September 11 Digital Archive

Agnes Wong

Title

Agnes Wong

Source

transcription

Media Type

interview

Chinatown Interview: Interviewee

Agnes Wong

Chinatown Interview: Interviewer

Lan Trinh

Chinatown Interview: Date

2004-05-21

Chinatown Interview: Language

Cantonese

Chinatown Interview: Occupation

garment worker

Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)

Q: Today is May 21st, and I am sitting with Agnes Wong at #193 Centre Street. Ms. Wong has 30 years of experience working in the garment industry in Chinatown. Let’s start our conversation with Ms. Wong’s background. Where are you from, Ms. Wong?

WONG: I immigrated to America from Hong Kong.

Q: Were you born in Hong Kong?

WONG: I was born in mainland China. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, we came to Hong Kong because my parents were fleeing the Communist Party.

Q: Where in mainland China was that?

WONG: I was born in Guangdong’s Boluo, in mainland China.

Q: So you moved to Hong Kong when you were very young.

WONG: We came to Hong Kong when I was about 3 or 4 because mainland China was going through chaotic political changes, and it was being ruled by the Communist Party. So we came to Hong Kong. I grew up in Hong Kong, studied in Hong Kong, and lots of my relatives had already moved to Hong Kong to live.

Q: What did your parents do in Hong Kong?

WONG: My father helped manage a church. He worked at the church, and my mother was a housewife.

Q: So why did they decide to immigrate to America?

WONG: My parents didn’t immigrate to America. After I finished my education in Hong Kong, I worked for a few years, and by luck I met my husband. Originally, he had known my uncle, and had come to Hong Kong to seek him out. We were lucky in that everyone met each other. I became friends with him. Later, my aunt strongly encouraged us to start dating, and we finally fell in love and got married. Because he came from New York, in America, and had a job, after we got married and had some children, we immigrated to New York.

Q: So your husband had been in New York for a long time?

WONG: He worked in New York with my uncle.

Q: Around what time did they arrive [in New York]?

WONG: They came in the 60s, very early. On the other hand, my children and I came over in 1973, no, it was Easter of 1974 that we came.

Q: Did you work in Hong Kong?

WONG: Yes, I did. I did some different jobs. In the beginning, I was a secretary for a weaving factory, as a counter. Those yarn factories produced lots of yarn every day, and I calculated the workers’ wages, and kept track of how much product they produced each day. Later, the number of factories in Hong Kong increased a bit. The Japanese started establishing factories in Hong Kong, and some electronics factories were created. At that time, one of my classmate’s brothers acted as a trainee in a Japanese electronics factory because he was a good student, and later he advanced up to the position of engineer. I worked for several years at his factory. This brother of my classmate was extremely advanced in electronics, and later on he did a joint venture with the Japanese, opening a factory in China. He did a great business there, and was able to financially establish that business.

Q: So you came to New York on Easter of 1974. At that time, how old were you?

WONG: 27 or 28 years old.

Q: Did you understand English?

WONG: You could say I understood English. I had finished high school and had studied at an English-language academy, a women’s academy.

Q: So as soon as you came to America, you went straight to New York?

WONG: That’s right.

Q: What were your thoughts of New York before coming to America?

WONG: I originally didn’t have any opinions about America, just that I would be changing my surroundings. As soon as I came to New York, I saw that it was a huge city, and that it was prosperous, just like Hong Kong, and that I could study things here, start a new life, a new environment, learn new things, like that.

Q: So your husband was always in New York. Did you ever think of moving to another city, like in California or some other state?

WONG: I never thought about that.

Q: When you first arrived, where did you live?

WONG: When I first arrived, I lived for about a year at #125 Henry Street in Chinatown. I thought the place was pretty small. Later we bought a place to live in Brooklyn.

Q: What were your impressions of Chinatown when you first arrived?

WONG: At that time, I thought that Chinatown was far behind, it wasn’t as advanced as I had imagined, there weren’t as many people and it wasn’t as flourishing. There was work, but it still wasn’t my ideal location. Hee hee!

Q: So it wasn’t what you had imagined.

WONG: It wasn’t the kind of place I had been hoping to find.

Q: What had you imagined America to be like before you came?

WONG: When I was in junior high school, we had an English teacher from Britain. He was also an assemblyman in Hong Kong, and he said: “When you grow up, if you have a chance to go to any cities in America, then go see the Hudson River while you are in New York, and the skyscrapers. You are young enough that, if you have that kind of chance, it would be great to develop in that environment.” Maybe it was what he said, because I thought that if I had the chance, it would be great to develop myself over there. So I had envisioned America as being very advanced, very prosperous, with lots of job opportunities, and that it was a pretty good place. But after I came, I only saw Chinatown, and I realized that it wasn’t the New York I had imagined.

Q: So you didn’t have any chance to see other cities?

WONG: No. Of course, later on I changed my views, and I saw that New York was a very prosperous and advanced place, that it was an economic and fashion capital, that the population and opportunities to travel were all very good, and at that time prices were very cheap and the work opportunities were good, the hours were really good, everything was great. It was just a little bit foreign to me.

At that time I had thought about doing some job for [non-Chinese] Americans, but they didn’t want to accept my diploma. They insisted on a college diploma. Or else they asked if I was a citizen, and how long I had been in America. I went to a number of American jobs and didn’t succeed. But it wasn’t an option to sit around and not work.

I thought about going to study, to increase my knowledge. At that time, Chinatown only had two organizations where you could study. I asked around at both places, but neither seemed to match my level. It was all very basic English, and it didn’t match my level, considering that I had completed Form 4 in Hong Kong. So I didn’t pursue studying at any other school.

