At the corner of Fifth and Main streets is the American Hai Ninh Community Association, just down from Alondra Hot Wings. With the window blinds always down, you wouldn’t know it was occupied except for the front doors that are always open in the day and a large sign on a wall saying “Welcome” in Chinese and English. When you walk in, you are met with the distinct smell of incense that pervades the space. Alhambra Source met with the non-profit organization’s administrator Peter Hui to learn more about the organization’s history and the intersection of faith, service and the immigrant experience in Alhambra.
What led to the forming of the association?
The association started from a group of Vietnamese Chinese who came from Hai Ning Province in Vietnam who fled the Communist take over in 1975. Our founding leader, Wong Yu Sheng, was a general in the S. Vietnamese army and helped advocate for us as the first group of immigrants to the US. We had our first location downtown in 1991, then moved to our current location in Alhambra in 1996.
We are a non-profit organization that serves as a service center for the immigrant community (not just those from Hai Ning) as well as a place to continue Chinese cultural traditions. We also give money and send people to help with service projects back in Asia, like the past Sichuan earthquake and floods in Taiwan. Most people come to us connected to friends and family who are already here.
How did you get connected to the association?
I was one of the first group of boat refugees from Vietnam in 1975. We escaped by a small boat and connected to a larger boat bound for Malaysia. We ended up staying in Malaysia a few more years before we were able to immigrate to LA in 1986.
What sorts of activities are done here at the association?
Twice a month during the first and 15th of the lunar calendar we have a vegetarian meal for the community. The association is always open for individuals to pray to Guan Yin (the Buddhist goddess of mercy) and Tien Hou (the goddess of fishermen). We also have space for seniors to play games, a library, and a social hall that can be used for events like karaoke, banquets or memorial services.
Every year, we have several festivals. A lantern festival where we hang peace lamps, a Lunar New Year festival where we celebrate Guan Yin’s birthday (in February), and a May festival where we remember our founding leader.
Interview was edited and condensed. The American Hai Ninh Association is located at 500 W. Main St.