The View from My Kitchen Window… Describe your room with a view.


Back in the 1950s, the room I enjoyed the most was the kitchen because it had a window where I could look down from our apartment three stories above the busiest streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown. People-watching was my favorite thing to do after school while I mixed together a can of tuna with Best Foods mayonnaise to spread on saltine crackers.

The street music of honking car horns, Chinese Opera music, and shopkeepers chattering with tourists, floated into our apartment through the double-hung window.

Of all the memories from that window, there is one scene I will never forget. One night as I practiced my arithmetic in the living room, my dad called me over to the kitchen window and turned out the overhead light. It had stopped raining a few minutes before and the neon lights of the shops bounced off the wet cobblestones of Grant Avenue and Jackson Street.

“Don’t make any noise,” my dad said. “Look down there at Chester’s news stand. See the couple talking with him?” Dad spoke as if he were going to share a secret. I tiptoed and looked down.

“Those two people only come out at night time,” he said.

“Why only at night, Daddy?” I had seen the couple before but no one said anything about them. I wondered what was different now.

“People don’t like them because he is a huk guay (Black man) and she is a Chinese. Chinese women are not supposed to marry a faun yun (Caucasian), or anyone else that is not Chinese,” my dad explained.

This all seemed strange to me. I sensed that he was trying to teach me something. I dared to ask another question. “Daddy, are they not nice people? She looks pretty. Her earrings sparkle. What would happen if someone saw them in the day time?”

“This is what I want you to learn. Chinese people need to stick to themselves. You will learn more as you grow up. Chester thinks that the two people down there are good and decent people. But, they got married, and the people in Chinatown don’t think it is right. If they were seen in the day time, someone is going to go find him when he is alone, and beat him up.”

“Oh,” was all I could think of saying.

I looked out the window again and saw the couple waving good-bye to Chester. The man had a hat very much like what my dad wore. The grey hat had a wide band around it. The lady wore a long coat and open-toed shoes like my mom used to wear, and she had a pretty smile, too. Arm in arm, they walked out of sight on Grant Avenue toward the busy streets of Broadway and Columbus Avenue where Jazz bands played bouncy music in cocktail lounges.

Dad’s answer was the scariest thing I ever learned about people, other than the warning to beware of the local hom sup low (a child molester).

Now, in a few minutes, and by example, I learned about the severe consequences of breaking Chinese cultural traditions.

When a teenager, I saw the Black man and the Chinese woman less often. Whenever I looked out the kitchen window at night, I always remembered the mysterious couple and wondered where they lived in our neighborhood. And, I always hoped that they would never be caught together in the daytime. I imagined what a great love they must have had, loving each other so much that they broke a very sensitive Chinese family tradition.

Special Note to my readers: I’ve never forgotten the lesson my dad tried to teach me. I can see that he was not teaching me to hate, but was teaching me how to be careful with my decisions in life. He wanted to protect me from the suffering of community peer pressure and alienation. Back in the 50s, this was an important lesson for a young girl to know. Now, in the 21st century, everything has changed and I am so glad, because over the yearss I’ve broken all sorts of cultural boundaries.

Laugh in relief with me, or cry again if you’ve gone through some of the same things this couple had to live through. Please make a comment. I would like to know who is out there reading my story, and how you feel. Thank you.


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