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Guillermo and Norma Wong

Oral history interview conducted by Gregory Ruf and Fabiana Chui

June 10, 1994

Call number: 1994.007.28

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RUF: This is an interview for the Chinatown History Museum/Brooklyn Historical Society Oral History Project on Sunset Park. It's June 10, 1994. The interviewers are Gregory Ruf and Fabiana Chiu, and we're speaking with Mr. and Mrs. Wong, who live on 7th Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd St.

CHIU: ¿Puede contestar in Spanish o en Ingles o en --? [unintelligible]

RUF: I guess I would like to start by just asking you to introduce yourselves.

G. WONG: OK, my name is Guillermo Wong. I come from Peru, South America. My father was Chinese, my mother is Peruvian. My main culture is Spanish because I 1:00grew up in South America, but I still keep the Chinese tradition with Chinese people.

N. WONG: My name is Norma Wong. I married with Guillermo 24 years ago. I have three sons, and I feel more Chinese than Guillermo.

CHIU: Here we go!

RUF: Could you tell us a little bit about what life was like when you were young, living in Peru, and what brought you to the United States?

G. WONG: I guess we came here like everybody else, looking for opportunities. The situation in our countries, political, economic, social, was not as good as 2:00we expected. We came for political reasons. In my country, I was a professional in the economics area, but with the family, I had the opportunity for my wife to come here. She has family here, and we were invited. And we took the opportunity.

RUF: When did you come?

G. WONG: 1980.

RUF: 1980. And did you come right away to Brooklyn? Was this your first-?

N. WONG: No, our first time we came to Queens.

RUF: Queens?

N. WONG: Astoria.

RUF: Astoria? My wife is Greek, so we live in Astoria.

N. WONG: It's a nice place.

RUF: Yeah. How long did you live in Astoria?

3:00

N. WONG: Three years.

G. WONG: Three years. Then we moved to Brooklyn.

RUF: When you lived in Astoria, did you live with friends, with relatives?

N. WONG: My family, relatives.

RUF: With relatives. And then what made you decide to move to Brooklyn?

G. WONG: I have a relative who had a house, OK? And he had a store on one floor, a part of the first floor, and he gave me the advantage to use the rest of the house, so we moved in.

RUF: In Brooklyn, this is in Brooklyn?

G. WONG: In Brooklyn, yes Park Slope.

N. WONG: In Park Slope. He's Chinese too.

CHIU: Oh, he was a Chinese relative of yours?

G. WONG: Yes, yes.

CHIU: Was he Peruvian, too?

G. WONG: Yes, he's Peruvian.

N. WONG: Well all were.

CHIU: What type of store was that?

G. WONG: I think it's [unintelligible]

4:00

CHIU: Compacciones? Yeah, it was a clothing store.

RUF: How long -- what was the area like when you moved into Park Slope when you came to Brooklyn? Was there a community of other Peruvians or even Chinese Peruvians? Did you feel very much alone, or did you feel like you were moving into a place where you have friends?

G. WONG: No, well, here in New York there's a lot of people who can speak Spanish. And we learn only English --ah not too much, we don't speak too much English. We kind of live by ourselves in the area. No problem.

RUF: And how long did you live in Park Slope before you moved? Did you come here 5:00next? This apartment?

G. WONG: Yes, this is the next.

RUF: Have you been here long?

G. WONG: No. Half a year.

RUF: Half a year?

CHIU: Here in Sunset Park?

G. WONG: We like this part better.

CHIU: Why? Why do you think this part is better?

G. WONG: Because now we feel more close to the groups, Spanish and Chinese. That's it.

RUF: Is it true that most of the Chinese live along 8th Avenue? In the area of 8th Avenue?

G. WONG: 8th Avenue and 7th Avenue. That's from 43rd St. to 65th. Or 65, is that right?

N. WONG: Un-huh.

RUF: And the Latino community?

G. WONG: The Latino community is down to the Avenues of 6th, 5th and 4th. And 6:007th Avenue is mixed.

RUF: Do you like 7th Avenue? Do you like it here?

N. WONG: Yes, yes.

G. WONG: A lot. We've got everything. Stores, restaurants, Chinese products.

N. WONG: Yeah, it's a nice neighborhood.

CHIU: Is 7th Avenue a mix of Latinos and Chinese?

G. WONG: Yes.

CHIU: It is?

G. WONG: Because it's like this is the limit between the --

CHIU: For both?

G. WONG: For both. Spanish on one side, Chinese on the other side, and at this time you can find Spanish with Chinese, and they go well along.

N. WONG: We have many neighbor Chinese there, on 7th Avenue, too. You know, because it's close to the 8th Avenue. They live around that.

G. WONG: But the Chinese community is a growing community. You can see every day more Chinese than a lot of them used to. They invade Park Slope, buying houses 7:00or real estate and commercial or whatever.

RUF: When you first came to Brooklyn, when you moved from Queens and you went to Park Slope, were there already many Chinese in the area?

G. WONG: No.

RUF: No? When did you first start noticing Chinese opening stores, or shopping, or even walking in the street?

G. WONG: I think it's, ah, back in '85, '85-'86. That's when, yeah. This is now like a second Chinatown. But now it's very important than Chinatown. It's better than Chinatown in Manhattan. You can find more Chinese people in Manhattan, but you can't walk, you can't park, you can't do nothing. But here, you have a lot of space and safe parks and quality.

RUF: You can find the same type of goods?

N. WONG: Yeah.

RUF: Do you do a lot of shopping on 8th Avenue?

G. WONG: Most of it.

8:00

RUF: Most of the time? Are the prices better, or it's just the type of goods that they have?

