Julie Yin, 7, remembers being teased at school for wearing makeshift straw sandals her mother made her. They were torn and ill-fitting, she said. What Yin needed was a new pair of shoes. Her own pair of shoes. Something to be proud of when walking into class.
“If someone gave me those small things, I’d be happy for the rest of my life,” Yin gleefully chuckled.
When Yin and her father were next in line at the San Francisco Chinatown Community Development Center on Wednesday, she grinned as she became the owner of a sleek pair of bubble-gum pink sneakers with bright white laces.
In partnership with the non-profit organization My New Red Shoes, the CCDC helped provide about 400 Chinatown children living in single-room occupancy hotels with new shoes and gift bags. The children ranged from kindergartners to high school seniors.
“Last year was the first time we held this event, but we’re much more organized this year,” CCDC Deputy Director Norman Fong said. “Workers from My New Red Shoes toured many single-room occupancy units and were shocked by how many residents were crammed into one room.”
Yin lives with her father, Peng Yin, along with five other residents inside one single-room occupancy space situated behind a grocery store on Stockton Street. Yin’s economic situation isn’t unique, however. SRO buildings are very common, making up 60 percent of all buildings in Chinatown, according to Anna Yee, a CCDC deputy director alongside Fong. About 65 percent of Chinatown residents live in SROs with an average of six people living in one unit, said Yee.
Mark Xu, a director for My New Red Shoes, said he was baffled by the meager living conditions these residents had.
“The bedroom was only large enough for a full-sized bed and an end table,” Xu said. “We hope that by providing these children these simple gifts, it would mark a positive step forward for them.”
This is not the first time CCDC partnered with My New Red Shoes. Last July about 300 children walked away with a new pair of shoes just in time for the beginning of the school year.
Howling rains and gusty winds apparently weren’t enough to detract the tens of thousand poncho-sporting onlookers who welcomed San Francisco’s annual Chinese New Year Parade Saturday evening.
Astrologists say that the Year of the Hare brings forth calmness and tranquility, contrasting the stark ups and downs with last year—the Year of the Tiger. Many spectators wore elated grins as the parade commenced at 6 p.m.
“This is the fifth consecutive time my friends and I attended the parade,” San Francisco City College student Marissa Le said. “No amount of rain or hail can stop me from watching the parade.”
Le and her two friends, Allison Liu and Carla Nguyen, took refuge under a tree on Kearney Street as they ogled at the ornate lion dancers and elaborately built floats. They weren’t alone, however. Many families covered themselves in ponchos and hid under umbrellas, shivering from the blustery wind.
“This is my first time seeing the parade in person,” Samantha McCauley of Vallejo said. “Getting this experience at the expense of drenched clothes is well worth it.”
Despite the roaring weather, many bystanders were invigorated by the loud snaps of firecrackers—apparently impervious to the soaked pavement. This provided enough adrenaline to keep hands warm and hearts beating.
This parade, which began in the 1860s when the Chinese community wanted to play a larger role in San Francisco, is billed as the largest Chinese cultural event outside of China. The parade evolved from a quaint communal gathering to one of the largest parades in the country, organizers said.
“The feeling of a close-knit community is still kept alive,” Kristine Wu of San Francisco said, huddling underneath a beach-sized umbrella with her family of four. “Although there seems to be a larger turnout every year.”
These are the alleyways you’ll see when you go on a Chinatown Alleyway Tour led by youth leaders who have grown up in the neighborhood.
Many tourists crane their necks in curiosity at San Francisco’s Chinatown alleyways and shops without realizing the rich history they carry. Only a handful of tourists are plucky enough to venture through the touristy exterior that masks shops lining Grant Avenue. But if you want to get to the heart of Chinatown, you need to acknowledge the history of those who grew up there like the tour guides who lead the Chinatown Alleyway tours, which are offered every Saturday morning from Portsmouth Square.
These tours stretch beyond from pointing out the cosmetic highlights of the oldest Chinatown in the nation. The two-hour tour is spent with lively, knowledgeable tour guides leading you into byways and alleyways that are rich with forgotten history. The tour guides, mainly teenagers and college students, speak from personal experiences of growing up and living in Chinatown.
“We are so glad to be doing these tours,” said tour guide Carmen Zheng, who is a student at University Of San Francisco. “Not too many people actually explore the history of Chinatown. It feels great telling them our story.”
The tours, which are under the auspices of the Chinatown Community Development Center, started with high school students nearly 20 years ago, as a side-project of Rev. Norman Fong’s Adopt-an-Alleyway project, which cleans and maintains the narrow alley that contain the true portrayal of Chinatown life.
Although walk-ins are welcome, it’s best to make reservations in advance. You may make your reservation at their official site.