Some 20 elderly Asians stand on Third Street in Bayview gabbing in Cantonese as they wait to board a bus. David Huang, a tour guide, has a question for them: “What other holiday is there in February besides Lunar New Year?”
The group goes silent. After a moment, the trip organizer, Michael Lo, yells from the last row, “Black History Month!”
The bus they have boarded is going to take them on a tour through some of Black San Franciscans’ history in Bayview — and some of their own, as well.
The demographics of Bayview have changed dramatically over the past two decades, with an influx of Asians and a decline in Black residents. Blacks comprised more than 40 percent of the population in 2000, compared to only 23.5 percent in 2020, according to U.S. Census data. At the same time, Asians now make up 35 percent of the population.
Tensions flared in 2010 over the death of 83-year old Huan Chen on Oakdale Avenue near Third Street, shortly after which the Bayview branch office of the Community Youth Center was opened. “But there has been an improvement in the last decade,” Huang reassured his gray-haired listeners.
Around 2013 the “Bayview Hunters Point Solidarity Tour” began, taking first-generation immigrants, many of whom live in the neighborhood, to local cultural and natural attractions as part of an effort to promote racial harmony in the area.
The seniors simply know that many of their neighbors are Black, “but they don’t have too much communication, because they only speak Cantonese or Mandarin,” said Michael Lo, one of the organizers and a member of the youth center.
“It’s hard to talk with each other,” he said, so the thinking was that a tour highlighting the neighborhood’s history made sense.
“There have been a lot of misunderstandings, and even some unnecessary disputes between our Asian and African American communities,” Huang told his “fellow classmates” who were listening attentively to past interactions between the two ethnic groups, both about disputes over gentrification and joint efforts in building the community.
The unrelenting winter storm failed to dampen the seniors’ enthusiasm. At Florence Fang Community Farm on Diana Street, crops grown by Asians and Blacks were neatly displayed. One grandma interrupted Huang’s lengthy history lesson to ask excitedly, “Can I pick some vegetables?”
“Before today, many of them had absolutely no knowledge of the local communities,” Huang said later, in an interview. According to this energetic tour guide who has led Asians around Bayview for the past decade, the hale and hearty seniors, fully armed with hiking kits, averaged 70 years of age.
For many of the elders on the tour, the vibrant neighborhood means nothing more than the cramped spaces they occupy alone in nursing homes. When they are out and about, they are either in Chinatown or at work, mostly as janitors at the airport or in schools.
“It’s important to really experience it, not just read in the newspaper,” which are often overflowing with high-profile cases of anti-Asian hate, said Huang.
Back to the bus, the seniors passed some Latino restaurants that closed during the pandemic, a food bank where many of them had lined up with Black residents, and Double Rock, the birthplace of a famous criminal street gang that takes its name from a public housing project.
The next stop was the tranquil India Basin Trail Park, or the “Chinese Shrimp Village” along the shoreline, where Chinese once gathered and shrimped a century ago. The shrimp here were once so famous that many of the tour-goers’ ancestors had the opportunity to taste the ones brought back to their common hometown of Taishan. During World War II, however, health officials burned the place down for sanitary reasons, abruptly curtailing the 40-year history of Chinese shrimp fishing.
The incessant storm and the required 30-minute walk to reach the shrimp village, however, offset the group’s desire to learn about Chinese history or to visit the nearby Naval Shipyard where many African Americans worked during World War II. After a round of voting, the seniors went across the street to a chicken coop at Heron’s Head Nursery to admire the fowl.
Looking across the fence at a few gorgeous chickens, the seniors had no qualms about talking about where to get the cheapest fresh chicken — multiple stores in Chinatown were mentioned — and how to make the most authentic chicken soup. As two old ladies got into a heated discussion about whether the chicken should be blanched first, in response, the offended chickens clucked, one after the other.
Lam came on the tour with Chueng, her friend of decades, both of whom are in their 70s. When asked how she felt about the day’s tour, “I love it!” Lam said excitedly, throwing her arms around Chueng’s shoulders.
Along the way, the seniors also learned a lot of common sense from Huang, both important and not so important, including news that California lifted its mask mandate, how to print photos at Walgreens, how to get a sea-fishing license, how to apply for jobs at the post office and City College and, most importantly, how to use Google Maps to buy chickens.
“Buying chickens is also about cultural exchange,” laughed Huang, who had earlier brought the seniors past Saba, a non-Chinese-owned but Chinese-speaking live poultry store in Bayview. He had to reluctantly decline their request to get out of the bus and enter the store. “This is a group tour, not a chicken tour!”
While it’s good to read about the nice tour those ladies had, the narrative in this article is obscured and illogical. To promote REAL racial harmony in the area takes more than educating old Chinese ladies. Someone needs to teach those young knuckleheads to show respect to seniors, go back to school and study hard, and get a real job instead of hurting innocent Chinese people. I lived in the Bayview for almost 10 years and it was never pleasant to walk around the neighborhood, especially along 3rd street where drug dealers congregated at various corner stores and robberies occurred regularly at muni stops. Think those old ladies enjoy that on their daily ride to Chinatown and the airport?
Thank you for this enlightening story about our neighbors in the Bay View. I’m thinking we could all benefit from taking Solidarity Tours of San Francisco neighborhoods–our own and the ones “over there,” off the tourist track.
I agree. But why are there no black tours of ChinaTown?