G. WONG: In comparison with what? Chinatown?

RUF: No, maybe with 5th Avenue.

N. WONG: No, it's better.

G. WONG: From our side, we still make the Chinese food.

CHIU: Who cooks?

N. WONG: Both.

G. WONG: She knows how to cook, and I -

N. WONG: He, too.

CHIU: You know how to make Chinese food?

G. WONG: Yeah, I teach her what I know, and I like cooking.

CHIU: So would you say you cook more Chinese food than Latino food?

G. WONG: More Chinese food. She did the Spanish, I did the Chinese, but now she makes good both, yeah. So for myself, I buy in Chinatown.

RUF: When you -- is there a lot of interaction? You were saying before we 9:00started that you feel you're in the middle of two different groups. Is there a lot of interaction between, let's say, Chinese residents of the area and Latino residents of the area?

G. WONG: No.

RUF: Nothing?

G. WONG: Not that much. Because there are different cultures, and Latinos by themselves don't understand the Chinese community. As well, the Chinese community don't like to mix too much with other communities. From every part of the world, the Chinese, you can find them everywhere. So from the Spanish view, Chinese is not easy. They always want to, you know, put the different, from Spanish. So the Chinese, they just don't mix. They're well-educated; they're 10:00people like the nurse, the merchants, right? But that's a business relation, but beside that they don't mix in the families. They have different tradition, different beliefs, different point of view. But in my case, because I look like the Chinese, because I have a Chinese relative, half-Chinese -

N. WONG: Half and half.

G. WONG: So, I'm well accepted in their groups, besides the way that I am, so people, Chinese people like me, and Spanish people like me, so for particular, myself, I don't have any problem with any groups. And I can understand very well both groups. So I feel great in this area, and I'm happy that the Chinese 11:00community every day is growing.

N. WONG: Yeah, it's beautiful, the progress, you know about the vegetables, the [unintelligible].

G. WONG: And besides, the area is very nice for us. A good neighborhood. Quiet. The people.

RUF: It's quiet? Do you have to worry much in the evenings? Do you have to worry about someone robbing you, or whatever?

G. WONG: No, not in this area. You can be robbed in any place, and mostly we don't have too many big buildings. Most of the neighborhood is private houses, and that's what make a difference. When you have a lot of buildings where, you know, strange people come and are moving around [unintelligible]. It's in very great condition.

CHIU: You were just saying that you feel good because you understand both groups, and because when you're walking down 8th Avenue, people see you and 12:00think you look Chinese, and you're half Chinese, and you identify with that, and they identify with you. Now, when you're walking down 5th Avenue and you look Chinese, do they think maybe you're coming from 8th Avenue and you don't have much in common with them?

G. WONG: Pardon me, can you repeat?

CHIU: When you're walking down 5th Avenue and you look more like the people who walk down 8th Avenue, so when you're walking down 5th Avenue do you think people think that maybe you're not Latino?

G. WONG: Yes, I have that feeling when they see me the first time, they don't think I am Latino. But you know, we are Peruvians, and I think we're better Latino than the Latino here.

CHIU: Why? Why better Latinos?

G. WONG: Not better than they -- you're talking about just people, you understand, the Latino here is mixed from different countries, and sometimes you 13:00don't know, countries have few population, and they're not too open to the other people. So we in Peru would have more education, more some kind of psychology or philosophy, or whatever, more preparation, and in both ways. You know, the part that is well-educated, and in the streets. So we can treat any kind of people. So when those people see me as Chinese and they want to tell me something that is not good, or I hear something, [unintelligible] they think I don't understand what they're saying. But we're not people looks for all those problems. And as 14:00soon as we see something that can be against me, we'll start talking with them.

CHIU: In Spanish?

G. WONG: In Spanish.

CHIU: And are they surprised?

G. WONG: They are surprised, and they, you know, they'll change whatever they felt.

RUF: And after that they're very friendly with you?

G. WONG: Yes, yes, yes. Because I think I have excellent Spanish. So that's the part that I have on the Chinese side. When I go to the Chinese, the Chinese people is more, how do you say, lover? They like to love people. Chinese people are very nice. They give and give of themselves to you. They are really open, when you understand them. When they like the people, they give you everything. 15:00Spanish people is not. They hide some part, and they don't be too open, until they have great confidence or trust in the person. Chinese is more sincere.

N. WONG: More educated. It's different.

G. WONG: When I go to the Chinese places and I start smiling at people, they like me.

N. WONG: They accept him.

G. WONG: They accept me, yes. I think also because of my eyes, several times, I look like the Chinese people. I have no problem with that. On the other hand I have a great advantage living here, because I work, you know, I work for the government. I give out road tests.

RUF: Oh, road tests!

16:00

G. WONG: Yes, for the Department of Motor Vehicles. So because I work in Brooklyn, you know, I am like a public person. Wherever I walk, people recognize me, and I have become very famous.

N. WONG: Especially on the Avenue.

G. WONG: Especially in 8th Avenue.

CHIU: Oh, people know you because you give them road tests?

G. WONG: Yes. Everybody to know -

N. WONG: One day we were eating in 8th Avenue, and somebody's face, goes "He was an inspector?" No! Not an inspector!

CHIU: When you moved from Park Slope to here, how did you find this place? How did you go about finding this place, and why did you decide to move here?

G. WONG: My friend worked for Brooklyn, co-worker -

N. WONG: Chinese, too.

G. WONG: Very Chinese. In fact, completely Chinese. So they bought their house, 17:00and just when they bought the house, I am here, visiting, and she told me to come and look. So I came and see the area and soon after, I see it is what we were expecting.

RUF: Is it your friend who owns this building?

