May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month and we asked several of our Sound Discipline colleagues to share the stories of their family heritage and the people who have inspired them. Thank you Alan for sharing this inspiring story of your family!
What is your heritage?
I am a mixed-race person of color. My father is Chinese and immigrated to this country in his twenties after growing up in the Philippines. My mother was white and moved to Seattle in her late teens from a small town in Indiana. She had ancestry from Germany, England, and Scotland.
Tell us a story from your family history.
My parents met in a social dance class at the University of Washington. They were married in the 1960s at a time when interracial marriage was not only frowned on by many, but still illegal in many places. When my parents decided to marry, it would have technically been illegal to do so in my mother’s home-state of Indiana (luckily, they married out here on the West Coast).
There is something so meaningful to me about the fact that my parents’ love itself was an act of resistance – that I exist due to their courage and their love – and that both are equally necessary to achieve liberation. As this conservative Supreme Court stands ready to overturn Roe vs. Wade, I am painfully aware that some of our basic and essential civil rights are at risk. And I honor couples like Mildred and Richard Loving – who made the Supreme Court’s Loving Decision possible – and without whom interracial marriage may have remained illegal – and I might not exist at all.
Where/how do you fit in to your family legacy?
I grew up in a multicultural community in South Seattle and always identified (and was identified as) a person of color – although, being mixed, people were often unclear what my ethnic background was. As children, my four siblings and I were deeply steeped in Chinese culture. We frequently visited Chinatown, used Chinese herbs and medicine when we were sick, and ate Chinese food both at home and in restaurants. My father has only ever called me by my Chinese name – Wong Tsou Peng. Peng, my given name, means “peace” or “balance” and, fittingly Tsou (my generational name) connotes respect for the ancestors.
My family celebrated (and still celebrates) Chinese holidays and traditions – some, better known in the U.S., like the mid-Autumn Moon Festival, when we eat moon cakes, read poetry and admire the moon, and others less well-known, like “7/7”, which my family calls “Milky Way Day”. On that day (sometimes referred to as “Chinese Valentine’s Day”) we gaze at the stars and listen to the legend of the star-crossed lovers who meet on a celestial bridge of birds once a year on that date. We also eat Milky Way chocolate bars, just for fun.
Does your family have any local legacy/ties to local Asian culture/legacy here?
When my father first came to the U.S. in 1963, he lived in a small rooming house in Seattle’s Chinatown and worked various jobs at restaurants in the area. He has always been deeply entrenched in Seattle’s Chinese community. Like many Chinese Immigrants my father went to the local family association to build community connection – and he (and I) still actively engage with the Wong Family Association.
Speaking multiple Chinese dialects, as well as Tagalog and English, my Dad could serve as an informal interpreter in a variety of settings. He also was an active leader in the U.W.’s Chinese Student Association, even brushing shoulders with a young Bruce Lee who came and offered a Kung Fu demonstration at the UW student union before he made it big in movies. My Dad sometimes served as a teacher at the Chinese School of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association and also offered English and citizenship classes to newly arrived Chinese immigrants. Teaching runs in the family as that was my paternal grandmother Ruby’s profession, as well.
Who is an Asian American hero who has influenced your journey working in education?
Other than my father and grandmother, another Asian American hero who has influenced my journey in education is Ryo Imamura. Ryo was my professor at the Evergreen State College for a 2-quarter immersive course called “Turning Eastward” (and later sponsored an independent study course with me). A Japanese Buddhist priest (from a long family lineage), Ryo was also a psychotherapist and helped us critically examine Western approaches to psychology and the mental health industry, while delving deeper into explorations of Buddhism and Taoism – spiritual traditions I am ancestrally connected to and had just begun to actively practice as a teenager.
Ryo’s course deepened my understanding of and personal practice of these spiritual traditions and has deeply influenced my practice as a social worker and educator – including my incorporation of mindfulness techniques and qi gong practices into my work at Sound Discipline. After I graduated and for every year until he retired, Ryo brought me back in to offer guest lectures to his new cohort of Turning Eastward students. We’d always have dinner and catch-up afterwards – special time connecting about life and our work as educators.