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Christian Chan oral history interview: transcript


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Oral history interview with Christian Chan conducted by Cecilia Winchell, Jerwin Tiu, and Stefani Evans on May 06, 2022 for the Reflections: the Las Vegas Asian American and Pacific Islander Oral History Project. In this interview, Chan begins by describing her childhood in Hong Kong and later moving to San Francisco, California with her family, then to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1965. She recalls attending Sunrise Acres and Roy Martin Middle School before graduating from Valley High School as valedictorian. In college, Chan attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and graduated with a degree in engineering. After college, she found work in the Las Vegas Valley Water District and became the first woman engineer. During her five years there, she excountered subtle sexism for the first time. Chan continues the interview by describing her work while she lived in California, as well as her years internationally living in the Philippines as well as Ecuador. Throughout the interview, Chan touches on topics ranging from identity, to her impressions of the different generations, discrimination, and the growth of Las Vegas.

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Christan Chan oral history interview, 2022 May 06. OH-03851. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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An Oral History Conducted by Cecilia Winchell and Jerwin Tiu

Reflections: The Las Vegas Asian American and Pacific Islander Oral History Project

Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas


©Reflections: The Las Vegas Asian American and Pacific Islander Oral History Project

University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2020

Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV – University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White
Project Manager: Stefani Evans
Transcriber: Kristin Hicks

Editors and Project Assistants: Vanessa Concepcion, Teri Pastorino, Kristel Peralta, Jerwin Tiu, Cecilia Winchell, Ayrton Yamaguchi Cecilia Winchell


The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a grant from the City of Las Vegas Commission for the Las Vegas Centennial and funding from private individuals and foundations. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish.

The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator.

The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of Reflections: The Las Vegas Asian American and Pacific Islanders Oral History Project.

Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas



“The Chinese name for the United States is Golden Mountain. You come here to seek your fortune and opportunities that you’re not able to do back in China.”

A senior civil engineer with the Clark County Water Reclamation District, Christian Chan first arrived in Southern Nevada with her parents and brother when she was eight years old. Chan’s parents left their native Hong Kong in 1962 seeking better opportunities the United States, first settling in San Francisco, California, where her parents worked briefly in her grandfather’s Chinese restaurant. When Chan’s parents and grandparents disagreed over the need for Christian and her brother to attend school, the family moved to Watts, where Chan’s parents found work roasting ducks in Las Angeles Chinatown. After two years, 1965, the family came to Las Vegas where Chan’s mother could reunite with a childhood friend from China.

Chan recalls attending Sunrise Acres Elementary, Roy Martin Junior High, and Valley High School before attending UCLA and earning a degree Civil Engineering from UNLV. She became the first woman engineer hired by the Las Vegas Valley Water District. When her husband transferred to Los Angeles, she describes joining the City of North Hollywood’s redevelopment agency, where, as the agency’s project manager, she engineered all the infrastructure from the Hollywood Freeway (US 101) to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, including its iconic pink sidewalks and Emmy Award statue. Her husband’s transfers took the family from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, California, the Philippines, and Ecuador, but when he was posted to Libya, she and the children returned to the U.S., eventually settling in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of climate the Russian Arctic. After another stint in Bakersfield as a project manager for a petroleum company, she returned to Las Vegas, where she is now senior civil engineer with the Clark County Water Reclamation District.

In this interview, Chan discusses stereotypes woman face in a male-dominated industry; acknowledges the ways growth has created opportunities for Southern Nevada’s AAPI communities but also considers Southern Nevada’s rapid growth and development and housing needs in tension with instituting sustainable policies and limited water resources. Chan talks about identity and assimilation and her advocacy for women’s empowerment. She voices concern for the older generation of Asian Americans who are facing increased anti-Asian hate over the COVID- 19 pandemic, and she recalls five early Las Vegas Chinese families—the Ong, Gin, Fong, Wong, and Lee families.



Interview with Christian Chan
May 6th, 2022
in Las Vegas, Nevada
Conducted by Cecilia Winchell and Jerwin Tiu


Chan shares memories of Hong Kong; housing, school, her parents and how they met. Chan talks about her grandparents’ emigration to San Francisco; their sponsorship of other family, her grandfather’s Chinese restaurant; and their move to Watts. Chan recounts life in Los Angeles, her parents' job roasting ducks, their first American-style home, learning English, school, and classmates' lack of respect for teachers. Chan shares the story of why they moved to Las Vegas and her experiences at Sunrise Acres Elementary, Roy Martin Junior High, and Valley High School, the daily Pledge of Allegiance, and her accent...............................................1–9

Chan talks about studies at UNLV and UCLA, the decision to major in engineering and working in soil testing. Chan discusses job challenges due to age, race and particularly gender a male- dominated profession. Chan marries, moves to L.A. and works as a project engineer for the city of North Hollywood before her husband's work with Occidental Petroleum took the family to Bakersfield, the Philippines, and Ecuador. Chan became a stay-at-home mom, managing unique housing, foods (cuy and chicken butts) and her kids’ experiences abroad. Eventually, Chan and children move back to the U.S. rather moving to Libya............................................10–19

Settling at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chan recalls reconnecting with professional friends, and transitioning back into the workforce. Chan interned at UNC, earning a National Science Foundation grant and a trip to study permafrost in the Russian Arctic. Chan returns to Bakersfield before coming back to Las Vegas to be with her parents and her position with Clark County Water Reclamation. She shares her views on Las Vegas's growth, sustainability initiatives, and the impact on quality of life and environment................................................ 19–23

Chan talks about her AAPI identity, giving up culture to blend in, and facing discrimination as a woman in education and the workplace. Chan recalls career decisions based on chances of success (engineering, tennis, dance) for minorities. Chan revisits the challenges of being a woman in the workplace; recounts encounters with discrimination and how she handled them; COVID-related hate against elderly Asians; and the Russian invasion of Ukraine war, including the ramifications of China supporting Russia...................................................................................................... 24–28

Chan revisits topics of ethnicity, her close friends, and Asia’s influence on American culture. She speaks on food, and the “model minority myth". She touches on her grandparents fleeing China during World War II. She mentions “the” five Chinese families in Las Vegas; Ong, Gin, Fong, Wong and Lee. She talks about her brother dancing on the Strip before closing with thoughts on Asian pride, and the significance of oral histories being available for future generations.......29–34

Appendix – Selected Photographs.....................................................................35–36



Good morning. Today’s date is May 6th, 2022. I am Cecilia Winchell. I am here with Jerwin Tiu and Stefani Evans, as well as Christian Chan.

Christian, may I please ask you to spell your first and last name for the record?

My first name is Christian, like the religion, C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N. My last name is Chan, C-H-A- N.
Thank you. Just to get started, could you tell us about your childhood, anything from where you grew up to your parents, to your grandparents and siblings?

