[Article and photo by Angela Cara Pancrazio, Arizona Republic, Phoenix Section, Page 2] — Former State Rep. Barry Wong is deeply involved in trying to stop developers from building an 11-story condo and mixed-use tower on the top of the Sun Mercantile Building, the last reminder of Phoenix’s lost Chinatown. As chairman of the Save SunMerc Coalition, he has rallied support for the old grocery warehouse and for an Arizona Asian-American museum to be located there.
1. Fighting to save the Sun Mercantile has become a full-time job for you. What are you trying to save? At the turn of the 20th century, the first group of Chinese laborers gravitated toward Chinatown. It’s not the building itself, or Shing Tang, the Chinese businessman who owned the Sun Merc in the 1920s; it’s a symbol of an era of a class of people.
2. When did your family first come to Phoenix? My grandfather first arrived in San Francisco in the 1920s; he came to Phoenix to help out at his cousin Henry’s grocery story. He saved enough for his own store and to bring the rest of the family. I was born here.
3. Why did you decide to lead the coalition? Having been in politics and being a lawyer, I learned about the system: If you want something in America, you have to stand up and ask for it.
4. Did you meet some resistance from some members of the Chinese-American community? Yes, the old philosophy is that you don’t make waves. That’s what the Chinese brought here. It doesn’t work in America. I was worried that the history of the Chinese-Americans would be swept underneath the rug.
5. But the elders backed you at the Phoenix City Council meeting last month to rule on the high-rise development? Yes, I spoke to the seniors at the Chinese senior center. I had more seniors willing to attend the rally to save the Sun Merc than vans. I’m proud of the community because they cared enough to show up.