G. WONG: The brother of my friend.

RUF: The brother of your friend.

G. WONG: They're Chinese. Completely Chinese.

RUF: They're Chinese. Are they Cantonese? Do you know what part of China they're from?

G. WONG: I think they are Cantonese.

CHIU: Now, do you think they would have rented this place to a Latino? Latino-Latino?

G. WONG: Uh…

CHIU: Or do you think they prefer to rent it to you who was part-Chinese?

G. WONG: I think they were very glad to rent to me because I'm kind of Chinese. I can say that they would not prefer to rent to Latino.

18:00

N. WONG: They were looking Chinese people.

G. WONG: I think so because of the friendship and the way that they know me, they told me if I knew a person from my company and so I can bring new people here, but that's something that they tell me, they don't want to rent to someone, or not to a group of Latino. I just --but I don't think they have problems with that. We rented to people from India.

CHIU: Oh, I see. And who's downstairs?

G. WONG: Chinese.

CHIU: Chinese.

G. WONG: When he was buying the building, practically two floor were already rented. They didn't have to put a sign outside, you know?

CHIU: Right.

G. WONG: Anyway, maybe sometime we can understand that they prefer Chinese to 19:00all people in the same building, because they talk the same language. Many Chinese people don't speak English, and it could be a problem, and I can understand. There you see, it's your neighbors, and they don't understand each other. Luckily, I learn English.

RUF: So English is the medium language of communication between the families?

G. WONG: Yes.

CHIU: Indian?

G. WONG: Yes, Indian and Chinese and Latino. And it has to be. We come to this country, we always in contact with different kinds of people, and mainly in English.

RUF: Did you speak any English before you came to this country?

G. WONG: A little like a dunce.

N. WONG: Like a dunce!

G. WONG: You know? I could speak some words, some sentences in English, but I 20:00couldn't understand. And I remembered, you know, that the way the people speak here is very fast and short, and it's not like that. We teach it before, we learn it in England. And I remember when I came, I went to a store, and I asked for a cigarette, and I was preparing myself how to say, I want a pack of cigarettes. So I went, I wrote my sentence down, I memorized it, I went to the store, and I said, "Please give me a pack of cigarettes." And the guy turned around to me and said, "Pardon me, what did you say?" I was lost! I had to turn around and get out the store! I think he was so busy, he couldn't understand it.

CHIU: That wouldn't be a problem--

21:00

G. WONG: I learned basically on the street. My first English was street English. Not bad language, but good morning, and goodnight, and to work-

N. WONG: And TV.

G. WONG: TV, newspaper, and whatever you can catch.

CHIU: That's good.

G. WONG: Everything is good.

CHIU: When you're, say, walking up 7th Avenue -- oh I'm sorry, 5th Avenue, and like you say, you hear people say things about the Chinese, how do you feel, and what do you say?

G. WONG: Ah… People -- Latino people, they are not against the Chinese. They like to get fun out of the person. They're not against the society, discriminating. No. The Latino is more like he gets fun out of the other people. How the way he looks, how the way he talk. And the Chinese is very peculiar, and 22:00when they talk, so this is funny. This is funny. It's not like when we put two ethnic groups in front, and you know, they battle with discrimination and a lot of things, just race --Latino is not that kind of person. They like fun, but fun out of people. So they see a Chinese, and they say something funny between themselves, and I can understand.

CHIU: So do you say something to them, or do you just sort of let them go?

G. WONG: Most of the time, I keep my silence, and I'm not getting into trouble. But when I have the chance, I can talk with one vendor, or over there I am speaking Spanish, so they know that I speak Spanish. They're not trouble makers. This way I can tell them, be careful. Watch your mouth. What you're saying, 23:00maybe you say something I don't like. Like everybody else. And you know, I like salsa. That's why people get surprised. They see me, Chinese, driving my car, and I have the radio, my cassette is salsa music. So the people turn their head, and say, "Why the Chinese listen to salsa?" And I say, "Japanese like salsa, Chinese don't!"

CHIU: Sure.

G. WONG: There is a group, the Chinese have Japanese group, you know?

N. WONG: And the people told him, you speak Spanish very well. Because they were thinking he speak only China.

G. WONG: No, that's in my job. That's in relation to Chinese and Spanish, you gotta be very careful when you, you know, work for the State, and you are the authority. The problem with Spanish people is that they don't have good behavior 24:00when they go for something like license. Most of the people who don't know how to drive, and they know you speak Spanish, they start begging, and they do, you know, you don't give them what they wanted, and they start arguing and start cursing. So I prefer not to do my job in Spanish openly unless I know this is a well-educated. But because I look like Chinese, when I try to help these people, let's say I am a person who does not speak English, just Spanish, but I don't know how to speak, and I want to help these people. So I say, sign your name, 25:00put your date of birth, and they don't understand. And I say it in Spanish, but like an American who just learned Spanish. I speak Spanish with that accent.

RUF: Deliberately?

G. WONG: Deliberately. Because they can understand that this is a help. I'm helping them in their language. And I say, "Pobre su nombre", like that, I can say, "pobre su nombre", and that's the way that I can help the people who does not speak English. And the Spanish people tell me, "Oh, you speak Spanish." And I say, "Un poquito" Enough to help them. And the other hand, I get the Chinese 26:00people there's a lot of Chinese people who go to take the test and I know how to say "Good morning, sir" in Chinese, and those Chinese think, you know, they're rubbing their hands, "Oh, this is a Chinese!" Yes, but I can say that because I am Chinese and I am Latino. So the Chinese think that I speak Chinese, I am completely Chinese, and the Spanish don't know that I am Spanish. So living in the middle of the two groups. It's fantastic for me.

