CELEBRATING CULTURE & COMMUNITY'S HISTORY PROJECT: Norma Gouw
Celebrating Culture & Community is putting together interviews
of 25 El Cerrito residents, a project aimed at showing the diverse communities
that have contributed to the city's history.
The interviews have been made possible largely through support from
the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National
Endowment for the Humanities.
For more information about Celebrating Culture & Community , contact
Eve Ma at 236-3255 or email@example.com
Following is one of the interviews:
El Cerrito History Project
Interview of Norma Gouw, 11/9/99
Interviewer: Robin DeLugan
Norma Gouw and her family moved to El Cerrito from The Netherlands in
1962. Most of the years in El Cerrito have been spent raising children.
She has studied and received a degree from the University of California
at Berkeley, and she has run a cottage import/export business between
California and Southeast Asia. Both Norma and her husband are now retired.
She devotes much of her time to community volunteer work and to travel.
Norma characterizes El Cerrito as a "sleepy" town because of the aging
population. Because this population is stable with many residents living
in the same El Cerrito homes for decades, their low tax base influences
the pace of growth and development of El Cerrito.
Norma recalls that her family was one of the few Asian residents in El
Cerrito. They moved into their current residence, which in 1962 was one
of the first residential developments in the area. She remembers that
there may have been some discrimination towards them a long time ago,
but not any longer.
In 1976 Norma and other community members formed the Chinese Cultural
Education Association (CCEA). At the time there were young Chinese families
with young children and the parents were concerned that their children
have the opportunity to learn Chinese. Through the efforts of CCEA, Chinese
language classes were held after school at Portola Junior High School.
Originally the children learned both Mandarin and Cantonese, but after
a few years the language instruction was mostly in Mandarin. Because many
of the children are now grown, the CCEA has redirected its attention from
language classes to providing scholarships for students who attend 2-year
community college and who want to continue on for their 4-year studies.
CCEA has one major fundraiser on the fourth of July at the El Cerrito
The fourth of July is a big event in El Cerrito. Norma comments that
it brings many different groups from the community together.
Norma characterizes El Cerrito as middle class. She bases this principally
on education level of the residents. She notes that there are quite a
few good private schools, such as Prospect Sierra and Windrush, in El
Cerrito now and that this is attracting people to the area.
One change that she notes is about El Cerrito Plaza. This plaza which
was one of the first malls built used to be the center of services and
commerce. Now it sits like a "white elephant" while the city council decides
what to do with the property.
One of Norma's hobbies is sewing, and she misses not having a good fabric
store in the community. She supports her local businesses and says that
it always "comes back to you" when you support local businesses...not
only do taxes from that business go to city budgets, but you also create
community and friendships through shopping at locally-owned businesses.
El Cerrito's value to the broader area is its proximity to San Francisco.
It offers a quiet, quality residential community that is good to raise
Norma says that there is no place in El Cerrito where she doesn't feel
safe. She says that due to the recent positive economic growth that the
area/nation has been experiencing, crime in general is down. She also
says that because El Cerrito is a community where in general everyone
knows each other…it makes for a safe community.
The Chinese community in El Cerrito has grown over the past few years.
Most of the new Chinese residents are from Taiwan, many also came here
from Hong Kong at the time of the British hand-over to China. The Berkeley
Chinese Community Church on Acton Street has many important members from
El Cerrito. This Church is especially recognized for having a strong senior
Norma also supports the West Coast Children’s Center, a counseling service
for local troubled youth and families.
When asked whether she expects her ethnic community to be a force in
the community in the future she says that if it happens it will not necessarily
be because of ethnicity but because of a personal calling to enter public
life, local politics, etc.
El Cerrito is a wonderful place. It's proximity to the University of
California means that there is a large local population of open-minded
CELEBRATING CULTURE & COMMUNITY (CC&C)
1900 International MarketPlace, San Pablo, CA., 94806
(510) 236-3255; fax (510) 236-3068
Run dates: 2000-01-01 - 2000-02-01