th Avenue, 59th, 36th, Pacific, DeKalb, Canal, it gets like 4 or 5 stops, but now, a lot of stops. People hate to ride for long
hours. The minivan is more convenient, especially when they come home at night,
they feel more secure. They feel safe, especially people who work in a Chinatown restaurant, as a chef, or as a waiter. They carry a lot of cash back every Friday night.

LUI: Why Friday night?

WONG: It's the pay night. A lot of people got robbed at night by Hispanics. That's why they hate to ride the train. Even if they have to pay 2 quarters more for the shuttle bus, they feel more secure. They feel like it's faster, to go from Chinatown all the way back to where they live. That really helps, because if they look for an apartment, they want to look for one that is close to the subway station, so they don't have to walk that far. Since the shuttle bus is in
business, they take you from Chinatown to the cross street of where you live. If
you live on 52nd, between 7th and 8th, they drop you off on 52nd and 8th, or 52nd and 7th, depending on which part of the block you live. It saves you time. You have a two minute walk all the way home. It's faster. It feels safe. That's how their business grows. They start with one minivan company. Now, they have one, two, three, four.

LUI: And there's enough business for them?

WONG: They have enough business. A long of things change. One of the reasons why a lot of people want to move in here, and also the reason why this neighborhood grows so fast, is because a lot of businesses in here solve the problems, like
the transportation problem, the shopping problem, and the restaurants, and some
other stuff. Those are the three main things. The transportation problem, they solved this problem. That means they can commute from here to Chinatown in an easy way, then why bother staying, living in Manhattan Chinatown, living in a packed and tiny, dirty, old apartment? Nobody wants it. They pay $700 or $800 to rent a small apartment in Manhattan Chinatown. You can rent an apartment here with three bedrooms, a very big apartment, and it is much cleaner. So people think, "Okay, I would rather commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan." This neighborhood, a lot of Chinese people here feel like they just move back into
their own kind of people. They don't worry about getting in touch with other races.

LUI: Why do people go back and forth? What's the reason for commuting, if there are already a lot of things here?

WONG: That's related to the changes in the last two years. Two years ago, no job was available in this neighborhood. This is a residential neighborhood, not any kind of business. Typically, people from China work in a little restaurant, or a garment factory. The restaurants in here are very limited, only one or two restaurants. They don't find that many jobs. They have to travel to Chinatown to find jobs. In Chinatown, Manhattan, they have more job opportunities. You should know that. Even though for the other races, they still commute to other neighborhoods to work, right? So, they live here and they work in other place.
But, since two years ago, it seems that a lot of garment factories moved into
Brooklyn, in this neighborhood. A lot of people stopped commuting. They stay in this neighborhood to work. Just like you see the garment factory next to us? It's open like less than a year. No, I mean I should say one year. A very big garment factory, especially the rent for a big place like this is much, much, much cheaper than Chinatown.

LUI: How big is big?

WONG: Usually, I don't know exactly, but somebody told me that the rent in here is much cheaper than Chinatown, and also, you have a lot bigger space. Along this block, and along 6th Avenue, you see a lot of short, factory kind of buildings, they are all garment factories now.

LUI: All owned by Chinese?

WONG: Either owned by Chinese, or they rent it to Chinese people to run the
garment factory. A lot of garment factories opened in this neighborhood. That's
why a lot of housewives, they don't have to go to Chinatown to work. They can work here. Another reason why people still commute is because some of the garment factories here have no contract with the union. Because people from China, people always thought that if you work in the garment factory, you better get in the union, otherwise, you have no benefits, especially the Blue Cross Blue Shield they talk about all the time? They don't want to pay their own health insurance, because it's a tremendous amount of money. From what I know, for each quarter you have to pay like $350, for each quarter. Now, I think it's going to raise up to close to $400. For a year, you have to pay like $1,200. That's a lot of money for them, so they don't want to work in those factories.
They want to work in Chinatown for those who have a contract with the union, so
they can get benefits from the union. They can work as a union member. For those that don't care about medical insurance, maybe some other people in the family have insurance already. They have got coverage, so they don't have to worry about the union, they work in here, and they get cash, they get cash for that.

LUI: When you first came, did your parents work in Chinatown?

WONG: No, my mom, yes, my mom works in Chinatown since 1984.

LUI: She still does?

WONG: Still does, even though she changed a lot, from one factory to another factory, many, many, many times. I can't count how many times. But my father, he works in a Chinese restaurant in Bay Ridge, yeah.

LUI: Since '84?

WONG: Since '84, until now, for nine years. He is pretty stable in the
restaurant, I can't remember that street, in the Bay Ridge area. He can take a
bus on 8th Avenue all the way to work.

LUI: The local bus.

WONG: The local bus.

LUI: The public bus.

WONG: The public bus.

LUI: And your mom, well, how does she usually get to work?

WONG: She gets to work by those minivans.

LUI: Oh, she takes the vans?

WONG: She takes the vans.

LUI: Before the vans, she would take the

WONG: The subway. Yeah. Remember I told you we had to go to the subway station to carry all the food, all the groceries from the subway station with my mom. I hated to do that. Every month, I had to carry one or two big bags of rice all the way from 62nd Street to 52nd street. I hate to do that. That's why whenever we get a relative who drives, we always go to Chinatown and shop like crazy. We
don't have a car, so we pack the truck and pack everything. We need rice, we
need oil, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So we don't have to carry [laughter].

LUI: Do you still do that now?

WONG: Sometimes. Sometimes, we shop at Pathmark or some other place, not close to here, because of the bargains. They have better prices. People don't shop at A&P anymore, because it's not as cheap as before. Also, people would rather shop in the Chinese store, in the two Chinese supermarkets on 8th Avenue. They have a lot of Chinese stuff that A&P doesn't have, like something from China like those that we call the [unintelligible]. Those stuff, they don't sell. A lot of herbs,
a lot of spices, something like that, especially a lot of imports from China, a
lot of those imports from China. We love that. I remember this one thing, yes, those leaves you use to make the chūn they sell in here now. A lot, a lot, a lot of stuff. It's getting more similar to what we had before, when I was in Hong Kong. I say, "Oh, everything's back." I can say that except for the bank, you don't need to go to Chinatown, Manhattan. You just stay here. You get whatever you need.

LUI: Do you bank in Chinatown?