RUF: Do you find sometimes when you have Chinese who come to take a road test or something, will they also try to say, "Well, come one. We're both Chinese, you can help me out." Do they also ask you for favors?

27:00

G. WONG: Most of the time, we don't give them the opportunity to say that. You can find that more in the Spanish. Spanish more try to ride you. But we don't give them the chance. The Chinese people say, "No English, no English." But they show you they want to bribe you, and you say no, because it has no price. I say, "If I take this, I giving you --you know, you can get killed tomorrow. It just doesn't work. Your life isn't worth anything unless you keep it. And don't even try to show this." What I would say, yes, it's worse. In Chinese they can understand, you know, saying sign your name, like that. As well as what I learn 28:00from Russia, I can speak in Russian, I can speak in Patois or French. Some words, we keep a test of all the world. So we learned how to say this kind of question. That's OK.

RUF: You said before that you still, you follow some Chinese traditions.

G. WONG: Yes, I would say I feel better when I'm with Chinese people. And the food, I like the Chinese food. I can say that way the traditions, and the philosophy they have. The way they are. And the sound of the language, I like 29:00speaking in Chinese. I like to go to Chinese stores and see all the goods they sell. I feel like I'm with them. I visit their places. Also, the church --the reason I don't follow exactly the traditions, it's a tradition that we can see from the point of view of the Latinos, whatever, because I don't speak Chinese. But I like that. I feel great. I was in their temple also.

CHIU: What temple is that?

N. WONG: We went to the temple on Canal, right?

CHIU: On Canal St.

RUF: Do you still go?

G. WONG: Not frequently, you know, but wherever you find the Chinese, I feel great.

30:00

N. WONG: On Second Avenue there is a church with Chinese people there.

G. WONG: I don't go specifically to the church. I'm not a religious person. I'm a Catholic, and that is the Latino side.

RUF: When you talk about, there's something about Chinese philosophy, or the philosophy of life that you like, or that feels good to you, what is it that appeals to you that you like so much?

G. WONG: OK, Chinese people like more philosophy than the Latinos. Latino people tend to trivialize it, you know, and they don't think of themselves. Just, you know, you live together, you work, enjoy the big parties, etc. But they don't 31:00think the futures, and love and harmony, you know, but I can't say that nobody does it, but most of the Latinos, they don't think about their spiritual side. But the Chinese are more concentrated on the family values and [unintelligible], and teaching morality. And that's what I could absorb with my father. My father was with me until I was -

N. WONG: He was a philosopher, no?

G. WONG: Six years, three years old. Or five, five to six. But in that short period -

N. WONG: He was a doctor.

G. WONG: He was a Chinese doctor.

CHIU: He was?

RUF: A doctor, ha?

G. WONG: Yes.

CHIU: What was his name?

32:00

G. WONG: Ah, Wong. Wong, Roberto Wong. He adopted a Latino name to emigrate from China to Peru.

RUF: So your father had left China for Peru himself?

G. WONG: Yes. He went to Peru with his wife and children.

RUF: When was this?

G. WONG: It was a very long time ago. I think in the 40's and the 30's.

RUF: Were you born in China yourself?

G. WONG: No.

CHIU: That's a different wife.

N. WONG: A different wife, yes.

G. WONG: He came with his family, and his wife died, and then he was with my mother.

RUF: Your mother was Peruvian? Was she also Chinese?

G. WONG: Yes, she was a Peruvian person. That's why I'm a half.

33:00

RUF: Yes, that's where it comes from.

CHIU: So what's your full last name? Wong-

G. WONG: Crespo.

CHIU: Crespo.

G. WONG: Another thing that I like from Chinese is the --one day I met, there was a Chinese guy who has a restaurant, and he asked me what was my last name, and I said Wong. And he said, "Oh, you are my cousin. Maybe you are my cousin." He said, "You know how to write your name in Chinese?" So I wrote my name in Chinese. He said, "Oh, yes, you are my cousin!" So I was very glad to find him, you know? They said we came from two truncas?

CHIU: Two main roots?

N. WONG: And sometimes we meet with them, right? Chinese New Year? And they invite to us, and we meet with them.

RUF: Oh, so do you often, for Chinese New Year's, go to the home of Chinese friends?

34:00

G. WONG: I love Chinese New Year's, and all the [unintelligible] and the activity. I always in 8th Avenue. I have people that -- my neighbor downstairs is completely Chinese, and you know, we became very close friends.

CHIU: Now, you know for instance that some Chinese have ideas about Latinos, for instance, they are afraid of Latinos, or whatever. They have also their ideas, right? About Latinos -- how do you explain that to your Chinese friends or the people who you know to sort of get over it?

G. WONG: From the Latino side?

CHIU: With your Chinese friends.

G. WONG: When the Chinese friends ask me about my Latino friends?

CHIU: Yeah, right. They may say things about Latinos, like, oh, I don't like Latinos. Things like that. If they ever say something like that, what would you say to them?

35:00

G. WONG: Actually, they never ask me something against the Latino. They're not that kind of people.

N. WONG: They have their business downstairs, trying to do a lot of company with many people. Latino, Chinese. He has a business.

G. WONG: What they see is my advantage over them that I can speak Spanish. They know that many people in this area speak Spanish, because it's English and Spanish. So they just speak Chinese, and broken English. And when they have stores, you know, Spanish people come. And they see me as having an advantage-- that I can talk with everybody. But they just talk in English, or Chinese.

36:00

RUF: Do you still -- when you first moved to Park Slope, or even when you were living in Queens, did you often go to Chinatown to visit?

