Some people think that they must spend their lives bowing to mentors, paying homage to those before them, held hostage by idols sitting on a throne. If these idols are truly worthy of our adoration, they would not be waiting, expecting payment and worship. They would be too busy doing good in the world. They would be paying it forward. Love flows downward like rain, like snow, like mountain waterfalls.
I am grateful to have had a Chinatown childhood, a childhood full of love and community, freedom and friends, free play and exploration. I am a writer, an artist, a teacher. It is the latter, teacher, that gives me great joy.
In celebration of the 5th anniversary of Hudson Street Chronicles, I am taking stock and have attached some photos of where my collection of stories have traveled and led me to in the last five years, our journey together, and the fun times I’ve had engaging with youth of all ages from around the world. I have learned much from them. I hope they have learned something from me. Our youth are our treasures, our hope for the future. We, who have received much, must pay it forward.
When asked to do readings for art installation launches in Chinatown, I have often asked the artist to choose a group of Chinatown youth to read aloud a passage of the artist’s choosing , instead of me . Out of the mouths of today’s Chinatown youth, my stories of a Chinatown long past come alive, coming full circle, with the past echoing into the present Chinatown air. The youth run to thank me for my stories . I thank these children of new immigrant parents for reading my words aloud in a public performance. When I next come into Chinatown, they run in a group to greet me. I am a rock star. They tell me their names once again . The Future has touched the Past, the Past blesses them with her stories, and in this precious moment called the Present, we shake hands and smile.
In a Mountain village along the Yangtze River, in the People’s Republic of China, the one and the only girl in the group of children playing along the side of the road, chased after me . She recognized that I was a foreigner, most likely an American, so she reached out, eager to practice and show me her good English. The boys, more shy, followed her. This smart, eager, little river-town girl. I said to her, “Your English is very good.” She smiled. And I smiled. I bought them all lollipops at the local candy store. We lined up for a group photo. Lollipop diplomacy creates friends all over the world. Everytime.
Teaching 5th graders in Nanjichang, Taipei, Taiwan how to bake an American fruit crumble. This school is in a former slum area but the teachers saved it from demolition. There were no fresh blueberries so we made apple, pumpkin, and taro crumble . Each child brought in an ingredient. A parent brought in a small oven . The favorite was pumpkin. A girl carried home in her stainless steel covered lunch bowl some pumpkin crumble for her grandmother because she knew her grandmother liked pumpkin. She then stayed and cleaned up the classroom of her own volition. I was so impressed with the children’s independence, their exercise of agency and autonomy, and kindness to each other. Thanks to the fabulous teacher, Vera Lu, who also spends summers working on a Buddhist child nutrition project in Africa .
In Boston Chinatown: Meeting Emerson College film students , Maria Sato and Xinyi (Cynthia) Tu at Eldo Bakery to give them a tour. They are making a documentary on Art in Chinatown
Introducing Emerson film students to my favorite Chinese herbal store Kwok Wah on Tyler Street, and introducing them to the outgoing herbalist, Ivy.
Meeting with students and their teacher, Professor Claire Andrade-Watkins for a Chinatown tour, comparing gentrification in two communities: the Cape Verdean in Providence, Rhode Island and the Chinese in Boston, Massachusetts
Guest speaking at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Youth Center, organized by director Effie Kong
In Xian, China , along the Silk Road, I visited a school for the children of migrant workers. This energetic, delightful student, Mao Xiao Tian led me by the hand to show me around. She corrected my poor Mandarin Chinese and wanted to show me how to pronounce her name in Mandarin . She wrote my name for me in simplified characters. Abundant kindness from a migrant worker’s child. Peace.
At Eldo Bakery with BU graduate students in journalism, Linlan Lo from Changsha , Hunan, China and Lindsey Vickers from Salt Lake City, Utah . Starting our Chinatown tour with the symbol of HK resistance against British colonialism, nai cha, Hong Kong style milk tea.
Taking Graduate Journalism students to visit the Pao Arts Center straddling 99 Albany and Hudson , talking with ED Cynthia Woo and Vanessa Woo about the arts in Chinatown
Visiting Mark Liu at the Chinatown Progrssive Association (CPA) to learn about grassroots organizing for immigrant labor, voting, and housing rights.
Connecting social Justice with journalism students Thank you, Mark Liu!
Visiting the first health care center with Chinese bilingual / bicultural health care services , the South Cove Community Health Center in Washington Street
Meeting the wonderful SCCHC healthcare staff
Cheers with Hong Kong milk tea!
Garlic Pea stems : Lunch break at Great Taste
Rice noodle rolls: a classic Cantonese dimsum
Salty spicy Pork ribs
Lunch after tour with Graduate student in journalism, Linlan Lo
Milk tea break at Eldo Bakery with BU Graduate journalism students from Changsha , Hunan, China and Salt Lake City, Utah
It all began with babysitting on Hudson Street
Giving BU PhD student doing a dissertation in Anthropology and architecture from China, Tina Liu, a Chinatown history and architecture tour and lunch at the Jook Sing cafe
Introducing BU journalism student to the esteemed chef from Guangzhou China, Ming Goh, at Great Taste. He started working in kitchens in Guangzhou at age 13.
Introducing BU Graduate students in journalism to the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, a key place for childcare, youth, and adult educational services : meeting events planner Jeany Quintal and anime artist and after school program director, Shaina Lu. Teaching about community.
