September 11 Digital Archive

Joseph Chu


Joseph Chu



Media Type


Chinatown Interview: Interviewee

Joseph Chu

Chinatown Interview: Interviewer

Teri Chan

Chinatown Interview: Date


Chinatown Interview: Language


Chinatown Interview: Occupation


Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)

Q: Mr. Chu, would you say your Chinese name and English name?

Chu: I am Joseph Wah Chu.

Q: When were you born? Where were you born?

Chu: I was born in 1933 in Toishan County, Guangdong Province, China. I studied in my hometown and then went to Guangzhou for high school. After China had been liberated (1949), I moved to Hong Kong.

Q: How long did you live in Hong Kong? When did you come to the United States?

Chu: I lived in Hong Kong for over ten years. I worked and studied there. I studied at the United College of Chinese University of Hong Kong for four years. I was a teacher for several years. I came to the United States in 1965. I lived in San Francisco for one year and then I moved to New York in 1966.

Q: After you came to New York, what did you do?

Chu: When I was in San Francisco, I worked as a busboy. I then worked in a department store for several months. The first job I had was a busboy in the House of Chan.

Q: Where was the House of Chan?

Chu: The restaurant was in midtown. Back then, the restaurants in Chinatown were small, and not as big as the Jing Fong Restaurant and the Silver Palace Restaurant. House of Chan was the biggest among the Chinese restaurants.

Q: How big was it? Who were the customers?

Chu: The kitchen had more than 10 workers. The dinning area also had more than 10 workers. Most of the customers were foreigners and there were few Chinese.

Q: How long did you work in that restaurant? Did you change vocations after that job?

Chu: I worked as a busboy for a few months. I purposefully wanted to learn to be a waiter. Then my friends opened a restaurant in Chicago. They asked me to help. I worked in Chicago as a waiter for more than half a year.

Q: Did you return to New York after working in Chicago?

Chu: Yes. I returned to New York in 1967 and worked in a restaurant as a waiter. My wife came and we were married in 1968. I continued to work as a waiter in a restaurant.

Q: Why did you choose New York and not Chicago?

Chu: Because I had a lot of friends, coworkers and classmates in New York. We had been good friends in Hong Kong. Hence, I chose New York. And also, job opportunities in New York were better. When compared with San Francisco and Chicago, I chose New York.

Q: How long were you in the restaurant business?

Chu: Not too long, about two to three years. Then I found a job in an American company, working from Monday to Friday. I still worked in the restaurant during the weekends.

Q: What business was the American company? What did you do?

Chu: I worked in the office of an electrical appliances company. The work hours were good, from 9am to 5pm. I still worked as a waiter after work. Not only was I so diligent; people at that time used to work seven days a week. The salaries were not high and actually, were low. I had to raise a family and had to work two jobs, seven days a week. The salary I earned on weekends was tax free (not reported). Back then, I was just like the other hardworking Chinese workers, working seven days a week.

Q: How were the fringe benefits then?

Chu: My job at the American company had weekend and holidays off, as well as medical insurance. Benefits were good. The Chinese restaurants did not provide benefits. I was happy with the medical insurance provided by the American company which covered my family. The standard of living was pretty good then.

Q: How many children did you have after your marriage?

Chu: I was married in 1968. My eldest daughter was born in 1970. My second daughter was born in 1972. My third daughter was also born in the 1970s. I worked in the American company for several years. There was an energy crisis and economic recession in 1974. Many companies closed down and a lot of workers were laid off. My company laid me off. By then, the Long Island University just started its bilingual program. I enrolled and studied there until 1976. After graduation, I worked in a company in New Jersey. In 1978, I started working at the New York Chinatown Senior Citizen Center.

Q: When you first came to the senior center, what was your work? What was the name of the senior center then?

Chu: The senior center was called Chinatown Senior Citizen Coalition Center. It was established by five community agencies. Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) was one of them. Hence, it was called Coalition Center. The senior center started at the basement of the St. Andrew Church. It was moved to 70 Mulberry Street in 1978. I have been working there ever since.

Q: This senior center was held by five community agencies. Besides CPC, what are the other four agencies?

Chu: The other four are Chinatown Service Center, Chinese Service Center, Chinatown Progressive Association, and The Immigrant Social Service. And also…….

Q: I will verify the names. Where was St. Andrew’s church?

Chu: St. Andrew’s Church was opposite from the Municipal Building (on Chamber Street).

Q: Was it opposite from City Hall?

Chu: Yes, although it was not far away from Chinatown, the streets were not good for seniors to walk. The seniors had difficult walking from Chinatown to there. The streets were too narrow. There were not very many members then. When we moved here to 70 Mulberry in 1978, membership increased steadily.

Q: When you started working, how many members were there? Where did the seniors come from?

