By Eugene C. Wong (October 3, 2009)
President of Central California Chinese Cultural Association
November is my birthday month. My God! I have lived on the earth for 80 years already! My friends always ask, “What keeps you going with such vibrant energy?” My answer: living a life that straddles American and Chinese cultures.
I was born in Fresno in 1929. When I was 3½, our family moved to China; I was 11½ when we returned to the U.S.A. I had 6 years of Chinese elementary schooling. Back in America, I was treated as an immigrant because I couldn’t speak English. I was branded as an FOB—“Fresh Off the Boat,” a new immigrant. An American-born Chinese was an “ABC”.
After 2 years, I caught up with the other boys. Everything they knew, I had learned. But I knew more; I also knew Chinese, and they didn’t. I gained their respect as we grew up together.
In the past, most of the Chinese immigrants who settled in Fresno were adults who lacked the ability to communicate well in English. Therefore, they formed fraternal/benevolent associations that served as both Chinese welfare agencies and social organizations.
From 1880 to 1945, most Chinese immigrants came from Kwongtung (formerly Guangdong) province, where Cantonese was spoken. Thus the Cantonese dialect was the Chinese language of the ABCs. Since then, the influx of immigrants from Taiwan, Vietnam, and mainland China has expanded the Fresno Chinese Community to a much broader cultural base, and the Mandarin dialect is found along with the Cantonese. Fortunately, the written words and meanings of the characters used in the two dialects are the same with a few exceptions, mostly local color phrases.
In 1945, there were 13 (thirteen) Chinese benevolent associations in Fresno:
1. Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association—中華會館
2. Wong’s Family Association—黃氏宗親會
3. Ning Young Association—寧陽會館
4. Yen Hoy Association—恩開會館
5. Ying On Association—英端工商會
6. Jang Ying Association—俊英工商會
7. Bing Kong Association—秉公堂
8. Bo On Association—保安堂
9. Yun Wor Association—仁和會館
10. Young Wor Association—陽和會館
11. Sam Yup Association—三邑會館
12. Fay Wah Club—斐華會
13. Mar Family Association—馬氏公所
At present, only the first six organizations listed above are still active. Their primary purpose now is to retain Chinese culture.
When I was a teenager, the Wong’s Family Association could not afford to celebrate Chinese New Year at a restaurant as it does now. The men with experience in cooking prepared the food at the old club house on “G” Street. The women decorated the tables and did the waitress work, and we kids washed the dishes, pots, and pans and swept the floor. People of all ages participated to make the event successful, and they were rewarded with happy hearts. We lack this community spirit today.
Now we have additional organizations such as the Fresno Taiwan Chinese Association, Central California Chinese Cultural Association, Fresno Chinese Chorus, Fresno Chinese Sports Club, CSUF Chinese Faculty Association, and Hong Kong Club. My wish is for greater unity among all of Fresno’s Chinese organizations in major events, especially when the events involve city and county activities. We can unite together as one unit representing the Fresno Chinese community instead of dividing into separate organizations that compete against one another.
For you new immigrants residing in Fresno . . . You may come from different provinces (Kwongtung, Taiwan, Zhejiang, Sichuan, etc.), but you are now living in America. You must adjust to the American culture and you must bring the rich Chinese culture to your non-Chinese neighbors.
Our early ancestors were primarily laborers with very little education. Some were not able to send their little, hard earned pay checks home and write letters to their wives and family to receive social and emotional support from their relatives in China. That’s why benevolent associations were formed. Today, however, most new immigrants are well educated in both Chinese and English. It should be very easy for new immigrants to enjoy and share our rich Chinese culture with our American friends.
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