WONG: I have Citibank. I have an account at Citibank, and my mom has an account at Citibank too, but she usually goes to Chinatown, because she has the mortgage over there. She needs to do the mortgage. She needs somebody to consult. She
needs to go to someone and talk. You know the one on 8th Avenue is not really a
bank. You know that. It's not really a bank. It just has three machines there. People still need to go to Chinatown for banking. For the doctor, there's two clinics here, run by Chinese, two Chinese doctors. Let's see, for something, well you should say it's more like gambling place. People play Mahjong in the basement. It exists a lot. They have a lot. Especially people from China who work in a restaurant, when they have a day off, they really don't know how to enjoy their leisure time. The only thing they can do is either rent a couple of videotapes and watch them at home, or go to those place and play Mahjong. They
love that. [laughter] Even my parents goes, too.

LUI: Oh yeah? [laughter] You don't go?

WONG: I don't go. I hate those places. Because they smoke. I don't smoke. They smoke a lot over there. I play, but I won't enjoy it. It's not worth it to go there and suffer. I would be a secondary smoker. No way.

LUI: Is there a movie theater here?

WONG: There's a movie theater on 5th Avenue and 68th, the Alpine. They don't show Chinese movies here, there's no Chinese movie in here because it seems the videotape is so popular, they don't have to go to a movie theater. They just rent a videotape, and watch at home. Those Chinese video stores, people don't have to go to Chinatown to rent a Chinese video from Hong Kong. They can rent it
here. Whatever they need, it exists in here now. It's even quicker than before.
Karaoke or something like that, if it happens in China, it happens here. There's karaoke in Brooklyn too, on 73rd street and 3rd Avenue, close to this neighborhood, not really in the neighborhood. Also, there's the one video store there, they sell karaoke on laserdiscs. You get whatever you need in here.

LUI: So there are quite a few leisure activities.

WONG: Actually, there are very few, not that many.

LUI: Not that many.

WONG: Not that many, especially in regard to what kind of people, for those old
people who have an English barrier, they have very limited leisure activities.
But for other people who can speak, there's no problem. They can travel and go anywhere.

LUI: What about for the youth?

WONG: For youth? For youth, they usually hang out on 8th Avenue or hang out in the store or hang out in the park.

LUI: Which stores, which parks?

WONG: Usually those, like, bookstores, those, let me see, the ice cream shop, any store that has the videogames. Any stores which have the videogames, they hang out.

LUI: Which park do they hang out in?

WONG: On 8th Avenue.

LUI: What's it called? Does it have a name?

WONG: A lot of places have video machines, the videogame machines.

LUI: No, I meant the park.

WONG: The park?

LUI: Do you mean Sunset Park?


WONG: Sunset Park, they don't go that often, because Sunset Park usually have been occupied by the Hispanic group. They don't want to go there. They don't like to go there. They usually hang out in Fort Hamilton Parkway, between 52nd and 53rd. There's a park over there, a small one, and the one on 65th street, it has a baseball court and a tennis court over there. Right around there. They hang out there a lot. And that's it. Yeah.

LUI: What is your position here?

WONG: I'm a youth counselor.

LUI: So you coordinate programs?

WONG: I coordinate programs. I run after school programs in IS 220, and also I
work as a trip coordinator, organize activities for the youths to spend the
holidays. Our aim is to keep them away from the street. We don't want them to hang out in the street that much, so we organize trips on the holidays for them, to occupy their time. And, also we detect some kind of delinquency, something like that. General youth service. We provide general youth services.

LUI: So their hanging out in the stores or at the park, is that okay?

WONG: I shouldn't say it is a bad thing, but it depends on them, because some of them, they are very beware. When they feel some kind of like gangster get close
to them, some of them beware and try to stay away, but some of them, they don't
know how to, they really don't know how to deal with this kind of thing, so they always get into troubles. So we always talk to them, if they want to play the video, it's not a bad thing to do, but be smart. We always teach them how to play smart, don't be stupid. Don't trust strangers. Even the new friends, don't trust them in the first day. We try to teach them how to be smart. I believe that all those games are not created with evil intentions. They have a good side, but you have to be smart to play with those. You have to know what you are doing. That's what I always aim for, make sure they know what they are doing. That's all. Then they can take care of themselves. They are not really young little kids. They are thirteen, fourteen they're old enough to make a certain
kind of decision. They start to learn how to make decisions. They start to learn
to take responsibility for what they do.

LUI: These kids have been here for a while, or are they new immigrants?

WONG: Some of them have been here for six or seven years. Some of them have been here just like two years. There's a big gap. Some of them just came here for like three months. And some of them are like two years. They always find leaders, especially when they are in school, they always find somebody who has been here longer, then they follow them. They follow them in school, they follow them after school, to try to make friends. They look for big sisters and big brothers, so they can show them where to go for fun, or where to get help. They always find big sisters and big brothers. That's how people always do.


LUI: So they don't necessarily know the kids. They just sort of spot them out as being here longer?

WONG: Most of them are classmates, are schoolmates in school. They don't really make friends that easily on the street. They always play with their schoolmates. Especially, parents are really beware about making friends. They always wonder. Don't hang out with those people who even look bad. They might not be bad, but they look bad, so don't hang out with them.

LUI: What's someone who looks bad?

WONG: They smoke or they always like to hang out at the video store, they will always be on the street. Traditional old Chinese parents, they don't like the kids to do that. For me, I don't mind, because I know who's bad and who's not
bad, what kind of standards. If you think he's bad, somebody could be even
worse. They just want to play, they just want to hang out. They just want to show up. It doesn't mean they are really related to any kind of gang activities.

LUI: Do you think there's a difference in terms of adjustment for kids who are coming from the People's Republic and kids who are coming from Hong Kong?

WONG: Yeah, they're different. Especially people from Mainland China are more shy in school. They rarely talk, they rarely talk because they really don't know how to deal with new people, strangers, even though they're their own kind. They don't really know how to talk to them. People from Hong Kong are more outgoing. They make friends very easily.


LUI: Is it an issue of the language?

WONG: It's not because of the language. It's because of the place where they grow up. Usually, people from Hong Kong grown up in a more open and liberal environment. In China, they don't.

LUI: Other than that, in terms of who ends up not being so aware, who end up falling into gangs, whatever, is there a difference between these two groups too?