Chu: Most of the Chinese immigrants came from Toishan. Over one hundred lunches were served (daily). We didn’t have as many staff as now. There were several workers in the kitchen, three workers in the office, two part-time workers helping with registration. There wes not many staff.

Q: What was your position?

Chu: I first worked in social work.

Q: What were the areas in social work?

Chu: Helped seniors with registration (to enroll as a member), filled forms, read letters, answered welfare questions and minimum psychological counseling.

Q: What kinds of benefits were provided to the seniors?

Chu: I helped them to apply Medicaid, Food stamp, senior housing. The benefits were not as good as today. The seniors at that time were not very complicated and didn’t have as many problems as today, such as domestic conflicts. Now, we have a lot of benefits but the waiting time for senior housing is very long - takes many years from application to approval. The benefits at present are more plentiful than the past but the eligibility is more limited. I remember the seniors who came in 1960’s would immediately get their green cards upon arrival to the United States, and then apply for their benefits. Now they have to reside in the United States for several years before they can apply.

Q: How do they know that they are eligible for benefits? Do they read the newspaper, or by words of mouth?

Chu: Back then, the senior center had staff to help them to apply. The Social Security Agency also sent their staff (to the senior centers) to explain the benefits. There was also a Social Security Agency staff stationed at The Chinese Consolidated of Benevolent Association (CCBA). Most of the seniors lived alone. Although a lot of seniors live alone now, population in Chinatown was not as densely populated as it is now. Not long after coming to the United States, the children of the elderly reside or work elsewhere for convenience’s sake. The seniors would not move with them because of inconvenient transportation. Hence, their living conditions were bad. The buildings were old and had plenty of rats and roaches. The buildings also lacked water and heat. There were many housing problems. Even though the living conditions were bad, the seniors would not complain because they liked living in Chinatown. Sometimes, our staff had to negotiate with their landlords because there was no water, electricity, or heat in winter. If the landlord was not willing to turn on their heat, we had to file complaints with the government agencies. The social problems they faced back then were not complicated.

Q: Besides your senior center, were there other senior centers?

Chu: Besides New York Chinatown Senior Citizen Center, Chinatown had Greater Chinatown Community Association, and CPC Project Open Door Senior Citizen Center.

Q: What were the differences between these three centers?

Chu: Greater Chinatown Community Association is the oldest, and was managed by the Catholic Church and didn’t have government funding. CPC Project Open Door Senior Citizen Center was first managed by the NYC Department of Human Resources. After more than ten years, it was returned to the NYC Department of Aging in 1990s. Both were funded by the government agencies and their managing styles were mildly different.

Q: You mentioned the senior center started with one hundred members. How many are there now?

Chu: The membership on registration book is over two to three thousand people. A few hundred come everyday to the center for activities. Over one hundred lunches are provided every day. Some members do not have lunch but attend activities such as Mahjong games, singing, sport activities or Tai Chi martial art. There were three hundred members. Now, we have at least five hundred members show up every day.

Q: What kinds of activities are there in the senior centers?

Chu: The biggest activity is lunch. We also have Chinese music group, choir, Tai Chi class, English class and chess art group. There is dancing every Saturday. In addition to these activities, we also have Chinese painting, calligraphy and poetry classes. There are numbers games every week and news broadcasting every day. Winter activities are less than summer. When the weather is warm, we have trips, mostly for free.

Q: Where did most of the trips go?

Chu: Most of the trips were one day trips. We started early and came back late. We have gone to parks and specific sightseeing, such as the Bear Mountain. We started early and came back late. The seniors like this a lot.

Q: Where do the seniors come from?

Chu: In the past, most of the elderly were Chinatown residents. Now, many of them come from uptown, Brooklyn, Queens and even Staten Island. The members are very active and are vastly differ from those of 1969. The members at that time only loved to play Mahjong and rarely go on trips, they would rather stay in Chinatown.

Q: Why are Chinese seniors living outside of Chinatown?

Chu: Chinese seniors lived outside because Chinatown housing is old and worn out and living space is very limited and saturated. When I first arrived, the best residential area was the Two-Bridge government buildings. Confucius Plaza (on Bowery Street) was not built at that time and it was only a desolate spot. After the Confucius Plaza was built in 1970’s, Chinatown had a good residential area. When young Chinese women immigrants first came here, most of them belonged to the 23-25 union (Garment Union) and worked in the garment industry or laundry industry. Chinese men used to work in restaurant or grocery stores. There were not many job choices.

Q: You mentioned that the senior problems at present are more complicated than in the past. How are they more complicated? Can you give an example?

