Dong Xudong: No longer a ‘ head­less fly’

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

It took a wall com­ing down and feel­ing like a “head­less fly’’ for Dong Xudong to learn how lo­cal pol­i­tics work.

Now an ac­tive com­mu­nity leader and the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the North Cal­i­for­nia He­bei As­so­ci­a­tion, Dong is try­ing to make sure his fel­low Chi­nese Amer­i­cans are united and use their com­bined re­sources to help shape so­cial and civic life in their com­mu­ni­ties.

“I strongly en­cour­age new im­mi­grants to get ac­tively in­volved into com­mu­nity af­fairs, get fa­mil­iar with the op­er­a­tion of the na­tional ma­chine, and use your right of vote and unite with peo­ple of sim­i­lar mind to make changes to the so­ci­ety,” said Dong.

Dong learned the im­por­tance of civic ac­tivism the hard way. He lost his bat­tle against the Cu­per­tino City Coun­cil at a hear­ing two years ago due to his lack of knowl­edge of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, pro­ce­dures and rules of the game.

The city’s plan­ning com­mis­sion ap­proved con­struc­tion of res­i­den­tial units on a site ad­ja­cent to Dong’s house, where a re­tain­ing wall sep­a­rated his res­i­dence from traf­fic noise on a busy road and guarded the seren­ity of his and other neigh­bors’ houses.

“The city de­cided to take down the wall and gave the de­vel­oper per­mis­sion to build houses in one of the most pricey lo­ca­tions in the Sil­i­con Val­ley with­out so­lic­it­ing opin­ions of older res­i­dents and tak­ing the loss of value in our houses into con­sid­er­a­tion,” said Dong.

Long-time neigh­bors had told him that the city passed a res­o­lu­tion 30 years ago to build the re­tain­ing to “per­ma­nently block” res­i­dents from out­side dis­trac­tions.

So Dong went to city hall to search ar­chives about the wall, but with no luck.

“I re­ally didn’t know where to start and how I should search,” he said, adding he had never heard about “the bur­den of proof in a civil case is on the plain­tiff.”

Although two city coun­cil mem­bers of Asian ori­gin tried to guide Dong through the lengthy pro­ce­dure of fil­ing a pe­ti­tion and ask­ing for pub­lic hear­ings on tak­ing down the wall, he said he still felt clue­less and ran about like “a head­less fly”.

And that is when Dong re­solved to be an ad­vo­cate for get­ting more Asian Amer­i­cans in­volved in the po­lit­i­cal arena in Amer­ica.

“We need to leave our foot­print in the gi­gan­tic po­lit­i­cal mech­a­nism,’’ said Dong. “We need to work to­gether to send more Asian Amer­i­cans to govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions at dif­fer­ent lev­els in Amer­ica; pre­pare them for their fu­ture lead­er­ship role by hon­ing their skills for bet­ter serv­ing the coun­try, and let them speak for our in­ter­est and fight for our civic rights.”

A his­tory ma­jor who tends to ap­ply Con­fu­cius’ teach­ings to his ev­ery­day life, he does not like to be in the spot­light and al­ways prefers to give credit to his team mem­bers and be­lieves ac­tion is louder than words.

For many years Dong has been a vol­un­teer with sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions fo­cus­ing on Chi­nese cul­tural and ath­letic af­fairs in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and he also has been an ad­vo­cate of the peace­ful re­uni­fi­ca­tion be­tween the Chi­nese main­land and Tai­wan. “Sol­i­dar­ity is power. We Chi­nese need to unite but not to di­vide,” said Dong, adding that he prac­tices what he preaches. “With­out car­ing much about my own fame and gain, I feel the pure plea­sure out of be­ing a vol­un­teer,” he added.

Dong keeps ex­pand­ing his net­work and links to peo­ple through pho­tog­ra­phy. For many liv­ing in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area, Dong’s face is fa­mil­iar be­cause he shows up at al­most ev­ery im­por­tant so­cial gath­er­ing of Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties to ob­serve, to lis­ten, to mo­bi­lize and to share. And his phys­i­cal pres­ence of be­ing 6-feet-2 inches tall eas­ily calls at­ten­tion to him, as does his pho­tog­ra­pher’s out­fit and all the Le­ica cam­eras he uses to ran­domly shoot pic­tures.

Those lenses have cap­tured a wide scope of many “pre­cious moments of historic im­por­tance” in San Fran­cisco and sur­round­ing ar­eas, in­clud­ing Asian Amer­i­cans’ protests for equal civic rights, cul­tural her­itage ac­tiv­i­ties among var­i­ous eth­nic groups, as well as the daily laugh­ter and sor­rows of over­seas Chi­nese.