G. WONG: Yes, yes.

RUF: You would go every week?

G. WONG: No, every two weeks.

CHIU: Manhattan.

G. WONG: In Manhattan. We didn't know Brooklyn at that time. The first three years. We just came to visit our relatives and had nothing to do with anyone. But we went to Chinatown. We liked how they celebrate New Year's and firecrackers and everything, the dragons. It was good, yes.

RUF: Did you ever go to Flushing? Where there's a Chinese community in Flushing, too. Did you ever visit there?

G. WONG: We don't have too many friends there, but it's too far from here. We feel at home with all the Chinese that are here. If we have friends we go visit, 37:00but not as a community, just as a friend.

RUF: Do you still go to Chinatown in Manhattan now? Or has the community on 8th Avenue grown so much that -- you, you will stay here?

G. WONG: That's it, so much.

CHIU: What's your favorite type of music?

N. WONG: We have many Chinese tapes.

G. WONG: I like both. I can show you.

CHIU: OK.

G. WONG: Because one thing is -- I have Spanish music, music from my country, and music from Latino people here, and I have Chinese music for me.

38:00

CHIU: Now, did you like this type of music when you were in Peru, too?

G. WONG: Yes. Because my father was a complete Chinese, and he took me to the Chinese places. Movies, theater, and people. He was the President of the Chinese community over there.

RUF: In Lima?

G. WONG: Peru, in Lima, and he was well respected and he was a doctor and knew so many Chinese people, so he took me to every event that they had at that time.

CHIU: You said your father was the President of the [unintelligible]? Of the Chinese [unintelligible].

G. WONG: Yes. So at that age, whatever you see gets in. So the Chinese theater, and the way they are, many people don't understand, but I like that. I don't 39:00know that Chinese activities now, when you go out, but when I was a child, so it's like I was born in the Chinese tradition. The only thing is I don't -- I wish I could speak Chinese. But I don't. I went to the Chinese school in Peru, but I can't say--

CHIU: What school was that?

G. WONG: [Unintelligible]

CHIU: That's in Chinatown, right?

G. WONG: Yeah, at that time, it was in Chinatown. Now it is in [unintelligible].

RUF: Did you have a -- so it seems that you had a very strong sense of your Chinese heritage through your father. From his activities.

40:00

G. WONG: Yes.

RUF: And that left a very deep impression?

G. WONG: Yes, very deep, at that age.

RUF: And what about for your own children, now?

G. WONG: When we talk about children, we have to talk about a result of when we can be together. We don't have, you know, just one specific side. And besides, once my father died, I continued in complete Latino side. So that's why I say, besides my Chinese father, I am completely Latino. And I met with my wife, and we give them a Latino education. Sometimes I talk with them about Chinese [unintelligible]. From the Chinese side, I always tell them, you know, the 41:00Chinese are very intelligent, Chinese this, Chinese that. Chinese foods. There's not too much we can do.

CHIU: If one were to ask your sons, what are they, what would they say they are?

G. WONG: It's hard. That's the question. They grew up here, in America. They came very young, so they have the American culture. The school and the kids outside. If they came, you know, teenagers or adults, it would be different. But 42:00they came when they had five or six years old, and they feel like American. Young people, it's not like ours, that we keep all sides -

N. WONG: And he has a brother here, too.

CHIU: You have your brother here?

G. WONG: Yeah, I have a brother here.

CHIU: A younger brother?

G. WONG: No, I am the younger brother.

N. WONG: He's the younger brother.

CHIU: Is this other bother part of the first marriage of your father?

G. WONG: Yes.

CHIU: So that brother is pure Chinese?

G. WONG: Father and mother Chinese, yes.

CHIU: What's his name?

G. WONG: Santiago. I don't know his name in Chinese.

CHIU: Santiago Wong?

G. WONG: Santiago Wong.

RUF: And where does he live?

G. WONG: Here.

N. WONG: Two blocks.

RUF: Two blocks from here?

CHIU: So he speaks Chinese?

G. WONG: He speaks Chinese.

CHIU: And Spanish.

G. WONG: And Spanish.

43:00

RUF: Did he come to Brooklyn before you? Or were you here first?

G. WONG: I was here first.

RUF: You were here first and then he came. Did he come directly from Peru?

G. WONG: Yes, from Peru to this -- wasn't that it? What's the name of the area here?

CHIU: Sunset Park.

N. WONG: Sunset Park, yes.

G. WONG: From Peru to Sunset Park.

RUF: Was it very important to him when he came here to have you here as sort of someone to help him, to help him get set up? Or was he very independent?

G. WONG: No, his children were here already. Yeah, they brought their parents. I think for him it was great that half a brother was with him.

RUF: Do you often see him?

G. WONG: Yeah, we have a close relationship because of the children. Children 44:00are like Americans, like my children. So we are the oldest, so we meet together to remember what we were in Peru…

RUF: Do you have holidays that you spend together? Are there special days in the year that you will see your brother and his family?

G. WONG: No, we don't have. Any day.

CHIU: In Peru, did you celebrate Chinese New Year?

G. WONG: Ah…no.

CHIU: But you do it here?

G. WONG: I do it here, because in here I am closer to them. OK, when you are in Peru, no, it's just a small group, and very close. And in Peru there is a big 45:00difference. Here I am more acceptable in a Chinese group than in my country.

RUF: You faced a lot of discrimination in Peru?

G. WONG: Not discrimination, but you know, because I don't speak the language, they'd rather be only between Chinese speaking. But some people feels like that's discrimination, but certainly it's not. Most of the time it's a language problem. It's also in English.

CHIU: Right. When you lived in Peru, did you live in Chinatown in Lima as a kid?