Chu: When I said it is complicated, it does not mean that it is abnormal. Take domestic conflict as an example. The families in the past were simple. Young generations studied hard and were obedient to their parents. The American news reported a warm and happy picture of the Chinese families. Later immigrant policy became more lenient. As more immigrants came, the family structure became more complicated. Some youngsters went astray. Society changed and Chinatown had more gambling places and gangs, thus creating more family problems. Later, when the immigrant policy of the United States was tightened, some people came illegally: some of them came by visas and did not return; some came by marriages, whether real or fraudulent marriages. Some of our male members also did the fraudulent marriages. Some of them even got into trouble. They helped the women get residential status and were kicked away. Some of them had trouble even before the women had gotten green cards.

At the same time, when the children got their parents to the United States, the parents found out that life was not what they expected upon arrival. It is not so easy to find jobs and their living standards are worse than in China. For instance, they were doctors, engineer or teachers in China but they would not be able to find similar jobs in America. They can only be inferior workers in restaurants, garment factories, groceries or be a dishwasher. If they ran into a bad economy, there would be even more family problems such as the seniors not getting along with their daughters-in-laws or grandchildren. Some seniors told me that they had to open beds at night and fold them up early in the morning (for their sleeping arrangement). Or they had to sleep with their grandchildren. After a few years, the children grew up and the seniors couldn’t share the beds with their grandchildren anymore. Some of them had to sleep in the living rooms so it was inconvenient. There are many similar complaints. This is a social problem. I wish the government has more funding to address this problem. The senior housing is a huge issue.

Q: Are there senior housings for the elderly?

Chu: Chinatown has a senior house, which is Chung Pak Building on Baxter Street. Further away there are several senior houses. The waiting list for Chinatown housing is very long. Take Chung Pak Building as an example, when the building was built, there were eighty-eight units available but five thousand application forms were filed. Some members have a waiting list numbering of one or two thousand plus. How long do you think they have to wait? Therefore housing is really a problem.

Of course, there were some government housing buildings near Chinatown. But public safety was such a concern that people dared not to move in. If they moved in, they had to go home early or would not go out at night, otherwise they might be robbed. Now public safety is much better. Back in the 1970s, it wasn’t that safe. When some of the seniors were robbed by Puerto Ricans, they dared not utter a word because they were afraid of revenge. The seniors would put ten dollars in their pocket just in case they came out of the elevators and ran into a robber. They figured this money was part of paying rent. Even if the robbers looked familiar, they wouldn’t dare to identify them in case of revenge. By the 1980s, the situation had improved. Police patrolled more. Underground gambling was closed and gangster activities were lessened. Public safety improved. More police patrolled government housings so crimes rates went down.

Q: How is the public safety in Chinatown now?

Chu: It is getting worse recently. When mayor Giuliani was in office for those few years, public security was best. The 5th precinct also improved their services. There were more patrols and more action against illegal gambling. The public safety was improved.

Q: Why is public safety worse than the past few years?

Chu: Perhaps after 9/11, more unemployed people tend to make money by illegal means. Public safety is worse in the past two years.

Q: On the date of 9/11, where were you and what were you doing?

Chu: In 2001, I had retired but I volunteered in the senior center. On 9/11, we took the seniors for a trip to Long Wood Garden (Pennsylvania). Our staff, Alan Tran and I, led the trip. The seniors boarded the bus on 8:30am on Canal Street. The bus left at 8:35am or 8:40am. When the bus turned from Bowery onto Worth Street and Centre Street at 8:45am, we saw a huge crowd running on the streets. Alan asked, why were there so many people running? I said maybe they were chasing after thieves. The bus went on. We saw that the tower of the World Trade Center closest to us was on fire. The passengers and the driver all shouted. The driver said it’s burning! I took a few pictures with my camera because I thought it was similar to the bombing of the World Trade Center’s basement back in the 1990s. I could not imagine that it was an airplane hitting the building. The bus doors and windows were all closed so we couldn’t hear the noises, we only saw people running and the police cars and fire engines. We thought it was the same kind of bombing as before, didn’t think it was so serious. As our bus continued to pass thru Holland Tunnel to Pennsylvania, we talked about the previous bombing at World Trade Center and said it was easier to rescue (because of the lower level). I said maybe they need to have helicopters and drop some chemicals to keep the fire under control since it was so high up. Once we came out the tunnel, we saw an airplane so I added, “Here comes the plane to put out the fire!” Everyone saw the plane. The plane and our bus moved at different directions so we did not see the plane again.

