Preservation Acts: Keeping Traditions Alive in Chinatown : Don Toy never lost track of his rich heritage. He's taking steps to see that others don't, either.

Don Toy grew up in Chinatown and became one of the founders of Teen Post at 600 N. Broadway. At the community youth center, Toy encourages teen-agers to explore their heritage through lessons on Chinese and Asian traditional arts, including calligraphy, watercolor painting and lion dancing. As chairman of the Chinese Cultural and Community Center of Greater Los Angeles, he has been working to create a center for the arts similar to one in Little Tokyo. He was interviewed by Tommy Li.

When I was growing up, I always had a rebellious personality. I al ways felt that we should question and try to understand things better.

The difference with me was that I never knew how to be ashamed of my first-generation Chinese parents.

Some of my friends were. They would walk in front of or behind their parents, so it made it look like you weren't with them.

But for me, what changed me the most was when I started doing some of the things that people did in America, which were foreign to my father.

When I hugged my father the first time, he didn't know what to do. And that's because in the Chinese culture, we didn't show affection that way.

So things like that would get me to think, well, wait a minute, why did he react that way, and why isn't it that we're able to show affection the way that Anglo Americans do?

I started to analyze and I wanted to integrate the Chinese culture into American society. I felt that we have such a rich Chinese culture, that without understanding it we lose a lot. I would be less of a person than I could be.

That's one of the big reasons why I think we need to continue educating new immigrant and third- and fourth-generation Chinese about our culture and its influence in the traditional arts.

What are we doing now at Teen Post to make sure that these things don't go away? We have classes like lion dancing.

Lion dancing is known as a festive activity, especially to celebrate Chinese New Year.

When you teach it, it's not just coming out and doing the lion dancing. It's also understanding the philosophy: the code of chivalry, the code of honor, the code of honesty.

Yes, the physical part of dancing--playing the drums, the cymbal--that's fine.

But it's the other part of understanding what does it mean to be chivalrous, what does it mean to be loyal, what does it mean to be able to help your fellow beings. That's the part that's interwoven and that I feel is important.

The lion dancing itself is also nice for kids. They like the costume, they like the noise. It teaches kids discipline, it teaches them good work habits, it teaches them teamwork because the drums, the music have to go with the person that's actually doing the lion dance.

At Teen Post, I also have senior citizens teach traditional musical forms of the Chinese violin, which has only two strings, the Chinese guitar and Chinese opera.

There's a story behind each art form, and when you have an opportunity to let people understand what it is, then the interest is there.

Lately, I've been talking to some of our senior citizens about the history of handmade juong --Chinese tamales made of sweet rice, sausage, pork, sour egg yolk and nuts, wrapped in bamboo leaves.

It goes back to a folk tale about a Chinese scholar. He was very honest and was caring for the people and did a lot of things for the king. The story has it that because he fell into disfavor with the king, the king had him executed and thrown into a river.

But the people loved him so much and felt so bad about it that they made the juongs and wrapped them up into bamboo leaves and tied them up. The villagers then threw them into the river so the fishes and animals would eat them and not eat his body.

I thought that was a great story. But my question is: What's going to happen when all these little old ladies and people who make them die off? Nobody is going to know how to make juong .

So we want to document it by doing some videos. When they make the juongs , I want people to line up so we can actually videotape and know how to do every step.

One final way we can preserve traditional arts is by having a Chinese cultural and community center, which has been in the planning stages for at least two years.

What we're talking about is a seven- to nine-story building with a Chinese garden on top, a space for a bookstore to sell books and a theater. We're also looking at having arts-instruction classrooms.

There's $1.6 million that's been approved by the Community Redevelopment Agency for land acquisition and an additional $250,000 is available for programs, on-site improvement and temporary facilities.

But what's holding us back is that we're still trying to finalize negotiations for a site at the 40,000-square-foot Hip Hing lot at the 800 block of North Hill Street.

We need the offices of the mayor and the City Council and other elected officials who represent the Chinatown area to be sensitive to the importance of having a project like the community center.

It can give people a sense of pride, a sense of community, a sense of identity.

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