Q: How did you start work in the factory?

WONG: A relative of mine on East Broadway opened a garment factory. It’s a little past today’s 888 Restaurant, and he had started the garment factory on the second floor. He said: “If you have free time, how about coming to work at my garment factory?” I said, “But I don’t know sewing, and I have never sewed before in my life!” He said, “You’re this smart, you’ll learn quickly.” I said, “How can I count on sewing to make a living when I don’t even know how to hold a needle! How can I sew?” He said, “You’re fine, you’re fine, you’ll learn quickly.” Later on, I tried it. At that time the working hours were very good. We started at nine and left at six, and if we worked on Saturdays, we earned overtime pay, there were long vacation times, and there was special holiday money on top of it. At the time the standard of living was very low.

Q: But your husband also worked?

WONG: Yes, he was a cook in a restaurant. He was the head chef, and his income was really good. So we were only in Chinatown one year, and then we bought a place in Brooklyn. And at the garment factory, I learned very quickly to make pants, and immediately joined a union. While I was working at the factory, an agent came to the factory and said, “If you work in this profession, you have to join the union.” I said, “OK.”

Q: Why did you want to join the union?

WONG: Because the agent told me, if you’re living in America doing this kind of work, you have to join the union. Once you join the union, the union will protect the workers’ benefits. So all my fellow workers joined, and there was nobody who didn’t join. Just as long as you were a worker or colleague, then you could join, and if you manufactured clothes you joined the union for clothing manufacturers. So I joined the 105 union for clothing workers.

Q: Did you always do sewing?

WONG: I never understood how to cut it, because when the clothing material came, it was already cut into pieces, and Westerners [i.e. non-Chinese] sent it over, and we just did work on that.

Q: Was your boss a Chinese person?

WONG: All of my bosses were Chinese.

Q: So how did you feel about the environment, working in a garment factory?

WONG: Back then, the conditions in the garment factories were passable, but they didn’t provide air conditioning, they had fans. The boss treated the workers well, very friendly. The boss appreciated your feelings. Of course they were good to me, and they were also very good to the average worker. Even outside of the relationship between the employer and the employees, there was a special kind of good feeling. It was great.

Q: So did pretty much all the people working with you join the union?

WONG: 100% joined the union. There was nobody who didn’t join the union. Everyone joined it.

Q: Did the boss like you joining the union?

WONG: He supported it. It was the boss who told the workers to join the union, not the workers who said they wanted to join the union. The boss called for the workers to join the union, saying, “You should join the union. Having a union is good. The union will give you Blue Cross, you’ll get pay if you take days off, and there’s lots of things that are good for you.”

Q: So the boss encouraged you to join?

WONG: Yes, the boss encouraged us to join.

Q: Speaking from the boss’ perspective, did he have to pay you more money after you joined the union?

WONG: Oh, at that time the money for worker’s benefits and protection was partially paid by the employee and partly paid by our boss. But at that time the boss was doing very well, and so the boss was willing to share some of the money with us. He wasn’t stingy, he was happy about it. We produced lots of clothing every day, so he felt he ought to give the workers a share.

Q: How much did you make every week?

WONG: At that time, we worked 36 hours a week, five days a week. We usually didn’t work on Saturdays. At most we’d work 40 hours, because we did piece work, rather than being paid by the hour. If you work by the hour, then in one week you could make 300 to 350 dollars, depending on how much work the boss gives you, all according to the hours worked. But we didn’t have a minimum salary, we didn’t have minimum pay, we got paid according to how much we did.

Q: In your case, were you a fast or slow worker?

WONG: I did piece work, and at that time I was still young, and my hands and feet were fast, so every week I made between 200 and 250 dollars. I was asked by Mr. Wang, a friend of mine who worked in a bank, “Would you like to get a job? You can come work at my bank.” I asked, “How much salary will the bank pay me each week?” He said, “When you first start out, you can make between 150 and 160 dollars a week. I thought, “That’s all? Working in the garment factory is better.”

Q: Was it very difficult working as a seamstress? Your hands, your feet, and sitting while doing all those movements?

WONG: At first I really wasn’t used to it, and so it felt very unpleasant, but because every Friday, after I got my pay, I could buy so much with just fifty dollars, that made me very happy and I didn’t even think it was hard. While I was working I could chat very pleasantly about personal things with my colleagues next to me, and it didn’t seem so difficult, not like at first, when I felt I didn’t understand anything, and wondered how I was going to make it.

Q: But together with your husband, your income was quite good?

WONG: We really had a wealthy lifestyle then. Every month I made over a thousand dollars, and together with my husband, we made about 1400 or 1500 a month. It was really good.

Q: Did you keep doing it, or did you change careers?

WONG: I kept at it. In 1979, I switched to work at the union in Lafayette. That union was different, because at that time a number of the seamstress unions were separate. The seamstress unions included the 23-25 branch, the 105 branch, and the 199 branch. My old branch was the 105, and after I changed work, my union switched from 105 to the 23-25 branch. Now it’s UNITE.

Q: About how many members are in UNITE today?

WONG: UNITE has about, well, nowadays they have only about 1,000 members in Chinatown to be accurate. Before, when they were at their peak, they had about 10,000 members.

Q: Do most of the new immigrants join the union?