The driver had a son who was supposed to work at the World Trade Center in the afternoon. He used his cellular phone to call his son for updates. His son was watching television and speaking to our diver. When the driver told us what was broadcasting on the television, then we knew how serious it was. The fire was caused by a plane hitting one of the towers, it was not a bombing. The plane that we just saw after coming out of the tunnel was the plane that hit the second World Trade tower. We only knew at that moment that terrible things had happened and we were scared. When the bus finally arrived at Long Wood Garden, we weren’t in the mood for sightseeing. Soon, the bus driver suggested that we leave because the tunnel might be closed. The highway was congested. After few hours, we could not return to New York. The radio said all bridges and tunnels were closed. We tried to return by Staten Island. The bridges were also closed and cars in the highway were not moving at all. We stopped at a place in New Jersey. The driver suggested that we take the Path Train if they were running. Alan and I went to check. A policeman passed by and said the Path Train was about to leave for New York City. Alan and I returned to the bus and brought the seniors to broad the train. The driver stayed with his bus. We brought the seniors back to 34th Street in New York City. The seniors then took the subways home. Everyone had a long day.

Q: Did you or any of the seniors have friends and relatives working in the World Trade Center?

Chu: My eldest daughter worked in Water Street , near the World Trade Center. She told me afterwards that she got out of the subway at 9am. Every means of transport had closed down. With no subway and no bus, she could not return. Because she bought a condo at Brooklyn Heights, she walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to get home. The other two daughters did not work downtown and they had no problem. When we gathered later on, many members told their stories. Some members who lived in Queens, Brooklyn and uptown had to walk several hours home. More than ten seniors who lived either at Queens or Brooklyn stayed overnight at the senior center because no one could pick them up. They returned home the next day. Not so many stayed overnight.

Q: Did you call the senior center on 9/11, to ask the director for instructions?

Chu: We talked over the phone. I told the senior center that we had arrived safely at the destination. At the same time, (I was informed that) many members in the senior center saw the towers on fire and collapsing. Many people in Chinatown saw it. They saw it at the corner of Columbus Park and watched the tragedy as if it was a movie.

Q: How was the situation at the senior center after 9/11? Did you come to Chinatown?

Chu: There was no transportation for one day. After that day, subway and bus returned to normal schedule so people returned. Those who lived far away didn’t return because of the transportation uncertainty. In those days, there were fewer members at the senior center. People from Queens, Brooklyn and uptown didn’t return.

Q: They did not show up because of transportation problems or other problems?

Chu: Transportation returned to normal but the seniors worried something might happen and did not come.

Q: How did you feel?

Chu: Me and the seniors experienced wars so we were not as frightened by 9/11 attack and explosion. We are old and not scared. We were only worried about the transportation. We were concerned for our young generation. We worried about the social unrest after 9/11 and the economic decline, the effects on the younger generations’ jobs and employment. The seniors worried that these kinds of situations would make their children lose their jobs or lose money on their businesses. The seniors themselves experienced wars, so emotionally they were not scared by the changes.

Q: Which wars did you refer to?

Chu: Our seniors went through World War II, many had experienced the conflicts between (China’s) communist and Kuomintang struggle, and the communist regime. Compared to these wars, this was minor.

Q: How did your senior center help the seniors? And help them to discuss (this event)?

Chu: After 9/11, the seniors were relatively calm. Some of them worried that the business of their friends and relatives would be affected. Some of them worried that their children would lose their jobs. These were more indirect. The most direct effect was the air pollution in Chinatown. Many weeks later, air quality in Chinatown was terrible. There was a certain smell to it. There were lots of floating pollutants in the air which directly affected our health.

Q: Did the government help?

Chu: After 9/11, government reacted fast and established a 9/11 assistance center. Those in need could apply for air filters and air conditioners. Those residents who lost economically after 9/11 were also helped. Our seniors benefited from the policy. They could apply for new air conditioners, air filters and rental assistance. The benefits helped their lives and financial situation.

Q: How sufficient were the benefits?

Chu: It was not necessary enough, but it wasn’t bad.

Q: You just mentioned that the seniors worried most about the younger generations’ jobs and business. Did the government help the younger generations?

Chu: Yes, Chinatown established a development council to bring in business. After 9/11, Chinatown was very quite. People in the other boroughs such as Queens would not come to Chinatown. Business dropped drastically. The government established a tourist promotion agency with Chinatown business to promote Chinatown. A lot of performances and activities were made to attract more tourists to our restaurants, tourist agencies and other agencies. Business recovered to a large scale and now Chinatown is almost as busy as before.

Q: Some seniors did not show up after 9/11. When did they return?

Chu: After 2-3 weeks, the seniors came back because they felt everything was normal again. The seniors were afraid of detours in transportation. They did not know how to transfer. For example, they used to take the 6 Train to Chinatown. If there was a detour or a train did not show up, they did not know how to cope and they would not come.

Q: Is this due to language barriers that the seniors did not know how to transfer?

Chu: Yes. It still is a problem. On weekends, less seniors come to the senior center, especially from Brooklyn, where there is always subway construction. The subway always had detours. The seniors could not read the subway map or ask for help so they did not know how to transfer. That’s why they don’t come to the senior center during weekends.

