Bao Yan Chan, who was in the forefront of nearly every San Francisco tenant struggle at City Hall over the past two decades, died this week at age 88. Mrs. Bao Yan Chan was born on August 4, 1918 in Shanghai, China. At the age of twelve, she and her family moved back to their hometown of Shun Duk in Canton Province. In China, she was a teacher and dean of an elementary school for 25 years. She came to the United States in 1984 and has been a strong leader for the Chinatown-based Community Tenants Association (CTA) since 1988.
Mrs. Chan was the "Heart & Soul" of CTA and was known all over the city for her powerful speeches at public hearings and rallies on affordable housing, tenants rights and immigrant rights. She worked hard with CTA to get immigrants to become citizens by teaching citizenship classes.
At Notre Dame apartments, she would read out loud what was in the news in the Chinese newspapers, as many could not read. She led the fight to save her own building, Notre Dame Apartments that was the largest expiring use project in San Francisco by trying to keep rents affordable. Mrs. Chan is a true organizer and a hero because she is both Humble & Brave.
She is humble in her giving credit to all the seniors who are willing to become citizens and to vote. She is Brave because she is totally fearless in SPEAKING OUT for the community. She can tell when someone is just a politician trying to get votes or "For real" and "Genuine" in caring for the community.
When I told her about Chinatown CDC's idea of naming a building after her, she said: "No, that's not necessary because I don't deserve the credit. I always tell the people who thank me for teaching them to become citizens & to vote: You did it! You have the power to change, to work hard to be a citizen & to exercise your right to vote. You have the power to fight for the community."
I am personally saddened by her death because we have lost one of the greatest leaders that has ever graced the Chinese Community. She was a true Chinatown "prophet!" willing to speak out and empowering other monolingual tenants to do the same. Mrs. Chan was a fighter, a passionate community leader and a true activist that Chinatown and San Francisco will surely miss.
Ed note: Mrs. Chan spoke for tenants facing eviction throughout the city, and particularly fought to help tenants facing eviction at Trinity Plaza. While based in Chinatown, her impact was citywide. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of a woman who is a role model for all activists.