The opportunity to speak about the “Changing Face of Chinese in America” at a meeting of the Seal Beach International Friendship Association was a memorable and rewarding event in many ways. The large, around 70 people, audience was impressive in its size, but also in its composition of mostly non-Chinese, unlike my typical audiences that are sometimes 100 percent Chinese. I welcomed this venue as I believe it is important that I have opportunties to speak to more nonChinese to increase their awareness of the history of Chinese in America and so that I am not always “preaching to the choir.” The program chair, Claire Yeh, had heard me give this talk last year at the U. S.-China People’s Friendship Association Western Regional conference and invited me to speak to the Seal Beach organization.
It isn’t possible to show more than a few snippets of the talk here, but hopefully the brief video will give you the general idea about some of the issues raised in my talk.
During the evening, I experienced several fascinating “Small World” connections with some members of the audience. A woman, Julie, who heard me speak in San Gabriel last October had purchased a copy of my book about the Mississippi Delta Chinese as a gift for her Chinese friend in the Bay area, not knowing that her friend was born in Mississippi. When she related this coincidence to me a few weeks ago, I soon realized that I knew her friend, Nancy, as well as two of her siblings living in the South. Moreover, her friend was a friend of one of my friends, Sheila, whom I’ve known for about the past 50 years! And, I got to meet, Cliff, Nancy’s son who Julie invited to the talk.
I also met a Chinese woman, Mary Yuen who mentioned in passing that she was from Canada. To make small talk, I inquired, Vancouver? Toronto? No, she said she was from a place no one has heard of, Outlook, Saskatchewan, a very small town in a remote area. But as you might have guessed, I actually just happened to know about Outlook because I have seen a 1970s video of a small cafe run for decades in Outlook by a Chinese, affectionately known to the townspeople as Noisy Jim. Needless to say, she was as surprised that I had heard of Outlook as I was to be meeting a Chinese coming from there!
Finally, a Chinese woman, Joan Eng, bought all four of my books. As we were chatting while I autographed the books, she mentioned she had grown up in Jacksonville, Florida, where her family, one of the two Chinese families in the area, had a farm where they raised Chinese vegetables. Now it was a long shot, but I remember that my father would often order fresh Chinese vegetables like bok choy that were shipped to Georgia from Florida. When I described the wooden slatted crates that the vegetables were delivered in by Railway Express, she confirmed that my description matched the procedure that their farm used. We were both stunned as we realized that sometime back around the 1940s my parents must had been customers of her parents!
Oh, I should add one other exciting event that happened earlier around lunchtime in Cerritos at a press conference for a local city council member who was being smeared in a vicious anti-Chinese political ad. At this meeting I ran into Candy Yee, who I had met over a year or 2 ago at a talk I gave on Mississippi Chinese grocers. In that talk I described a landmark lawsuit filed in 1924 by a Chinese grocer challenging school segregation against Chinese in the Mississippi Delta. The case went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, which in 1927 ruled against the Chinese, Gong Lum v. Rice.
During the Q & A, a Chinese woman stood up and proudly announced that the daughter of the plaintiff in that historic case was her aunt! On that occasion, I failed to get her name or contact information, and several times later I wished I knew how to contact her. So, it was providential that she came up and reintroduced herself. I then proceeded to tell her that a researcher in New York had just called me for an interview because she was writing a book that focuses on the Gong Lum case. I was eager to tell Candy about this writer as she might have some useful memories from both her aunt and her mother. To my surprise, Candy already knew about the planned book as the author had already tracked her down and was coming to interview her next month.
So, all in all, Feb. 21, was a very exciting day for me with these many ‘small world’ experiences!