WONG: New immigrants go half and half. When they start work at a garment factory, about half join, and about half decide to think about it first, think about whether or not they should join. Because the economic situation is very difficult at first, and they feel they want to save everything they can, they don’t want to pay the union dues. Or they might just want to think it over more clearly, understand whether it has a benefit for them, before making a decision about whether or not to join.

Q: Can anybody join, or do you need to have legal status before you can join?

WONG: Anybody can join, there are no restrictions, and you can join even if you don’t have legal status, because the union protects not just the rights of those with status, but also protects the rights of those without it. A lot of workers nowadays, especially those without legal status, they don’t understand that you can join even without status, and so they don’t dare join the union. They’re afraid of government connections, and they’re afraid of creating trouble. That’s a big mistake. Actually, they are also immigrants. To put it another way, just last week, the members of the union’s political committee met with senators and we presented five demands. The first was a New York Health Plan. The second was a minimum wage, that is, to increase the minimum wage.

Q: [Are you referring to the English phrase] “minimum wage”?

WONG: Yes, the minimum wage. We want it increased from a little over five dollars to seven dollars per hour. The third demand was the “Empire Zone.” If business move from wealthier areas to older communities, then they should gain tax breaks, and this would create a lot more employment opportunities.

Q: How much is the monthly union membership fee?

WONG: The monthly membership dues are $23.20, and the dues for a half year are $139.20. Each time people pay the union dues, I write down how much they paid. I pay half a year at a time, but some people prefer to pay every month.

Q: You said that people without legal status in this country fear that if they join the union then the government will come and look for them?

WONG: Actually, it’s not like that. Actually, if someone without status joins the union, then the union will demand on their behalf that the government pass laws, that they should change the laws, saying that new immigrants to America are also living and spending here, and that we wish the government will pass a law that allows them to gain legal status, to gain a green card or temporary residency which they can later change to a green card. We are also constantly meeting with congressmen to discuss these issues. You know how it is with making laws -- you need many years of demands and battles before you can “reap the rewards.” Like right now, the battle for children’s health insurance, it’s been a matter of going to representatives and senators many times, calling upon them and repeatedly making requests, before we finally got a result.

Q: You said that one of your demands to Washington is an increase in the minimum wage. Do you fear that right now -- so many of the garment factories in Chinatown have already closed because they can’t compete with the labor in third world countries like China, because it’s so cheap there – do you think that if you raise the salary of the American worker, these factories might not be able to continue existing, and that the opportunities to work will decrease even further?

WONG: This is also a problem, because frankly, the workers’ salaries in China are very low. Most businessmen look for cheap labor, in order to reduce their costs. In America, labor is expensive, and it’s impossible to deny that we lose some work opportunities. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue in this line of work, that they can’t operate any more. The ones that want to leave have already left. But New York still needs some garment factories producing here in New York. It seems that some seasonal clothing needs to be sent to market quickly, and sometimes things produced abroad aren’t up to standard and can’t be sent back to China to be fixed. Sending it back and forth costs a lot of time, so they have it done right away in New York. So the garment factories still have a future, they can still make it. If you say that the high wages in New York will impact the garment industry, well, lots of American cities have wages higher than those in New York. Why does New York have such a high cost of living, rent, food, phone, gas, everything all together, and I’ve also heard that after Labor Day, it’s going to get even more expensive. And the wages are always low, and don’t match the cost of living, and if it can’t match the cost of living, people will all move to other places; if people move to other places, there are no workers, and there’s no businesses, and without business, there’s no work, so where will the business opportunities come from? Where will the businessmen and their businesses come from? New York is a place where people are clustered together, so it’s easy to find workers. If people are looking for workers, it’s easy to find them in New York. And actually, it’s also easy to find work in New York, especially manual labor or low-level work. It’s much easier to find that. A lot of organizations and such don’t even ask you if you have legal status when they’re looking for workers, and they’re willing to hire you. This is a great benefit for those who have just arrived in this country.

Q: When 9/11 took place, you were still working in Chinatown?

WONG: Yes.

Q: Then did 9/11 influence your factory?

WONG: Yes, the impact was huge. The factory simply didn’t have any clothing materials coming in, because the vehicles weren’t allowed into New York. They weren’t allowed in. The workers had already cut the fabric but they couldn’t send in the clothing material. We stopped work, and only collected unemployment.

Q: How long did you stop work?

WONG: For 3 months.

Q: So at that time, you didn’t have any income at all?

WONG: We didn’t have any income at all. We just collected unemployment.

Q: Did you collect any of the 9/11 economic assistance money?

WONG: Personally, I didn’t go get any. A lot of my colleagues went to apply, because after 9/11 there were many months, about 3 or 4 months when there was no work, and later, when the factories opened, there was still very little work to do. They would typically be open only one or two days a week. A lot of time they were just sitting doing nothing, and whenever a small order arrived, they immediately began production. You couldn’t do anything about it. You just sat there not doing anything for so long, and so when I saw that there were things to study, I went and signed up for them, for the 9/11 courses. I studied computers and English.

Q: Why didn’t you go apply for some of the economic assistance?

WONG: I thought, since I immigrated to this place a lot earlier, I thought that I could get by. If I could support myself financially, then don’t worry about it, and just leave this opportunity to others. Maybe there are some people who have just arrived and don’t have any economic foundation and need to pay rent, and who have young children. They should try to get help, and if the factories aren’t open then they don’t have any income. As far as we go, we already have our own home, we worked for many years, and we could get by and survive, so we didn’t feel like going to too much trouble. So I didn’t seek anything of the economic nature [i.e. economic assistance]. Later on I saw that a lot of people were taking courses, and other coworkers said to me, “Why don’t you go study? You can go study, and it won’t affect anything else.” So I went and studied the final group of classes, it turned out to be the last one.