I was born in Hong Kong, and we immigrated to the United States when I was eight years old, into San Francisco. My recollections of Hong Kong was that there was a Star Ferry and how long it took to go across the Bay with the Star Ferry; firecrackers every time there is Chinese New Year, all the food. What I distinctly remember is that I went to school Monday through Saturday. The only day we got off was Sunday. When we came to the States, it was like, “You guys only go to school Monday through Friday?” Also, I had homework. We were practicing calligraphy when we were in kindergarten. I also learned my multiplication tables up to thirteen, when I was in kindergarten as a poem. Even today, when I do multiplication, it’s all in Chinese.

It was a fairly normal childhood as far as I can tell from all the other kids, school and food and playtime. We never really had a yard in Hong Kong. We always lived in one of those high-rise buildings. If you went to a park, you would be going out into the countryside, and I remember doing that every Sunday. We’d get together with lots of other families and go to a country house of some sort. Eating is a big, big culture of the Chinese. I just remember tables of friends and lots of food and running around. It was always that gathering of your friends and family.
What did your parents do in Hong Kong?


My father was an herbalist in the beginning. I don’t remember too much, but this is what I was told. Then he drove a truck that delivered Bubble Up, which was one of the soda companies. My mother didn’t work outside the home, so she played a lot of mahjong. Until this day, she still does. That was it. It was a fairly simple but very comfortable life.

Do you have any memories of your grandparents?

Oh yes. Not when we were in Hong Kong because my mother’s parents immigrated to the United States; first my grandfather and I do remember my grandmother in Hong Kong for a little bit, but then she left to go to the United States. We didn’t meet up with them until we immigrated here.
Do you know why they immigrated to the United States?
Yes. They all usually left back then for better economic life, and you’ll hear it from my mother. My grandfather left to come to the United States, and whatever money he made, he would send home back to the village that they lived in, in Hong Kong, and that was what elevated their lifestyle.
Do you know what they did while they lived here?
What state? In California. By the time we came here, he had a little restaurant. But I don’t know what he did before that. You’ll have to ask my mother.
Was it the same reason your parents decided to immigrate to the U.S.?
Yes, and back then, immigration was different; you had to apply for it, and then you had to show a sponsor and so forth. It was great that somebody had a foothold, and then they could bring the rest of the family over. But I believe you had to be able to sponsor somebody. You just can’t cross the border. The Chinese name for the United States is Golden Mountain. You come here to seek your fortune and opportunities that you’re not able to do back in China.


Do you know who your family was sponsored by?

My grandparents, because my grandfather came here first. Now, I don’t know how he got here, but then he sponsored my grandmother, and then together, they sponsored the rest of the family. Out of your family, who all ended up coming to the United States?
My father’s side of the family, his sister, his father, and eventually his mother. My mother’s side of the family, her sister came first because she married someone who was already a citizen, and he sponsored her over. Then, later on, we sponsored my father’s other brother and his kids, and they came to Las Vegas. It was much later.

What did your parents do when they got to California and San Francisco?

First, they went to San Francisco. I think we spent a couple of months there getting adjusted, and then we left to go to Los Angeles, which is where my grandfather had the restaurant. It’s an unwritten rule that you work for your parents, and my parents back then didn’t speak any English, and so they went to work in my grandfather’s restaurant.

Do you have any memories of what it was like living in L.A.?

Oh yes. We were there for two years. My grandpa had this little restaurant. I remember not having to go to school. Time doesn’t really have any meaning when you’re a kid. You just kind of wake up, and there’s another day. What happened was I remember going to work with my parents, and my brother and I would just hang around.

I’m sorry, to answer your other question, who else besides our family? My brother, but he’s a member of the family.

We just hung around at the restaurant. Then somebody said, “Why aren’t you guys in school?” It never occurred to us. I just thought it was a long, extended vacation.


I don’t know exactly what happened, but I think there was a falling out in the family. I think there was an expectation that you would work for the family. I’m not sure my grandparents were all understanding about getting us into school. Anyway, from that, there was a falling out, and then we wound up in Las Vegas, and I started going to school here in Las Vegas. No, I’m sorry—it’s been so long ago. There was a falling out, and then we moved out from my grandparents’ home, which was probably the first time that we really saw an American-style house. That you had your own house, and you had your own front yard and your own back[yard], that wasn’t shared by a bunch of people. For a long time, our family lived in a big, big room, where my brother and I, as little kids, shared a bed, and then my parents were in the other bed. But we owned the whole level. It was the first time you got all the space just for your own family. We moved out from there into an apartment in Watts, California. Then my parents went to work, and my brother and I became latchkey kids, and we went to school two years in California, and then we came here to Las Vegas.
I want to go back a little bit. What kind of restaurant did your grandfather own?
Do you remember anything on the menu?
Yes, it was really strange because nothing on the menu was Chinese. It was nothing like the Chinese food you would eat at home. It was like egg foo young. I’ve never had egg foo young before. I didn’t even know what it was. And chow mein; it was kind of like the ones we had, but not really. Things on the menu weren’t things that we ate at home. But people were buying it. They loved it.
What did your parents do after you guys moved to Watts?


They found a job, bless them, in Chinatown in L.A. They were roasting ducks. They worked for someone could go in there and buy roast duck and roast pork and a bunch of other offerings. They would leave early in the morning. I think I was probably ten, and my brother was nine, and we somehow got ourselves to school. We would walk to school. I had no idea what was going on because we didn’t speak the language. Then we would walk home by ourselves. Of course, now you would say child abandonment or child abuse, but the world was different then.

I remember back then, they had recess, and the teacher would blow the whistle, and all the kids were just ignoring the whistle and still running around. Well, we went to a parochial school in Hong Kong, and whatever the nuns or anybody said, we lined up. There wasn’t this backtalk or anything. I remember standing there and thinking, wow, these kids are not...I was there in line. They were just running around like wild people.

It was interesting. It was also the first time we interacted with Blacks. Every racial culture has their own way of dealing with other races. Yes, it was the first time we actually interacted with other nationalities. Sometimes that didn’t go well, especially with my brother, and not because he did anything. I think there is an unwritten rule for boys; I guess back then, you’re the new boy, and you get picked on. You’ve got to establish yourself. It’s like the Lord of the Flies thing.
Is your brother older or younger?
He’s eleven months younger.
Were there any other notable cultural adjustments or cultural shock?
Food, totally, because we had to eat at the school cafeteria. Back then, they had a monitor that walked around as you ate, and I couldn’t eat. I didn’t like the flavors. I was not used to it whatsoever. I love hot dogs now, but I didn’t really like hotdogs back then. I wasn’t eating. I


remember he pointed at my plate, and I didn’t know what he was saying; I thought he wanted me to eat it, and I started trying to eat it, and tears were coming down. It was terrible. Now I’ve adjusted, so I love everything. Yes, it was quite a shift just in the tastebuds.

