Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Connie Chan used to love listening to music at Tower Records.
In this podcast, we get to know Connie, who's beginning her second year as supervisor of San Francisco's District 1 (more or less the Inner and Outer Richmond). She and her brother were born in Hong Kong and raised in Taiwan. Connie shares the story of how her parents met: Her dad was a Hong Kong cop who worked with youth; Connie's mom was a social worker who also spent a lot of time with kids. They met through their work.
When Connie was 5, the family moved to Taiwan. It was the Eighties and Connie and her brother were very much latch-key kids. Connie was exposed to plenty of pop culture, although it took some time for music and movies to reach eastern Asia.
She talks about how members of her family had various trades and interests in Asia (piano teacher, opera singer, university professor) that they had to give up when they immigrated to the US. An aunt and uncle came over before her own family, and they landed in San Francisco's Chinatown. Her aunt served dim sum and her uncle worked as a bookkeeper for the famed Empress of China restaurant.
Connie speaks to the well-established immigrant and Chinese-American community in Chinatown and the role they played in her family's move there when she was 13. The networks that existed, the opportunities that opened to newcomers ... it all played a part in establishing a trust that was almost always paid forward. Her mom moved Connie and her brother there, where the three lived with her aunt and uncle in a not-very-big apartment.
But she got her first impression of San Francisco on a trip here the year before. Connie plays the mandolin and visited as part of a band that toured the US for two weeks, SF being one of the stops. It was also the beginning of her really learning English. Her family speaks Cantonese, but from an early age, Connie learned Mandarin in school.
She talks about some racism and bullying she experienced at school shortly after her arrival here. But Connie adjusted and made the most of her new circumstances. She would stop at Tower Records and visit their listening stations, where she would read along to the music and learn even more English.
As a teen, Connie felt she had everything she needed in Chinatown. But when she returned to San Francisco as a 21-year-old after college, The City really opened up for her.
At UC Davis, Connie rode a bike for the first time, a story she shares with us.
She majored in religious studies and classical Chinese. Both subjects were of interest for Connie; they didn't necessarily constitute a post-graduation or career plan. After her time in Davis, she came back to The City and spent some time trying to figure out her direction.
Initially, translation work drew her in. She found a volunteer gig translating for the SF Bar Association, and one of her first jobs was translating for a pro-bono tenants attorney. She shares the story of her work that day, and, as you'll see, it ended up setting her off on a purposeful path.
Having that experiencing of helping people bridge differences with the context of deeper cultural understand, Connie now had a reason to wake up in the morning—in her own words, she "loves" to sleep.
Connie worked on a few campaigns here in town over the years—in 2007 to help get Kamala Harris re-elected district attorney; in 2015, she helped Aaron Peskin resume his old office of D3 supervisor, which is Chinatown, North Beach, and a few other neighborhoods).
She met her partner (they'd known each other since they were 16) when she was 26. He was a bartender at North Star and Connie lived next door. Today, they have an eight-year-old son.
Around the time then-D1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer was up for re-election, she called Connie. Connie thought Sandy was going to tell her that she was running for mayor. Instead, Sandy asked Connie if she wanted to run to replace her on the Board of Supervisors in District 1.
She talks about the process of deciding to go for it, all the people, friends, family, and community members she talked with, and the actual work of fighting a tough battle. Ultimately, she prevailed, narrowly, and assumed office in January 2021.
We end the podcast with Connie's thoughts on what it means to still be here.
D9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen Part 1/Part 2
We recorded this podcast at San Francisco City Hall in February 2022.