Q: When was that?

WONG: In July or August of 2003, I finally went to study, and altogether I studied about 6 weeks.

Q: I heard people say that the classes were for 13 weeks.

WONG: I studied for 6 weeks, then studied again for 6 weeks, and the entire length of time was 13 weeks.

Q: What did you choose to study?

WONG: I choose computers and English.

Q: Why did you study English? I see that your English is already very fluent, isn’t it?

WONG: No, my English is of no use. Lots of times I can’t express what I want to say. Lots of times I have to think about it first, and I often need to ask someone good at English to help me, ask them “Is this the right way to say something? Is that OK?” I finally force myself to express a little of my thoughts, but my English isn’t that good.

Q: Then do you feel that 13 weeks of classes were useful?

WONG: They were very useful. First I learned some simple computer functions, and learned a little English. They taught very simple superficial stuff, so we couldn’t learn a lot.

Q: Where did you study?

WONG: I studied at City Hall.

Q: And which organization arranged it?

WONG: I’m not really clear on which organization it was. I think they said it was the 9/11 Fund.

Q: And did you see information about it in the newspaper?

WONG: No. One of my coworkers was studying there, and introduced me. I think they said it was the 9/11…

Q: What kind of people were most of the teachers?

WONG: The majority was White, but there were also one or two Chinese. They were Taiwanese students, studying in the university here.

Q: Do you think they understood your circumstances?

WONG: They all understood really well. During classes they asked us some questions, and my colleagues all answered very honestly.

Q: Do you think that those 13 weeks of studying were useful, outside of getting a little money?

WONG: Of course it was useful. My fellow workers had spent their whole lives without ever studying, and they didn’t even know the alphabet. After studying for 13 weeks, at a minimum they could write their own names, their address, to say their own address and where they work, their phone number, and so on.

Q: You learned very basic English, so it wasn’t useful to your work…?

WONG: I think that it was useful to me personally.

Q: So it wasn’t useful towards your work, but it was useful to you personally. Have you ever thought of changing careers?

WONG: Up until now, I have never thought about changing careers.

Q: Is that because you feel that you are too old and no longer have that chance, or is it because you like your work now?

WONG: I still like the sewing work that I do now, and that’s one reason. The second reason is because I’m older. Going to look for work when you’ve already reached the age of retirement – people will want to use someone younger, they won’t consider using someone who’s about to retire. So I didn’t think about changing careers.

Q: And your factory closed for four months, is that right?

WONG: Yes.

Q: And later, did it return to normal?

WONG: Later the factory was continuously open. Recently it’s become a bit busier.

Q: And have you always worked at the same company?

WONG: No. During my time I’ve changed garment factories many times, and during these decades the change has been huge. I’ve worked in about four or five factories. I’ve had a good, friendly relationship with every boss. When some bosses stopped [running the factories] and took up some other business, they were succeeded in the management by their children.

Q: And do you hope that your children will follow you in this career?

WONG: Of course not. But I have two sons who are working in the restaurant business, but they’re not doing it in New York, they’re working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Q: What do you think is the biggest change in Chinatown?

WONG: The biggest change is the change in population. Back then, rent in Chinatown was really cheap. The rent in 1974 was 120 dollars, and that was for a place with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, even though the rooms weren’t that big. Back then I rented a place for 135 dollars, and then after a year the price was raised to 150 dollars. The monthly rent for a place with two rooms or more reached 180 dollars, and nowadays of course, it is many times more than that. Back then, there weren’t so many people selling vegetables and groceries on the roadsides. Back then everything was sold inside stores. There weren’t so many teahouses and restaurants, not to mention the great extent to which it has expanded, Chinatown has expanded as far as Delancey. Few people went that far, even Bowery, some workers selling jewelry there, at night they didn’t want to go by, they were afraid to go past there, and some workers said, “Hey, don’t go there, those non-Chinese will grab you, there’s people who drive cars to come and grab you and take you away!” Back then the women really knew nothing. They told these stories and got so scared!

Q: You’ve been here for such a long time. Are you satisfied with your life here?

WONG: Oh…. I think that I didn’t make the wrong choice. I think that in America, especially life in New York -- New York is a place with very convenient transportation. I can have a car, but also I have the freedom to not have a car, because public transportation goes everywhere. As far as family life goes, personally, I have a home, I live very comfortably, because I entered a career in the sewing union, and at the union I’ve constantly been learning new things, met a lot of friends, and I’ve learned a lot from my friends, the school and from my union organization during the summer. I’ve participated in lots of different activities, I joined the Chinese Labor Union of Women, the Asian Pacific Association of Labor Alliance, the worker’s organization, and I’ve also joined some political activities. I really like listening to other people talk. I think when I was younger I wanted to study more but didn’t have the chance. After coming to New York and entering a career as a seamstress, joining the union allowed me to take lots of different classes. Even though I spent quite a bit of money and time, my knowledge of society has increased a lot. So I am very satisfied, and I feel very happy.

Before I arrived, I had thought that once I got old I would go back to Hong Kong and live out my life there. However, my siblings now tell me, “Hong Kong housing prices are very low now, so go back! In America, housing prices have become very expensive, so if you sold your place and went back there to live, you could retire already.” No way, I answered, I want to return to New York to live. At that time, when I was on the airplane going on vacation, I heard the song, “New York, New York, I love New York.” I really liked it. When I came back here, I felt that this is really my home, and I’ve already got lots of friends here.