What else? I think the kids were not as disciplined. Other than the playground experience, I saw it in the classrooms, a lack of respect to the teachers. Where I came from, whatever they said, it went. We may not like it, but you gave respect to the person who was teaching you. Kids were meaner, I felt, and maybe it’s because we were new.

Television, that was fun, but [I] didn’t understand a word of it. It took a while to start to assimilate. There wasn’t an English as a Second Language back then, which I think was good and bad. I’m not sure because I never grew up in another system. You either survived it, or you didn’t survive it. You just learned to pick up as fast as you can.
How long did it take for you to learn English and make that adjustment to the language?
I think I started understanding television [after] about two years, and in a way, that was my teacher. Yes, about two years. But the only courses that I remember that they graded me on were math class and maybe my art class, but I think they didn’t fill out the rest. I also remember, too, I was so far advanced in math. I came in the second grade, and I think people were just learning how to do carryovers in addition, and I had already done multiplication and division by that time.

I remember they had this one exercise. They put a big circle, and they put one number in the middle and other numbers on the peripheral. You were supposed to multiply that number by the other numbers and write the answers outside the circle. I just went zip. Everybody was going, What? Then I thought, Wow, this is a piece of cake. But yes, it was very distinct in how far advanced mathematically I was versus the American system.
What kind of TV programs did you watch?


Oh, you probably don’t know any of them. You might. Bewitched. I can’t remember if Gilligan’s Island was on then. But all the old ones. Oh, Bonanza, The Rifleman, The Flintstones, Bugs Bunny. Also, we discovered cartoons were on Saturday mornings. That was amazing. I think Beverly Hillbillies were on, and The Munsters. You guys haven’t seen any of those, right?

JT: I’ve seen The Flintstones, yes.
CW: I’ve seen Bugs Bunny before.
Way before your time.
CW: That one was for Stefani. Do you know why your parents ended up moving away from L.A. and to Las Vegas?

There are two stories, one you’ll hear from my mom. The way I heard it was, my mother had arthritis. I remember her fingers would swell up, and she couldn’t get her rings off, and she couldn’t really make a fist. Somehow, she has friends here; that’s the First Lady’s [Kathy Ong Sisolak’s] family because my mother was friends with their family way back in China. They said, “Come and visit.” Somehow, we drove all the way here. They said the weather suited her arthritis because it was dry here. The unofficial story is that my mother loves gambling, and so she loves all the opportunities here. Yes, that’s how they came here. The next thing I knew, we were packed up, and we were here and starting school in fifth grade.

What year was that?

Nineteen sixty-five, I believe.

What did your parents do after they moved here?

That’s a good question. My father became a cook at the Stardust at the Aku Aku restaurant. My mother didn’t work for some time, and then she found a job waitressing.
What school did you go to when you moved here?


Sunrise Acres. I don’t know if you even know where that is. The town was nothing. Oh gosh, there was nothing on Sahara [Avenue]. I think that was the very edge of town. In ’65, I only remember five Asian families, no Chinatown. I remember whenever my cousins would visit, their parents would bring food or spices or something from L.A. or San Francisco, because you couldn’t buy it here.

What were your first memories when you first got here?

When I first got here, it was hot. It was really hot. I don’t see it as much, but there’s ticks on trees. I remember those ticks, and I haven’t seen them in years, so I don’t know what happened to them.
SE: The cicadas?
No. They were actually big ticks. Cicadas, too; I remember those. But no, they were these ticks, and I had never seen ticks before. What else do I remember? We used to ride bikes all over the place, and it wasn’t an issue. I wouldn’t dare put myself out there with a bike, any sort. That’s how we got to school is take our bikes. Nobody drove us.
This is slightly off-topic, but do you know how your parents met?
I think in school. I learned that story when my father passed away, and I gave the eulogy and gave a little bit of the background. Evidently, they were schoolmates, and he was sitting in front of her. She said he was a much better student than she was, especially in art, and so she would give her papers to him to do. That’s how they met.
What was your schooling like here in Las Vegas?
I went to Sunrise Acres. We played a lot. Nobody had any other distractions other than what’s on the playground. We didn’t have phones or any other forms of entertainment. You were on the monkey bars a lot; tetherball, which I don’t think anybody plays anymore. It was a bunch of


outside activities, and for me, I think that’s what is missing today. We were playing in the streets, roller skating, hopscotch, who knows, but we entertained ourselves. It was mostly outdoors. Then somebody would say, “Dinner,” and we would all run in. I don’t really see any kids now doing anything outdoors. It’s more formal sports versus just impromptu play.

I do remember that in fifth grade, in the mornings, they would have each student say the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the flag. For years, I had no idea what those words were. I just learned them phonetically because I didn’t have any idea. You were on the intercom leading the Pledge of Allegiance, which no one does anymore, right?
JT: In elementary school, we did, but not any time after.
I wonder if they still have that.
CW: We did it with daily announcements, because they always had a video, and then they would have the Pledge of Allegiance.
I was on the intercom, and I remember coming back to my homeroom. You had a homeroom. That teacher said, “You have a really thick accent.” Nobody had ever told me that. I never made that distinction. From that moment on, I started listening to myself. I think I’ve corrected most of it. I don’t really have an Asian accent when I’m speaking English. I notice that people tend to pronounce their p’s differently, their r’s differently, and the l’s, especially for Asians. That was the first time I realized I was really kind of a little different—other than I was Asian—that I spoke differently, and so forth.
From where did you graduate high school?
I went to Valley High School here. I graduated as the valedictorian. Actually, I went from Sunrise Acres to Roy Martin Junior High School and won the American Legion Award. I don’t know if they do that anymore.


JT: They do.

Isn’t it, they give it to one boy and one girl?

JT: Yes. After a speech and an interview, then they give it.

I don’t remember the speech or interview.

JT: (Indiscernible) (21:55) (All laughing)

I thought it was just based on your grades. I’m not sure. But I don’t remember giving a speech. Anyway, I won that award, and I graduated first in my class at Valley High School.
CW: What did you do after high school?
After high school...I guess I didn’t really have any guidance, per se, and I’m not blaming any of that. I had a lot of offers from all different schools that I just kind of brushed aside. I did two years here at UNLV, and then I said, “This is not where I want to be.” I applied for UCLA, and I got into UCLA. But I had a falling out with my own parents, so there’s a breaking away. There’s a dutiful Asian child, and then there is the rebellious American child. I think I just rebelled, and so I wound up back here at UNLV.