Q: There are maps, flyers and notices available in Chinese languages in Chinatown and Flushing. Would this help the seniors?

Chu: They should but the seniors did not feel comfortable so they wouldn’t show up. They would rather rest for a day.

Q: Besides Chinatown, are there Senior Centers elsewhere?

Chu: There are a lot of senior centers in Brooklyn and Queens, especially in Queens. Some are managed by Chinese and others by Americans. Many seniors are members of both Chinatown and Queens senior centers.

Q: If they had already moved to Queens and Brooklyn, why did they come to the senior centers in Chinatown?

Chu: Although some members moved to Queens and Brooklyn, many of their friends and relatives are in Chinatown. At the same time, they come to Chinatown to see their doctors, visit friends, or do shopping.

Q: After 9/11, how did you know there were 9/11 services available?

Chu: After 9/11, the government set up a special department to help out victims of 9/11. An office was set up near where the old Chinese American Bank was. They had news, flyers, and outreach to senior centers. They explained their benefits to the residents of Lower Manhattan, including housing assistance, air filters and related welfare. The application procedures were simple. Applicants would just go to Chinese American Bank on Park Row. They also sent staff to our senior centers to explain and fill out forms. It was very convenient.

Q: How complicated was the application form?

Chu: Our staff was used to filling out forms for the seniors. The applicants mainly needed proof of residence in Lower Manhattan. Sufficient proofs were phone bills, Con Edison bills and rent receipts.

Q: Since a lot of seniors lived with their children, could they have those proofs?

Chu: The young people could also apply for the 9/11 benefit. Of course many seniors lived with their children who suffered job or business loss because of 9/11. Hence, a small business assistance project was set up to subsidize the businessmen who suffered loss.

Q: What do you think of the business subsidy?

Chu: I have heard that business was bad after 9/11. Some small business received direct economic assistance and financial aid. Hence, there were not many stores closed down due to 9/11’s bad economy.

Q: You said that 9/11 was not so frightening compared to other wars. What wars did you experience?

Chu: During World War II, I was several years old and still living in the village in Toishan County. I heard the machine guns and canister explosions. My family brought me to safe shelters often. Some members were older than me, some younger. Besides World War II, they experienced (China’s) civil wars, or internal power struggles of the Communist China or many wars before they finally came to America. Hence, they thought 9/11 was only minor and were not as frightened. The seniors were more worried about their children’s’ unemployment and business, family problems, and the heavy burden of their youngsters.

Q: What kinds of family problems did they have? Can you give me an example?

Chu: For example, if the senior’s son and daughter-in-law were unemployed. They would be bad moods and may get into arguments with the senior. There was one senior who came to sit in front of the senior center early in the morning, waiting for it to open and didn’t leave until closing. After that, he still sat in the park for a long time before going home. Because the son and daughter-in-law were unemployed and the place they lived together was very small. He slept in the living room so he had to open his bed at night and in the morning. If he stayed at home for a longer time with the son, it was easy to enter into an argument.

Q: Can they apply for government senior housing?

Chu: We tried to help them to apply senior housing. The waiting list was so long. Those who were lucky can get it pretty fast and some have to be on waiting list. Some of them get notified to look at housing immediately. If they didn’t mind the location, taking the trains to mid-town, then it’s easier. But if they only consider locations near Chinatown, whether it’s senior housing or low-income housing, they have to wait for a long time.

Q: How long is the waiting list? Why such a long list?

Chu: The waiting lists are so long because of too many applicants, especially near Chinatown. We have a lot of seniors living in the low-income housing on 5th Street and Avenue B.

Q: If they have to live in Chinatown, how long do they have to wait? 5 years? 10 years?

Chu: Many years.

Q: When you first arrived, a lot of seniors came from Toishan or they were old immigrants. Have there been any changes? Where do the current seniors come from?

Chu: In 1960, when Mainland Chinatown was still a closed country, our members came mainly from the Toishan and Four County (in Guangdong) areas. After China established foreign relations with the US, more immigrants came from Mainland China and Taiwan. Chinatown seniors are mostly from Guangdong Province and they speak Cantonese. A few of them speak Mandarin. If classified by occupation, immigrants from Mainland have higher education level than the older immigrants. Although this is the case, many of them still couldn’t find the same type of jobs as before. For example, the people sent by CPC to work as kitchen staff (in the senior center), many of them were college graduated and were engineers, doctors, etc. But since their occupations and qualifications in Mainland are not recognized in the United States, they can only work in labor intensive work.

Q: Besides the language barrier, are there other barriers…?

Chu: Yes.

Q: How many senior centers are there in Chinatown now?