Q: Thank you very much. You told us so many of your stories and experiences in Chinatown.

WONG: Thank you very much, Ms. Lan, you’re too kind to me.

Q: Thank you very much, Ms. Wong.

WONG: Thank you.

[end of session]

Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)

<p> 問:今日是5月21 日,我和王太坐在中央街193號,王太已經在唐人街車衣廠做了30多年的經驗。我們現在就從王太的背景開始說起。王太,你是從那裡來的?</p>
<p>王:我從香港移民來美國。</p>
<p>問:你是在香港出生的?</p>
<p>王:我是在中國大陸出生的,大約3﹑4歲時,我父母因逃避共產黨的關係,來到香港生活。</p>
<p>問:是在大陸的那裡?</p>
<p>王:是在大陸的廣東博羅出生。</p>
<p>問:你很小時候就去了香港?</p>
<p>王:大約是3﹑4歲時左右,來到香港,因為當時大陸變色,由共產黨統治,所以我就到了香港,所以我在香港長大,在香港讀書,很多親戚亦從大陸到香港生活。</p>
<p>問:在香港你父母做什麼?</p>
<p>王:我爸爸在香港一個幫助打理一間教會,在教會做事,我媽媽是一個家庭主婦。</p>

<p> 問:那他們為什麼要想到移民美國來?</p>
<p>王:我爸爸媽媽沒有移民來美國。是我在香港讀完書,做了幾年工作,一個機緣認識到我先生,他本來認識我叔叔,到香港探我叔叔,我們有緣大家相見,我和先生做了朋友,後來我嬸嬸極之贊成我們開始結交,愛情道路最後成功了,結了婚。因為他來自美國紐約,有工作的,結婚後有幾個小孩子後,我們就移民到紐約。</p>
<p>問:你先生一早來了紐約?</p>
<p>王:他和我叔叔在紐約一起做工的。</p>
<p>問:在那一個時代來到的?</p>
<p>王:他們是在1960年代來到的,是很早期來的。我和小孩子則是1973年,不,是1974年復活節來到的。</p>
<p>問:你在香港有沒有做工?</p>
<p>王:我有,做過幾份工,最初時在織造廠做書記,即是計數。那些紗廠每日出產很多紗,又計算工人的工資,又記錄它每日的產量。後來香港的工業廠多一些,日本人開始在香港設廠,有些電子廠。那時我同學一位哥哥在一間很大的日本電子廠當學徒,因為他肯學,後來升到相當於工程師的職位,我在他廠幫助工作了幾年。這位同學的哥哥在電子方面很發達,後來和日本合資在中國開電子廠,<br>

做了很大的生意,將生意企業化。</p>
<p>問:你在1974年復活節來到紐約,當時你幾多歲?</p>
<p>王:27﹑28歲。</p>
<p>問:那你懂英文嗎?</p>
<p>王:我當時算是懂英文,讀完高中,我是唸英文書院的,是「書院女」。</p>
<p>問:一來到美國就到紐約?</p>
<p>王:是的。</p>
<p>問:未來美國前,你對紐約的第一印象是怎樣的?</p>
<p>王:我原來對美國沒有什麼印象,只不過叫做轉換一下環境,一到美國紐約,一見是大都會,和香港一樣都是很繁榮,或者我在這裡學到東西,開始新生活,新的環境,新的學習,這個意思。</p>
<p>問:那你先生一直在紐約城市,有沒有想過搬到其他城市如加州或其他州?</p>
<p>王:一直沒有考慮過。</p>
<p>問:你初來時,在紐約的那裡住?</p>

<p> 王:我初來時,在唐人街亨利街125號住了一年左右,覺得地方是小了一點,後來在布碌崙買屋住。</p>
<p>問:你初來時,對唐人街有什麼印象?</p>
<p>王:當時覺得唐人街很落後,不是我想像一般的發達,和人口較少,不是很興旺,是有工做,但亦不是我理想中的地方。嘻嘻!</p>
<p>問:都不是你想像。</p>
<p>王:不是我想要尋求的目標的地方。</p>
<p>問:那你未來美國之前,想像的美國是怎麼樣的?</p>
<p>王:我讀中學的時候,教英文的老師是英國人,是香港的議員,他說:「當你們長大的時候或者要到美國的城市,你在紐約的時候要見到Hudson River(赫德遜河)﹑摩天大樓,你們這麼年輕,會有這樣的機會,到那裡發展也不錯。」可能是那一句話,我覺得如有機會,在那裡的發展也會不錯。所以我心目中美國很發達﹑很繁榮﹑很多工作機會,都幾好。但是來到後,當時只見到唐人街,所以知道不是心目中的紐約。</p>
<p>問:沒有機會看到其他的城市?</p>
<p>王:未,那當然後來改觀了,知道紐約是很繁榮發達的,是金融﹑時裝中心,人口﹑旅遊各方面都很好,當時物價亦很便宜,<br>