WONG: This question I really can't answer you, because I may not be right. Let's just say that for those who get into gang activities, they always drop out from
school. They usually drop out from school. This group I will rarely get in touch
with, because it's very difficult for us to keep track of their activities, because we don't work full time here. Those people need professionals to work with them on a one-to-one basis. That's something I cannot answer.

LUI: Are there services in the community right now, to really work with that?

WONG: No, I don't think so. There's some activities, but we are doing more in this neighborhood for prevention, instead of intervention, because we don't have the professionals to work with them on a one-to-one basis. We don't have people who can work on the street with them. We don't work on the street. We work in
the school, for prevention, but not get on the street and talk to those
gangsters. No, not me. If I had that kind of education and training, then I would like to do it, but it depends on the funding. Also it depends on the school districts, and what they want to do. Usually, if we get a serious case like this, we refer them to professionals. We refer them to other professionals.

LUI: You mean in the city?

WONG: In the city. Mostly, in the city, we refer them. These kind of cases, we usually, we don't get them that often. Either the school calls us, or the parents contact us. They have a problem, they have a lost girl for like two months. They don't know where she goes. They want us to help. Or somebody drops
out of school for half a year, for six months. They want us to help, and bring
him or her back to school. Things like that. We can't do that. We don't get on the street and talk.

LUI: How long have you worked here?

WONG: Actually, I have been working with the Chinese American Planning Council since '86.

LUI: Since '86?

WONG: Since '86 till now, for many years.

LUI: So you came in '84. What did you do between 1984 and 1986?

WONG: I studied in school. I studied in college.

LUI: Where did you go to college?

WONG: I went to Brooklyn College, then I transferred to City College.

LUI: So you did that, and you ended up getting a degree?

WONG: Yeah, I ended up getting a degree.

LUI: In what field?

WONG: In computer science.

LUI: Oh, in computer science. And then you ended up doing social work?

WONG: Yeah.

LUI: How did you make the switch?

WONG: I don't think it's really a switch, because I feel like the educational
background is one area, but my work experience is other things. I feel like I
like this work. I like this job. I like to work with people. I'm more like the kind of person who likes to get in touch with other people, with new people. I hate to sit in a company and face a monitor and do my programming. I had been working at a company for a year, and I don't like it.

LUI: That was in 1985?

WONG: No, I worked there in 1989. I quit and I came back here.

LUI: So you graduated from college in '86?

WONG: '89.

LUI: So while you were in school, you were working here. How did you get
interested in working for the Chinese American Planning Council?

WONG: At the beginning, I was interested because I needed money. When I was in school, I needed to find a job so I can make money, and also, I hate to work in a restaurant. I know a lot of people that work in a restaurant or garment factory make a lot of money, but I hate that environment. I feel like I am not like the kind of people who are over there, and a friend of mine introduced me to the director here, and said they needed some after school teachers, to teach the children how to do their homework, to play with them. Then I started, and I loved the job.

LUI: Here in Brooklyn?

WONG: In Brooklyn. Yes. I never worked in Chinatown. In Brooklyn. But in the other neighborhood, in Church Avenue and Marlborough. Then I moved here. I have
been working in different sites, but all in Brooklyn.

LUI: So that was the first time that you did anything with children?

WONG: Yes. That was the first time.

LUI: And you said you loved it?

WONG: I loved it. Yeah. I used to work with children who are in elementary school, much younger than the group I am working with now.

LUI: Did you like working with that group?

WONG: Either one is okay. I just need to act differently.

LUI: After you graduated, you worked in the computer job for one year?

WONG: Actually, when I studied in school, I really wanted to be a computer programmer, and I just took this as a part time job for a couple of years. Then I found a full time job as a programmer. Then I found out I don't like the job. Then I feel like I'll quit the job and come back here.


LUI: So now you're full time staff here?

WONG: No, I'm part time staff.

LUI: Do you do anything else?

WONG: Yeah, I go back to school, at Hunter. This time in dance.

LUI: In dance, oh…

WONG: Actually, I have been dancing since thirteen years old. I danced with a company in Chinatown.

LUI: Which dance company?

WONG: I danced with two before. I danced with the Chinese Dance company for six or seven years, and then I danced with the rest of the Chinese dancers on East Broadway. Now, I don't dance with them anymore, and I am majoring in dance at Hunter College.

LUI: Do you think you are going to pursue a career in dance?

WONG: Yeah, related to dance, not really performing. I'm aiming to find a job
related to dance, and also related to education, and also related to
performance. I think I might end up being a dance teacher, and also I might organize performances. I love to do performance. Right now, I am teaching the children at 220 twice a week in dancing. We rehearse and then we perform. Also, we are trying some dance in here, and I organize some performances for them. That's what I would like to do. Also, I feel like dancing is something that I like, because I love to get in touch with people. I can either teach people, or perform for different people. I love interpersonal relationships, either verbal or physical, whatever. I like to get in touch with people. I love to teach,
because I am a talkative person, I love to talk. [laughter] Yeah, I like to teach.

LUI: So are you learning Chinese dance or modern dance--?

WONG: I learned Chinese dance for many years, and right now, I am studying modern dance in college. I do ballet, too.

LUI: What do you teach the kids here?

WONG: I teach Chinese folk dance, and traditional dance to them, because I feel like this is the neighborhood for Chinese, so they should learn some of their culture. We do cultural enrichment. That's something that I believe this neighborhood really needs. They have all the basic resources for life, but then, we have this thing about the culture, how to develop their cultural sense. There's a lot of people from China who don't have a cultural sense. The only
thing they know is to make a lot of money. They don't care about the cultural
side for the children. They just want the children to go to school, graduate, go to college, make a lot of money. By the time they grow up, they need some other things to enrich them, not just by throwing them math, English, social studies. They need a lot of things.

LUI: Do the children seem to enjoy the dance classes?

WONG: Yeah, they do. They enjoy the performances too. You have to start, because those girls I'm teaching are from China. They have the similar kind of thinking like their parents, because their parents talk to them the same way, since they were babies. I don't know what kind of moral education they have in China. They
all feel like dancing is kind of fun, but I tell them, "No, dancing is not just
fun, it's a kind of training, a kind of discipline." Dancing is not just a game. I don't take it as a game. I take it as a kind of art. Teaching them how to appreciate art. Not just, "I want you to dance because I want you to exercise, fine. You can take it as an exercise. The real meaning underneath it you have to know that too."

