SPOTLIGHTING ASIAN AMERICAN LEADERS
SPOTLIGHTING ASIAN AMERICAN LEADERS
BY Gerrye Wong May 28, 2022
This month I would like to direct attention to three individuals whom I would like to spotlight during this May, Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Each one is unique for their particular talents, personalities, passions in life.
GERRY LOW SABADO
Gerry Low Sabado was a fifth generation Chinese American who found her passion in life when she, late in life, found that her great grandmother, Quock Mui was the first documented Chinese woman born in the Monterey area. When she discovered her family’s Chinese fishing village history, she began a journey to research and tirelessly told her story to anyone who showed an interest. Her work has helped to teach the relationships between the Chinese villages and the towns where her ancestors have continued to live.
Caption: Gerry Sabado cousin Shelley Gin, Husband Randy Sabado, and Gerrye Wong
Just a few weeks ago, a Walk of Remembrance was dedicated in Gerry Low Sabado’s memory because in 2019 she and former Mayor Pacific Grove, Carmelita Garcia, started this event to commemorate the true history of the original Chinese fishing village in that area, and to celebrate the contributions they made, as well as their descendants to the local Monterey community. Local city leaders and her husband, Randy Sabado, spoke of the contributions Gerry had made to bring forth the untold history of the early Chinese settlers. At this gathering of over 300 supporters, a moment of history occurred which everyone said Gerry would be looking down with a full nod of approval and wide smile.
Caption: Lion dancers led the Walk of Remembrance in memory of Gerry Low Sabado
At the ceremony to begin the Walk of Remembrance, Pacific Grover City Council member Chad Poduri read a Pacific Grove City Council Resolution of Apology to the Chinese community for 170 years of past wrong doings and harsh discrimination thrust at the early Chinese settlers in Pacific Grove. He was joined on stage by fellow Council members Joe Amelio and Amy Tomlinson to a roar of approval from the crowd, many of whom were the over 30 family members of Gerry Low Sabado gathered in her memory.
Shelley Gin accepts the Resolution of Apology from the Pacific Grove City Council. See her Great great grandmother Quock Mui’s photo being displayed or her.
Gerry was an educator at heart but she took the greatest pleasure in teaching people her family unique history. Like many of the immigrants who came to America looking for a better life, they left home villages in China which were suffering from drought and poverty. Her great grandparents Quock Mui and Tuck Lee tried to get along with the Pacific Grove community, but were faced with racial injustice. Unfortunately they never completely overcame these injustices, but they left a legacy of perseverance and activism that Gerry continued.
In 1905 a Feast of Lanterns was held when adults would congregate for educational presentations organized by the Chautauqua Literacy and Scientific Circle of Pacific Grove . It was said the some wanted the Chinese to participate but unfortunately, others wanted the Chinese to leave the area. In May 1906 a mysterious fire destroyed the Chinese Village at Pt. Alones and the Chinese were evicted from the property that they had leased from the Pacific Improvement Company.
Caption: Fifth and Sixth generation descendants of Quock Mui, first Chinese women born in Monterey County
The Festival of Lanterns continued with a Chinese theme and a Royal Court, in which primarily young Caucasian women dressed in Chinese attire were made up in Asian caricature with white skin and slanted elongated eyes. Although the festival was held one mile from where the village was burned own, for over 100 years of the event, the village was never acknowledged nor the contributions the Chinese made to the fishing industry. When Gerry suggested changes to the festival and the poor depictions of Chinese citizens be eliminated, she met with much resistance. So never to be defeated, Gerry started Walk of Remembrance instead, and how meaningful that this 2022 Walk indeed is a culmination of Gerry’s vision and spirit to call on anyone who makes wrong assumptions and are discriminating towards people of different colors and backgrounds.
Descendants of Quock Mui gathered in memory of Gerry Low Sabado following Walk of Remembrance
Gerry — your legacy will live on and because of you, Pacific Grove is more knowledgeable about your great grandmother’s history and that of the other Chinese pioneers who once occupied this important area. Everyone, hopefully will proceed with your motto – CHANGE WITH KINDNESS.
May you rest in peace
Juliette Leong – Child Wonder
It seemed difficult for father Jonathan Leong to answer when I asked him what is his daughter Juliette Leong’s claim to fame. It is understandable because even at the young age of just turned 6, JULIETTE LEONG is a personality all her own. Whatever she chooses to touch or attempt, she seems to excel right from the beginning. Is it because her desire is always one that follows curiosity of everything , followed by a determination to try it herself? He says she is a constant wonder and definite challenge to her parents to keep up with her curiosity and love for being active in life.
Five year old Juliette Leong looks for new challenges with her painting, violin and piano playing, yoga, fundraising and horseback riding.
As Jonathan said in a virtual phone call, “Juliette would have been the apple of my eye and our precious little girl, no matter what she did. However, this little girl has challenged us because from the very beginning, she showed a wild curiosity to want to learn anything and everything. At eight months old, we bought her a little paint set and immediately she was painting abstracts. Without any targeted instruction, she painted landscapes at age 3, and soon people were wanting to purchase her work.” Her painting s have been featured on the cover of two national magazines, “YOUNG MAGAZINE AND HUMPTY DUMPTY MAGAZINE.”
Juliette shows off one of her paintings. She began painting at 6 months and has produced hundreds of her work, of which many collectors are starting to buy.
