Everyone’s a Celebrity
I was first going to name this column Celebrity Time but when I started thinking about it, everyone’s a celebrity in their own time and place. So here goes with whom I met and who’s made the news this time.
LISA SEE spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at Kepler’s Book Store in Menlo Park when she came to talk about her latest novel, CHINA DOLLS.
Be like those in the audience and rush to get a copy because it tells much of the fascinating history of Chinese nightclubs in San Francisco and the showgirls it gave jobs to lead them to a life of adventure, adversity and excitement. When asked about her interest in Chinese nightclub women, she recalled that she had been hearing about these nightclubs of San Francisco for many years and in the back of her mind, this always fascinated her. She said the stories of the showgirls interested her because they were such courageous independent women of their time. She said, “I saw them as either desperate to get away from their own repressive surroundings and trying to attempt dancing , something they had no experience in or even interacting before an outside world. The second group of courageous women she saw in the showgirls were frustrated dancers who had been trained but since they weren’t blondes, couldn’t find any work in the dance world.” She added she was inspired by the tenacity of these women who left former lives to go into a world so foreign and not respected in their culture, upbringing and families.
To very attentive and large audiences Lisa has been meeting up and down California, Lisa said she was overwhelmed by the fans she is meeting, and she finds it especially rewarding as every day she meets people who have some connection to the Forbidden City times of 1930s-50s in which CHINA DOLLS is set in. When I asked what was most rewarding to her in work past and present of writing about Chinese, she answered, “I try to capture stories of places and people often forgotten so I want to recognize these times before they are lost forever. My first research came from doing my own family background and realizing the history of Los Angeles’ China City was soon being forgotten when it was all torn down.” She continued that she enjoys bringing history into her books so that she can reach a public who might know very little about China or the history of Chinese in America.
Right now Lisa See has just returned from doing background work in Yunnan Province in China where she visited Puer Tea Farms which are the predominant occupation of the poor people there. Her new book plot might involve the taking of a new baby born there to an adopting American couple and the subsequent story line from there. Don’t hold your breath, she warns, as it takes at least two or more years to get a book written and into publication. Her lasting lines to her audience, when asked her secret to writing so prolifically, was what her mother told her – Have a goal of writing 1000 words a day. LISA SEE, my favorite author, has used that as her mantra ever since, and may that be a prophetic lesson to all of us writers out there who have become (speaking for myself) master of the art of procrastination! Nice meeting you, Lisa, and especially loved your book as I have also had the pleasure and privilege of meeting many of the Forbidden City showgirls through the years and like you, will always be admiring of their accomplishments.
As an aside, I must boast that this old lady columnist could have been the initial instigator of the interest that has come to Forbidden City and San Francisco Chinatown nightclubs way back in the 1990s. At that time, I met and wrote a story about Jadin Wong, the Chinese showgirl dancer who ended up on the cover of Life Magazine. Moviemaker Arthur Dong told me he read that story which spurred his own interest in that nightclub era which he remembered hearing about from his San Francisco growing up days. I helped him get an interview with Dorothy Toy Fong, and from there Dong’s movie was made, and his new book Forbidden City USA and accompanying exhibit is a wonderful chronicle of the people who worked and came to those famous nightclubs in San Francisco Chinatown. I know Lisa See’s China Dolls book will also carry on that interest to other people around the world and spread further the story of the Chinese nightclub era. So happy to have possibly been a catalyst and seen this history unfold.
IN SANTA CRUZ
George Ow Jr. and his extended family are celebrities in Santa Cruz for their never-ending support of education. Following his father’s legacy of helping those in need, George and his family celebrated its 25th year of awarding American Dream Scholarships where they recognized 116 high school students for their achievements, in the presence of their families, friends and supporters. The Ow family have been providing American Dream Scholarships to local ethnic minority and disadvantaged high school seniors enrolling at Cabrillo College ever since 1989. Over the past 25 years, they have awarded approximately $460,000 to more than 1000 graduating high school students. From the humble beginnings of immigrant George Ow Sr., who came to California with just $2 in his pocket, his family agreed he had fulfilled his own American Dream as a successful businessman, father of seven, grandfather to 14 and great-grandfather to 10. Thanks to his foresight, the family has carried on his tradition of giving scholarships to encourage students who might not have had the opportunity to continue their education to enter Cabrillo College if not for the Ow family’s generosity. The Ow Family are true celebrities whom we should all look up to for their dedication to serving the Santa Cruz city’s youth.