LUI: Do you think they are learning this?

WONG: I think they are learning bit by bit. You cannot force them. People from Hong Kong think differently. Because people in Hong King, they are more educated, they know the importance of art and culture. They want their children to learn because they want them to learn the culture. They want to retain their
own kind of cultural background. But from Mainland China, they don't, they
don't. That's why, a lot of--

[Interview interrupted.]

WONG: Someone who really aims to pursue a full time commitment to culture or to art, I don't see anybody in this community. Actually, one of my aims is to form a kind of cultural center in here. If I can, in my imagination, I think about having a school in here, to teach different kind of art, drawing or painting, dance, music. I think they need that. There's something not exists in here.

LUI: Focusing on Chinese art?

WONG: On Chinese art. Not even Chinese art, maybe some other kind of art,
because I feel like Chinese people rarely get in touch with art. They don't used
to get in touch with art. They don't like it. They either say, "I don't like it," They always say, "I don't like it," I don't know why. "Why, you never try it. Why do you say you don't like it?" They just say, "No, I don't like it." They always answer the question in a silly way. They say they don't like it, even the kids. I say, "I don't like it," "Why?" "Have you ever seen that before?" They say, "No." I say, "Why do you say you don't like it?" "Why don't you try it once, then tell me whether you like it or not?" They don't do that because Chinese people are like that.

LUI: Have you talked to other Chinese people who might be interested in doing this kind of cultural center here?

WONG: Not in this neighborhood yet, because I still don't have the feeling of having any kind of support from this neighborhood. People are too workaholic here. They want money. I can tell the difference between Flushing Chinatown and
Brooklyn Chinatown. The major population in Flushing Chinatown, where do they
came from?

LUI: Taiwan.

WONG: Taiwan. Those people came from Chinatown are more wealthy. They have a different kind of cultural background, a different kind of educational background, since they were young. They know the importance of culture. They want the children to learn their own culture, to promote their own culture. They make the neighborhood look like a more complete Chinese community, not--just like a Chinese working community. Right? They know. That's why they have formed a lot of cultural centers there. They have a lot of social events happening there, every night, or every Saturday night, to get people together, either a social dance for the parents, or children to learn dancing or painting, all kind of things. Also, they have businesses over there, restaurants. They have a big
restaurant, big supermarket. They are doing very well, because they have
different kinds of ideas in forming a Chinatown. But in here, most of them, I should say, ninety percent of them are from Mainland China. They don't have this kind of ideas, they don't have this kind of background, especially those of them that are from the village. The only thing they know is to plant. Now, what they do is, they sew or work in a restaurant. They don't even spend time to learn English. They don't even care about knowing English or not. They spend all their time watching videotapes at home. It's kind of like a closed relationship. They don't open up to get in touch with the others. They close themselves.

LUI: Other groups, non-Chinese?

WONG: No, even non-Chinese or Chinese. They don't talk with the other families
that often. It's very difficult to bring them out. It's very difficult to bring
them out. It is very difficult to motivate them in participating in any kind of social events. It's very difficult. So, the development in this neighborhood becomes mainly business or working kind of feel. You see a lot of business going on, a lot of working things, like factory, a lot of things going on. You rarely see any cultural things going on. You rarely see any social events going on. Right?

LUI: Right.

WONG: Now, since we opened a center here, and also BCA, we start educating them more. We try to set up social events to bring people out on the street, like the fair CAPC had for Mother's Day? They really set up that event to bring people
out on the street, so they can know each other. They learn how to share the
feelings, share the happiness with people. Try to bring them out, re-educate them. They do need this kind of thing. Wait until they get educated with a new kind of thinking, then we think about how to support this kind of thing. They don't support. They enjoy, they say, "The girls are dancing so well," and then they go home. "Do you want to support them?" Then they go. They don't even like to contribute a penny.

LUI: So the classes you teach here are free?

WONG: Yes, are free. If they have to pay, they don't come.

LUI: Why do you think they come?

WONG: Because they want to try it, to learn. When they saw people dancing, they want to try the custom. They're learning something. By the time they have fun,
they stay.

LUI: So, there's enough interest there that it seems like the program will keep going?

WONG: I only have like six or seven, like eight or nine girls, eight or nine girls, yeah, who--

LUI: No boys?

WONG: No boys, who are currently interested. But you gotta start from bit by bit. Things won't grow in one day. You have to start bit by bit. You have to educate them, then this group of girls, those girls will become will learn important culture. Later on, when they become a mom, they will know, "I should teach my kid to do that, because culture is important." You have to do it generation by generation. For this neighborhood, I feel like those Chinese
people are-- It's raining, right?

LUI: I guess, so.

WONG: Yeah, those Chinese people are really stubborn in supporting or doing any kind of cultural events. They don't like it. They enjoy it, but they don't support it.

LUI: Why are there no boys in the group?

WONG: Usually it's the Chinese way to think that boys don't dance.

LUI: But you dance.

WONG: I dance. I had a lot of problems when I was young. I had a lot of problems. I got a lot of resistance. My father didn't want me to dance. I had to hide everything that I had, like the shoes or the tights. I hide them. I didn't tell him that I go to dance class. I waited until I really grew up, then I told him, "I go to dance class. I don't care if you like it or not."

LUI: How old were you when you finally just said to your dad that it doesn't matter?

WONG: I should say when I was like seventeen or eighteen.


LUI: And you started when you were thirteen?

WONG: I started when I was thirteen. My mom didn't stop me. My mom didn't stop me. My mom is a liberal woman. She let me do what I felt like, especially after I took a dance class, I look more healthier. I get more exercise and look more healthier. I used to be very skinny, very pale face. My mom always said, "Okay, you need some exercise." After I took the dance class, I looked more healthier, looked stronger. So my mom said, "Okay, it's a good thing for you to exercise, to work, to exercise, once a week. Go to dance class. I don't care."

LUI: Was it your idea to start dancing?

WONG: No, I started dancing because I liked it. At the beginning, I feel like it's interesting and fun. I would just go there for fun. Then later on, I'd
think it is not because I like it. I recognize that this is one of the channels
that I can really express myself. Later, I felt that I really had this kind of talent in doing it, in expressing myself in a physical way. I love to do it. Especially when I get on stage to perform, I feel like I'm a giant over there. Even though I'm short, I feel big on stage. I love performance and I love to teach, too.