Chu: Chinatown has more senior centers. The old Chinatown includes only Mott Street, Bayard Street and Mulberry Street. Anywhere past Canal Street was Little Italy and many Italians lived there before. There were only a few passers-by on Bowery and beyond Sun Sing Theater (on East Broadway & Market St). Chinatown has expanded several times. Many seniors come from East River (Lower East Side) and Little Italy, which becomes part of Chinatown now.

Q: What are the new senior centers in Chinatown?

Chu: Besides the New York Chinatown Senior Citizen Center, the CPC Project Open Door Senior Citizen Center, and the Greater Chinatown Community Association that have existed for a long time, we have LaGuardia Senior Center near Governiur Hospital. This area used to be an American area and now is considered Chinatown. We also have City Hall Senior Center, which is a city agency operated senior center. It used to serve the Americans and it is one of the oldest senior centers. Now it serves mostly Chinese. Although Chinatown is not big, we have several senior centers.

Q: Why are the seniors going back and forth between senior centers?

Chu: The seniors like to have multiple memberships in different senior centers. They have different preferences. Take lunch, for example, everyone has different taste. If they are near Mulberry Street then they will come to us; if they are closer to CPC Project Open Door, they go there; if they are near City Hall or come by 4,5,6 subway, they will go to City Hall Senior Center. Members also like to go the centers where the staff have similar backgrounds with them. For example, City Hall Center attracts a lot of Mandarin speaking members. Similar backgrounds come together. Seniors who come by B, D, Q trains may go to CPC Project Open Door which is next to the (Grand Street) train station. Some choose by activities and services. Some people like dancing, Tai Chi, or Cantonese classics songs. Some like our Mahjong games, singing, painting and calligraphy. Some come to us when we have trips. Some like our dancing on Saturdays. Some attend the activities of City Hall Senior Center. The seniors are very active nowadays.

Q: In the past ten years, many Fuzhou immigrants have applied for their parents to come here. Do you have a lot of Fuzhou senior members?

Chu: We don’t have many Fuzhou senior members, only a few members. Perhaps they live further away from us. They are more likely at LaGuardia Senior Center and less at our center. When they attend our activities, they are able to communicate with our staff in Mandarin.

Q: Can the Fuzhou members communicate with the Cantonese or Toishan members?

Chu: Some members do not differentiate languages. Communication depends on personality. Whether they speak Mandarin, Cantonese or Fuzhou dialects, they can play mahjong, chess together. Some are friendly. Some alienate themselves.

Q: Besides senior housing, are there other problems?

Chu: Housing is a major problem. Older immigrant members do not have financial and medical care problems. They have retirement benefits. If they have financial problems, they can apply for welfare and food stamps. New members have more problems. It is more difficult for them to get benefits in a short period of time; they have to work for a number of years first. CPC always sends us some seniors who are new immigrants in their 60’s because they haven’t met the income requirement to apply for medical insurance. Because of government policy and restrictions, we cannot help them.

Q: What do you think Chinatown can do to help these seniors?

Chu: In the past recent years, Chinatown has many social agencies trying to help these new immigrants, such as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and Chinatown Manpower Project, Inc., which provide English or employment training classes, free citizenship classes and welfare applications. There are more services for Chinese than in the past.

Q: Are these services for seniors and other age groups?

Chu: They are for all, indiscriminate of their ages.

Q: How do you want Chinatown to change? How can Chinatown help the elderly?

Chu: First, I wish that more low income housing will be built for the people. The economic structure has changed drastically from a few thousand garment factories to only a few. The door for immigrant women to work in a garment industry is almost closed. We have more stores but not skilled training for new immigrants. I wish more social agencies like the Chinatown Manpower Project or CPC to provide more employment training classes, to enable more new immigrants to get training so they can integrate into the society and find jobs. Once they have a better standard of living, then they get to do other things.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Chu

Chu: You’re welcome.

(end of tape)

Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)

<p> 問:朱先生,可以講一下你的中文名及英文名?</p>
<p>朱:我叫朱祖華,英文名叫Joseph Wah Chu。</p>
<p>朱:我在香港住了10多年,做過工,讀過中學,在聯合書院讀過4年書,跟著做了幾年老師。1965年來到美國,先到三藩市住了一年,1966年來到紐約(New York)。</p>
<p>朱:我在三藩市的時候,曾經做過茶水(busboy),然後在百貨公司(department store)做幾個月,來到紐約第一份工作是在陳家園餐館做茶水(busboy)。</p>

<p> 朱:陳家園在中城(midtown),當時唐人街餐館的規模很小,沒有金豐﹑銀宮餐館這麼大,當時唐中餐館之中,陳家園算是最大。</p>
<p>朱:是的,大概1967年回來紐約(New York),在餐館做企檯,因為那時太太又來了,我們在1968年結婚,繼續在紐約餐館做企檯。</p>

