A Personal Story by Tom Hom
The talk by Tom Hom was scheduled about a month earlier. Sadly, Tom’s only son passed away less than three weeks before the scheduled date. When contacted by the organizer about a delay, Tom insisted on giving the talk as planned, and said the best way to honor his son is ‘continuing to live life fully despite setbacks and trials, just like the Rabbit On A Bumpy Road!’
We want to express our deepest gratitude to Tom for his devotion to our community and his selfless commitment to helping others.
(Watch the full video at the bottom)
“Help each other – that’s what Americanism is about”
“Get involved…work at grassroot level”
“Remember three things – who you are, what you are, and what your characters are; then you will be fine”
Those are the words told by Tom Hom, a legendary Chinese American in San Diego history, to a roomful of new and old immigrants and their children.
Tom began his talk by telling the audience about his upbringing. Tom’s dad, arriving in America in 1909, brought with him the traditional Chinese values: work hard, strong family bond, be a good student, be a good citizen, and a good neighbor. However, different from most other new immigrants at the time, Dad was more than a hard worker and a caring father, he was an early inspiration to Tom in civic engagement. At age twelve, in front of City Hall, Tom learned from his dad that civic engagement led to changes. “In America, the laws that come out of there are dependent upon the kind of people the voters put in there”, dad said. Tom thought to himself, someday, I will run for the office.
In 1963, at the time when housing ordinance forced people of color to live in ghetto area and no minority person served in government at any level in San Diego, Tom broke the glass ceiling and made history by becoming the first minority councilmember of San Diego! Two years later, Tom was elected Deputy mayor. In 1967, Tom won a landslide victory for his second term with a city-wide 87% vote.
With a desire to make a greater impact at state level, Tom successfully campaigned and became a State Assembly member of California in 1968. Working alongside then Governor Ronald Reagan, Tom worked on issues to help disadvantaged groups. For example, Tom authored Compensatory Education Bill that benefited minority students and students who learned English as second language.
Tom made a tremendous impact in shaping San Diego the way we see today.
While as the Chair of the task force, Tom led effort to build Jack Murphy Stadium, later known as Qualcomm Stadium, and today SDCCU Stadium.
As founding president of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, he was instrumental in the transformation of the then skid-row into today’s world-famous historic Gaslamp Quarter District.
Having never forgotten his roots and community, Tom also helped the effort to establish the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum in downtown, which remains a major historical attraction to locals and tourists.
In recent years, Tom was responsible for saving the historical Western Metal Supply Company building by working with the city and incorporating it into the field of Petco Park.
To recognize Tom’s contribution, the San Diego Rotary Club named Tom as “Mr. San Diego” in 2014.
Also in 2014, Tom published his autobiography to tell his rich life experience, “Rabbit on a Bumpy Road, A Story of Courage and Endurance”. The book is not only a wonderful, in-depth historical footnote to San Diego’s past, but also rich in life experience with true inspirations to everyone especially newcomers. As one book reviewer describes, “…unlike many of us who come to this country in recent years and enjoy right away a more established and just social or academic environment with better acceptance and less prejudice to immigrants, Tom Hom had to fight his way and broke many barriers through his school years, professional career and political endeavor. I am most impressed by his passion to make a difference and his courage to achieve his goal. While many of the Asians are content with their professional success and being the 'model minority'. In this context, Tom Hom is an extraordinary person who sets an unprecedented example for minorities, not only in his San Diego community, but in this nation as well”.
The book has been translated to Chinese with the help of Professor Lilly Cheng.
Gayle Hom and Professor Lilly Cheng
Throughout his life, Tom has never hesitated to help others to succeed, especially with minority Americans. Many of Chinese Americans have directly benefited from his guidance, leadership and generosity, in professional career, community engagement, as well as political pursuit.
Commenting on a question, Tom passionately talked about Chinese railroad workers in the 19th century. Even though the Chinese workers played a major part in the western part of the First Transcontinental Railroad, they were entirely left out of a famous photograph （below）commemorating the completion ceremony in Promontory Summit, UT. When Tom mentioned this fact to Governor Reagan, Reagan ordered removal of the picture from State Capitol, and replaced it with a painting version in which he requested to have the Chinese workers painted in.
Commemorating Photo Depicting No Chinese
Tom fondly remembered a remarkable exchange with Dr. Martin Luther King in 1964. When Tom appraised Dr. King for his work to help the minorities in the country, Dr. King said to Tom, “what I’m doing – I’m doing this for the world”. Dr. King’s world vision has inspired Tom to this date.
Tom talked about the importance of building bridges and acceptance. When Japanese Americans returned home from internment after WWII, many of them were not welcomed by their neighbors. Tom reached out to the young Japanese Americans and invited them to sport events. The friendly gesture was so much appreciated and recognized that national radio programs reported on Tom's story.
Tom’s talk struck a chord with many in the audience. One senior passionately pleaded to parents to encourage their children to pursue political science and engage in civic activities because, ‘we need a voice in our society’, she said.
When asked by a college student for advice to the younger generation, Tom did not hesitate. ‘Get involved’ at all ‘grassroots levels’, he said. Civic engagement leads to changes!
With so much interest, the engagement lasted two hours, but that did not tire out Tom. Before and after the talk, many people had exchanges with Tom, purchased the book, and posted with Tom for pictures.
Kids think Tom is 'wise and funny'
Videographer: Huiling Han
Photographer: Wei Gao
Videographer: Huiling Han
YouTube video editing: Tracy Wu