G. WONG: No, no. We had family in that, related with Chinese people, or the previous generation, so most of our family are Latino, or Peruvian, with Chinese last name. But it's not a Chinese community, it's just a last name. But because 46:00of that, we like Chinese activities. But here is when I feel I am inside.

CHIU: When the two of you married in Peru, did any part of either family sort of say, "Hmm, how come you're marrying Chinese or Peruvian?" Did they ask you that?

N. WONG: No, I don't know about that, I don't know.

[Interview interrupted.]

CHIU: Did they say anything?

N. WONG: No-

G. WONG: They can congratulate her to marry a Chinese.

CHIU: But do you know that, I guess if there were, like you, you know, a Chinese marrying a Peruvian or a Peruvian marrying a Chinese, there's some parts of the 47:00families that will say something. Is that not necessarily?

G. WONG: I think so if you are completely Chinese. When you are completely different, from two completely different groups. When I am in the middle, and most of my parents in the middle, it's OK. It's like if I go to get the --if I was single and wanted to get married to a Chinese girl, completely Chinese, I think so I would [unintelligible]. Because I don't know how I can fix it or how we can fix my culture. I never had that experience, so I can't answer it in that way. But you know, they --I recognize that they have their own tradition, and that it could be very hard what I am thinking why it's supposed to believe in 48:00the --I did not anything as part of the Chinese community. [unintelligible]

N. WONG: En Peru… [unintelligible] Different than here.

CHIU: Norma, where do you feel more comfortable. Walking around 5th Avenue, or walking around 8th Avenue.

N. WONG: All the day we walk 8th Avenue, right? Six o'clock to eight o'clock.

CHIU: Why do you feel more comfortable on 8th Avenue than on 5th?

N. WONG: I feel more comfortable because you know, he love this place, and I feel, you know something different, that I like this place, and going each the store.

G. WONG: She likes Chinese.

CHIU: Feel more accepted?

N. WONG: I like this place. I don't go to the 5th Avenue. Only when I am going to take the train. I have to pass 5th Avenue. But each day we make a new walk 49:00there. Only two hours.

G. WONG: Yeah, we feel more secure than we feel better in the Chinese community. The problem is the Latino area. When you talk about Chinese, you are talking about just one type of person. And when you talk Latino, several different countries. And there are some countries I don't want to mention. You know, there are a group of people that have a very bad attitude against any kind of people, so that's a place where sometimes you don't like to walk at certain times. At night. Here we try to walk, but don't get close or you have problems.

RUF: Even for you.

G. WONG: Even for me. Yes. But it's different, let's say, the Latino community 50:00in Queens. They are a large community from different countries, so when you walk to certain areas, you find people from one country, and here now, here you have everybody mixing, and certain people that are really no good.

RUF: Do Latinos who live in the area here, do they have a very strong sense of identity with the country they came from? Is that generally true?

CHIU: Alright.

G. WONG: These Latinos. What was your question?

RUF: Do Latinos that live in the area have a very strong sense of identity with 51:00the country they came from? Or is that not necessarily true? I'm thinking about, is there a general feeling of community? Do they feel a solidarity among all Latinos? Or is there a sense of difference? "I am from here, you are from there"?

G. WONG: No. Among the Latino people, we have two different kind of Latinos. Latino from South America, and Latino from Central America. Latino from Central America are dominated by people from Puerto Rico and Dominicans. The other groups from Central America there are just a few of them. Then we have Mexicans. They don't enter. The strong groups are Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. And the rest are from South America. Latino from South America are more close to the 52:00feeling of what they have in their countries. And here most of these people born here. Also they belong to people from Central America, Puerto Rico, and Dominican, they have their own way of living, so that's what makes them different. And when you say that, do they feel a strong feeling for their countries, you can find most of that in the South American people. And we don't have big groups of South Americans here. Most are in Queens. In Queens we have from Colombia. Or New York City Peruvians. But after that, we are alone, our own places. Not such a big community like the Chinese people. Chinese, you know, are all with Chinese. And Latino, you know, [unintelligible].

53:00

CHIU: He says that Latinos here are not really interested in the other Latino countries. [unintelligible]

G. WONG: But anyway, los Latinos Sud Americanos… [unintelligible].

CHIU: There's more unity between Latinos from South America, because their cultures are more similar, more compatible, while Latinos from Central America are not really interested in each other. [unintelligible]

54:00

G.WONG: But it's not some stereotype.

CHIU: NO, it's not everybody.

G. WONG: [unintelligible] … Puerto Rican, it's like a people in our country, but the nearer region is not like same as Puerto Rican in the East Coast.

CHIU: Caribbeans and Central Americans are very compatible to our culture as long as -- when they're in their countries, but once they get here, it's not the same. So we would have a lot more in common with someone from Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico, than somebody from Puerto Rico here.

G. WONG: [unintelligible]

CHIU: Oh, however, when Latinos in South America, once we get here, we're the 55:00same. We're Latinos from South America.

N. WONG: Can I make a question?

CHIU: Sure!

N. WONG: Your wife is Chinese?

RUF: No, no. She's Greek.

G. WONG: So you like gyros? And Spinach pie? I like that, too. I like that too, I like that Greek food.

RUF: You do?

G. WONG: Yes, I've got Greek friends in Astoria.

RUF: Yeah, I like to go, too.

N. WONG: Astoria's nice. Kalimera.

RUF: Oh, so you learned some Greek living in Astoria? I guess you would. Why did you decide to leave Astoria and come to Brooklyn?

G. WONG: Because of the opportunity to have an apartment. When we came, when we 56:00just started in the language, and the situation and everybody else help each other. But children were growing, so we need our house -- home -- so we move.