Along the line of scholarships, celebrities in San Mateo County are the JACL and OCA-San Mateo Chapter who held a scholarship luncheon to award scholarships for the upcoming 2014-22015 academic school year to a college or university of their choice. Winners this year were the following:
JACL Scholarship – Ryan Wong; Adrian & Monica Arima Scholarship – Melissa Marston; DAE Advertising Scholarship – Brandon Yan; Elizabeth Tsai Scholarship – Chloe Cheng and Megan Satyadi; Philip & Louise Wang Scholarships – Kimberly Hui, Nga Pui Leung, Regina Leung, Stephanie Pan, and Laurent Pon. According to President Melodie Lew, OCA San Mateo and JACL San Mateo are both justice organizations which advocate for Asian Americans and promote Asian American participation in the community.
Li Keng Gee Wong and the Gee Wong Family of Oakland were honored by the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) at a special luncheon held at the lovely Lake Chalet restaurant overlooking Lake Merritt. Under the theme of “Telling Our Truths, Our Oakland Chinatown Story”, the very energetic matriarch of the family, Li Keng told of her coming from China with her family through Angel Island and what her parents and their family has accomplished with their sparse beginnings to full happy lives. Other siblings speaking that day were William Wong, Flo Oy Wong, Nellie Wong, and Lai Wah Webster. The over 100 invited guests were given information about the AIISF’s future plans to give more tours of the barracks, and begin a capital campaign to raise funds to renovate and establish other museum exhibits in the 100 year old hospital building by President Buck Gee and Executive Director Michael McKechnie. New Board member Nobuko Saito Cleary accompanied by her husband Dr. Gary Cleary were introduced while I, as Chairman of the AIISF Pacific Passages Circle, happily welcomed Oakland’s Dorothy Eng as a new member of the PPC. Pacific Passages Circle members pledge annual donations of $1000 or more to the organization as supporters of its continuing plans to bring the sad history of Chinese American immigration through the island under very discriminatory practices fostered by the United States Government.
To carry on the fine work of the AIISF, a call for new Pacific Passages Circle members is out – please come and help them continue spreading the history of immigration within Angel Island 1910-1940 and thus after.
Today the tapestry of northern California is very much Asian who have settled happily in northern California. In past times, they were not welcomed, not hired, not encouraged to continue to further education.
Asian Americans who suffered during those inhibiting and discriminating times worked harder to provide for their children whom they hoped would have easier lives than the first generation to come over ever had.
Movie maker and author Arthur Dong brought a wonderful exhibit about “FORBIDDEN CITY, USA” TO THE San Francisco Main Library. At the grand opening Dong who curated the exhibit from his own personal collection, also brought in entertainment to the mix. Shaking up the library were entertainers the Grant Avenue Follies and Jimmy Jay Borges, a former Forbidden City singer to perform. Dong also introduced his new book Forbidden City, USA, a wonderful pictorial book chronicling the era of the Chinese nightclubs and its entertainers during the 1930s – 1960s.
The youngest celebrity of the month was Baby Jordan Kamryn Lee, who was oohed and aahed by over 200 guests at her Red Egg and Ginger coming-out party at the Dynasty Restaurant in Cupertino. Hosted by grandparents Kam & Barry Leung and Susan and Jeffery Lee together with parents Jennie and Jeff Lee, Jordan’s party also featured a masterful balloon designer and a charismatic magician.
I can’t forget the Wong family’s own celebrity of the month – our granddaughter Melissa Nicole Matsuura who graduated from Homestead High School last week and will be entering University of Pacific at Stockton in the fall to follow her parents Kelly and Gary Matsuura’s footsteps into the School of Pharmacy ultimately. Are we proud grandparents – you betcha!