Give her math problems, and she solves them with no problem. With a showmanship personality, she went before thousands and sang the National Anthem solo for the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Sacramento Cats in the summer of 2021. With her art work, she has been giving tutorials on her YouTube channel since she was 4 ½ years old. Music wise, she early on self taught herself how to play the piano and violin. She loved to add musical performances to accompany her paintings and she always seemed to use her highly intuitive curious nature and expressed it through her art, poetry and music.
Caption: Juliette surrounded by parents Jonathan and Willa Leong
Always supportive but sometimes admittedly in wonderment, parents Jonathan and Willa continue to expose Juliette to whatever she finds of interest. Jonathan laughingly told me when I spoke with him, “Her favorite thing to do changes daily but today it is typing. Yesterday it was playing with her two bunnies, and our 12 chickens and one goldfish.” He did add that she loves playing the violin and practices in total about 4 hours daily. He also said, “ However, like any 5 year old. Her attention span can be short so sometimes it is in 10-15 minute spurts of time and we have to motivate her to practice in between all of her other interests. We had to find a violin to fit her size, which is only one tenth the size of a regular sized violin.”
Caption: Juliette practices on her tiny violin at least 4 hours daily. She won first place in worldwide competition recently.
Earlier this year, Juliette entered the International Music Talent Competition, the largest violin competition worldwide. Juliette competed against hundreds of contestants from 63 other countries in her age level 6-12 , even though she was only 5, playing a 3 minute rendition of Humoresque by Dvorak. As the first place winner, Juliette will be the youngest violin soloist to play at Carnegie Hall in 2023.
I couldn’t help but ask what did her parents think was the secret to her success in this competition? Jonathan’s answer was, “I think part of what carries her through any challenge is her passion, showmanship, and sense of competition. She has always been very goal oriented and always wants to win.” This little now 6 year old was recently the research subject of the documentary series, “Exploring Genius”. If you ask her, depending on her mood of the day, she might say that she is an aspiring doctor, teacher, artist, violinist and scientist. Seeing how she is today, no one would doubt she can someday be whatever she chooses to pursue.
Caption: Juliette has raised funds for many non profit organizations with the sale of her paintings.
It’s hard to name a 5 year old a philanthropist but she is exactly that. Juliette has raised tens of thousands of dollars for ASIAN AMERICAN DONOR PROGRAM to help blood cancer patients find a match. Her father Jonathan Leong, founded the organization many decades ago when he learned there was no blood donor base for Asian Americans. How fitting that his daughter Juliette’s paintings are bringing much needed funds for his non profit organization’s worthy cause.
JEFFREY LO Director Playwright
The name of Jeffrey Lo is all over the newspapers this month because due to erratic covid schedules, this writer/director has three productions of his happening simultaneously here in the San Francisco Greater Bay Area. Running concurrently now are San Francisco Playhouse’s production “THE DREAMS OF HARRY CHIN”, City Light Theatre’s production of “WAITING FOR NEXT” and Live Oak Theater’s ‘BALIKBAYAN BOX”. A San Jose Native, Jeffrey said his Filipino family was not a theater going family but he became interested in theater at San Jose’s Evergreen Valley High School where students had opportunities to write and direct their own short plays.
Caption: Jeffrey Lo stands proudly over his three productions playing in the Bay Area at present
When beginning to write, he discovered many of his own personal life story was coming into the stories. Perhaps this explains why his current three plays have an Asian theme which must have rung a bell in Lo’s mind when he was drawn to direct them. Lo continued his interest in theater at UC Irvine and has been active in local theater groups ever since. On the telephone, Jeffrey said his Chinese genes came from his father, but he was basically raised in the Filipino culture. But he said the story of The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin drew his interest to explore the many stories of immigration problems for early Chinese pioneers. The play, written by Jessica Huang, is about the impact the lies having to be told in identifying oneself before immigration officials could have on the subject. Harry Chin, so called on a whim by an immigration official as he was touching his chin in the play, kept the secret of his real identity, even to his Caucasian wife and daughter. The sad truth of the identity he left behind in China, came to fore when a daughter from China found him and exposed his roots In his village in China which he abandoned 50 years before. As directed by Lo, the actors give a moving performance of the trauma and emotions each person in the life of Harry Chin experienced. Still playing at San Francisco Playhouse; www.sfplayhouse.org
TheatreFirst’s production of “Balikbayan Box” was written by Jeffrey Lo, is a story about different forms of love and the way it can be given with duty. The Balikbayan box is the containers Filipinos use to send or carry gifts for loved ones overseas. Lo explains, This box is the symbol in the Filipino community of gift giving and bringing gifts back to your community. Sometimes this gift giving tradition becomes emotionally impacting when it raises the question of having to conform to traditions.” Playing until June 12 in Berkeley. https://theatrefirst.com.
Lo’s third production is a play he wrote, titled “Waiting for Next” and tells the story of the decades long friendship which he wrote specifically for longtime friends Max Tachis and Wes Gabrillo. Their problems as they grow up, are expressed in ways to bring empathy as well as humor into the story. The director of Waiting for Next expressed her feelings about Lo, saying ”There is something about his style of comedy that is very warmhearted. This play will be showing up to June 18 at City Lights Theatre Company in downtown San Jose. www.citc.org
Taking a break from theater work will be nice this year as Jeffrey Lo will be getting married then with the wedding venue being at the California Shakespeare Theater. So he will never be too far from the stage he so loves to be involved with. Congratulations Jeffrey – one for your three simultaneous productions people are discovering and enjoying…the other for your upcoming wedding. We are happy live theatre is back on the scene and thank you for contributing to our theater pleasure in the Bay Area.