RUF: When you look at the lives that your children have had since you've come to New York, what do you think about that? How has it been for them growing up here?

N. WONG: For them?

RUF: For them. For your children.

N. WONG: At first time my parents came first. Then my brother, me, Guillermo, and my two older sons. At first time, he didn't like this place, right? Do you remember?

G. WONG: Remember what?

N. WONG: At first time, when we came?

G. WONG: Being here? No, that was a special situation. It's not because I don't like to be here. I didn't like to be living the way I was.

57:00

CHIU: What way was that?

G. WONG: Illegal.

CHIU: OK.

G. WONG: So I had plans. I would prefer to complete my classes. You know, earlier or later, I was going to be here, but the way they grow so, we always were behind them. I think that one thing that was very good for them is we work in different shifts. At that time, she worked in day and I worked at night, so our children always have supervision. So we're very glad that we could do that. We know it's very hard to do that, and without supervision, young people -- you never know how they're going to succeed. It's strongly recommended that one of 58:00the parents has to supervise. That's the way we were, you know, when we grew up in our countries. Always the mother or the father or both behind them, and that's the way that they grow straight.

N. WONG: At this time there are many violent, you know?

G. WONG: Yeah, violent music, so many things. It's hard to say how your son's gonna be.

N. WONG: At this time, the problem is rap. You know, the [unintelligible] -- I don't know. Many people think that violence is the only way out of their problem, but they are only doing is building wall between each other. You know, in Brooklyn, it's very hard, too. We feel lucky, because around where we are living now is nice place, but Brooklyn is not good for us. The Bronx, too. 59:00That's why I was talking to him before, I prefer to go back to Astoria, because at first time when we came, you know, I remember this place, and I like this place. Maybe very soon.

G. WONG: Yeah, you had that impression of Astoria. I think it's OK, but violence is in all New York. I don't think soon all New York is going out of New York. That's got nothing to do with ethnic groups and that sort of thing. Violent circle is a major problem here.

CHIU: Do you ever think of going back to Peru?

N. WONG: Me? Go back? I would like to go back, but my sons, I think they don't like. We went to Peru in 1987, and they felt great, but only for two or three 60:00weeks. Then they were thinking, go back to New York.

RUF: How long did you stay in 1987 when you went back?

G. WONG: Three weeks.

N. WONG: Three weeks.

RUF: Did you feel that Peru had changed a lot -- or that you had changed a lot?

N. WONG: Oh, I think we changed. Peru is the same!

G. WONG: Both ways.

N. WONG: Both ways, both ways.

CHIU: How did you change?

G. WONG: How did we change? We changed a lot. We absorb the new culture here. A new style of life. And we have new dreams, and we can work for it ourselves, 61:00really. Our sons we have to establish here, our whole family is here. And we can fly to Peru, you know, to visit a relative or, we can do that any time. Living out of there it's not easy to come here to visit. It's easier from here to come there and come back.

RUF: If I can ask you, you said that since you've been here you have new dreams. What are some of the dreams that you have for the future, either for yourself or your children, or generally? Some of your hopes for the future or dreams? Any thoughts?

G. WONG: We are involved here in private business, and we are making it. And we can succeed in this business. You don't believe it, huh?

62:00

CHIU: We do. If you tell me, I believe you.

G. WONG: If you can believe that when I tell you --that was just the beginning, but now we have new horizons. Maybe we can get a kind of financial freedom, and we can have our own house.

RUF: Are you still involved in new businesses now?

G. WONG: Yes.

RUF: As partners with other people?

G. WONG: Yes. We are in the business, it's a network market.

RUF: Network marketing, aah! What does that mean?

G. WONG: That means maybe you can get interested? Don't ask me. I'll tell you how to get involved.

CHIU: You don't want it to be recorded?

63:00

G. WONG: Yeah, I have a good opportunity for you, too. Yeah, we meet people. We help people to make business deals. And that's part of our system of the network. We deal with a lot of business people, and a lot of success. And we create a network to give us an income. Not everything that we see [unintelligible] so that means that when we work today, we keep earning forever, as long as the business lasts, and we don't need background. I mean, it's an opportunity to learn a lot of things. You expecting to earn more than one 64:00hundred thousand a year, you can do it, but you have to be a good student, because you can get training in order to learn whatever you want to do. So that's been happening. It's great, and you can do it in your side. Whatever you do, you can end up the way I started. Since I have for the first time the kind of business that was acceptable, and I continued working. Now I can get in a better position in the government place but I decide my business is growing up. And maybe soon, I can think [unintelligible] still who wants to work in the government, and get to work on my business. And in this business we are in just one year, so we have a real success.

RUF: Are you partners with other Chinese? Or Latinos? Or does it mix?

65:00

G. WONG: It doesn't matter, but we have to see people that we really think they have certain qualifications. Not anybody, but people who have great enthusiasm, and honest people, and people who want to succeed in their life.

RUF: What did you both do for work when you first came to New York, when you were living in Astoria, when you first arrived? Was it easy to find jobs in New York when you first came?

N. WONG: No, it was easy. You know, we came to my mother's house, my father's house. We were with family. We went to different place. We had a chance to rest 66:00for one month, and then we were looking for a job.

G. WONG: No, it wasn't hard to find a job. The beginning, whatever you are in your country, you have the barrier of the language. You don't have too many choices. Course, you like to work in whatever you know, but sometimes you have the barrier which is the language. So by that time, there were jobs, so I worked in different jobs. I remember I worked also for a restaurant, and I became a chef. And I worked five years as a chef.

RUF: What kind of restaurant?

