On Saturday morning, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf visited the Loong Kong Tien Yee Association, a Chinese family association based in Chinatown. “Happy new year, good to see you all!” the mayor said to the members of the association. “Welcome, welcome!” the members responded, shaking hands with her one by one. It was her first stop that day, in her plan to visit six Chinese associations to pay respect to the community, recognize their contributions to Oakland, and celebrate the Chinese New Year, which began the day before.
Traditionally, Chinese people spend time with their family on New Year’s Day and go out to different places the next day—that’s why the mayor scheduled the visit on Saturday.
It was the first time for the mayor to visit major Chinese associations in Chinatown. “In the past, we usually go to the [Chinese community’s] banquets,” said Sun Kwong Sze, a special projects coordinator at the mayor’s office. “But this year, the mayor wants to be more proactive, so she wants to go and visit the associations in their own place. It’s a way to show her gratitude for their long-time contribution to the community.”
At the Loong Kong Tien Yee Association, Schaaf delivered a “certificate of recognition,” written in both English and Chinese, “wishing all the members good health, good luck and much happiness in the Year of the Dog, and thank you for your association’s great contribution to the Chinese community.”
“Also, this contains an invitation to the banquet that Councilmember [Abel] Guillen and I are hosting for all the community on Monday, March 5,” the mayor said, showing them the invitation along with the certificate. She ate Chinese breads with the association members and looked around their office, while hearing from the members.
After her first stop, the mayor visited the Wong Family Association, the Gee How Oak Tin Association, the Suey Sing Chamber of Labor Commerce, the Ying On Association and the Toishan Association. Carl Chan, a Chinese community leader, guided her to each place along with Spencer Y. Chew, the president of the Loong Kong Tien Yee Association. Chan and Sze provided interpretation between Cantonese and English.
On each visit, the mayor delivered the certificate and the invitation. “I’m very proud to represent Oakland all over the country and all over the world, because Oakland is such a diverse city and we honor all the cultures that are here,” she said. “So, I thank you for having this family association that honors tradition, that preserves history and stories of all of our ancestors, and makes Oakland such a better place.”
At each association, members of the community greeted her with smiling faces and took photos with her many times. Sze translated into English comments from the members of Gee How Oak Tin Association, who spoke to the mayor in Cantonese: “We are very happy that under your leadership, Oakland is really prospering” and “Thank you for leading the city toward a better place” and “In this new year, I hope for the whole city to be more prosperous and happy.”
Chew said that the members of his association support Schaaf because she is taking steps to resolve safety issues, which are one of the biggest concerns in the Chinese community. “A lot of our members are elderly,” said Chew. “They come down here and get robbed. That is the major concern for our members.” But Chew said the mayor had worked with the police department to increase patrols in Chinatown. “She kind of reorganized the police department and hired some new police officers to address the problem,” Chew said. “Not only here, but the Oakland as a whole. So, we like her.”
“Because of safety, people won’t come [to Chinatown],” said Alex Lau, the vice president of Oakland Loong Kong Tien Yee Association. “If they don’t come, the business is not going to be in a good shape.” Lau said that “if the safety issue is resolved, the more people coming in, the more people will buy stuff, then it will be the best thing for the Chinese community.”
Lau said that the safety situation in Chinatown has improved over the last couple of years. “Since they [the city] sent a little bit more police to patrol and the safety is getting better, but it’s not to the level of what we wish,” he said. Lau said he was hopeful that it would continue “getting better and better.”
Abigail Fong, a member of Oakland Loong Kong Tien Yee Association, said that the people in the community have seen more homeless people living in the Chinatown area in the last couple of years. “The Chinese community is sort of like afraid of them,” she said. “We would like to see if that could be addressed.”
Speaking at the Gee How Oak Tin Association, Schaaf said that she is hopeful about Oakland’s future. “All my life, I dreamed of a prosperous and safe Oakland,” she said, “and it has been because of your support and your belief that Oakland is finally seeing some long-awaited change.”
The mayor said that she feels “very confident that this year will be the most prosperous, happy, healthy years that they ever had in Oakland.”
“I appreciate that you feel like Oakland is going in right direction—that this will be a year for prosperity, hope and joy for everyone,” she said.