After four decades here, the Chinese Club of San Marino is setting itself up for the future as it continues to provide a crucial link for families that have recently immigrated to integrate into the small, picturesque community.
The club, which also functions as a cultural school for local students, recently completed and unveiled the first phase of renovations at its Huntington Drive location, showing off new flooring, ceiling tiles, LED lighting, a sound system and a full-wall mirror with accompanying curtains. The club is considering adding, among other things, a kitchen to another part of its facility for phase two renovations later this year.
“Since we’ve been around 40 years, we kind of wanted to upgrade,” club President Shawn Chou explained in a recent interview. “Previous presidents had thoughts about purchasing new buildings or rebuilding, and that all didn’t come together, so the board decided this year we wanted to remodel.”
This first round of upgrades was completed over the summer, to avoid running afoul of after-school programming. The changes make for a more inviting storefront for the club and its three contiguous properties and will work well with the club’s dance and tai chi classes.
Once the second round of renovations is complete, Chou said, the club hopes to include a more tech-friendly classroom area and Chinese cooking lessons for its patrons.
“We expect to do it soon,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be done this year.”
Though the club is in its 40th year, the school is a year younger and mostly functions in a number of programs and extracurricular classes and workshops at other sites in town — San Marino Unified School District campuses or the city’s recreation center, for example. Chou said that, when forming the school, club founders hoped to attract an audience that might at first hesitate to come to the club facility.
“So we started activities about Chinese culture — mahjong, calligraphy, paper folding, a lot of different stuff — at the library as a more mainstream public thing to attend,” he said. “We function as a bridge and we will continue to serve as a bridge and help out the community in any way we can.”
Translation is the obvious issue for Mandarin-speaking immigrants, but Chou explained that the formation of the club also was largely rooted in ensuring that the new families had the resources they needed to thrive in the local schools and knew what living in San Marino meant, from the standpoint of civic functions. Speaking to The Outlook, he recalled running to Valentine Elementary School that morning to join other parents to meet its principal.
“A lot of new Chinese parents, what they were saying is, even with Google translation, we can understand what it says literally, but there are a lot of things where it just doesn’t translate,” Chou said. “We’re here to help new families that may have language problems, but we also want to help them understand the community here.”
These community issues are why the club had invited all of the city’s department heads to visit the club and explain their day-to-day roles while also touching upon more contemporary issues, such as preservation. Mayor Steven Huang, who like his father has served on the club’s board of directors, said this has been “part of the evolution” of the club throughout its years.
“At first it was a communication vehicle for the Mandarin-speaking residents, but in the past 30-something years, they have shown they are a part of the community, they are here to stay and they’re here to support whatever is good for the community,” the mayor said. “I think it’s a good tool for people to get involved and get to know what San Marino is all about. We emphasize education so much, and the Chinese Club is part of that.”
“In San Marino, people find trees very important, and the community has a respect for tradition,” Chou said. “New immigrants, especially from China, culturally are used to new houses, and they want to build new houses. I think that’s one of the reasons we have the city come here, to explain yes, if you want to build new houses, you can do it, but there are certain regulations. If you want to trim trees, there are certain regulations you have to follow. You can’t just cut it just because it’s your tree.”
Said Huang: “Lately, the city staff have been doing a great job on education and getting out to the residents what it is they’re doing around the city. We will continue to have a dialogue with the Chinese Club.”
Jeff Wilson, the new SMUSD superintendent, said in an email that when he served in the Arcadia Unified School District he had “terrific relationships” with the Arcadia Chinese Association and the Chinese booster clubs at his schools. He said the Arcadia district strove effectively to bring cultural awareness programs to students, and as a principal he particularly worked well with the First Avenue Chinese School, which was housed at his school and run by former Arcadia Mayor John Wuo.
Wilson said he hoped to build a similar relationship as he settles into his post in San Marino.
“The district is extremely honored and privileged to be partners with the Chinese Club of San Marino,” he said. “We salute the long-standing leadership of the Chinese Club and its membership in supporting our students, our schools, our community and education of the Chinese language and culture. The Chinese Club’s valuable contributions to the San Marino community over the past 40 years have been nothing short of remarkable.”
Chou, an immigration lawyer whose family moved here from Taiwan when he was young, said the club’s role would continue to evolve as more families began emigrating from mainland China as well. He added it will be natural for American-raised Chinese residents in San Marino — like himself — to take on more of an active role moving forward.
“When my mom brought us here — as with any new immigrant — she was busy trying to make a living and getting used to everything,” Chou explained. “She didn’t have time to volunteer or contribute back to the community, and that’s why I want to get more involved. I think as a second- or 1.5-generation [American], we should try to contribute and build it and participate to make it home.”