When I came back, somebody actually met with me, and I found out later that he was one of the professors in engineering. What he was doing—and I didn’t know until much afterward— he was targeting good students to be engineers. I had no idea what engineering was, either. I said, “Okay,” and that’s when I started studying. But before then, it was just general. I kind of dabbled in whatever.
SE: Do you remember his name?
Yes, Herb Wells. You can actually see him when they do any of the documentaries on how they built Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. They usually interview him. A lot of my professors came


from building the dam. They were from Boulder, Colorado, Colorado School of Mines, and they stayed and became professors at UNLV. He is deceased now, unfortunately.
CW: Other than that professor, what made you interested in pursuing engineering?
Really only him. I was really good at math and didn’t want to be a teacher. I didn’t see any other avenues that you can apply your math to. It could have been computing, but it wasn’t that big back then. When he came along—and he drove a lovely sportscar—I thought, Hmm, okay; not really understanding that by the time I was done, I was taking a lot of physics and chemistry classes on top of the engineering classes. They failed to explain to me I had to take two more tests after that to get my license. But by that time, I was knee-deep in it, and I wasn’t going to turn back. I was probably the second or third woman that graduated from engineering there [UNLV]. A lot of times, I was the only woman in my class, a lot of times.

How did you feel about being the only woman in your class?

Yes, I loved it. [Laughing] There were a few times that I crossed paths with another girl in there. I was kind of selfish with all my work because I figured if I did it, then you ought to be able to do it. I didn’t like cheating. I didn’t like somebody taking my efforts. I took time to do what I needed to do, and I wasn’t going to share it. I actually stayed away a lot from... and that was probably a prejudice on my part. I loved it. I liked being the only.

Actually, that happened in high school. Usually, I was one of very few women in my honors classes. That year in high school, they graduated five valedictorians, but I had taken a lot more—they didn’t have AP classes back then—but all my classes were honors classes, but they didn’t award more points for that because the top you get was 4.0. That was it. I always felt there was some injustice in that, but I’m glad they rectified it.
What did you do after graduating college with your engineering degree?


I kind of worked through college. During college, I worked at a soil testing lab. I ran that lab. I also played tennis on the tennis team. I got myself a tennis scholarship. I also took a lot of dance classes. Back then, there were a lot of dance jobs. I just had a lot of interests. I figured my best chance in succeeding in something was using my engineering degree, because if you went into show business, there’s a whole lot of girls that are competing for the same thing. If you went into tennis, there are a gazillion tennis players. But in engineering, there’s only one girl. I figured I’d head where I had the best probabilities.

I got an offer from the soil engineering firm I worked with, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I did it well, but when you’re referring to soil as dirt, that’s not a good thing. It was very dirty work, although the science was very interesting. Then I went to work for the Las Vegas Valley Water District. I was the first woman engineer they ever hired.
What did you do there?
First, I did plan checking. It was very interesting because up until then, in engineering, even though I was usually the only girl, I wasn’t treated any differently because your grades, tests, quizzes, and homework spoke for itself. But when I went to work there, it was the first time I felt some pushback that I was a girl. That was actually very foreign to me because all my peers and my professors treated me completely the same.

I’m going to preface this by saying that they’re all nice people, but I think it was the times. I had a tech, and he worked for me, but he had been there for years. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so they would have him check my work, and so he didn’t like that. I can understand it now. I’m a lot younger. I’m fresh out of school. I don’t know what I’m doing and he’s getting paid less and has a lesser title. He was checking my work, and that started an interesting dynamic.


I actually had somebody come up to me, a woman, and say, “Well, Christian, how did you get this job?” I thought, Excuse me? I went to school. I passed all the tests like all the other guys. I went on an interview, and I got this job. How else do you think I got this job? But again, it’s actually more a reflection of the times. But it was difficult.

Back then there were people coming to the counter. They would say, “Where is the nearest water line?” Or else I would be out in the field surveying. I’ve taken a guy out with me, and he’s holding the rod, and I’m reading the transit. It was interesting because people would ask him the questions, or ask a question that I would answer, but they would look at him. It’s like, Okay. But it was a very interesting dynamic that you had to fight for your position.

Like I said, at school, I was really treated as an equal, and when I came out, it was very different, very different. I think more surprisingly for me was the treatment I got from other women who didn’t understand I was the highest-paid woman at that time and in my own position, and they didn’t understand how I got there or why I got there. There was really not any support from them, and they were always looking for a fault—like, “Did her contract go out okay?” [or] “Were there a lot of mistakes?”—instead of really rallying for me.

I remember I had a team of draftspersons. There was one woman there, and she was older. Looking back, I should realize what it took for her to get to her position, but I didn’t. I was young. We became great friends after that. She was slower, but she was very meticulous. She helped me a lot with my contracts.

But those were the conditions you worked under. You don’t really have a choice. I also remember that when I got interviewed for my position, there was a table of people and myself. One question always stood out to me. The question was, “Well, Christian, if you were married and your husband gets transferred, what will you do?” I almost said, “If you ask that of your


male candidates, then I would answer.” Then I thought, No, I’m going to get this job. I said, “Well, I’m not married, so I can’t answer that question.” I left it as that. But that one question always stood out in my mind, but that was 1978. You can’t ask those questions now, but it was very much tilted toward the male candidate, pretty much.

How long did you stay working for...?

Five years. I had some wonderful bosses. Part of the growing up as a professional that I did enjoy there...When you’re at school, if you had an eight o’clock class, at least when I did, you can come in at 8:10 or 8:20. But as long as you get your homework done. I don’t know how it is now. But your eight o’clock classes always suffer because you’re partying the night before, and who wants to get up to get to class?

When I got this job, and then when I was in soil engineering, I just showed up whenever I wanted to because I ran the lab. I can be there until one or two in the morning, it didn’t matter. It was just filling out your timecard. I can arrive after school, whatever, and it wasn’t an eight–to– five. I never really worked an eight–to–five like that. We didn’t have to clock in, but I didn’t think it was a problem. I came in at 8:10...8:15. Somebody said, “Well, Christian, what are your hours?” I said, “I don’t know. I guess eight to five.” It didn’t occur to me. Then I remember the chief engineer called me into his office, and he said, “I hired you to be here from eight to five, not 8:15.” That was actually a rude awakening. That was the transition from school into professional work. From that time on, I was rarely late, very rarely late.
What did you do afterward?
Afterwards, I got married here and then moved to California and ultimately became the project engineer for all of North Hollywood in the redevelopment agency, which was fascinating


because we would buy properties and demolish them and bring in developers, and then we would build new stuff.
Could you tell us more about that experience? What did you work on?
Oh yes. I moved to L.A. It was exciting coming from here in terms of the work because I was very much established already, and they had a lot more infrastructure than we have here. [Here,] you can stick a pipe anywhere, and there are no other utilities because it’s all new land, way back then. Now it’s a little bit more infilled. But in California, everywhere you touch, there is a whole slew of utilities that you have to guide to go over, under, or whatever, or relocate. It was a lot of diversity, and here there wasn’t really that much diversity. When I worked there, I was always the youngest or the only woman in my position, which still was in engineering. But at that company, we had female attorneys, we had female project managers; we had everybody in leading positions that were all mixed racially and sexual gender. It was a great time.