LUI: When you first came from Hong Kong to here, you had plans to continue studying?

WONG: At beginning, I--No--When I came here, I joined a dance company right away.

LUI: Which one was this again?

WONG: The one, the Chinese Folk Dance Company in Manhattan. I joined them right
away, and I have been dancing with them for many years. At that moment, I didn't
really think about majoring in dance, because I still was having that kind of peer pressure from my family, because they feel like dancing is not going to make money, not going to make a life. I still had at that moment, I still had that kind of, I should say, "weird" thinking about that. "Okay. Take some other things. Okay, learn something that can make money, make a life. Okay, I do computer or engineer, something like that." Right after I quit the computer job, I feel like, "No, it depends on what they mean, "make a living." They mean, "To have a house, have a car, have a wife, have a lot of savings in the bank?" That's what they think about life, but I feel empty in here. I feel empty in
here. I feel like, "Okay, no, I don't need a car. I can take the subway. I don't
need a house. I can rent an apartment." I am staying with my parents. My parents have a house. I have a room. A wife? I'll think about it. I don't need a wife right away. So, okay. I quit the job after the first year. I quit the job right away. I talked to my mom and said, "Mom, I don't want to do the computer job anymore." She said, "Why?" I said, "Because I feel bored over there. I feel trapped. Every day after work, I feel lonely. I have nobody to talk to. I sit at the computer monitor for eight hours a day. I feel like my life is dead. My life is dead." She said, "Okay, what do you want to do?" I said, "I don't know. I'll quit the job and find some other things, Find another job." After I quit the
job, I felt like taking more and more classes in the evening, some ballet, some
more Chinese dance classes. I feel like, "That's what I want. I have already had what I want, but I just don't know it. I just don't recognize it. Okay, I recognize it. So, I should do more in this other field." I quit the company, and I joined another company to be a professional full time dancer for two years. Then, the company moved away, and I got layed off. Then, I think about, "Okay, I should get a degree in dance, so that I can apply for the license, so I can be a dance teacher. I need some kind of document to really support me. I should go back to modern dancing, especially, I was focused in Chinese traditional folk,
some ballet too, so I should learn more modern, contemporary dance. So I think I
should go back to school, to pursue a B.A. in dance." Then I'm thinking of pursuing an M.A. in dance and dance education in Columbia. Later on, right after I get a B.A.

LUI: When are you going to get your B.A.?

WONG: I think, maybe, sometime in '94-'95. I don't know yet, because it depends on the schedule, the class. Some classes they only offer once a year. Even though I don't get it this time, I have to wait another year. I don't mind, I don't care. I'm--Even though, I'm not having the degree yet, I'm already in the field. I'm teaching the kids dancing. I'm doing performances. I'm really in the field, and I'm working in the field and getting my degree at the same time. I am doing two things at the same moment. I feel like, "Okay, I'll take it easily. I
take as much as I can, I work as much as I can. As long as the job is related to
the dance field, related to any kind of performance or art, that's fine for me.

LUI: During that time you were working here, about twenty hours a week, you said?

WONG: No, I should say, the longest I will work here is full time hours. Sometimes, I work twenty-five, sometimes twenty, sometimes fifteen. It depends on each semester. I don't think I will leave here, because this job really gave me the chance to get in touch with people. That's what I want, to be popular. I'm really popular on 8th Avenue with a lot of kids that know me, a lot of parents know me. When I walk along the street, I feel like' "Oh God, I shouldn't dress this way. I should dress better. Everybody knows me." I never walk on the
street with shorts. I feel like, "Ohhhhhh…"

LUI: You feel like you have to keep up with the image?

WONG: Yes, that is what I think. I feel close. I feel very close to the people in here now. I'm very happy now.

LUI: But you didn't feel that way before working here?

WONG: No, when I first worked here, I didn't work in this neighborhood. I worked in the other neighborhood. That's why I don't have that kind of feeling.

LUI: Overall, do you think the community is pretty open and friendly to people, or it takes a while to kind of get accepted?

WONG: It's getting friendly now, it's getting friendly now. But it can be better, it can be more open. That depends on us. That's why we have, we--I think for CAPC and BCA, we should do more things together or separately to educate
people and bring them out on the street, to really see, to participate in
activity in the neighborhood. I think we should activate them, instead of letting them stay home and watch T.V. We should educate them. That's what we should focus on. Yeah.

LUI: It sounds like there's interest among the children. The kids seem to come out for the programs. It seems harder for the adults.

WONG: It's harder for the adults. The adults always have a lot of excuses. "I work long hours. I don't want to stay out. I want to stay home." "No, you should come." It's very difficult to bring them out to a trip. We used to have a trip on holidays. We always invite the parents to join the kids and play together, in
order to establish a kind of, like, close or a better relationship between the
child and the parents, but it's hard. It's very difficult for them to participate. They either have to work on Sunday, or they would rather choose to work on Sunday instead of coming out to have fun. Or, they don't want it. They want to stay home.

LUI: What kind of trips do you have?

WONG: We usually have trips to Long Island, to Bear Mountain. The one we are going to have is on the 12th, June 12th, to Bear Mountain. This kind of Saturday one day trip. We usually get funding to organize the trip for children, and all the parents are welcome to join.

LUI: So usually how many parents come out?

WONG: Four or five.

LUI: Out of how many?

WONG: Out of like twenty or thirty. All of them are mothers. Fathers don't
come.[laughter] Fathers don't come, yeah.

LUI: Do you think there's any sort of tensions or problems in communication between the children and the parents?

WONG: Yes, I think this kind of problem exists, because a lot of parents from Mainland China, not all of them have the right idea, the right concept, how to bear the children. They have parenting problems. They either discipline the kid too serious, or they even ignore them too serious, or they don't even know how to express love. The only thing--They always talk to the kid like, "I work long hours. I work. Very difficult to make money." The kid knows that. They have been saying that since they were like eight, so they know you work long hours. They
know you make a lot of money, and they know you bring the bread home, so that's
not--That's all the parents can talk? No. They really don't know how to express their care and love to the kids, and end up to have a kind of--They mislead the children that, "My parents doesn't care about me anymore. Okay, give me clothes, give me food, that's all. Okay, I don't talk to you. I talk to my friends." Things like that, yeah.

