SAN FRANCISCO -- One neighborhood. Two institutions, both serving seniors, one representing the past, the other signaling the future. At the Bayview Hunters Point Adult Day Health Center, the mostly African American clientele talks about coming to San Francisco from the South, how the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard attracted many to the area, and the history of the neighborhood. The center, established in 1974, has a reputation as a caring place where seniors, many of them poor and some without families, come for companionship, activities, meals and medical care. Along with the other adult centers in the state, it was informed it would no longer receive state funding because of the budget crisis and would have to close its doors July 1. The centers have since won a reprieve until Sept. 1, and a lawsuit has been filed claiming the closures represent a violation of federal disability protections.
Down the hill and about a mile away, at Armstrong Place Senior Housing, a beautiful new senior housing complex, the population is about half African American, half Asian American, mirroring the growing diversity in what used to be a mostly African American and isolated community. The complex has 116 units, including 21 for homeless seniors; 1,500 people are on the waiting list. While language is a barrier for many Armstrong residents, the ones we interviewed said everyone is polite and gets along. They all said they felt extremely lucky to be living in the building.
Both groups downplayed last year’s incidents of young African Americans assaulting elderly Asian Americans, in one case resulting in the death of an 80-year-old man, either saying relations had improved or viewing the attacks as aberrant. However, there were concerns just beneath the surface. African Americans worried that the city’s last black neighborhood is being dissolved, and Asian Americans said some had suggested crime would increase as more African Americans move into the housing complex. Will the residents at Armstrong become a community, a model for achieving diversity, or will they remain two distinct groups?
What’s Your Story, a collaboration of the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate.com, KTSF Television, a local Asian-language station, and New America Media, the nation’s first and largest network of ethnic news services, interviewed seniors at the Bayview Hunters Point Adult Day Health Center and at Armstrong Place Senior Housing. These are their stories:
Age 90, Bayview Hunters Point Adult Day Health Center
John Wilcher, born in Jackson, Miss., served in Okinawa in World War II. “They (the enemy) saw me coming and they surrendered,” he said, laughing. After the war, he came to San Francisco and started working at the shipyard as a gardener. He’s been a resident of the Bayview for 56 years. He said he experienced racial prejudice at the shipyard but saw things improve. “Martin Luther King (Jr.) made it square. We got respect after Martin Luther King and President John Kennedy,” he said. He decries the rise of violence in the neighborhood, blaming it on drugs and young men who have no respect for anyone. He goes to the center on Wednesdays and Fridays for companionship. “I study the Bible on Saturday,” he said. “On Sunday, friends carry me out to church. I belong to the Double Rock Baptist Church down the hill.”
Age 65, Armstrong Place Senior Housing
Jacqueline Quach and her husband, mother and three children came from Vietnam in 1983. Her friends and relatives all left after the Communist takeover, and she’s never returned. She speaks Vietnamese, Cantonese and English. In the United States, she went back to school to be a home-care assistant. “I believe in Buddhism and karma, the cause and effects in everything. If you have sincerity in your heart and treat people nice and abide by the law, people will treat you the same.” Because she speaks English and Cantonese, she has offered to translate for the seniors who don’t speak English. She volunteers at a center for the visually impaired and at a senior center in Antioch. “I’m against discrimination. If you meet a stranger, smile and be friendly.”
Age 68, Bayview Hunters Point Adult Day Health Center
A native of Alexandria, La., Maggie Lloyd-Agnew came to San Francisco with her husband. She became a community activist and points to the need for jobs for young people, senior facilities and health services. She started coming to the center for physical therapy and says it is critically important for seniors. She has endured unbelievable tragedy, losing four children, three to gun violence in the neighborhood. She works with the Healing Circles Soul Support group promoting nonviolence. She said she doesn’t have anything against others moving into the neighborhood, but wonders why African Americans can’t seem to hold on to their communities. “Every other nationality has their community except us. We hear this community is supposed to be taken over by others,” she said. “I don’t want this to happen to Bayview. I love the Bayview.”
Age 70, Armstrong Place Senior Housing
Fenghui Zhou and his wife came to San Francisco from Jiangsu province, China, in 2002. They first lived in a small room in Chinatown, sharing a kitchen and bathroom with other tenants. He saw an ad about Armstrong in a Chinese newspaper. “I ran here to get an application,” he recalls. “The neighbors look friendly and are polite, but it’s hard to get a deeper friendship with African American or Latino American neighbors because of the language barrier,” he said. In China he was an irrigation engineer. Here, he and his wife cleaned houses. “I don’t think one job is superior or inferior. We wanted to come to the U.S. to see how life is here, for adventure.” He said seniors in the United States have a better life than seniors in China. “We’re retired now. We like to walk. Sometimes we visit Golden Gate Park.”
Age 69, Armstrong Place Senior Housing
Vincent Barb was basically homeless before moving to Armstrong. “It’s something to live the later part of my years in a community like this. We can talk to each other and learn from each other.” A throat cancer survivor, he is also HIV positive. Originally from Galveston, Texas, he’s lived in the Bayview since the early ‘’60s. Then, he recalls, there were more black businesses. “Other ethnicities came in. Maybe diversity is good. It might be too early to tell.” He worries that big-money investors will eventually take over the Bayview and push out the black residents. In high school, he was second tenor for a local group, the San Francisco Lyrics. But he drifted toward criminal activity and ended up in and out of jail. “Now I’m able to appreciate life. I wish I had gotten into education and other aspects; I might have made more of myself.”
This project is a collaboration of New America Media, San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate.com and KTSF Television. We launched the project with the idea that telling each other our stories would encourage communities to talk about common goals.
KTSF will air the stories from Monday, July 18th through Friday, July 22nd in the Chinese language, live newscasts at 7pm and 10pm. The stories are also available on the KTSF website. The Chronicle story will be published in the Sunday, July 17 Insight section and posted on SFGATE.com on July 17.
Brenda Payton is a Bay Area writer.
Vivian Po is a New America Media staff reporter
Angelina Wong is a KTSF news reporter
Corwin Cooley is a KTSF videographer
Liz Hafalia is a Chronicle staff photographer.
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