Monday, 12 October 2015

Museum preserves neglected history

Financial Secretary John Tsang

It is great to be back in Chinatown where I spent my formative years as a fresh-off-the-boat teenager running around the streets that made up this special enclave.

 

We had a lot of fun then, hanging out on Mott Street, moving onto Mulberry Street, playing basketball in the park between the funeral homes and the jail, and just cruising around the neighbourhood checking out everyone and everything.

 

We had little idea then, or indeed, little concern, as to the history of our forefathers or the heritage of our people, even though we would always abide by family tradition, and go "walking the hills" and "sweeping the graves" a couple of times every year with all the clans who were able to get off work.

 

Yes, like many of you, the grave of my great-grandfather is in some ancient cemetery in Queens, and the entire legacy of his journey in America in the last century is now defined in, and actually confined to, a square foot granite block that bears his name, his village and the date of his departure.

 

Century-old struggle

It was not until I went to college that I was able to learn about the century-old struggle of the Chinese immigrants in America, their contribution to the construction of this country and that often neglected history that was documented in blood, sweat and tears.

 

It was about that time that I became aware of that anthem of sojourners, the Charlie Chin song, "The Wandering Chinaman" that captured so movingly in a simple ballad the life of the ancestors that I never knew.

 

The realisation has been profound for me and has instilled in me a desire to learn more about my roots, experience more fully the life in the city where I was born, and perhaps, contribute to the society that fostered the culture to which I belong.

 

That desire was somewhat stalled initially by strong objection from the older members in the family, and also by the reality of having to bring up the young family that just got started.

 

Realising a forgotten dream

And it was not until some years later that the increasingly suffocating pressure of a middle-class destiny that gave me the determination to return to Hong Kong to realise that almost forgotten dream.

 

It was not an easy decision at all, as you can imagine, having to relocate a young family from a comfortable, well-settled life in order to acculturate to a new and unfamiliar surrounding.

 

It was also rather ironic that finding out more about my roots required a complete "uprooting". It was further complicated by the challenging political atmosphere particularly during the early 1980s with so much uncertainty lingering about the future of Hong Kong.

 

Confident in bright future

But somehow, I had that innate confidence that all those troubling issues would be ironed out and a bright future lies ahead for my young family in Hong Kong.

 

I also felt strongly that I can, with my background in public administration, contribute to the governance of Hong Kong, the place that touches my deepest emotions. Thinking back, now 33 years later, I am glad that I made the right decision.

 

At about the same time when I moved back to Hong Kong, the Museum of Chinese in America began its meaningful work of preserving the history of the Chinese people living in the United States, and celebrating their contribution to the American society.

 

You have been able to fill the gap that has been missing in the process of growing up for many of us. You have been able to celebrate the difficult journey of a determined people. You have been able to provide the educational tool for young people to learn about the Chinese in America for generations to come.

 

Financial Secretary John Tsang gave these remarks at a reception co-hosted by the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office in New York and the Museum of Chinese in America in New York.

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