<p> 朱:也不是很久,才兩﹑三年。之後找到老番公司做工,星期一至五,周末仍然到餐館做工。</p>
<p>朱:我1968年結婚之後,1970年後第一個女出生,跟著1972年第2個女出生,197幾年第3個女出生,一直幾年做老番公司做工,做到1974年遇到能源危機,經濟蕭條,很多公司關門,很多人失業,公司解僱(layout)我。剛巧長島大學(Long Island) 有雙語教育開放,所以我就去報名讀書至1976年,畢業之後到新澤西州(New Jersey)一間公司做工,然後1978年來華埠老人中心做工。</p>

<p> 問:你初來華埠老人中心做工怎樣?那時的老人中心叫什麼名字?</p>
<p>朱:老人中心叫華埠老人聯合中心,因為開創初期,老人中心由5個社區團體合辦,華策會是其中一個,所以改名叫老人聯合中心。1974年開始,在聖安得烈教堂(St. Andrew)租個土庫開辦,1978年搬到茂比利街70號,剛搬來時我就到此做工。</p>
<p>問:聖安得烈教堂(St. Andrew)在那裡?</p>
<p>朱:聖安得烈教堂(St. Andrew)在空孔樓(Municipal Building)對面。</p>
<p>問:即大會堂(City Hall)對面?</p>
<p>   到1978年搬了過來,到茂比利街70號,(會員)人數增加很多。</p>

<p> 朱:那是老華僑大多數從台山來,每日只供應百多份餐,沒有那麼多職員,廚房只有幾個工人,辦公室職員只有3個,同時有兩個兼職幫忙登記,職員數目很少。</p>
<p>朱:初來時做社會服務(social work)。</p>


<p> 朱:註冊會員有2000至3000名,但每天來活動的有幾百人,午餐只有百多份,有些會員不吃午餐,只來活動,如打麻雀﹑唱歌﹑運動或耍太極,只有300多人活動。現在每天至少有500多人活動。</p>

<p> 朱:現在的老人家住在外面,因為唐人街的居住的地方爛,且地方飽和,初來的時候,唐人街最好的住宅區在橋景大樓,那是孔子大廈仍未建築,那裡只是一片爛地,孔子大廈在197幾年興建成,唐人街才有些好住宅區。初來的唐人亞姆在年青時是衣廠工人,大部份是23-25工會會員,女工在衣廠或衣館工作,男的多數從事餐館或雜貨店,沒有現時那麼多工作種類。</p>
<p>    同時有些子女申請老人家來,老人家發覺來了美國和想像的不同,本以為美國遍地黃金,很容易找工作,來到後發覺居住的環境比以前的大陸更差,找工作也不如預計容易,整天所做的工找不到以前的好工作,譬如以前在大陸是醫生﹑工程師,或者做老師,移民到美國不能幹回以前的職業,只能做在餐館﹑衣廠﹑<br>

<p>   當然有些政府樓距離華埠不遠,因為以前治安不好,不敢入住,或很早要回家,入夜後不敢外出。因為早出或晚歸都會遇到打劫。現在的治安比較好。那時在1970年代治安比較差,有波多黎各的西語裔人打劫,不敢出聲,如果報警,怕被報復,那時老人口袋裡有十多元,若出電梯,遇打劫時,說當交租!同時覺得劫匪臉孔熟悉,也不敢出聲,怕被報復。到1980年代,情況有改變,警方加強治安,封殺地下賭場,幫派活動收歛,<br>

<p>朱:2001年我已經退休,我在老人中心義務工作,9/11那天,我們剛好約定老人們去長木公園旅行,我和一位較年輕的職員陳亞倫(Alan)一起帶隊旅行,在8時30分在堅尼路上車,8時35分至40分開車,在包厘街轉窩富街時,到中央街,約在45分,看見街上很多人連走帶跑,陳姓職員問為什麼這麼多人,我說估計是捉賊,車再轉彎,很多人望見世貿近我們那幢樓上起火,全車人連司機都起哄,司機話「上面起火了」,我拿起照相機拍了幾幅,以為好像是199幾年世貿樓下的爆炸,並不以為是飛機撞,因為車門緊閉,我們聽不到聲音,只見多人忽然在跑,又見消防車及警車鳴鳴作響,才估計可能是以前同樣遭人爆炸,但也不覺得特別嚴重。車繼續行,經過荷蘭隧道(Holland Tunnel)到賓州(Pennsylvania),<br>

