I am the son of “Paper sons,” born in British Hong Kong to a Chinese-Australian father and to a ToiShan-Cantonese mother. I never met my first dad he passed away in Australia soon after I was born. I was supposed to be an Aussie instead, I’m now a Yank. I arrived in New York City’s Chinatown in 1968 after my mother remarried to my second dad, a Chinese-American, a “Chin”, Loh-Wah-Que (老華橋).
I also have families in Canada and England, my great grandfather was buried in Liverpool, he was a Mason. Since my second dad was a “Chin” it was cool for me to keep my “Chan”, you know, it’s a “陳” thing.
I served in the United States Air Force from 1979 to 1984. During my tour of active duty I met other “Chans” in Biloxi, Ms. My Chinese-American family has a long and proud history in America. My great aunt Jessie was born in New York City in 1898 and her sons, my uncles all served in the American military during WWII.
I lived in the same apartment handed down from my great aunt to my dad since they acquired the unit from the original owner in the 1930s. Many of the fixtures and furniture including the stove/oven, and the kitchen sink are original and in good working condition.
My daughter is Irish/English/German, like her dad, she also speaks Cantonese. My experience growing up in New York City in the late 1960s through the late 1970s as a “Jook Cock” has had its moments. I live on the block that is part Little Italy, Mulberry Street near the original “Five Points.” I still remember the time when I was in the fourth grade when a Chinese boy called me a “Chink” because I was wearing a “Mein nop,” cotton filled silk jacket before it was made cool by Bruce Lee. That was my first experience with racism. It was not my last.
What saddens me now is watching my Chinatown losing its historical and culture footprint along with Little Italy as the result of gentrification, slumlords and ineffective local politicians. I hope more young Chinese-American would get involved in politics to make a difference.