ARTIST: William Wong; 1941- ; Oakland, CA
William Wong is an author and journalist with a focus on justice for the Asian-American community, immigration, and the history of Oakland Chinatown. Observation of the dynamic role of Asian-Americans in a changing America informs his work as a journalist.
William Wong was born in Oakland, California and lived in the East Bay until he left to join the Peace Corps in the mid-1960s. He returned to San Francisco eventually as a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. But he “ached to get closer to [his] community—both geographic and ethnic” and landed a job at the Oakland Tribune. The Tribune Tower casts a shadow on his native Oakland Chinatown where he lived until age 7 with his 6 older sisters. His parents, both Chinese immigrants, settled in Oakland and ran The Great China Restaurant.
William Wong attended Oakland public schools, UC Berkeley, and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Wong was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines in the mid-1960s, a Jefferson Fellow in 1983, and a National Press Foundation Fellow in 1998. He has traveled extensively throughout Asia, Europe, and South Africa.
William’s start writing as a journalist came in high school when he was not asked back to the next basketball try out and he turned to writing about sports for his high school’s paper. Because he would spend hours listening to UC Berkeley football games on the family radio, he was well versed in the language used in sports reporting. He then went on to write for the Daily Californian, UC Berkeley’s paper, where he eventually climbed to managing editor.
His career as a journalist officially started just out of college, when he took a summer job reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle. Wong said about this job: “A veteran reporter told me at the time that I broke a color line, becoming the first Chinese American reporter on a daily newspaper in the city with the largest ethnic Chinese community in the United States.” Here his radical career chronicling Asian-American experiences began.
The Great China Restaurant, owned by William Wong’s parents from 1943 to 1961, was located on 723 Webster Street in Oakland Chinatown. In the ‘90s it was a restaurant called the Happy Noodle House and today it is called Imperial Noodle. He spent most of the first 20 years of his life in this building, which was integral to his family’s start in Oakland. It housed both a restaurant and an underground lottery business that his father ran.
The Great China Restaurant on Webster Street, with the Tribune in background
Towering behind his family’s restaurant was the Tribune Tower. Feeling alienated from the Tribune, the Tower once cast a shadow on his childhood home in Chinatown. Later he became the editor of the Oakland Tribune and worked in the building for 17 years. He was hired at a time when the paper was seeking to diversify its staff and hire “qualified racial minority journalists.”
The corner of 9th Street and Webster Street is where William’s mother, Gee Suey Ting, had chased down and caught a family friend, Bing Fook, after he had shot William’s father, Gee Seow Hong, inside their home on Harrison Street. On this corner she reportedly screamed, “Since you killed my husband, why don’t you shoot me?” Gee Seow Hong survived the shooting.
Gee Suey Ting (left) and Gee Seow Hong (right), William’s parents
~ by Stephanie Lister ~