The following is a speech given by International District Emergency Services (IDEC) volunteer Angela Lee during the August 15 memorial of Donnie Chin’s life and legacy at Chong Wa playground:
I’m Angela Lee, also known as Support 7 to Donnie and IDEC. Donnie has known my family before I was even born. We lived on S. King St., just around the corner from Canton Alley. When I was two years old, my parents opened up Ying Hei Restaurant for 19 years. It was located four doors down from where the original Sun May store was.
Donnie would come in to eat at our restaurant a lot. Probably because he can’t cook very well! His radio was always on him. When a call comes in and he hears that it’s in Chinatown, he would run out quick. We knew he’d be back after his run. His food would get cold by the time he returns. Even though we’d offer to heat it back up for him, he didn’t care. Donnie was on call 24/7.
As a kid growing up in Chinatown, our parents were always working long days. We would just run around the streets and play with other neighborhood kids. We always congregated at the IDEC in Canton Alley. Even though it was where Emergency Center operated out of, looking back at it now, it was as if it was a community center for the ghetto Chinese kids that lived in the neighborhood. Donnie would let us play there, get homework help, and feed us snacks. He also used to feed us these nasty MRE’s (the military meal rations) where you choose these little brown packs from bad tasting to gross tasting. I still don’t even know why I ate that stuff, when I could just run back to the restaurant to eat real food.
We tried to do homework in the basement. But we mainly came to mess with Donnie. All our parents are immigrants from China and spoke only Chinese to us at home. We learned our English either at school or watching Sesame Street. But I am pretty sure we all learned our swear words from Donnie here at the Center!
Our families didn’t have much money for toys, back then we just go out and play and come back by dinner time. Hanging out here at the Center, we ended up playing with Donnie’s equipment a lot. He had a room full of video cameras, radios, scanners, twist ties, T-sticks, and tasers.
We didn’t play ordinary tag like most kids, we played tag with Donnie’s taser guns, trying to zap each other. Let’s just say those things hurt! Then we would try to zap Donnie and he would get mad at us, and yell and kick us out. He would always say, “And don’t come back!” as we ran down the alley to go home. But we always came back.
Usually I was the only girl that hung out at the emergency center with all the boys around my age. (Big Hong, Middle, Baby, Gia Gong, just to name a few.) We would always get into these crazy fights here and most of the time, Donnie would be the instigator of the fights. Even though I was the only girl, he did not feel sorry for me. He let me fight for myself. I had to learn to beat the boys up or I get beat.
Donnie knew most of us kids didn’t have opportunities to get out of Chinatown since our parents are always working. He would make time to take some of us to Puyallup Fair, or to see military vehicles at the army base, or to see the ships when Seafair fleet arrived at the water front.
Donnie has been a very big part in all our lives. He was the first one to try to teach me to drive, before I started driver’s ed class and even before my dad took me out in a car. When I got my license and car, he made sure I had a first aid kit in my car in case of emergencies with his beloved glow sticks. And of course he’d put the first aid kit in a little green army box (since he loved anything military).
As we all got older, he recruited us to volunteer at the Emergency Center. We all came back in one way or another to help him out. He taught us to be tough and rough, but also caring for others. I can see that in each one of us. He even said so himself in a recent email to me on June 26: “Big Hong went from a ghetto kid to a good dad—loves his family. Baby is taking care of all the kids, I watched them jump all over him smiling and laughing. These ghetto kids who were out of control grew into young men who are doing good things. We did some right things here. Still remember this little girl who beat up every boy she met … wonder what she turned out to be?” He was proud of each one of us and how we turned out.
In an article that Donnie wrote back in 1982 that was recently republished in the International Examiner, Donnie mentioned how he often went looking for a guy named Saito to thank him for caring for all the street kids here in Chinatown, giving them money, playing with them, being a friend. Donnie said that he had hoped future generations of kids growing up in the District will have friends like Saito to make growing up a little bit easier.
Donnie, I wish we could have told you that you were to us what Saito was to you and the other kids of your generation. Donnie, you made growing up here in Chinatown a little bit easier and then some. We will truly miss seeing you in the alley and running down King Street in your tan uniform. I wish we could tell you how much you really meant to all of us and thank you for helping raise us ghetto kids who used to swear and fight with you to be the people we have grown into now. We are all better to have had you in our lives. Thank you for taking care of all of us, mentoring us, and looking out for us all these years.
Just like how you hoped the future generations of kids growing up in the District will have a friends like Saito growing up, I now hope the future generation of kids growing up in the ID will have someone like Donnie Chin. But in my heart, I know there will never be any one like you for future generations to get to know. You were one of a kind.