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Day 3 - MAIN STORY

CLOSING THE DIVIDE

A racial rift threatened Quincy in the ’80s,
but many say tensions have subsided

Asian-Americans gather in front of the Kimarie Hair Salon and Great Chow restaurant on Beale Street in Wollaston.
DEBEE TLUMACKI/The Patriot Ledger
Asian-Americans gather in front of the Kimarie Hair Salon and Great Chow restaurant on Beale Street in Wollaston.

By KAREN ESCHBACHER
The Patriot Ledger

QUINCY

On a Friday night in early August, as many as 50 people spilled onto the Welcome Young Playground in North Quincy as a fight broke out between a group of Vietnamese and white men.

By the time the fracas ended, the playground was bloodied, and three Vietnamese and three white men were hospitalized, some with stab wounds.

That was 1988.

Later that year five white students were suspended from school after hurling a milk carton at Chinese teens and assaulting them with racial names.

The stories are only two examples of racial tensions that divided the city in the 1980s, at a time when Quincy was undergoing a rapid and not entirely welcomed transformation away from its all-white roots.

Fifteen years later, nearly everyone agrees that Quincy has come a long way toward shedding its image as a racially intolerant community. As proof, stories of such incidents can rarely be found in newspapers.

But the racial rift that threatened the city has not entirely been erased. And language and cultural differences continue to lead to misunderstandings and allow tensions to fester.
LISA BUL/The Patriot Ledger
Sun Mang, owner of Oriental Gift and Collectibles on Billings Road in North Quincy, said he used to get harassed at work but police have improved conditions.

“I think we made progress,” said Vincent Lee, who has lived in Quincy for 30 years. “If we hadn’t you would see a lot more conflict. You would see fewer Asians and Quincy’s reputation would suffer. At times there still seems to be a cold war going on, just a standoffish attitude on both sides. I think it is the responsibility of all sides to say what can we do better.”

Sunny Mak has owned Quincy Jade takeout restaurant in Quincy Center for 15 years. He said problems were “worse in the beginning, now better.”

Better, but not entirely satisfactory.

On weekend nights, when drunk patrons spill out of area bars, they head to Quincy Jade to grab food.

“When they order they make fun, racial jokes, but they love the food,” said Kent Yee, a Quincy community police officer who translated as Mak talked.

“Sunny and his staff, they call them chinks, gooks,” said Greg Mar, another community police officer.

Asked if that still happens, Mak answers simply: “Yes.”

Jocelyn Chan will begin her junior year at North Quincy High School in the fall. She said she sees a lot of disrespect, and the occasional name calling among her peers. Only rarely does the tension spill over into fist fights, she said.

Still, about a year ago, Chan and some Asian-American friends were walking around Wollaston when a group of white kids began throwing rocks at them. Chan is convinced it was racially motivated.

“I just walked away,” she said. “I didn’t really want to create any trouble.”

Incidents of this kind rarely make it into newspapers or even make a blip on the public radar screen. But they continue.

Yee and Mar, who both speak Chinese dialects, said even getting victims to report such incidents is a challenge, since many people in the Asian-American community are apprehensive around authorities and would rather live quietly without drawing attention to themselves.

As they have made inroads into the community, Yee and Mar have been able to help more.

Sun Mang, owner of Oriental Gift and Collectibles on Billings Road, recalled how a group of kids would taunt him a few years ago, blocking the entrance to his door and refusing to let him leave.

 
DEBEE TLUMACKI/The Patriot Ledger
Generations of aspiring Quincy basketball players hone their skills at “The Mount,” the nickname for the basketball courts at Merrymount Park in Wollaston. Wai Chan, left, of Natick is guarded by Joe Wong, center, of Quincy. Perry Sau of Quincy moves toward the basket.

“Quincy police help a lot because they’re more friendly,” Mang said.

Discrimination is often subtle, residents said.

Lee, for example, said that when The Patriot Ledger polls residents on issues it is rare to see an Asian-American quoted.

“I think that is from whites thinking that because a person is Asian he doesn’t speak English,” he said.

Cultural differences can also stoke underlying tensions in neighborhoods. Mar said he receives many calls about issues such as Asian-American residents who hang their laundry on clothes lines in front or side yards.

To families who are not accustomed to dryers or who may be trying to save money on the gas bill, hanging the laundry outside is a perfectly acceptable practice, Mar said. To neighbors, leaving undergarments and other personal items in plain view can be viewed as inappropriate. In some cases, Mar can sense racial tensions from callers.

Many times, the issue could be resolved with a simple conversation, Mar said. Too often, language barriers prevent communication between neighbors and allow tensions to escalate. When he’s alerted to a problem, Mar will visit the house and explain the conflict to the Asian-American family, who in most cases is more than willing to accommodate, he said.

Vivian Ma, co-owner of Quincy Dynasty Restaurant, believes some of the problems will dissipate with time. She, too, continues to see stereotypes and subtle discrimination but said the improvement over the last decade is marked.

“It still exists,” Ma said. “Of course it’s not as bad because people are more and more open. Now it’s kind of like the second generation of Asian families grow up and are able to communicate with white Americans.”

Karen Eschbacher may be reached at keschbacher@ledger.com.

© 2003 The Patriot Ledger ~ All Rights Reserved