Chinese-American Club Gives Back During Pandemic

First published in the Jan. 28 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

I’ve got an idea.
Let’s ban and bury those phrases “Chinese flu” or “Wuhan virus” and think instead about the phrase “Chinese American Charity.”
The first two phrases have done nothing but fuel discrimination against Asian Americans. The third phrase really captures the essence of the South Pasadena Chinese-American Club. In learning about the group, I was surprised by how charitable the club has been not only over the years but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’ll wish the club and its members — all are welcome, whether Chinese or not — a happy Lunar New Year, which begins Tuesday, Feb. 1, as the Year of the Tiger, with a salute for its charitable work.
Let’s also take a glance at the damage caused by that “Chinese flu” expression. There were 9,135 residents of South Pasadena identified as Asian in the 2020 census. That represents nearly 34% of the city’s 26,943 residents.
President Yuki Cutcheon said that the Chinese-American Club partnered with local businesses from March through June of 2021 and bought $15,000 worth of gift certificates, meals from local restaurants and other gifts to use as prizes in its bingo game. College students also made videos to highlight businesses and remind residents to shop locally.
“It was a way to show some love to local businesses,” Cutcheon said.
Laurie Wheeler, president of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, was effusive in her praise of the club’s project.
“It was an idea that evolved into something so fantastic. The businesses loved it and the project came at such a critical time during the pandemic,” Wheeler said. “They came to us with the idea and really did all of the heavy lifting.
“The Chinese-American Club really does amazing things in this community,” she added, “not just for businesses, but for the schools, too.”

A student from the Los Angeles Huacui Peking Opera Academy performs at a prior event for the South Pasadena Chinese-American Club.

The club also makes $15,000 in grants to people and projects within the school district and it also provides three $3,000 scholarships each year.
Now, let’s talk about those ugly slurs against Asian Americans. Cutcheon said club members already are.
“Within South Pasadena, I haven’t heard of more cases of hate crime against Asians, but I do think it is a larger issue in other areas of the San Gabriel Valley,” Cutcheon said. “There is more of an awareness now. People are talking more about hate crimes, and they are able to vocalize their concerns.
“When you get into the outside world,” she continued, “it becomes more exposed because [former President Donald] Trump made it more OK to say these sorts of things.”
Irene Chang, who has lived in South Pasadena for 30 years, said she hasn’t personally experienced any additional racial hatred, but she said some of her friends had encountered the problem.
“My son and I like to take a walk after dinner and for a while we decided to stay on better lighted streets just to be safe,” she said. “And where, years ago, I might go out after dark, now I think about it and say, ‘maybe not.’”
The result of a survey, conducted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles and the Asian Youth Center between July and September of 2021 said that about a third of the 284 adults interviewed in the San Gabriel Valley reported experiencing a hate incident based on their ethnicity since the beginning of the pandemic. A majority of these incidents involved insults or verbal abuse.
Los Angeles County saw a 76% increase in reported anti-Asian hate crime in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a report released by the county’s human relations commission. This was the biggest jump since 2001, and 23% of the reports indicated victims were targeted to be blamed for COVID-19.
The South Pasadena Police Department has been more proactive in this area, Cutcheon said, with the new police chief and his staff reaching out to the club to make sure it knew that concerns would be taken seriously. Cutcheon also gave credit to Congresswoman Judy Chu and state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who both represent South Pasadena, along with former Councilman Bob Joe and other council members for their support. The new City Manager Arminé Chaparyan met with the 33-year-old club in one of her introductory visits.
“The plague of anti-Asian violence has terrorized Asian American communities across the country,” Chu wrote in a statement to me. “But I’ve been heartened by the tireless work of organizations like the South Pasadena Chinese-American Club that have helped to help raise awareness of this problem and combat it. Thanks to efforts like these, we saw unprecedented support for the Asian American community.”
COVID-19 has disrupted many of the club’s traditional gatherings and its annual gala dinner-dance, its biggest fundraiser of the year. But it hasn’t halted the ingenuity to keep the Chinese American culture front and center in the city.
Instead of a New Year luncheon at the War Memorial Building, this year there will be a drive-thru carryout luncheon, which invites patrons to pick up their meals at the South Pasadena Senior Center on Feb. 3. (Pre-registration is required.) On March 6, there will be a walk-through event at Orange Grove Park for Marengo Elementary School students, co-sponsored by the school PTA. Still up in the air is the gala, which had to be canceled last year due to the pandemic.

Children enjoy the Kids Corner, which offers free arts and crafts and games and activities, at a prior Moon Festival by the South Pasadena Chinese-American Club. South Pasadena High School students volunteer to run the Kids Corner activities.

Cutcheon said that the reason why the club is open to everyone — and now has a no-dues category — is that it wants to make the community aware of the diversity within its midst.
“The Asian community has definitely grown since my husband and I moved here from Canada in 1999,” Cutcheon said. “It’s great to see the city becoming more diverse.”
Part of that effort to reflect South Pasadena’s diversity has come from both the Chinese-American Club and the Vecinos de South Pasadena — the city’s Hispanic and Latino club — successful efforts to promote dual-language immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin in elementary schools. Now, both clubs would love to see the program move along to middle school, or at least have a greater emphasis on the languages in higher grades. The Chinese-American Club now has tutoring classes after school in Mandarin and a Zoom session each week for interested adults.
Some of you may remember that last year I wrote that many Asian families in the San Gabriel Valley were unable to reunite with family during the Lunar New Year, even if family was only a county away.
This year, with families checking vaccination cards, that may not be as big a problem for a holiday which rejoices in family and family gatherings. Trips back and forth to visit family in Asia may have to wait for a while, however.
There is a Chinese tradition for Lunar New Year — which is observed by many East and Southeast Asian cultures — that young people get little red envelopes containing money.
Let’s hope that everyone in the Chinese-American Club gets a red envelope filled with health, happiness and freedom from the hate which has plagued the community throughout the past two years.

Columnist’s Note: You need to register by Jan. 31 to take advantage of the free lunch offered by the Chinese-American Club. Adults 55 and older can call (626) 403-7360. Lunch is served beginning at 11:30 a.m. in front of the South Pasadena Senior Center on Oxley Street. The event at Orange Grove Park is from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. March 6. The event is sponsored by the Chinese-American Club and the city and run by the Marengo PTA. I’ll have a reminder in a later column.