Rose Pak: A tire­less ad­vo­cate for Chi­na­town BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHANG JUN in San Fran­cisco junechang@chi­nadai­

Es­tab­lished 174 years ago and con­sist­ing of only eight streets and nine nar­row al­leys, San Fran­cisco’s Chi­na­town has a long and var­ied his­tory that has seen enor­mous strides in progress, in no small part thanks to ac­tivists and com­mu­nity lead­ers like Rose Pak, the gen­eral con­sul­tant at the San Fran­cisco Chi­nese Cham­ber of Com­merce.

In her four decades with the as­so­ci­a­tion, Pak, 67, has earned a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing fear­less, tena­cious and com­mit­ted to ad­vanc­ing the Chi­nese com­mu­nity. Her se­cret is a long-term view, be­fit­ting of a neigh­bor­hood with such deeply en­trenched roots.

“When I plan, I set my sights at least 100 years from now,” she told China Daily in an in­ter­view re­flect­ing on her many ac­com­plish­ments. “We need that far sight and vi­sion across set­tings.”

In 2011, Pak mo­bi­lized Chi­nese votes and do­na­tions for the suc­cess­ful ap­point­ment and elec­tion of San Fran­cisco Mayor Ed Lee, the first Chi­nese-Amer­i­can elected to the high­est of­fice in a ma­jor US city. “I’m ec­static,” she said af­ter Ed Lee’s vic­tory was de­clared. “Af­ter decades of strug­gling, we fi­nally elected a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can.”

In 2013, she par­tic­i­pated in two ground­break­ings: one, the re­build­ing of the Chi­nese Hos­pi­tal, which was es­tab­lished in 1925 by Chi­nese im­mi­grants as an in­de­pen­dent med­i­cal fa­cil­ity serv­ing Chi­na­town; the other in April, the Cen­tral Sub­way which will ex­tend to Chi­na­town and link the com­mu­nity with the rest of the Bay Area.

Pak worked for sev­eral decades to see both projects come to fruition. “It was by no means easy,” Pak said with a laugh. “How­ever, they will pro­foundly trans­form Chi­na­town into a more eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally as­sertive com­mu­nity in the long term — I would say at least 100 years.”

Pak was born in Hu­nan Prov­ince be­fore mov­ing to Hong Kong with her mother and two sis­ters in 1952. Af­ter at­tend­ing a board­ing school in Ma­cao, she re­ceived her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in the US and master’s in jour­nal­ism at Columbia Univer­sity. Since then, she has fo­cused on San Fran­cisco’s Chi­na­town, which was es­tab­lished by Chi­nese im­mi­grant work­ers mostly from South China’s Guang­dong prov­ince.

Now the old­est Chi­na­town in North Amer­ica, boast­ing the dens­est over­seas Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion in the world at ap­prox­i­mately 20,000, the neigh­bor­hood still re­ceives a steady stream of new im­mi­grants, Pak said.

“To many, this is a place called home,” she said. “The his­tory and tra­di­tion are price­less. No one should let it per­ish or be in jeop­ardy of com­mer­cial greed be­fore we can pass it on to our younger gen­er­a­tions.”

Chi­na­town’s his­tory has of­ten been painful, she said. She re­flected on the mis­er­able liv­ing con­di­tions of early Chi­nese la­bor­ers de­prived of ba­sic hu­man rights. Many were de­nied ser­vice from lo­cal hos­pi­tals, their chil­dren banned from at­tend­ing lo­cal schools.

“But Chi­nese peo­ple are re­silient and down-to-earth,” she said. “Fore­run­ners started to save each of their pen­nies, and they were able to build up their own homes, hos­pi­tals, restau­rants and schools. It was the be­gin­ning of today’s Chi­na­town.”

The ground­break­ing of the Chi­nese Hos­pi­tal is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in this con­text, be­cause med­i­cal care is es­sen­tial to the com­mu­nity’s ev­ery­day needs, she said. She also cited trans­porta­tion as a core ne­ces­sity, a func­tion the sub­way ex­ten­sion will ad­dress.