工作很好,時間很好,樣樣都好,只是陌生了一點。<br>
  當時我曾想找一些老番(美國人)的工作,但他們不是叫我取出文憑,便要大學文憑,或是問我是否公民?來美國多久了?我見了幾份美國工都不成功,坐著不做工又不是辦法。<br>
 我曾經想讀書,增廣一下知識,華埠當時只有兩間機構可以讀書,我問過,覺得都不適合我的水平,那些都是初級的英文,對於我完成香港的Form 4(中四)程度的人並不適合,所以我沒有尋求其他的學校去唸書。</p>
<p>問:你怎樣進入衣廠工作呢?</p>
<p>王:我有位親戚在East Broadway(東百老匯)開衣廠的,在現在的怡東酒樓再過去一點,在二樓開衣廠,他說:「你有空,不如到我的衣廠做工。」我說:「我不懂車衣,從來未車過衣的!」他說:「你這麼聰明,一學就會。」我說:「我怎可靠車衣揾食,我甚至連拿針都不懂,怎麼會車衣呢?」他說:「行行行,你很快會學會。」後來即便試一試。當時工作時間都很好,返九時,放六時,星期六開工有overtime pay(超時工資)補薪,有大假期,有特別的假期錢加上去,當時生活水平很低。</p>
<p>問:但你先生也做工?</p>
<p>王:有,他在餐館做廚師,他是頭廚,收入相當不錯呀。所以我們只在唐人街一年,很快就在布碌崙買屋。<br>

那我在衣廠做,很快,才個多月學曉車褲,立即加入工會。我在工廠工作時有經紀上廠,說:「你在這行業要加入工會。」我說:「好。」</p>
<p>問:你為何要加入工會?</p>
<p>王:因為我聽見經紀說,你在美國生活,做這個行業要加入工會,加入工會後工會會維護工人的利益。所以個個工友都參加,沒有人不參加的,只要你是工人工友,便可以參加,如你製衣工人便加入製衣工人工會,那我加入105工會,車衣工會工人的工會。</p>
<p>問:你一直做車衣的?</p>
<p>王:我一直不懂裁剪,因為衣料來到的時候,已是一塊一塊cut(裁剪) 好,西人(美國人)送過來,我們只是加工。</p>
<p>問:你的老闆是唐人?</p>
<p>王:我的老闆都是唐人。</p>
<p>問:那你覺得做車衣工廠的環境好不好?</p>
<p>王:那時車衣工廠的環境過得去,但不會給你冷氣,有風扇,老闆待工人不錯,很友善,老闆有感激你的心情。他們對我當然很好,對一般工友都很好,除了僱主和僱員之間,還有一份特別好的感情,很好。</p>

<p> 問:和你一起做工的人差不多大部份都加入工會?</p>
<p>王:百分之一百參加了工會,沒有人不參加工會,個個都參加工會的。</p>
<p>問:那老闆喜不喜歡你們參加工會?</p>
<p>王:喜歡,當時是老闆叫工友參加工會,不是工人叫參加工會。老闆呼籲工友參加工會,說:「你要參加工會,有工會好,工會給你藍十字,放假有假期錢,有很多對你有好處的東西。」</p>
<p>問:老闆都鼓勵你們參加?</p>
<p>王:是,老闆鼓勵工友參加。</p>
<p>問:你們加入工會,對老闆而言,是會多花金錢的?</p>
<p>王:哦,以前維護工人的福利金,是發衣商交一部份福利金,老闆給一部份,是這樣分出來錢來的,但那時候老闆環境好,老闆願意分一部份出來,不計較,很開心,既然每日出衣很多,覺得應該給工人一份。</p>
<p>問:你每星期賺到幾多錢?</p>
<p>王:那時候(1974年)一星期做36小時,做5天工,很少星期六開工的,頂多做40小時,因為我們是按件計工人,不是和老闆計鐘的。<br>

和老闆計鐘的,一星期有300至350元,看老闆給你多少工,就按鐘計。但我們車位沒有底薪,沒有minimum pay,做多少給多少。</p>
<p>問:你做工屬於快或慢?</p>
<p>王:我是屬於piece work(按件計),當時後生,手腳都快,當時每星期賺200元至250元,一位朋友在銀行做經理的,叫王先生,他問:「你想不想找工作做?可以來我的銀行做。」我問:「你的銀行一星期給我多少人工?」他說:「初來我們銀行時,一星期大約是150至160元。」我心想:「這麼少,都是做衣廠較好。」</p>
<p>問:你做衣車工是不是很辛苦,手呀﹑腳呀﹑坐得久等動作?</p>
<p>王:我起初時真的不習慣,覺得辛苦,但是因為每個星期五,取得薪金後,只要50元就買得到很多東西,開心時,就連辛苦也不覺得,做事時又可和旁邊的工友有傾有講,很開心,不覺得太難,不似起初時覺得我什麼都不懂,以為如何做得來。</p>
<p>問:但你和先生收入加起來,生活都幾好?</p>
<p>王:當時的生活相當富裕了,那時我覺得一個月有千多元收入,我倆夫婦加起來有1400至1500元,是相當好的了。</p>
<p>問:你一直做下去,沒有想過轉行?</p>

<p> 王:是的,一直做下去。1979年我轉到拉菲逸街這邊的工會做,這邊的工會不同,因為當時有幾個車衣分會,車衣工會有23-25分會﹑105分會﹑199分會。我以前的工會是105,轉工後,工會由105轉到23-25分會,即現在的成紡聯合車衣工會UNITE。</p>
<p>問:現在的UNITE大約有多少members (成員)?</p>
<p>王:現在的UNITE大約嘛,準確的數字在唐人街只有數千,以前最高峰時期有一萬多member(會員)。</p>
<p>問:現在的新移民多數有沒有參加工會?</p>
<p>王:現在的新移民一半一半,當他們入車衣廠做時,一半會參加,一半會先考慮,想一下是否應該參加,因為初來時經濟基礎不好,覺得可以慳一個仙就一個仙,不想交會費,或看清楚一點,看是否對自己有益處,才決定是否參加。</p>
<p>問:是否任何人都可以參加,或者有身份時才可以參加?</p>
<p>王:任何人都可以參加,沒有限制,就算沒有身份也可以參加的,因為工會除了維護有身份人士權益,也維護無身份人士權益。現在一部份工友,特別是沒有身份的人,他們不明白沒有身份也可以參加,就不敢參加工會,怕有政治性,又怕惹上麻煩。那是很誤解的。事實上,他們也是移民,相反來說,工會在上星期,我們和工會政治部職員會見senator(參議員),<br>