I started out as an associate engineer and then wound up being the project engineer for all of North Hollywood. My signature project before I left was probably— the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences—which is the Emmy, that statue of the Emmy with the globe. In the northeast corner of Magnolia and Lankershim [boulevards], you’ll find that statue, and that’s their home. I did all the infrastructure leading from the Hollywood Freeway to that. The pink- colored sidewalk you’ll see, I put all that in, and the special lightings and so forth.
Why did you end up leaving that job?
My then-husband, now ex, was working for an oil company, Occidental Petroleum, and so he did get transferred, and by then, I had children, so I left there. We moved to good old Bakersfield, California, and I couldn’t understand why an oil company is there. Their international branch of Occidental Petroleum was in Bakersfield. We saw an opportunity for me to not work outside the


home because the cost of living was so much less than where we were in the city of L.A. So I became a stay-at-home mom for quite a while. Then we traveled the world because his position took us to living in the Philippines and Ecuador, and then his last transfer was to Libya, but I decided it was time to come back to the United States.

Could you tell us about living in all those places and what it was like? Did you take your children with you?
Yes, they went to international schools. Our first post was in the Philippines, and we lived at the top floor of the Peninsula Hotel, actually. We had a three-room suite. That’s because the post was only going to be maybe for a year. Then, when you get transferred as an ex-pat, you usually get a house, and then you have to upgrade that house somehow, and then you buy furniture. By the time I’m done with that, it was time to leave. We negotiated a deal. Yes, we were at the top floor of the Peninsula Hotel. We had five restaurants at our disposal, and a driver. My kids went to an international school.

It sounds really good until all the food started tasting the same. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I never had to do laundry that entire year. I just set it out, like a hotel. They would do it. It was great for that because the housekeeping came in every day. We got fresh towels. It was great. But the food became an issue. You’re craving now for a homemade plate of spaghetti. I was always searching for a way to get that for my children. You can go downstairs and eat in the restaurants, but it started all tasting the same. We just really craved a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I had a little, tiny frig. It was a beautiful setting, but I had a little, tiny bar frig, and it wasn’t very cold, so you couldn’t keep things very cold.

It was good to have a driver. It was fun. But we only had one driver, so he took the kids to school in the morning, but I was stuck at the hotel. To use mass transit there, it’s tough.


You’re crowded together. I had to find things...this is a first-world problem, so I shouldn’t complain. I had to walk to where I wanted to go, which was no big deal, but it was also very hot and very humid. The traffic was awful. There were times we were in the car and going to dinner, and it was like a parking lot. Then we said, “Okay, meet us at the restaurant because we’re going to get out and walk.” By the time we walked and finished dinner, he would just be pulling into the parking lot. It was a nightmare in terms of the traffic there.

The kids loved it. We had the services of the Manila Polo Club, so they learned how to ride horses.

It was, again, getting a little bit used to the food. It wasn’t really quite Asian. It was Filipino food, which I love now, but I couldn’t really get used to the taste at first. This lovely Filipino woman came to me and goes, “Oh, you went to the wrong places...let me show you.” We went to this buffet, and so then I got to taste everything. I remember this pile of stuff. I said, “What is that?”

“Take one.” They’re little triangles. It looked like they were fried.
I said, “What is it?”
“They’re fried chicken butts.” That little triangle, chicken butt.
Asians eat a lot of stuff, and I said, “No, I think I’ll pass.” Evidently, that’s a delicacy. It

was interesting. It was really, really interesting.
The kids, because they went to an international school, it wasn’t just Asians. It was all the

other ex-pats, so they were exposed to a lot of different languages. They would have International Day, and everybody brought their own foods. My kids to this day, will eat anything, except maybe fried chicken butts.


Yes, we traveled a lot from there. We went to Nepal, very exotic. We took them travelling all over the Philippines.
Then you mentioned Ecuador.
We spent four years in Ecuador in Quito. That was probably the longest where my children lived somewhere. In between that, we went to the Philippines, and we came back to the States, and we turned around, packed up, and went somewhere else. Sometimes they’re in-state moves from Bakersfield to L.A. or something. Ecuador was the longest stretch; they lived there for four years. It was nice, because you got there long enough to really understand the country and to pick up the language.

Again, we had a driver. We were very fortunate. They continue their riding and do jumping and so forth. My daughter became fluent in Spanish. The hardest thing for me was trying to understand television or radio, but she got so good that she could understand, and it didn’t matter what format. In fact, she later got a degree in it, on top of accounting. Yes, my kids’ formative years were in Ecuador.

The food was wonderful. It’s nothing like Mexican food, although it’s South American. They ate cuy. Cuy is a guinea pig. They kind of look like rats when they’re de-skinned. I never really got quite the taste of that cuy. It was interesting from a lot of different points of view.

Again, we traveled a lot from there. We went to Machu Galapagos. The kids were exposed to a lot of things.
After that, Libya. What was that like?
My ex went to Libya. We had a choice to live in Spain, Madrid, or Malta. But by that time, my daughter was in high school, and I said, “We need to come back to the States because I need to get them in college.” Then we wound up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.


Why there?

When we first came back, we could have gone back to California, but we had been away for so long, and California seemed like it was too busy. I kept on hearing about schools; they were all deteriorating. All their cousins were going to charter schools and so forth. I just wanted a smaller venue for my kids. When we flew back, we started on the East Coast. Because he was going to be in Libya, we thought the East Coast is closer to get to Libya.

I had a friend who was the head of the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] or the deputy director of EPA here at UNLV. UNLV had an EPA headquarters on campus. I did work there for a time, too, when I was going to school, in addition to the soil company. I built a lot of computers that they had there. The lidar system that they have flying around, I helped build some of those computers that went into those airplanes. He became the director of environmental studies at UNC–Chapel Hill, and we have kept in contact all these years.

By the time we got down the East Coast from New Jersey, all the way down, we had visited a number of colleges. We wound up [at] UNC–Chapel Hill and gave him a call. I felt it was a small enough town, but it had a lot of depth. It had a lot of PhDs there. It was just a nice breather. You can get to the high school in ten minutes versus driving in California all over the place. I thought, nice place to be. That’s how we wound up there for almost ten years.
What did you do while in North Carolina?
My kids went to school, and then my daughter went to college, and then my son was ready to go to college. I thought, okay, my job as a stay-at-home mom will be ending, so what do I want to do? I called my friend, again who is the director. I said, “Can you use an intern?” By that time, for my resumé, I had nothing for nineteen years, although during that time, I volunteered a lot. When I was in Ecuador, I volunteered at an orphanage, and then I also was on the school board


there. I often volunteered. I felt I needed something backing my resumé. I said, “Do you need an intern?” And he thought I was talking about my son. I said, “No, me.” He said, “Okay, why not?” Free labor, right?