Of the pic­tures he has taken and film footages he has made, Dong be­lieves record­ings of his­tor­i­cal events are in­valu­able for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, “es­pe­cially when they want to learn more about their roots and for­bear­ances of their an­ces­tors,” he said.

Last year, Dong was on the street with fel­low cit­i­zens in San Fran­cisco on Nov 9 to protest the con­tro­ver­sial re­mark of “kill every­one in China” by ABC TV’s Jimmy Kim­mel on his talk show that aired on Oct 16.

Kim­mel was speak­ing with a group of chil­dren, aged 5 and 6, about how the US govern­ment should pay back the $1.3 tril­lion debt owed to China when one boy said, “Kill every­one in China.” “Kill every­one in China? OK, that’s an in­ter­est­ing idea,” Kim­mel said. He then posed the ques­tion: “Should we al­low the Chi­nese to live?”

“I felt Kim­mel’s com­ments were un­ac­cept­able,” said Dong, adding that prej­u­dice against Chi­nese im­mi­grants is still preva­lent in the US. “I feel it ev­ery­where,” he said.

On March 2, Dong ap­peared at the Cu­per­tino town hall meet­ing on a sub­ject that many Asian-Amer­i­can fam­i­lies re­garded as racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and un­fair for ev­ery stu­dent in Cal­i­for­nia: the pro­posed state Se­nate con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment No 5, bet­ter known as SCA-5.

The pro­posed amend­ment was passed by the state Se­nate on Jan 30 by a two-thirds ma­jor­ity. Writ­ten by Se­na­tor Ed Her­nan­dez, the bill would have al­lowed pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions such as the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity sys­tems, as well as K-12 schools, to use race, sex, color, eth­nic­ity or na­tional ori­gin as a con­sid­er­a­tion for ad­mit­ting stu­dents or hir­ing em­ploy­ees. Even­tu­ally the pro­posed amend­ment was with­drawn.

“I felt the po­lit­i­cal en­thu­si­asm this time among our Asian fam­i­lies. How dare some politi­cians go so far to touch the ed­u­ca­tion is­sue of our chil­dren?” said Dong, adding the only way to cor­rect civic in­equal­ity is to fight through united com­mu­nity move­ment in an or­ga­nized way.

Dong came to the United States from China in March 1992 with a few dol­lar bills in his pocket; he spoke bro­ken English and didn’t have much knowl­edge about Amer­ica.

For the for­mer edi­tor at a pres­ti­gious news­pa­per in Bei­jing and the son of a high­rank­ing Chi­nese govern­ment of­fi­cial, Dong said life in those early im­mi­gra­tion days was “a down­fall from heaven to hell.”

Like many Chi­nese im­mi­grants in early 1990s, Dong en­coun­tered nu­mer­ous hard­ships and frus­tra­tions. He started wash­ing plates and serv­ing cus­tomers at a Chi­nese res­tau­rant in San Fran­cisco, “One time, I had deep cuts in two fin­gers but I could not af­ford stop wash­ing kitchen uten­sils,” said Dong.

Later on, he trans­ferred to a ware­house for a monthly pay­check of $2,000 but the fi­nan­cial prob­lems re­mained. In 1995, Dong man­aged to buy a res­i­den­tial com­plex and con­verted it into an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity for the elderly.

Now the op­er­a­tor of three fa­cil­i­ties for se­niors, Dong said fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity is no longer a con­cern. “What I want to do is to help make the world a bet­ter place for our chil­dren, and chil­dren’s chil­dren,” he said.

Dong said he is ex­cited to see that the young gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese im­mi­grants is more con­fi­dent in them­selves, more knowl­edge­able about this coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tems and

We need to work to­gether to send more Asian Amer­i­cans to govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions at dif­fer­ent lev­els in Amer­ica; pre­pare them for their fu­ture lead­er­ship role by hon­ing their skills for bet­ter serv­ing the coun­try, and let them speak for our in­ter­est and fight for our civic rights.” DONG XUDONG PRES­I­DENT NORTH CAL­I­FOR­NIA HE­BEI AS­SO­CI­A­TION

more mo­ti­vated to speak out when they find there is so­cial in­equal­ity and abuse of power.

“They will bring more changes and make big­ger dif­fer­ence,” he said.


Dong Xudong is an ac­tive com­mu­nity leader and the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the North Cal­i­for­nia He­bei As­so­ci­a­tion.

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