G. WONG: French. French cuisine.

CHIU: Very good.

G. WONG: Yes, it was very good. I didn't expect to work that. Because in my field, it was very hard to find a job.

67:00

CHIU: What was your field again?

G. WONG: Economics.

CHIU: You got a degree in economics.

G. WONG: I got a degree in economics, and worked for the company who can hire me, because it was really very hard bringing my qualifications to work in the American system. I gotta go to the University to take another course, and that was too much. Particularly because when I started my profession, I took the flexible curriculum, so whatever course I took, it was because I was using the course. Not as I accumulate course and become a professional and that's it. So that's the way I study my whole life. I don't study just to show my talent, but to use it to work. And I was --at that time, I liked to cook, at home or 68:00whatever, and I have a friend, a Peruvian friend, who gave me the opportunity. He said, "You want to work with me? I work for a waiter and I feel like cooking." I said, "Yes. What do I have to do?" So he told me things, and the rest was easy because I liked it. Until I said, I got everything well -- [unintelligible] But by that time I was learning English, and applying too. It was very interesting, that time. It wasn't easy. I think I got some stuff happened. Now in this business, if we get it, in two or three more years, I 69:00don't need nothing else. Get a house, and then we'll retire.

CHIU: So you'll be moving out of Sunset Park then? Or not necessarily?

G. WONG: Don't know, but this is not a place where you want to have a house. This is a neighborhood, and everybody's here, just working. The houses are very small. For what we want maybe we have to move out. It all depends on the business world. Just like people, they work in New York and have their house in the other places.

CHIU: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

G. WONG: Well, I'd like to say thanks for this interview. I didn't expect it was in this way. I hope that I gave you the information you needed, and the most 70:00important thing, I hope I gained new friends.

RUF: Same here.

G. WONG: So whenever you want, my house is open to you.

RUF: Well, thank you very much. I will take you up on it.

G. WONG: Sure, sure, anytime. You have my name, and --

CHIU: We know where you live.

G. WONG: We like to make friends. There are good friends around. Maybe someday wants to listen about this business and give me a call.

RUF: We can go out and have gyros.

G. WONG: Sure, we can all get a plate of gyros. Yes. What part of -- you live in Astoria?

RUF: No, we live now in New Jersey. We used to live in Manhattan. My wife and I met in school, and we've been living in New Jersey for two years. But we have a lot of Greek friends in Astoria.

71:00

G. WONG: I know a good place, but you know better places. I would like to know some, so just make me a call, and we'll meet you over there, or any other place.

CHIU: We're just closing out, but we're saying, do you have anything else that you'd like to say?

N. WONG: [unintelligible] The first time, you know, I met him - what's your name?

RUF: Greg. Or Gregory.

G. WONG: Greg, and you marry with a Greek.

RUF: So Gregorius.

G. WONG: So with the Greek make grapes.

CHIU: That's very good. I didn't know you were a poet!

N. WONG: [unintelligible]

CHIU: Thank you for having us. Happy to see you're doing well. Keep moving and 72:00advancing, keep in touch. Thanks for having us here… You know, like I said, we do this so that we can better educate people in general, Latinos, Chinese, everybody else, to know how people can get along better.

N. WONG: You keep in touch with us, too. It's important to know what you are doing, because…

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Guillermo and Norma Wong

Married couple Guillermo and Norma Wong immigrated to Brooklyn, New York from Lima, Peru in 1980 to escape political, social, and economic unrest there. Because Guillermo Wong (who was half-Chinese) and Norma Wong both greatly appreciated Chinese culture, the Wong family felt at ease on their mixed Latino-Chinese street in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. At the time of the 1994 interview, the Wongs had been married twenty-four years, had three sons, and felt assimilated into American culture. They had recently begun a network marketing business which they hoped would offer financial freedom and the opportunity to buy a home.

In this interview, Guillermo and Norma Wong discuss their unique situation as a Chinese-Peruvian family living in a Chinese-Latino section of the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn; facing anti-Chinese slurs made by Latino residents, for example. They describe the ethnic makeup of their neighborhood, the politics of ethnic identity, racism, and discrimination. The Wongs recall the challenges of making it in America; finding housing, learning English, finding a job, and understanding American culture. Interview conducted by Gregory Ruf and Fabiana Chiu.

Brooklyn Historical Society collaborated with the Chinatown History Museum (now the Museum of Chinese in America) in order to conduct a series of oral histories with residents of the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Cantonese, Mandarin, and English language interviews focused on what was then a new presence of Chinese and Asian immigrants concentrated along Eighth Avenue. Among the topics that are explored in the interviews are tensions between different groups of Chinese immigrants, crime and safety in the neighborhood, Sunset Park's relationship to Manhattan's Chinatown, and how long-term residents of Sunset Park had adjusted to the area's "newcomers."

Citation

Wong, Guillermo and Wong, Norma, Oral history interview conducted by Gregory Ruf and Fabiana Chui, June 10, 1994, New Neighbors: Sunset Park's Chinese Community records, 1994.007.28; Brooklyn Historical Society.

People

  • Wong, Guillermo
  • Wong, Norma

Topics

  • Chinese Americans
  • Crime
  • Discrimination in housing
  • Emigration and immigration
  • English as a second language
  • Ethnic identity
  • Ethnic neighborhoods
  • Ethnic relations
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Immigrants
  • Multiculturalism
  • Peruvian Americans
  • Racism

Places

  • Astoria (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Chinatown (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Chinatown (New York, N.Y.)
  • Peru
  • Queens County (N.Y.)
  • Sunset Park (New York, N.Y.)

Transcript

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Finding Aid

New Neighbors: Sunset Park's Chinese Community records