I started going in and working for them. I actually landed a grant with the National Science Foundation that took five other PhDs; we went up to the Russian Arctic to study the effects of climate change. We were studying woody biomass. A lot of times, you’re in the Russian forest, and they have a lot of forestry. They chop it down. There’s the wood waste that’s left on the forest floor. We were studying...if you took that, and then you made it into pellets, can you take that as a cleaner fuel? We were up there for that.

They were also developing economic indicators as a way to determine energy efficiency. One thing that was really unique about working at UNC was, gosh, these kids were so smart. It was unbelievable, smart. A lot of the students that my friend, who is the director, would mentor or became the advisor for, they went to straight to MIT. The level of writing these kids had, I never experienced anything like that. They had the ability to take just information and really shape it. This one girl, I think her name is Morgan Atwood, really bright; she was developing these economic indicators. We were there to develop more of those because you’re in the Russian Arctic, and so the conditions are more severe in comparison to their economics. So we wanted to have that comparison to countries that were different than that. We were there for that, and then also the permafrost thawing.

What people don’t know is that there is methane that’s locked into the permafrost there. I learned that permafrost doesn’t melt; it thaws. Melting is a cycle where the ice will turn into water and re-ice, turn back to ice. Permafrost doesn’t do that. Permafrost slowly thaws; it never really refreezes. It also emits a ton of methane into the air, which is a lot more what they call a


short-term climate enforcer, and a lot more deleterious to the climate. Most scientists concentrate on CO2s. They don’t really concentrate on methane, unfortunately. But there is a ticking time bomb up there.

When we were up there in the Russian Arctic, there is a river that usually freezes every winter. It no longer freezes. Then in the ocean, there are things called “clathrates,” which are methanes locked into ice crystals at the bottom of the ocean, and they’re going to start to thaw, releasing methane. While everybody is still looking at CO2s, nobody is looking at the methane up in the Arctic.

But it was really, really phenomenal because we were going to partner with one of the universities up there and make a new program for UNC where you can send capstone students up there to study that. But anyway, yes, that was really exciting.

Then the economy kind of fell off. I was really vying for a position at UNC, but at that time, oh wow, they started combining departments, so they were getting rid of all the assistant directors and combining those and so forth. Then I thought, Oh, this is not good. I started looking for a position, but it didn’t happen in North Carolina. By that time, too, I was going through a divorce.

I had to call a friend of mine that had a petroleum engineering company who I met when I lived in Bakersfield. They were booming, and so they said, “Yes, we have all kinds of projects. Come work for us.” Then I wound up from North Carolina back to California and Bakersfield and became a project manager for them. One of the first projects I did was for Chevron, putting meters for greenhouse gases. It was a ten-million-dollar project set aside for that. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the petroleum business.


But my parents were here in Las Vegas, and they were getting older, and so I needed to come back this way. Then I started looking for positions here, but the economy here, the bottom fell out, too, and you had just laid off like a hundred engineers from the Water District. I said, “This is not good. It may take me a while.”

Then one of my friends sent me something that she saw; it was a posting. I said, “Oh, okay, I’ll try.” That’s how I got here. My present position is with the Clark County Water Reclamation. Instead of the clean potable water, we’re recycling your bad water, your sewage water. But I have nothing to do with the operations of the plant. It’s all engineering. Right now, I’m the project manager for two of the largest pumping stations that you guys have. Once I finish those, I will retire. Those will be my farewell projects.
Did your parents stay here the whole time in Las Vegas?
Yes, they did. It was a good place for them. I would come back periodically and see Las Vegas and all this growth. I can’t believe it. Were you guys born here?
JT: Yes, I am.
Okay, so you’ve never seen it in either front other than this burgeoning growth. When I came back, I never knew Sun City existed. They said, “Oh no, I live here now.” I kept driving. I said, “There was nothing out here.” All of a sudden, there’s a whole city out there. I was like, “You’re kidding.” Yes, all this new growth.

I do remember one time my friends were saying how their house prices were doubling and tripling. I said, “This can’t be sustainable. It just can’t be because you have so much raw land.” I remember advising one of my friends, “Maybe you ought to think about selling, moving in with one of your family members, or get an apartment because I just don’t see it continuing.”


The reason I know that is because when I worked for the soil engineering firm, I remember the owner said, “It’s a boom-and-bust. It’s always a boom-and-bust here.” I said, “Well, how do you know?” And he said, “Well, soil engineering is one of the canaries in the coal mine because once development starts, always the first engineer they contact is the soil engineer.” If you go out to do boring soil sampling, you know what kind of foundation you’re going to be able to have, or grading. This is the early seventies...sixties [or] seventies. He goes, “Back then; it was a seven-year cycle.” Sure enough, it was. But now I think it’s a ten-, twelve- year cycle. It’s gotten stretched longer, but it hits harder.

I just didn’t think it was sustainable. Sure enough, it just wasn’t. She wished she would have sold her house, but she didn’t. Hindsight is always like that. I’m feeling one now because it’s gotten totally out of hand, and I’m worried about the water issue here because I used to work in potable water, so I know about the lake. Yes, it’s changed quite a bit. There’s a point to me where the existing quality of life won’t be sacrificed if you can absorb the growth. But if you can’t, then to me, I’m seeing the possibility that the people here will have to sacrifice more and more for future growth.

In fact, one of my friends approached me. He said, “We’ve got to form a grassroots movement,” because really, truly, they’re leveraging future growth in the developers’ profits now—it probably won’t be very popular—by reducing our quality of life. You’re going to give up grass in a couple of years. Well, I am all for conserving water. I think it should never be wasted. But grass does have a way of cooling. There is a cooling effect, and it makes the quality of’s nice to see a park. It adds to that intangible thing, but that makes it a really nice place to live. I don’t think you want to be driving down the street and never see a tree, never see flowers. That would make it a different living.


I think it will be hotter, too, because that artificial grass will retain more heat. I think there should be some pushback. Also, all this mega, high-density development is not really conducive to a quality of life, either. But the developers are making money. I know from working at the Water Reclamation that we had to come back and do a lot of bolstering of our system to handle all the extra capacity. At what point should we say, okay, now we’re going to get rid of grass? Maybe we can’t use our water every other day. I don’t know. But there will be severe cuts as we go forward. But maybe the better thing is to just stop the spigot and not develop and reduce that demand that way instead of us keep on shrinking our usage.

I thought of a new slogan, so you guys will be the first to hear it. How about “Nevada Thirst, Nevadans First?” Right? Anyway, something needs to be done. I’m not sure it’s going to be me, but it needs to be addressed for sure.
I’d like to change the focus a little bit and talk more about you and your AAPI identity. Throughout all these years, have you kept any cultural celebrations or traditions?
Yes. I thought long and hard about that. When we came to the States in the sixties, the push was to assimilate as fast as you can. You don’t want to look any different, although you do; you can’t change that, but you certainly don’t want to sound different. You want to lose your cultural background back then.