“In or­der to have a sta­ble, grow­ing and alive com­mu­nity, you have to care about trans­porta­tion and health­care,” she said. “They create the am­bi­ence the com­mu­nity re­lies on.”

The fact that the two projects were ap­proved is in­di­cates of how far Chi­na­town has come, she said. Forty years ago, these projects would have been im­pos­si­ble. She re­called a time when the govern­ment and out­side com­mu­ni­ties were in­dif­fer­ent.

“Ev­ery­day I was like a puffer fish when con­duct­ing in­ter­views in Chi­na­town,” said Pak, re­call­ing her time as a re­porter for the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle.

“I was so ir­ri­tated by the pre­vail­ing un­fair­ness, prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion against the whole com­mu­nity,” she said. “Can you imagine, they wouldn’t send re­pair­ers when Chi­na­town re­ported road wreck­ages, and sim­ply ig­nored our re­quests.”

Pak even­tu­ally switched to com­mu­nity work with the Chi­nese Cham­ber of Com­merce. Versed in govern­ment sys­tems and op­er­a­tions, she be­lieved her knowl­edge and so­cial net­work would en­able her to play a big­ger and more vi­tal role in the com­mu­nity. She quickly ques­tioned why there was no one sin­gle plan in place for rapid pub­lic tran­sit in Chi­na­town. In a process that in­cluded close scru­tiny of city-plan­ning pro­pos­als, re­search, pre­sen­ta­tions, fundrais­ing and at­ten­dance at nu­mer­ous pub­lic hear­ings, Pak suc­cess­fully worked to con­vince city coun­cil mem­bers and city plan­ning of­fi­cers.

“If we choose to be silent on our cru­cial com­mu­nity is­sues, who else will stand up and fight for us?” she said. “I’m not shy about what the com­mu­nity needs, and I’ll shout at the top of my lungs if nec­es­sary.”

The Fed­eral Govern­ment even­tu­ally al­lo­cated $1.7 bil­lion for the sub­way ex­ten­sion to Chi­na­town.

The re­build­ing of the Chi­nese Hos­pi­tal also em­bod­ies the strength and so­cial co­he­sive­ness of the Chi­nese com­mu­nity, Pak said. “As one of the few in­de­pen­dent com­mu­nity hos­pi­tals in the US, Chi­nese Hos­pi­tal has a long his­tory of serv­ing its com­mu­nity


•1947 Born in Hu­nan prov­ince •1972 MA in Jour­nal­ism, Columbia Univer­sity •1972 Jour­nal­ist, San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle •1983-present Gen­eral Con­sul­tant, Chi­nese Cham­ber of Com­merce •2011 Ad­vo­cated for Ed lee’s elec­tion as San Fran­cisco Mayor •2013 Ad­vo­cated for Cen­tral Sub­way ex­ten­sion to Chi­na­town with $1.7 bil­lion fed­eral fund­ing •2013 Ad­vo­cated for the re­build­ing of the Chi­nese Hos­pi­tal in mul­ti­ple lan­guages,” she said. “How sooth­ing it will be for a pa­tient if the doc­tors and nurses speak Man­darin or Can­tonese.”

Un­like the Cen­tral Sub­way project, which will be fi­nanced by the fed­eral govern­ment, the Chi­nese Hos­pi­tal re­con­struc­tion will rely heav­ily on pub­lic do­na­tions for its $120 mil­lion bud­get.

Pak now serves as head of fundrais­ing for the on­go­ing con­struc­tion, per­son­ally rais­ing $5 mil­lion in 2013. Al­though the job can in­volve glam­orous fundrais­ing galas, fame and for­tune are only il­lu­sions, she said.

“I have no am­bi­tions for my­self,” she said. “Chi­na­town rep­re­sents all my as­sets.”


Rose Pak, ac­tivist and gen­eral con­sul­tant of the San Fran­cisco Chi­nese Cham­ber of Com­merce, at the site of the re­build­ing of the Chi­nese Hos­pi­tal on Wed­nes­day.

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