Chinatown children at play. I was once one of them. I have always valued free play, “the work of children” (and adults ) in all my classrooms. This is the closing ceremony for the “ storytell and sway “ art installation by Gianna Stewart on Hudson Street , a street newly revitalized by the work of the (ACDC) Asian Community Development Corporation.
Guest speaking in a Chinese History class at Emmanuel College taught by the magnificent Dr. Violetta Ravagnoli from Rome, Italy.
Hanging out after class with Emmanuel College Chinese History students and Dr. Ravagnoli
Dr Ravagnoli’s office with her Chinese decor collected from living and studying in China . She studied the town where Chinese workers came from to work in the fashion industry in Italy. She speaks Mandarin more fluently than I.
Guest teaching at Boston University by invitation of Dr. Eugenio Menegon who created the Power Point with my historical Chinatown family photos
Hanging out after ciass with BU Chinese History students
Emmanuel College Chinese History students have many questions and ideas!
Chatting With BU Chinese History professor from Venice, Italy, the great Dr. Eugenio Menegon . Corny photo: Dr. Menegon’s idea.
Students from the the Midwest (Rachel Liang now a Tisch intern at the Pao a year later!) and Singapore recording me for their Emerson and Tufts U college graduation projects including zines ….with milk tea at Eldo . Rachel’s zine composed of interviews with many community members was so funny I posted it on this website. The zine is now housed at the Tufts University Asian American Studies Zine Library which she created. The students from Singapore needed to meet local business owners so I facilitated her meeting /interview of the owner of Eldo Bakery for her project on how the pandemic affected business in Chinatown . It was a serendipitous meeting at the launch of the Place of Assembly public art installation by architect artist Ang Li.
“Before there was Chinatown , there was Syriatown and before that, there was the Boston Brahmins and the Abolitionists living on Hudson Street…”
“Just imagine the target is You , your family , and people who looked like you…just imagine.”
At BU : After class hanging out is the best
Let’s stand up ! With the wonderful professor of Chinese History at Boston University: Dr. Eugenio Menegon from Venice Italy . I thank him for inviting me to speak to his class every year and creating the power point with my historical Chinatown family photos.
BU student responses to the required reading of my essay, “No Secret” about a white prostitute named Sally, the stranded old men of Chinatown, and a little American -born Chinese girl named Cynthia.
Xinyi Tu and Maria Sato filming Ponnapa Prakkamul’s “Where We Belong” mural on Oxford for their documentary , “Where We Belong: A Documentary Film on Displacement, Arts, and Healing in Boston’s Chinatown” shown at Emerson College to great acclaim, and is now up on YouTube! These new filmmakers have moved on to graduate school in New York City.
Getting it just right! Such diligent students.
On our tour Emerson Film Students Xinyi Tu and Maria Sato on Hudson Street, playing, filming, and interviewing on the art installation, “Storytell and Sway,” designed by public artist Gianna Stewart .
Teaching American baking in Taiwan with fifth graders measuring ingredients for New England fruit crumble
Emerson film students gather their equipment to film the mural, “Where We Belong “ on Oxford for their documentary. I am taking them on a mural and art tour of Chinatown.
Brown University Anthropology student, Joy Jiang , has read the entire Hudson Street Chronicles collection. She said she cried reading “BaBa,” an essay about a left-behind daughter in China who, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, never met her Dad who was a Chinese American Corporal fighting in Europe . I wrote it as a tribute to my third sister and all the left-behind daughters of Chinese immigrants across America, casualties of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Adrian Walker from the Boston Globe reached out immediately to meet and chat when “Mo Hi: Don’t Look” came out . That essay, about a teen girl displaced from her Hudson Stream home and growing up in the Combat Zone after the demolition of Hudson Street for a highway ramp, highlights a major injustice in Boston’s racially charged history.
Pay it forward. Nurture the young. Teach. Fight injustice. Love ❤️ flows downward and out into the world .
Today’s youth of Chinatown who read from my collection for the launch of Ang Li’s reimagining of Stoop Culture , “Place of Assembly.”
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February 20, 2023 March 28, 2023
6 thoughts on “Paying It Forward”
What a tremendous reach, scope and impact locally and internationally. Congratulations.
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Aww thanks dear Jennie ! You have have made a gigantic difference in the field aging locally nationally and internationally. It must be because we come from humble beginnings! We never learned arrogance! ❤️❤️🍊🐣
Cynthia, you are the Present! I am grateful to be in the presence of your genuineness and gift—your stories. Some say it is a thankless job. I’d like to differ. For as long as I have known you, your generosity and willingness to share have inspired me. It’s doesn’t seem like a job for you. That’s not to say that we should take you for granted! Your voice is so valuable and they ring across the ocean touching everyone on its path. I am grateful for being able to really listen to these words. Thank you!
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Thank you for your kind and sincere words! It makes all the work of writing, researching, and all the leg work required for sharing so very worth it. I’m glad it touches hearts and minds because that’s the point. Because I write about the Past hoping it will inform the Future, I am sometimes treated as if I am the Past . But I know I am the precious Present. Thanks for all
Grateful that my stories touch hearts and minds. Because I am a living witness to the Past, I hoped my words would inform the Future. But because I write about the Past, I’m sometimes treated as if I am the Past. But I know I am the Present. Working with university students, young children, and a talented and honorable young man like you keeps me in the precious 💝 Present. Thank you for everything!
Thank you for all your help Jackie!