I remember I was in New York once, and I was standing behind a bunch of moviegoers in line that were getting their tickets. This group of Asian kids was in front of me, and they switched from Mandarin to English to Mandarin to English flawlessly, flawlessly. I was so jealous because I had not kept up.

Now it’s prized that you’re multilingual, trilingual, as many languages, but it wasn’t the thing back then. I think back then; it was to lose it as fast as possible to become a part of the


mainstream, which I still believe in. But that part of keeping your own cultural identity wasn’t a part of the fabric of immigrants back then. But I am glad; I am so glad to see it. I was standing behind those kids, and I said, “I wish I could speak Chinese as well as anybody else.”

I went back to Hong Kong when we were in the Philippines, and I thought, okay, I’ll get to practice my Chinese. I realized I speak it with an American accent. I no longer have that same tonal value. In fact, they had a hard time understanding me, so I had to revert to English. It’s my go-to language now. In fact, I probably know how to speak Spanish better than I do Chinese, which is very sad.

But yes, I’m happy to see it. I’m happy to see it celebrated. But that was not a part of that generation for me.

Related to that, did that ever end up changing for you? How did you, in general, navigate your AAPI identity, how did you understand it, and how strongly connected do you feel? When I was younger, it was not a flag that I wore that “Hey, I’m Asian.” I just needed to blend in as fast as I can. I’m much more aware of it now, especially with that Asian-hate thing going, and then also seeing it from my parents’ eyes. There was a lot of discrimination going on, and a lot of it I swept under the rug, but I had a double thing: “Are they discriminating against me as a woman, or are they discriminating against me as an Asian?” That was a hard thing to tease out. I think mostly, it was I was a woman versus Asian, so that got mixed up in there.

But I know for sure there were things that I decided not to go into because I was Asian. I studied dance for many years, and I’ve been asked to be in shows. I turned those down because I knew I would be competing against other non-Asians, and back then, there were very few Asians on the Strip doing anything. That was a mountain that I didn’t care to climb. I pretty much then created my life based around things that my Asian-ness wasn’t in the way. Maybe it was I was


either a girl or a guy, but not because I was Asian or non-Asian. Maybe that’s why I have a different outlook.

I do think that Asians need to be more involved in politics. I think as a society, we’re not activists, more pacifists in culture. Speaking rudely or aggressively isn’t in the culture. But I certainly believe in being very assertive. Again, that’s a fine line for women. Are you being a bitch, or are you being assertive? It’s blended with me. Even when I was working as an engineer, I had people come up to me and say, “Little girl, I have more construction experience than you will ever have.” And I would say in my head, “Well, yes, I was here one year, and I finished five projects; you guys didn’t.” It all gets blended. Is it because I’m a female, or I’m an Asian? For me, the female part always took over the Asian part.

When I first worked in L.A., Herman Miller was the furniture of the day. They were building my Herman Miller pieces as they were coming in. I sat in this big room with two other women who were administrative assistants, and I had my desk in the middle across from the coffeepot. This one guy comes in, and he had this mug. He goes, “Huh-hm, huh-hm, the coffeepot is empty.” I looked up, and I said, “Yes.” Then he kind of shakes his mug. I go, “I don’t drink coffee.” Of course, the inference is to make the coffee. I swore I never drank coffee; I will never drink coffee and never make coffee, ever. I took a stance with that.

To answer your question, my stance was always; I’m a female; I have the rights, not because I’m an Asian and I have the rights. I think I made a lot of inroads with that, but a lot less because I’m an Asian because I wasn’t given that format. But I do feel it now, and I do feel that we’re underrepresented, and I’m glad to see everybody stepping up. My friend Kathy is one of the first ones; although she wasn’t elected to that position, she is in that position. It’s great to see somebody else in a position that was held by others, not only female, but female and Asian.


Really quick, what kind of dance did you do, and how did you start?

It’s the weirdest thing because I played tennis for years and played tennis on the team at UNLV under a scholarship. One day somebody invited me to dance class. I’ve always been interested in physical activities. I just fell in love with it. It was a combination of athletics and art. I just loved it. It was jazz, but I took a lot of ballet, a lot of ballet, to help with the jazz. It was ballet and jazz. You mentioned about the AAPI hate. What experiences have you had with it either with you or people close to you, and how has it affected what you believe in now?

I thought about that, too. When I moved into Glendale, California—as one of the many moves that we had—Glendale was a white enclave back then. I heard there was KKK running around there, but I never encountered it. It’s a beautiful little town. I remember I was standing in the grocery line, and this man turns around to me and says, “I guess they let anybody in here.” I almost said, “Yes, I’m glad to see you here.” I can be a smart aleck, but I decided not to be pushing that kind of envelope because you never know who you’re dealing with. But it was always subtle, real subtle. There is mass immigration that comes in, and now a lot of Koreans live there and so forth. California itself is a big, big melting pot.

I didn’t feel much of the Asian hate targeted towards me, per se, because I don’t think I put myself in that position. I’m not in Chinatown. I’m not connected with a lot of things. But I see it in my mother. We took a trip to San Francisco to visit one of my cousins, and my cousin said, “Be careful.” I had to bring myself back and say, “Okay, we’re in unwelcome territory where something could happen.” I don’t know about Las Vegas because I haven’t seen it. I’m sure there might be, but I just haven’t seen it. I was very aware of who was around my mother because she’s older, and they can push her over and get hurt. I just became more aware of that. I hear stories that a woman got pushed onto the train tracks. We’re talking about defenseless


people, and this guy is pummeling on her. It’s sad regardless of what race they are, but the fact that it’s triggered by that. I think there is some level of concern because of the pandemic, where it came from. I haven’t personally felt it, but I’m sure it’s there in small towns.

Also, this Russian war with Ukraine, if China steps in and helps Russia, then we’ve got another hurdle to overcome. I don’t think people make the distinction between Asian Americans versus Asians in China, and there is a distinct difference, too, in that culture. Even though you identify with it, there are vast differences in that society.

Have you guys felt it? I’m just curious, even at UNLV.

JT: Not me in particular, no.

But you’ve known other people who have?

CW: Yes, but it’s also very different. Yes.
JT: I know my sisters, but they were all pretty minor in comparison to some of the other things people have experienced.
Yelling things?
JT: Yes, discriminatory remarks, like some of the slurs used against Asians, that realm of things.
CW: Usually, it’s pretty subtle.
It’s subtle. It’s not somebody taking a stick and beating the heck out of you, which I’m sure happens. I remember my high school senior trip. I don’t know if they do high school senior trips anymore. We used to take a bus from here and go up to Carson City. I remember the council member who was with us said, “Don’t venture very far.” Because now we’re in a different city, a smaller, hick town, whatever. I remember one of the Asian boys that was in my class, and we had very few Asians at Valley High School; he started running back to the bus. I never knew


what happened, but I suspect that’s probably what happened; something was said. Thinking back, there are small incidences, but luckily, I haven’t personally felt something that was threatening.
CW: I just have one more question left, but before that I’ll turn it over to Jerwin and Stefani.

