NW Vietnamese News

I love South Seattle: Memoir of Growing Up in the Southend

October 05
07:06 2010

In 1993, many Southeast Asians resided in apartment buildings along Rainier Avenue, a street which has been home to many poor immigrants and refugees. Thanks to places like Rainer Valley food Bank, many families were saved by dinners with quality foods donated from the valley Safeway. On Rainier Avenue, the bus number 7, 9, and 39 got us to downtown in 45 minutes.

Back then, I used to hear gunshots popping off at least once a day in the Valley. I used to run home from the bus stop as soon as street lights were on. I also played baseball and basketball with neighborhood kids from poor families on Hawthorn Black Top. The friends I grew up with were Asians, Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics. We spent many wonderful summers together because our parents could not afford signing us up for the basketball team, football team, nor community Center programs. It was Marcel, Joe, Chris, Mario, Ben, John, and I owning the Hawthorne Elementary School Blacktop with our many different shades of skin.

My neighbors were kind people and only judged me by my work ethic and often paid generously. The steep hill of Dakota Street is where I made my first dollar by helping an elder carry her groceries up the hill, and helping to feed the strange cats in our alleys. The lady was Miss Violet, and her secret to a happy, simple life was to stay away from politics. She once said to me, “Earthquake will scare you, but stress will kill you.” In addition to Miss Violet, I earned money by doing gardening work for my next-door neighbor Ms. Valentine, and then scrubbing the title floors for another neighbor.

I was once paid $40 for scrubbing a title floor for two hours. At the time in 1994, being 11 years old, that was a lot of money compared to picking strawberries in the sun for 8 hours, which was another one of my jobs. Picking strawberries in the summer time with my grandma started at 7 AM on McClellan. I remember being in the middle of a group of international immigrants, huddling for body heat and shielding each other from the cold morning, waiting for a school bus to take us north to earn 50 cents for picking a gallon bucket of strawberries and $2.50 for a 5 gallon bucket.

On a few occasions, my Vietnamese grandma could not come, so I had to walk for 45 minutes by myself and blend in with the crowd and ask one of the adults to pretend to be my guardian to get to the farm. Call it child labor abuse, or whatever, but eight hours equaling $5.50 a day of work was all I needed. Another 45 minutes walking home from a long day of work with cold rice and a tin of water, I continue to march on along Rainier Avenue. I refused to take the bus to save the money for a bag of Hot Cheetos and a pack of Baseball Cards. I wanted basketball cards, but they were more expensive. So I had to collect baseball cards, crossing my fingers to get a good enough card to trade with my buddy Ben for basketball cards. I was a big basketball fan then.

During the weekend, I often went over to my neighbor’s house to learn how to build and fix computers. My neighbor Ken was a computer genius. Thanks to Ken, by the age of 13 I knew how to replace and upgrade 386, 486, and Pentium PC hardware and how to install software. At the age of 13, I really wanted a computer, but I needed $300.00. I had no other choice but to save my 50 cents that was intended as summer school lunch money, and every penny from side jobs to buy my first computer. It took 9 months.

All I had for lunch, for that whole entire summer going into the seventh grade was a piece of toast from home. I was underweight and kept the same height in six and seventh grade until today due to the malnutrition. How do I compare? I can see significant differences in height between me and my peers returning back after a great summer. Later on in college, the experience with fixing computers, and the help of my local food bank saved me and my childhood friend when we were living on our own.

However, the best gift that 98118 gave to me was “Mom” Wilson, a family support worker at Hawthorne Elementary, whom adopted my whole family. I met Mom Wilson in fifth grade. Back then, I couldn’t speak much English, but every time kids picked on me on the playground, I would leave the playground and to go to Mom Wilson’s office.

Seeing me upset, she would pick me up and put me in her lap and give me hugs and kisses while my uncontrollable manly tears poured out. No shame at all, I was 10 years old. It was Mom Wilson who gave me my first basketball hoop for my birthday, and she also was the first person to tell me that I do not need brand-name shoes and that second hand shoes were just fine for the first day in middle school. Mom Wilson was my grandma. Mom Wilson had me transferred out of Mercer and into Madison Middle School, because she was worried that my behavior may be negatively influenced by some children attending Mercer.

In 2007, Mom Wilson was ill and had to spend most of her time in bed instead of working with the kids and families of which she enjoyed most. She later passed on in 2008. She was the best grandma anybody could have. Mom Wilson was my role model. She taught me to have a lot of compassion for poor people through her inspiration and teaching.

Many years after Mom Wilson first helped me, I became a student body president for North Seattle Community College. During my office term, I created opportunities for recruiters to go into schools in the Southend to provide a new education environment for the poor and diverse people by allocating additional funds, a taboo subject to the college president. Mom Wilson said she was proud of this, when I called her to tell her of my success in diversifying the student body the following year.

In 2007, I ran for Port of Seattle Commissioner at the age of 24. When my parents shared this with mom Wilson, she told my parents that she couldn’t wait to ask all of her friends to vote for me, and wanted me to drop off the newspaper with my picture on it. Because of people like mom Wilson, I will not move out of the Southend, nor relax when it comes to politics that affect my neighborhood. I love South Seattle, because of the hardworking and honest people that live here.

Photo: Black suit my lil bro loc, Mom Wilson is behind him and I’m in the gray suit jacket. My mother is the Asian lady with the swimming goggles, and my lovely sister is in the red jacket.

This article first appeared in www.SouthendSeattle.com

Photo: Black suit my lil bro loc, Mom Wilson is behind him and I’m in the gray suit jacket. My mother is the Asian lady with the swimming goggles, and my lovely sister is in the red jacket


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