提出五項要求。第一項是New York Health Plan,第二項是最低工資,增加最低工資。</p>
<p>問:Minimum Wage?</p>
<p>王:對,Minimum Wage。由5元多加至7元多。第三是,將Empire Zone(帝國轄區),如商業從旺區搬到舊區,可獲稅務減免,製造更多就業機會。</p>
<p>問:每月交會費多少?</p>
<p>王:工會會費每月是23元2角,半年會費是139.20。每次交會費他們說多少我就寫多少。我一交交半年會費,但有些人喜歡按月交費。</p>
<p>問:你說沒有身份的人以為參加了工會,政府會來找他?</p>
<p>王:事實上不是這樣,事實若沒有身份的人參加了工會,工會為這些人要求政府通過法例,該法例說新移民來到美國,他們一樣在這裡生活及消費,希望政府通過法例,讓他們取得合法身份,獲得綠卡或暫時合法居留,以後轉綠卡。我們也時時見國會議員討論這些問題,你知道立法的事,要多年的要求及爭取,才可取得[成績]。像現在爭取得的兒童保健,是向多次參議員﹑眾議員見面傾偈,才有結果的。</p>

<p> 問:你說其中一個要求華盛頓的,是增加minimum wage (最低工資),你怕不怕因為現在在唐人街很多車衣都關閉,因為不能和第三世界國家的人工相比,如中國等,那些國家太便宜,你覺不覺得如提高美國工人薪金,這些工廠不能生存下法,工作機會還會更少呢?</p>
<p>王:這也是一個問題,因為事實,中國大陸勞工工資低,做生意的人大部份尋求廉價勞工,降低成本。美國國內是貴人工,無可否認失去了一些工作機會。但那不代表這個行業不能做下去,他們不可以經營。他們要搬的都已經搬走了,但紐約依然需要一些製衣的行業留在紐約做,好像有一些seasonal(季節性)的衣服一定要趕上市,或者有些在外地做得不合格的,不可以運回中國修改,因為一來一回花費時間,要馬上在紐約修改。所以製衣行業仍然有前景的,仍有可為。如說紐約提高工資會影響製衣行業,你看很多美國城市人的工資都比紐約高,為什麼紐約的生活費高,房租﹑食住﹑電話﹑gas(煤氣)費,什麼都加,聽說labor day(勞動節)過後,又會漲價。那麼工資一直低,跟不上生活指數;若跟不上生活指數,人們會遷移到別的地方;若遷移到別的地方,沒有工﹑則沒有商,工商工商,沒有工做,何來商機?商人何來生意?紐約是人口集中的地方,容易找到人手,人們找工也想在紐約容易找工,而事實上紐約容易找工做,特別是勞工及中下層的工作,是比較容易找工。甚至很多機構等人用時,都不問有沒有身份,願意聘請。這對於初到貴境的人來說很有利。</p>

<p> 問:在9/11時你仍然在唐人街做工?</p>
<p>王:是的。</p>
<p>問:那9/11有沒有影響你的工廠呢?</p>
<p>王:有,影響很大,工廠簡直沒有衣源,因為車子不准進入紐約市,不准入。Jobber(發衣商)cut(裁)了衣亦沒有辦法送入衣源,我們停了工,惟有領失業(金)。</p>
<p>問:你停了工多久?</p>
<p>王:都有3個月。</p>
<p>問:那時間一點收入都沒有?</p>
<p>王:一點收入都沒有,我們就領取失業(金)。</p>

<p> 問:你有沒有領取9/11的救濟金?</p>
<p>王:我本人沒有去取,我們的工友很多都有去申請,因為9/11之後,幾個月,3﹑4個月都沒有工開,後來有工開,但工作數量很少,一星期往往只開工一﹑兩天,有很多時間閒坐,有少數目的訂單來,就馬上要開工起貨。沒有辦法,閒坐那麼久,看見有書讀,就去報名,學9/11的course(課程),學電腦英文等。</p>
<p>問:你為什麼不去申請救濟金?</p>
<p>王:我覺得,可能我移民的日子比較長,我覺得自己過得去,自己的經濟可以維持就算了,將機會留給其他人,譬如他們初來到沒有經濟基礎又要租屋,孩子又少,他們應尋求幫助,他們沒有工開就沒有一點收入了。我們話到底有自己屋,又工作了多年,自己可以應付生活,自己過得去,不想搞太多事,所以我沒有尋求經濟方面(的援助),後來見這樣多人都讀書,其他工友又說:「為什麼你不去讀,你可以去讀的,不會影響你的其他方面的。」那我就唸了last最後一期,原來是最後一期。</p>
<p>問:在什麼時候呢?</p>
<p>王:2003年7,8月我才去讀書,總共唸了好像6星期。</p>
<p>問:我聽講是唸13個星期的?</p>
<p>王:我讀完6星期,再讀6星期,即前後13個星期。</p>
<p>問:你選擇讀了什麼呢?</p>
<p>王:我選擇讀電腦及英語。</p>
<p>問:為什麼讀英文?我見你的英文很流利,是嗎?</p>