<p>   司機知道兒子在下午將會往世貿返工,打手提電話問兒子情況,兒子正在看電視,和司機講電話,司機向我們轉述電視的畫面,才知道事態嚴重,原來第一次起火,是飛機撞入大廈,不是爆炸。我們出了隧道看的飛機原來也撞到第二座世貿中心了。我們才知事態嚴重,知驚。巴士到長木公園,我們沒有心情玩。一會兒,司機提議離開,因為恐怕不能過隧道。誰知在高速公路塞車,跑了幾小時也未能到紐約。聽收音機說所有橋樑及隧道已被封鎖,我們嘗試從史丹頓島回來,那些小橋也封閉了,汽車大排長龍,沒有辦法行走,隧道及橋也關閉了。我們去到新澤西(New Jersey)一處地方停下來,司機建議我們到長途火車(Path Train)站看看是否有車,我和亞倫去查,剛剛有警察經過,有些人說Path Train剛剛有一班要開了,我們及愛倫回去報告,我帶了幾十名老人離開,司機說要守著巴士過夜,我帶了老人家乘Path Train到紐約34街,老人們各自乘地車(subway)回家,各人都經過很長的一天。</p>

沒有地車,也沒有巴士,她不能走回頭路。因為她買了公寓(condo)在布碌崙高地(Brooklyn Heights),她步行過布碌崙橋走回家。其他兩名女兒不在下城(downtown)做工,沒有遇到問題。我們回來以後,很多會員講述其經歷,9/11當晚有些會員在皇后區或布碌崙住,在埠上住的要行幾個小時才回到家中,有十多個沒有人接,又在布碌崙或皇后區住,於是留在老人中心過夜,第二天才回去,只有十多人在大廳過夜,人不算多。</p>

<p> 朱:我和老人們曾經經過戰亂,對於9/11的襲擊及爆炸不感覺受到驚嚇,而是年齡大不怕。所驚是交通問題,所怕的是擔心後輩,驚9/11之後社會不安定,經濟受到影響,我們的後輩做生意或打工的受影響,情況使老人家擔心子女沒有工作,做生意的生意一落千丈。</p>
<p> 老人家本身心理上經過戰亂,處變不驚。</p>

<p> 問:這些福利是否足夠?</p>

<p> 問:在華埠及法拉盛有中文地圖,單張,通告等,這會不會對老人家有效?</p>

<p> 朱:我們的職員時時都幫老人家填表,今次最主要展示到實質證據證明居住在下東城,需要的證據包括電話單﹑電費單﹑租單,就是足夠證據。</p>

<p> 朱:譬如子媳失業,因而心情不好,可能與老人家產生磨擦。有些老人和子孫同住,因為失業心情不好,或許有爭拗。譬如那時有個會員未天光就跑來老人中心等開門,等關門才離開,還要到公園坐一會兒。因為子媳失業,自己住的地方狹少,在廳中睡醒後將床叠起,就要出來,很夜才回家,如果太久停留在家,兒子失業又在家,就容易起爭拗衝突。</p>

<p> 朱:1960年代,大陸仍未開放,會員大多是台山及四邑人士。後來大陸開放,較多移民由大陸及台灣來。唐人街老人中心大部份都是廣東人,大部份講廣東話,少部份講國語。以工作的職業分,由大陸來的文化水平較老華僑高,縱然如此,他們不能找到原來的專業工作。例如華策會派來幫廚房做工的工人,其中很多是大學生﹑做工程師﹑或懂醫學,但因為在大陸的訓練不能銜接到這些,其學歷在美國不獲得承認,只能從事體力勞動的工作。</p>

以前屬於老番區,現在是華埠。另耆英會以是市政府直接辦的老人中心,叫大會堂老人中心(City Hall Senior Center)當時服務西人,資格最老,現在會員絕大部份是華人會員。華埠雖然地方不大,但有幾個老人中心。</p>
<p>朱:老人中心會員多數加入幾個會,因為各人口味不同。譬如吃午餐,各人口味不同。靠近茂比利街到聯合老人中心,靠近人瑞的去人瑞,以前耆英會在City Hall 附近,乘4,5,6號車的人喜歡去。還有那裡主辦的人及會員的背景相近的相聚一起,如耆英會講國語的親戚朋友聚在同一間老人中心,吸引國語人。人瑞的會員近格蘭街地鐵站上落車。有些老人喜歡聯合﹑人瑞或耆英會的餐,各適其式。同時,可供參加的活動,有些喜歡舞蹈﹑太極及粵曲,亦有喜歡我們老人中心的麻雀﹑唱戲﹑繪畫及書法,所以喜歡到處走。又譬如到我處舉辦旅行,星期六參加舞蹈,又參加耆英會各自的活動,現在的會員非常活躍,到處走。</p>

<p> 朱:有些會員沒有語言區分,很視乎人的性格心理。講國語﹑講廣東話或福州話的可以一起打麻雀﹑下棋,有些相處很融洽,有些則很隔閡。</p>


“Joseph Chu,” September 11 Digital Archive, accessed March 22, 2023,