JT: Growing up, you’re drawn to people that are similar to you. I just wanted to know if you had any experiences growing up with other Asian Americans, whether that be in Las Vegas or in California.
I didn’t hear the first part because your mask was...What was the first part?

Usually, when growing up, you’re usually drawn to people who are of similar ethnicity or nationality. I just wanted to know if you had any experiences interacting with other Asian Americans.
Yes. Surprisingly, all my really close friends just happened to be Asian Americans, but I certainly have American friends. For whatever reason, one or two will become my really close friends. I don’t think we ever talked about being different. I think it was always just there, and it wasn’t really discussed in my generation. I don’t know if you guys talk about it.

Yes, I’d say it’s a pretty big part of some of the conversations, yes.

I think that’s healthy because I think what we did in our generation, we just buried it. It was a given, and it wasn’t going to change, and we were going to figure a way to succeed no matter what. I don’t think we wore it as a badge anywhere. Part of the Asian culture has influenced into the American culture, and it’s a lot more acceptable. Now dim sum is great. Before, it was like, what the heck is that? To experience other cultures now, it became hip, and it wasn’t before. A lot of that made it easier. Like I said, it wasn’t discussed in our generation, not really.


You’ve done so much. Throughout your whole life, you’ve been high achieving. I just wanted to know if you’ve had any experiences with the model minority myth.
With what?
The model minority myth.

The model minority myth?

Yes. It’s just the idea that Asians are expected to achieve higher because (indiscernible).

Oh. That’s a good question. Yes. An overachiever probably has a psychological defect. Right? Have you read that book Tiger Mom?
I’ve heard of it. I have not read it.
My mother wasn’t really like that, but there was always this undercurrent of “you need to achieve.” They sacrificed for us to come here, and thus the reason why we need to achieve; we can’t fail. That was really unspoken. I’m sure you heard what a Chinese F is, right? A Chinese F is a B, not an F. A Chinese F is a B. Did that drive me? Probably subliminally, it did, but I didn’t realize it. But I’m happy for it because, hey, all of life is about how much you can grow and how much of the talents you were given you’re able to achieve, and if it helped me with that and went beyond that, I think it was great.

I think where it becomes a problem is when that pressure is so high. I think you see it in athletes, not just with Asians; it becomes not their own goal but somebody else’s. You can never meet somebody else’s expectations because you can never be perfect. Unfortunately, you see those suicides and stuff.

But no, I used it, I think, as positively as I can. But I can see how it can be a negative motivating factor.

JT: That was it, and I’ll hand it over to Stefani.


SE: I’m going to go way back. You talked about your grandparents coming. We had the Exclusion Act until World War II. Did your family come during that time?
My family being my grandparents?
Y es.

You’ll have to ask my mother.

Okay, I’ll hold that question for her.

I’m pretty sure it did because my mother said they fled China during World War II into Hong Kong, and my grandfather was already in the States. Now, whether he came to the States before World War II and stayed there, that part you’ll have to get from her.
You mentioned that there are five Chinese families here. Can you tell us their names?

One of them is your First Lady’s family, the Ongs. There was a Gin family, G-I-N. There was a Fong family. There was a Lee family. And there was a Wong family, W-O-N-G. That’s all I can remember.
Thank you. You’ve talked about Bakersfield quite a bit. Did your husband’s work have anything to do with the National Strategic Reserve that’s outside there?

No. Occidental Petroleum was out just to drill. Drill, drill, drill. They’re all upstream. They are the ones who provide the oil, and then somebody else ships it and refines it.
Did you actually live in Bakersfield?
Yes. Very much an oil town, very much an oil town, yes.

When we first were introduced to you by email, she said that you and your brother danced on the Strip.
My brother did. He was probably the first Asian male to dance on the Strip. My brother is also a lot taller. He is six-feet-one, and he’s built more like an athlete.


What show was he in?

It will come to me. Do you remember what the show was at the Dunes?

No, but we can probably figure it out.

It’s not the Folies. It’s one of those big shows. I’ll figure it out.

And you can add that when we send you the transcript. That would be great. Do you think he would be interested in doing an interview?
I can ask.
That would be wonderful, thank you. Those were my questions.

CW: My last question is, is there anything else that we haven’t asked you that you would like to talk about?
I’m glad this is happening. I am glad there is a way to record some of this. I don’t know how much future reference that will be for other people, but I’m happy to see that instead of my generation, where you’re trying to hide your identity, that everybody is proud of their identity. Hopefully, that doesn’t trigger violence; that everybody will get accepted. I hear about the police brutality for Blacks. I don’t know what it is like for the Asians. Some of those statistics I just don’t know anything about. I don’t know if you guys are gathering that or if somebody is trying to gather that. How many CEOs are Asians that are in American firms, the top five hundred? They talk about females, but they don’t talk about the diversity, and if there is diversity, it’s usually a Black person. I’m glad this is being focused on.

SE: What does it mean to you that Asian Americans are right now are the fastest-growing population in Nevada? Just in a year, I think they’ve moved from 10 percent to 11 percent of the population.
Oh, I didn’t know that.


Yes. What does that...?

Better restaurants. [All laughing]

For sure. Absolutely.

Back then, in the ‘60s, you couldn’t find a Chinese restaurant worth a darn. You couldn’t find a dim sum place until, what, about twenty years ago, and you had to go to San Francisco. I know it doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people, but that brings back memories for me.

How do I feel about that? I hope everybody is accepted. I almost feel that I’m an Asian American, and I should be more Asian. But because I grew up in a different era, I’m not, so I’m not that connected in the sense of identity. But again, all my experience is about women’s rights. It’s about my place as a woman at the table at any meeting or stuff like that, not because I’m an Asian. For me, it’s a little difficult because I’ve been spearheading the woman thing, not necessarily the Asian thing. But I think it’s great. There is a point of assimilation that I think all society tolerates, and I hope that doesn’t start to create some pushback. It’s just like growth is great, high density is great, but you’re going to start getting some pushback because there are just too many. It doesn’t matter which race it is. It’s okay. Is this sustainable without pushback? At first, all this growth is welcome, but now I think there is some resistance. Is this growth still going to be welcome, and there isn’t any pushback? I hope there is, but I don’t have a feeler for that.
Interesting observation. Historically that’s the pattern.
Yes, right. Some we can take, but there is a saturation point, and I don’t know what that is with each society, and then it becomes a negative thing. But who is supposed to determine that? I don’t know. I’m not sure.
Thank you.


CW: Thank you.
JT: Thank you.
Oh, great.
SE: Thank you so much. Oh, you’re welcome.
[End of recorded interview]



Christian Chan, one month old, with her parents


Christian Chan’s parents in Las Vegas 1965

Chan’s parents at Caesar’s Palace 36