LUI: Did your family have a problem with that when you came here?

WONG: I don't think I had a problem with my mom, but I think I have problems with my father. My father is a kind of traditional old man, who believes that he is the boss of the house. For me, no. Actually, for--I believe that all the children in my family, including me, are more Americanized, are more adapted to
the American ways of family values.

LUI: What does that mean?

WONG: I feel like, "We should talk." I don't really--Usually Chinese parents feel like, "Whatever the parents say or whatever decision the parents make, the children have to follow. They have to listen." But not me. I don't listen to them. I talk to them. I argue with them. I tell them, "No, I am not going to do that, because I don't like it. I don't want to do what you want me to do. You want me to be an engineer. You want me to be a computer programmer. No, I don't want it. You want me to make a lot of money, to be a wealthy person. No, I don't want it, because I feel like that's not me." I'm that kind of person. I can talk to them. I even fight for what I want.

LUI: So you think you developed this after coming here?

WONG: After coming here.

LUI: Back in Hong Kong, what did you do?


WONG: I usually followed them, because that's the tradition. Everybody do that. Even my friends, it happens to them. It happened to everybody. Okay, I'm not one of the victims. Now, I feel like, I don't want to be a victim anymore. I have to educate my parents. Since I get more and more educated, I feel like I should educate them back. I always tell my mom, "Mom, stop watching the videotape.Come to school with me.." I teach English three nights a week in Chinatown, to adults. I tell my mom, "Why don't you come to school three nights a week, to learn English?" Right? I force them. I force her to do it.

LUI: Does she do it now?

WONG: No, [laughter] she keeps saying no. "You will learn a lesson later on," I tell her, "You will learn a lesson later on. You don't learn it now, fine. " [laughter]

LUI: You have three sisters?

WONG: No, I have one sister and two little brothers.

LUI: One sister and--

WONG: Yeah, but my older brother, he, the brother--I'm the oldest. One of my
brothers got married last year. I still have a sister and a brother, the
youngest brother.

LUI: You don't think they are more Americanized?

WONG: I think my youngest brother is too, but my--the other brother, who got married last year, he is more like my father's type of man. His temper, his behavior look exactly, exactly like my father's. I feel like that every time when I go on a trip with my brother, I feel like I am bringing my father with me. I say, "No, I 'm sorry. I'm older than you. Stop talking to me like a father, please."

LUI: And your sister?

WONG: My sister is more liberal. She's more like the kind of people who don't
care. "You do whatever you want. I don't care, as long as you don't bother me." [laughter]

LUI: So all of them went to school here?

WONG: They all went to school here. Yeah. My sister and I graduated from college. My sister has a master's degree in statistics, and a B.S. in mathematics. My brother studied at City College, but he quit after the sophomore year, and he works in a Japanese trading company, as a bookkeeper. My youngest brother is a high school dropout.

LUI: He's a high school dropout?

WONG: Yeah. He dropped out from FDR High School, right after the 10th grade. He can't even pass 10th grade. He works in a salon in Queens. And that's all. [laughter]

LUI: That's the four of you. Your father works in a restaurant and your mom
works in a garment factory. Do you think your family is pretty typical?

WONG: Yeah, I should say it's pretty typical. It's a typical kind of Chinese family.

LUI: Here, in the United States?

WONG: Yeah. I think so. I should say on 8th Avenue, in this neighborhood, yeah, we're very typical. But my--My family is easy to get along with people. Even our neighbors who live next to us are not Chinese, are Italian, we can talk. We always talk. We do gardening. We follow a lot of ways. We do gardening. We do a lot of stuff. We celebrate Halloween. We celebrate all kinds of American festivals, like tradition. Because I feel like, this is my thinking. I teach them how to follow, because I feel that if I come to United States, I should
learn the tradtions, learn the customs. Then, I can teach them our customs. We
cannot just teach them and not learn theirs. We have to learn their customs and teach them our customs. That way it goes both ways. Otherwise, it won't work.

LUI: So the whole neighborhood celebrates Halloween?

WONG: No, for Chinese families on my block, we are the only ones. [laughter]We decorate the house for Halloween. We decorate the house for Thanksgiving. I do it. For Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, we do everything.

LUI: Do kids actually go around the neighborhood to get candy?

WONG: Yeah.

LUI: Chinese kids?

WONG: Not only Chinese kids. We have different kind of kids. Chinese kids, Hispanic kids, all kind of kids.

LUI: So they will come to your one house on the block.

WONG: Yeah, because by the time you decorate the house, they know you are celebrating it. They know you have candy to serve.


LUI: Are you the one who stays home and passes out the candy?

WONG: Sometimes not. My family enjoys them. My father and mother enjoy that, but they just don't want to do the work. I brought everything home. Then, "Okay, here's the candy. When somebody presses the bell and says 'trick or treat,' you give them the candy."

LUI: You taught them that?

WONG: I taught them that. [laughter] A lot of things. You have to educate them.

LUI: How long have you been doing that?

WONG: Since I moved to that place. We used to live in an apartment on the seventhth floor. We don't get a chance to do that. We didn't decorate, because we don't have a place to decorate, but since we moved to a house, it's a one family house we have our own house, we have a backyard, we have everything. So, okay, I should do that, decorate the house for Christmas, Halloween, some others, Easter. We plant flowers, flowers in the house. We try to get ourselves into the mainstream, step by step, to learn more about what other races do.


LUI: How did you learn about Halloween? Where did you learn about that?

WONG: From school.

LUI: From school?

WONG: Yeah. From school. I go to school here. By the time I teach the kids and work here, I learn more and more. By observation. I observe how other people do, and I follow them. The only one thing I didn't follow. I didn't follow for the Flag Day. I don't have a flag. [laughter]. I don't have a flag. Even though, I'm a citizen now, I don't have a flag. [laughter]

LUI: When did you become a citizen?

WONG: Two years ago.

LUI: Two years ago.

WONG: Three years ago.

LUI: When did you move to the house you are living in now?

WONG: '87.

LUI: '87. And your family bought the house?

WONG: Yeah, my parents bought the house.