<p> 王:不是,我的英文不濟事的,很多時心目中想講的表達不出來,很多時,要在家中先想,又要請教英文很好的人幫手,問是否這樣講?可以嗎?才敢勉強表達一些意思,總的不算行。</p>
<p>問:那你覺得13星期的課程有沒有用?</p>
<p>王:很有用,第一學曉電腦上一些簡單的用途,英文方面學到一點點,他們教得很淺,學不到很多。</p>
<p>問:你是在那裡學習的?</p>
<p>王:是在City Hall(大會堂)學的。</p>
<p>問:是那一個公司組織的?</p>
<p>王:那一家公司,我不太清楚,好像說是9/11Fund(基本)。</p>
<p>問:你在報紙看到的?</p>
<p>王:不,是一位工友正在那裡唸書,介紹我的,好像說是9/11……。</p>
<p>問:老師大部份是什麼人?</p>
<p>王:大部份是白人,都有一兩個唐人,是台灣學生,在這裡唸大學。</p>
<p>問:你覺得他們了解你的情形嗎?</p>

<p> 王:他們都很了解,上課時他們問我們一些問題,工友都很坦白回答。</p>
<p>問:你覺得那13個星期的學習都有用,除了你得到一點錢外?</p>
<p>王:當然,有用,因為一些工友一生人都未唸過書,連ABC也不會,唸了13個星期後,最起碼他會寫自己的名字,識寫地址,識講自己的地址,在那裡住,電話號碼等。</p>
<p>問:你學的是非常基本的英文,對你的事業沒有什麼……?</p>
<p>王:我覺得對我的私人有幫助。</p>
<p>問:對你事業無幫助,對你私人就有幫助。你有沒有考慮過到轉業呢?</p>
<p>王:我到現在為止,我也沒有考慮過轉業。</p>
<p>問:你認為是因為自己年紀大,沒有這個機會,或是你喜歡你現在的工作?</p>
<p>王:我仍然喜歡我現在做的車衣行業,這是原因之一;原因之二是因為我的年紀大,已到退休的年齡,你去找工作,別人都會考慮用一個年青人,不會考慮用1一個快退休的人,所以我也沒有考慮想要轉行。</p>
<p>問:所以你的工廠關門四個月是不是?</p>

<p> 王:是。</p>
<p>問:後來是不是返回正常?</p>
<p>王:工廠後來一直有工開。最近又較為忙碌一些。</p>
<p>問:你是不是一直和同一間公司做工?</p>
<p>王:不是,我在其中轉了很多間衣廠,這幾十年變化很大,大概做了四﹑五間廠。我和每一個老闆的關係很好,有點友情,有些老闆結束了,從事別的行業,有由子女繼續經營。</p>
<p>問:那你希望你的子女做這一行嗎?</p>
<p>王:當然不會,但我有兩個兒子都做回餐館那一行,但不在紐約做,兩個在賓州費城做。</p>
<p>問:你覺得唐人街最大的變化是什麼?</p>
<p>王:最大的變化是人口的變化。當時唐人街的租金很便宜,1974年租金(每月)120元,有兩房一廚一浴室,雖然房間不算大。我當時租金135,住了一年後加租至150元。兩房以上月租180元,現在當然是數倍以上。當時沒有那麼多在街邊賣菜,賣雜貨,那時全部都在店中賣,沒有那麼多茶樓及餐廳,更不要說擴充到這麼大,擴展到Delancey那邊,很少人行,就算Bowery包厘賣珠寶有些工友,入夜都不會經過,<br>

不敢經過,有些工友說:「嘩,不要行呀!那些老番捉人的,有人駕駛汽車來捉你走!」當時女人很無知!聽了好怕!</p>
<p>問:你來了這麼久,你滿意這裡的生活嗎?</p>
<p>(Side B)</p>
<p>王:哦…….,我想我沒有選擇錯誤。我覺得在美國,特別在紐約的生活,紐約是一個交通很方便的地方,我可以養車,但不養車也很自由,到那裡都有交通工具。家庭生活方面,我自己有房屋,住得很舒服,因為入車衣工會的行業,在工會地方不斷學習,我認識很多朋友,從朋友﹑學校﹑工會組織在暑期學習,我參加很多不同的活動,參加勞工婦聯,亞太勞聯﹑勞工組織,有些政治活動我也參加,我很喜歡聽別人說話的。我覺得年青時想多讀書,但沒有機會,到紐約入車衣行業,由於參加了工會,我有機會參加了更多不同課程,我雖然用了不少金錢及時間,但社會方面的學識增加了不少。所以我也很滿足,我覺得很快樂。<br>
  以前我未來時,我想我老了要返回香港養老,但現在我的兄弟姐妹說:「現在香港的樓平,你回來吧!美國的樓咁值錢,如果你賣了樓回來住,你可以退休了。」我說不行,我要回來紐約住。當我去旅行時,在飛機聽見,「紐約,紐約,I Love New York(我愛紐約)。」我很喜歡。回到這裡,我覺得這是真正的家,現在已經有很多朋友在這裡。</p>
<br>
<p>問:多謝你,將這麼多的故事,和唐人街的經驗,告訴我們。</p>
<p>王:很多謝你,鄭小姐,你太客氣了。</p>
<p>問:多謝你,王太太。</p>
<p>王:Thank you. </p>
<p>(完)</p>

Citation

“Agnes Wong,” September 11 Digital Archive, accessed April 3, 2020, https://911digitalarchive.org/items/show/88963.