By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
With an expanding Chinese-American population, it may have been only a matter of time until Dover and Shebrorn had a community organization for its citizens with Chinese heritage. But somebody still had to do the hard work: creating leadership positions and filling roles on the board, doing paperwork and filing for non-profit status, and trying to reach out to potential members to join. That work was done by John Lin, Hongtao Li, and Ying Coyle, who created the Dover Sherborn Chinese Family and Friends (DSCFF) this year.
While not a 501(C)(3) yet, the organization was approved by the Secretary of State Francis Galvin recently, which means they can officially hold events and raise funds. But while they have only now become an official organization, the group has been holding impromptu events for years (like a Chinese New Year event at the Caryl Building), typically organized through a WeChat group.
“Before COVID, we used to have a small-scale Chinese New Year celebration, usually in Dover, of probably about 100 people. So it was pretty small scale. Dover has a community center, the Caryl Community Center, so we’d rent a little place and have a potluck event, but it was very small-scale and nobody knows about it. We said we should do more things, like have a big event, and broadcast it to the community, so that’s a big driver is we need to be more involved in the community.”
While the organization is new, the community of Dover and Sherborn residents of Chinese heritage is not. Lin pointed out that he’s been here for seven years, and most of the organization's members (who he also pointed out tend to be highly educated and accomplished professionals) have been in town for longer. But even with this existing population, there was a vacuum left by the absence of a community organization.
“Our members have been her from five to 20 years, with the average probably being 10 years. I’ve been here for seven years, but I have other people who have been here for 20, 25 years, and there are a few new families who came here over the last few years, but we’ve never had a community organization representing us and doing things together. We’re very spread out, with Dover and Sherborn having a lot of space and the houses not being close to each other, so the biggest reason was we said, ‘Hey, we saw all these Chinese folks coming to these two towns, but we’ve never had a formal organization or things put together, so we should do something … other towns like Needham and Wellesley, some of the neighboring towns have sort of community-based, ethnic-based organizations like that for Chinese-Americans, but we don’t have that.’ We thought there’s a vacuum, so we should do something about that.”
While he doesn’t have official census numbers, through the WeChat group, Lin sees lots of potential members for the group. In the WeChat, there are over 200 families, which likely means if you include those who are not members of this group, there are “easily over 1,200” people of Chinese heritage alone (although he specified you don't have to be of Chinese heritage to join, and there will not be a membership fee).
According to Lin, Li and Coyle, the reason so many families of Chinese heritage are flocking to Dover and Sherborn is for the schools - so it is likely not surprising that while the group has a few goals, getting involved in the education system is a primary one. A strong desire to get involved in both the community and the school systems (Lin noted that Lulu Fan and Rui Huang both ran for school committee and that there are now Chinese-Americans getting involved in organizations like the PTO and the high school council).
Hongtao Li noted that sometimes in the past, when he received a school email, he didn’t know how to get involved, because he’s not very familiar with the school PTO system. A large goal of the organization is to foster better communicate with schools, and to get more Chinese-Americans involved in the education system.
But outside of school, a large part of the organization's goals is to get Chinese-Americans more active in the community. Although BLM rallies and videos of police shootings quickly turned the focus on how Black Americans are treated, at the beginning of COVID-19, there were strong anti-Chinese sentiments in the country. Li believes part of the situation that allowed those ideas to grow came from not being more involved with, and visible to, the community.
“You heard 'Chinese virus' and 'China virus,' and I think it has an impact. I think the reason that we didn’t interact and didn’t communicate much or get involved in politics or other issues that much … this disadvantage made some stereotyped thinking and misunderstandings [go] around. So I think definitely from this organization, we’re looking forward to getting people to know more about the Chinese. We’re the same folks, we have the same concerns about kids getting infected in school and to not get infected in the community, so we have in common concerns. I hope we can change that and make people more familiar with Chinese communities and have more opportunities as an official organization to hold activities and introduce the Chinese community; to make it more open and more transparent, make it more interactive for people to come in, and we’ll come out as a group to be more interactive.”
John Lin is the sole person of Chinese heritage on Dover’s Diversity and Racial Justice Task Force, and noted that while diversity has become such a big topic, he’d like to “promote our heritage, our strengths, diversity and say 'Don’t forget us - we can contribute to the community with our value system, our heritage and our history.'” He also argued the school and community should be doing better in asking how they can help the Chinese-Americans as a minority group, and make a conscious effort to hold a dialog with the Chinese community and Chinese parents.
Lin noted that the preservation of the best parts of the Chinese heritage was a big part of the organization's goals, pointing out that many ABC (American born Chinese) kids go to heritage schools on the weekends. And while 2020 may seem like a terrible time to start a community organization, Li did note that “We definitely have to use Zoom meetings to connect with each other and talk more online, but it’s also a time where people from staying at home are eager to interact with the community. They might feel lonely, so there is a need to have a platform that people can interact with each other, especially with the Chinese-Americans in town.”
Lin also explained that many other towns have community organizations like this, so he would likely not be looking to expand outside of Dover and Sherborn in the near future, while Coyle argued the organization’s existence may lead to even more Chinese families coming to Dover and Sherborn (she also pointed out that Chinese-Americans tend to reach out to each other before moving to the new town).
While the organization is still very much in its infancy (they’re working on creating a website) if you'd like to join, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.