LUI: Does that mean that it's the idea that they are going to stay here permanently, since they bought the house?

WONG: Yes. You know, it's not because of what we think. It's a traditional
Chinese way of thinking. Because Chinese people think that if you are wealthy,
if you make enough money, the first thing you should do is have your own place, you have your own piece of land which you own by yourself. That means your house. You have your own house, you don't have to pay the rent. This is your own space. You have your own space. That's what you should have.

LUI: Does your entire family live in the house?

WONG: No. Not my brother. He moved out after he got married.

LUI: But the little brother still lives there?

WONG: Yeah. We all live here except the brother who got married.

LUI: Any other relatives?

WONG: No, it's a one family house. Two stories.

LUI: You said your next door neighbors are Italian?

WONG: Italian.This is Italian, this is Chinese and Hispanic.

LUI: Does everyone in the neighborhood seem to get along okay?


WONG: We seem to get along okay. We say hello to each other.

LUI: You speak English, but your parents don't really speak English?

WONG: They don't. Actually, you know what? I don't think language is that important, is that much important. Even though you don't speak English, you can smile, you can even say 'good morning' or 'hello.' They can really get a good relationship with the other people. Because they know that my parents don't speak English. They don't even force them to speak…. Hello, hello, that's good enough. Then we talk to them. Right? Even the woman, the old woman that lives next to me, she learned how to do gardening from me. I used to--I had a very beautiful garden, with lots of flowers, roses, roses, a lot of flowers, and she started to do the gardening this year. She learned it from me, how to organize it, what kind of plants she should take. Things like that.


LUI: You're talking about the Italian woman who lives next door?

WONG: Yes. Excuse me.

LUI: Bless you.

WONG: Yes.

LUI: So, you started gardening the moment you moved into the house? Now,you were telling me something about metal gates in the neighborhood. You want to tell me a little bit about that?

WONG: Yes. Since the neighborhood is expanding very quick, a lot of people move in here and a lot of businesses are opening. Also, a lot of gang activity happens in the neighborhood. They all migrate from Chinatown. Somebody knows some of the gang groups like [unitntelligible]. There's a lotta things like that. Those gangs, they move into this neighborhood to rob, to rob the house, and also, they rob people on the street. Not only Hispanic, Chinese or
Vietnamese. So, people start to feel like, they feel unsafe in the neighborhood,
but they don't want to move away, because they don't know where to go. Because at that moment, Avenue U is not--hasn't been developed yet. So, people think, okay, "What I have to do to keep my family safe is to install something to protect ourselves." They start to install the metal gates and the window gates, to keep people away, to keep people from away. But I think the metal gates, it takes a longer time to reopen the metal gates, so people don't even pick this house, right, they don't pick this house, they don't do that.

LUI: You were saying to me that that's how you know that a Chinese family lives there.

WONG: Those are Chinese family. Usually, those gangs they pick Chinese families, because Chinese families are very passive, especially pick those families who
have English barrier. They don't even know how to speak a single word. They
couldn't report to police. They don't report. Even people get robbed on the street, a Chinese man. They can't report to the police, so that's their target, see, that's their target.

LUI: So are these gates on the house special, are they made by--?

WONG: They are made by some, I don't know, some hardware store. They do that. Also a couple of hardware stores on 8th Avenue, they sell hardware and they also sell the window gates, but those gates have to be custom made. They measure the size, and custom made for you.

LUI: They are made by the Chinese?

WONG: They are made Chinese, mainly by Chinese. And also, let me see, what else?
They also sell those like--They also do the renovation, construction, things
like that, too. They fix the roof. They fix whatever in the house. They really bring in the good business because usually--One of the reason why Chinese people stay in the Chinese neighborhood is because they want to have somebody who can speak Chinese to them. Whatever service you have, if you speak Chinese, you can make business. You get the business. So some of the non-Chinese businessmen who have the store here, like para, like paralegal, something like that, they always hire a Chinese secretary who can speak Chinese, so they can get some business. The dentist; he has a Chinese sign. He is not Chinese, but he has a Chinese
sign. He has a nurse and a secretary who will speak Chinese and translate
everything, so he gets business.

LUI: Where is this dentist?

WONG: I can't remember. On fifty--I think on 55th and 8th, on the second floor; the dentist.

LUI: Aside from the metal gates, if you were walking down the street around here, how would you know a Chinese family lives there? Is there anything else that gives it away?

WONG: Two things, either the metal gate, or by how they, by how they decorate the house. I really cannot tell. When I look at it, I can feel, yeah I can feel how they do. Also, look at their garbage. Some Chinese families always have some
kind of Chinese groceries, Chinese newspaper. You look and know a Chinese family
lives there.

LUI: Are most of the houses here one family houses, or are they broken up into apartments?

WONG: Different kinds. Either one-family or two-family, or apartment buildings, all kinds.

LUI: Do you think most people are planning to stay here, or are they going to move?

WONG: I believe that people plan to stay here.

LUI: Why is that?

WONG: Because this neighborhood is getting more and more well-developed. It's getting more well-developed, except those families who can find another place that they feel better than here. Most of the people that move out of the neighborhood have good English proficiency. They can read and talk, read/talk.
They don't mind to move into a White neighborhood or another Chinese
neighborhood. It doesn't bother them. They even move to New Jersey or some other place. But for those people who don't speak Chinese, most of them they would like to stay here, because it really helps them in all kinds of needs they might want.

LUI: Did your family think about moving?

WONG: No. No, even though my mom has been saying that she's going to move out, move to the other place right after we all get married, I say, "No you won't." I tell her, "No you won't." She enjoys it here. If we moved to another place, how can we survive?

LUI: What other place? Does she have any other place in mind?

WONG: No, she never has any place in mind, that's why.


LUI: What about you and your brother and sister?

WONG: I like this neighborhood, but I think about moving out, because I feel like--what I should say is, I feel like, I should have a better place to live. Most of the houses here are kind of old, and also, I don't really like the neighborhood anymore, very much now, because it's getting very dirty, very crowded and a lot of crime. Yes.

LUI: That's happened recently?

WONG: Recently, a couple years to now.

LUI: Why is that happening? Do you know?

WONG: I don't know. I really don't know. By the time the neighborhood develops,
it attracts everything; it attracts good things and bad things. They have less
crime on 84th. On 84th, they don't have that much crime. There's not a lot of people living here. Not a lot of stores. There's nothing to rob. This is not a rich neighborhood. On 84th Street, this is not a rich neighborhood.

