A West Coast lawyer’s first-person account of race and reconciliation

Childhood friends, then ‘tribal’ enemies, come to terms with a history of violence


In 1960, a few months before a life lesson

BY DANIEL D. WOO — In 1960 when I was in 7th grade, a bunch of kids started the “Boo for Woo” club.  I was furious.

Our family moved to the United States in 1953 when I spoke only Mandarin Chinese and not a word of English.  The Geary Act extended the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act until 1943 when the laws were amended allowing up to 105 Chinese immigrants a year.

We came into the US as political refugees and became citizens in 1963 under a special bill passed in Congress. It wasn’t until The Immigration Act of 1965 that the immigration laws were reformed allowing Chinese and other Asians to come into the United States in large numbers.

Our family wound up in a neighborhood in San Jose where there were almost no other Asians, a small number of blacks, and a few Hispanics.  The majority were predominantly white Protestants, and at my school there were also Catholics and Jews.

I was thin-skinned and got into fights with kids who picked on me, no matter what their size.

In 7th grade, what drove me over the edge was having my best friend Jack (not his real name) joining the “Boo for Woo” club. I then challenged Jack and about six other kids to a fist fight (one at a time) on a Saturday in a grassy bowl-shaped depression at our local Willow Glen Park.  There was one part of this bowl that had a stone wall and we fought near it, with the other boys standing above us on the wall or higher up on the grass.

Jack was Jewish with wonderful parents who had lost many relatives in the Holocaust. I used to enjoy going to Jack’s house and listening to his mom, an English woman, talk.

On that Saturday, my younger brother was my “second.”  We went to the bowl on a hot sunny day.  I remember my brother crying.  Everybody I challenged showed up and a number of other kids from school.

fightJack and I fought for some time with bare fists.  I remember having swollen knots on my face, jaw and hands for weeks afterwards.  At some point during the fight, everybody decided that this was no longer fun and the fight ended. The “Boo for Woo” club disbanded.

Jack and I were never close afterwards.  Neither one of us apologized to the other.  My last memory of seeing Jack in person was driving him home one day from the UC Berkeley campus where we both went to undergraduate school.

About three years ago, I woke up and realized that the fight was my fault.  I had lost track of Jack.  A few times I tried to google Jack to locate him but was unsuccessful.  I had heard he had moved to the Pacific Islands or Hawaii.

Then, in February 2009, I received an inquiry from Jack through an email.

“In the summer of 1956 when I was eight years old (obviously, before I had met you), my Mom and my sister and I spent the summer in _______, England.  We stayed at my grandparents’ house.  Across the street was a kid the same age as me, with whom I spent a lot of time that summer.  I haven’t seen him since.  Then, about a month ago, that is, over 40 years later, he tracks me down via e-mail.  For no apparent reason, that I can discern.   Anyway, the reason I brought up this story is to segway [sic] into the reason why I ended up contacting you this morning.  I happened to be reading David Copperfield and something in Chapter 18 reminded me of you.  Take a look at it; the answer is fairly obvious.  Let me know if you figure it out.

Read part two of Daniel’s story.

danwooDaniel D. Woo woke up to an understanding that suffering is not ended until view, intention and action are changed.  He continues learning how little he knows and experiencing how kindness changes the universe.  Dan also practices law in Seattle, Washington.  You can reached him via Facebook or Linkedin.

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2 Responses to “A West Coast lawyer’s first-person account of race and reconciliation”

  1. This is a wonderful story of reconciliation, but it is also a story that reflects an ongoing issue – intolerance of difference. Even in a city as diverse as San Francisco, young people still fit along racial and ethnic lines, because they still identify along those lines. We have to learn to live in community accepting and valuing the differences. This will truly change the universe.

  2. Added prayers to you, Daniel, to heal wounds that you have the courage to share with us. Thank you. You *are* in a trusted community of compadres :)