CELEBRATING CULTURE & COMMUNITY'S HISTORY PROJECT: George Meng-sheng Tang
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:
Interview with George Meng-sheng Tang, owner/operator of Elite Desktop
Publishing in El Cerrito
Date: 11/18/99 Interviewer: Eve A. Ma (Dr. L. Eve Armentrout Ma,
Q: How long have you lived/did you live (or had a business…)in El
A: 20 years. I moved to El Cerrito in 1978, lived there until a few months
ago. I've had this business there for the past nine years.
I am from mainland China, from Hunan Province. From Hunan, I went to
Peking, then to Taiwan, then to the University of Hawaii (1967-69) for
my MA in public health, then back to Taiwan for two years, then to Ann
Arbor, Michigan in 1971. From there, I went to Buffalo, New York, where
I was for seven years, then to El Cerrito.
Q: Why did you move to El Cerrito?
A: For the weather. My brother was here. I quit in Buffalo, then was
offered a job at Cal. My mother and brother lived in El Cerrito, so I
moved to El Cerrito.
My wife is from Taiwan; actually, she was born in Chejiang Province in
mainland China, and grew up in Taiwan.
Q: What was El Cerrito like when you moved here?
A: At first, I was disappointed because I felt uncomfortable here. It
was too dark. When I first arrived, I couldn't find my brother's place.
His house was on Kearny Street, and I couldn't find it. I feel more comfortable
now. I feel comfortable in Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito. I know people
here now, and know where to go.
My kids all grew up in El Cerrito and went to El Cerrito High. They had
good teachers. I have two kids, two daughters.
My brother and mother had moved here a few years before I came. My brother
worked in San Francisco for PG&E.
Q: How would you characterize El Cerrito in terms of whether it's
primarily middle class, low class, upper class?
A: I think it's primarily lower middle class.
Q: How has El Cerrito changed in the time you've lived here?
A: There hasn't been too much change.
Q: What is the relationship between El Cerrito and the rest of this
area? How important it is in terms of the business, civic, and social
life of the area?
A: El Cerrito is a bedroom community.
Q: Where do you go to do your business> For your relaxation? For
your social life? Mostly to El Cerrito, or to other areas?
A: I do my business in El Cerrito. For relaxation, we go to restaurants.
We go to ones in El Cerrito, especially now to ones in the Pacific East
Mall. [NOTE: Pacific East Mall is actually just over the line in Richmond.
ED] For movies, we go in Berkeley, but we don’t' go much. Sometimes, I'll
go to a play in Berkeley, but mostly, we visit friends or go to a restaurant.
My mother still lives in El Cerrito, but my brother has moved to San
Q: Is there any place in this area where you don't feel comfortable
going? If so, why?
A: No, there's no place around here where I don't feel comfortable going.
Q: What about Chinese in the El Cerrito area, especially Chinese from
A: The statistics, I've read in a paper somewhere, that El Cerrito has
the highest percentage [NOTE "percentage," not the actual number of people]
of Japanese and the second highest percentage of Chinese than any city
other than San Francisco. The percentages are even higher than in Oakland.
Most of my friends live in Walnut Creek, Orinda, Silicon Valley, places
They especially like, they think that the schools are better over the
hills, but I like the diversity here, so I like El Cerrito and Berkeley,
and their schools, best.
As for people from Taiwan, in the past 20 years, there have been lots
of people from Taiwan who have moved into the area, and from [mainland]
China, it's mostly been in the past 10 years.
My former neighbor would be very interesting for you. He lived on Hagen
Blvd.. He was Chinese, he worked as a chef. He came here as a very young
man and left his wife and kids in China. Much later, he brought his family
here. His wife speaks no English. He, himself, had diverse friends and
spoke English. He was from the older generation, from the mainland. He
probably came before World War II. He passed away recently. [NOTE: Until
1943, it was hard for Chinese to come to the United States because of
the Chinese Exclusion Laws, which were repealed in 1943. ED]
Q: Chinese-owned businesses, social organizations, etc….can you give
us a thumb-nail sketch?
A: The churches and the Chinese Buddhist/Taoist temple are probably for
people from Taiwan, since mainland China limits religion. I know someone
who goes to that temple, who comes around sometimes with literature about
As for political organizations, there is a Chinese Political Assn. of
Contra Costa located in Walnut Creek. I don't know of any Chinese businesses
associations in El Cerrito.
In El Cerrito, the housing is cheaper, so mainland Chinese will move
into the area (and also into Richmond).
The owner of the Pacific East Mall may live here. That is the main Chinese
money. I've heard he's from Taiwan. He has investments in Washington State,
in San Jose, in Los Angeles, and Arizona; that's the Ranch 99. He started
in southern California, maybe in Monterey Park (which has lots of Chinese
Q: What do you think will happen to your ethnic community in El Cerrito
in the future?
A: It will probably grow because of Ranch 99. But it will probably grow
even faster in Oakland than in either El Cerrito or San Francisco.
Q: If you had a magic wand, what would you do to El Cerrito? And what
do you like best about El Cerrito?
A: Do something about El Cerrito Plaza!! And what I like best is the
weather, the diversity, and the friendly feel of the city.
CELEBRATING CULTURE & COMMUNITY
1900 International MarketPlace,
San Pablo, CA., 94806
(510) 236-3255; fax (510) 236-3068
Run dates: 2000-01-01 - 2000-02-01