• kwokthetalk

Stephen Wong's memories of the store

Uncle Stephen is my grandmother, Pearl's oldest sister Ruby's youngest son. Born and bred in Augusta, Georgia, Stephen embodies that complex identity of the old south and the dilution of Chinese culture as an Asian American. When I say old south, I refer to a white south because that's how the Chinese situated themselves despite growing up in the black neighborhood. He went to John F. Davison, a white school and basically spent most of his childhood in his family store since his parents Aunt Ruby and Uncle Foon didn't allow him to play with his black neighbors. He remembers spending hours playing with his BB gun.

His school was walking distance to my grandma's family store on 10th street so he used to stop by frequently. He remembers it being slow. How did these stores sustain themselves? How did they make enough money to send their kids to college? No overhead and the families lived in the store. There were so many stores in that small area. He said the black folks patronized the chinese run stores more than the black run stores because they had more selection and they didn't overcharge. This strikes me because an African American producer questioned from my rough cut on whether the Chinese over-charged the black customers. She seemed to imply that they must have done something that allowed them to enter black space and make money off of them. Well they did. But they also offered a credit system that allowed customers to pay back when they had the means. This is where the Chinese had this unique position in navigating opportunities as not black or white.

I learned that Aunt Ruby's store on Wrightsboro Road got burnt during the 1970 race riot. The entire front structure had to be replaced by a brick wall. Firemen who were white didn't bother to go to the black neighborhood. He mentioned the governor of Georgia at the time, Lester Maddox who he claims ended the riot by calling the national guard to aim a huge tank downtown.

Uncle Stephen says he doesn't bother with black people. I guess in his mind, things should be separated, that people should keep to their own communities. We don't think about how our past contributes to anti-black sentiments and what we need to do to change our attitudes going forward.


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