LUI: Is it a rich neighborhood now?

WONG: No. Yeah, it's a rich neighborhood now. You know why? A lot of Chinese people, a lot of Chinese people, a lot of Vietnamese people, they always have a lot of goodies at home, like very good video, good T.V., a lot of stereo sets, a lot of appliances and a lot of cash at home. So, they feel like this is a nice place to rob. You don't go to a place that you can't rob anything.

LUI: Do people report robberies to the police?


WONG: A lot of people got robbed in the neighborhood, including me. [laughter]

LUI: Oh, you've been robbed?

WONG: Yeah, at night.

LUI: You mean at home?

WONG: No, not at home, on the street.

LUI: Oh, you've been mugged.

WONG: Yeah, I've been mugged.

LUI: Is that a big problem here?

WONG: It's getting better now, since the police are really putting a lot of attention into this neighborhood. They do a lot of things to try to fight crime, so it's getting better, yeah.

LUI: Are there neighborhood watch programs here?

WONG: No. No. No. That's something Chinese people never do.

LUI: Never do, meaning, they would never think to do it?

WONG: They never think about do it. They never.


LUI: Why is that?

WONG: I don't know why. Have you ever heard that--? There's this one stereotype about Chinese people that says that Chinese people only sweep the snow from in front of their house. They don't care about other people on the side.

LUI: No, I haven't heard that one. Who says that? Who says that?

WONG: It's from ancient Asian times, from China. It's from Chinese history. People say that's what Chinese people do. They only focus on themselves. They focus on themselves. They don't care about others, other things. That's how they do it. They really isolate themselves. As long as I'm okay, who cares if you got robbed or not? That's how Chinese people think. It's related to the old Chinese traditional moral education. This kind of idea, terrible idea. I don't know why
how come this happened, yeah.

LUI: So, it makes it kind of hard for community participation.

WONG: Yeah, that's why people don't participate. So we have to educate them, re-educate them to make them--to make them know that in order to live in a good neighborhood, everybody should put some effort into it. You cannot just enjoy some people's good outcome. You cannot enjoy the good outcome without putting effort in it.

LUI: So, are there other things that the community is doing at all to fight crime?

WONG: This, I don't know. This, I don't know that.

LUI: When you were mugged, did you report it to the police?


WONG: Yes, I did.

LUI: Did anything happen?

WONG: Yeah, I called the cops, the cops came, and I filed a report. And also, whenever I hear that something happened on my block, I check it out, see if anything happened If somebody got mugged, I help him call the police to report it, and I tell them they have to report this, that it's your responsibility to report it. And also, the more they report it, the more safe the neighborhood will be, because more cops will come here to watch at night. If you don't report it that means this neighborhood is safe, so they don't have to come that often. Now, the cops go around the block very often at night. So, you feel more safe now because a lot of people learn how to report. Since our office and the other office opened, they can report--they can come here and get some help to report the crime.

LUI: Aside from the offices, it sounds like people just come to look for you
sometimes and ask for help?

WONG: No, not just me. Anybody in the front, they can ask for help, even the [unintelligible]. They can speak some English. They can help them to do some simple work, or read the letters, or apply for some social service.

LUI: Who mostly comes to ask for help? A lot of seniors?

WONG: A lot of seniors. Usually, in the daytime, a lot of youngsters, they work. Young people, they work in the daytime. We don't open at night; we don't open at night, so usually the seniors, or the housewives.

LUI: When you first came here, you already spoke a lot of English right?

WONG: No, I don't. I speak some, but not very good English. I speak some. I can read, but I can't speak that well.

LUI: But you went to college immediately?


WONG: Yes, I went to college immediately because I can read and I can write, but I don't speak that well. Yeah, I couldn't speak, so it takes time. Yeah.

LUI: Did your family rely on you to take care of these kinds of things, like these letters or questions?

WONG: Yeah, they relied on us; me and my sister and my brothers. They rely on us.

LUI: Right now, how big would you say the Brooklyn Chinatown is?

WONG: How big? Let me see. It's getting very big now. I should say between, from 65th, from 65th to 39th, because the foreigners Chinese takeout is on 38th.
[laughter] Chinese takeout is on 38th. From 4th Avenue, I should say 4th Avenue
to Fort Hamilton Parkway. It's getting that big now. It used to a [unintelligible] close to the subway station. Now it's a bad bit, but because since the minivans are in business, the minivans are in business, they can really travel far. They take you to where--to the corner of where you live. Then you can live further away; you can still get home in one minute after you get out of the minivan, right, the shuttle bus. So, it really helps. Those minivans really help to spread out the neighborhood, to stretch out, yeah.

LUI: So most people who live here don't have cars?

WONG: Some of them have cars. If you have a garage, they have a car. If you live in an apartment building, second floor, they usually don't need it. They don't
have a car. It's really difficult to find parking spaces now. It used to be very
easy, because not a lot of people lived in the neighborhood. You could find parking on 8th Avenue very easily, but not now. And that's very difficult.

LUI: When you bought your house, who did you buy it from? Was it from a Chinese person?

WONG: From a Chinese real estate agent, next to our office. That real estate, next to us.

LUI: So it was already owned by Chinese when you bought it?

WONG: Yeah, owned by Chinese

LUI: Okay. Alright, I think that's about it. There's not much more. So, what do you think is the most important thing now, in the community, to take care of, in terms of the biggest problems that you see?

WONG: I think the biggest--There's a lot of problems, you shouldn't say which
one is biggest but what I feel like is, I think this neighborhood needs a place
that they can really let people get together, to share as a kind of community center, so that everybody can get together. They have a place they can come together to share, or they come together to learn something. Not just--Because I feel like people are still kind of isolated. They need to learn more about new stuff, like recycling. They don't know even know what recycling is. They need a place for them to get together to enjoy their leisure time, to enjoy, or to get help, or to get educated, whatever. We need a place like that. That's why I
believe that if there--if the A&P transformed to be a kind of shopping mall,
with restaurants and banks that would be a very popular place for everybody to go to, yeah.

LUI: I thought you meant not a shopping mall, but more of a community center?

WONG: I want a community center, not a shopping mall. But--

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