Chinese cultural center will connect young to their heritage
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
July 26, 2004
By John Dolen
Arts & Features Editor

When a group of Chinese grocery owners decided to build a cultural center five decades ago, they had no idea about one group who might benefit, the growing number of Chinese children adopted by American parents.

That much and a lot else was clear Sunday afternoon when couples with adopted Chinese children joined two dozen Chinese-American volunteer painters for a get-together at the building they hope will soon be a functioning learning place.

In a lush pastoral setting at the end of Hancock Road in Southwest Ranches, the Chinese Arts & Culture Center is envisioned as a place for all South Florida residents to steep themselves in Chinese history, language, calligraphy, horticulture, and culinary and other arts. It will also include a library housing the personal stories of Chinese settlers in the tri-county area. At this point, the building is up and still needs furnishing and landscaping.

But the mood was optimistic for a speedy completion, particularly for the Smith and Requejo families, both of whom have adopted Chinese children.

"I'm looking to contribute in any way I can," said Stephanie Smith of Pembroke Pines. She and husband Gary have two Chinese children and are in the process of adopting a third. They have two biological children from previous marriages. "We are going to be reaping the benefits of this center's wonderful concept," Smith said.

Carol Requejo, also of Pembroke Pines, estimates from group contacts that as many as 70 families in South Florida have adopted Chinese children. Her Chinese daughter, Dominique, tugs at her sleeve, saying, "I'm 4, I'm 4," but Mom whispers "only 3."

Requejo and husband Tony have four biological children and plan to adopt another Chinese girl.

"The contributions of this center to our children will be priceless," Requejo said. "It will be a place where, when they get older, they can go to and learn about their own culture."

This is music to Franklin Tse's ears, because as president of the Chinese American Benevolent Association, it is his job to complete the vision of those who came before him, those who worried their progeny in South Florida would forget their roots.

Over the years benefactors have come in all stripes. Like the daughter of a Chinese-American woman who donated $10,000 in paper bags full of bills her mother had hidden away before she died. Or like Max Schacknow, a Jewish man who simply loved the "wonderful cause" and donated $50,000.

Tse, 64, in shorts and T-shirt Sunday, acted as greeter, foreman for the painting crew, which included four of his grown children, and historian. A new coat of interior paint went up in several rooms of the 4,000-square-foot site, and guests admired the picturesque pond behind the center.

"It's a dream come true," Tse said, " a dream we've been looking to have for the young people. And now it's almost finished."

The Canton-born Tse is a U.S.-educated engineer and president of a real estate company, Fortune International Inc. of Fort Lauderdale. He assumed the mantle for completing the center from benevolent association Chairman Gow Low, now in his '80s and living in Tallahassee for health reasons.

"I hope to see this built before I die," Low said recently.Tse vowed that Low would, knowing full well how much was behind that wish.

Low was one of 38 Miami grocers in the Liberty City and Overtown areas who banded together for this dream. According to Low, the Chinese groceries, all named "Joe's Market," made a pact in 1955 to buy certain items in bulk from the distributors to get a discount. The money they saved was put aside for this building, as well as other activities of the benevolent association, such as scholarships and help for the elderly.

The cultural center surely would have been completed years ago but for an unforeseen disaster. In the civil unrest of the 1960s, most of their stores were burned to the ground.

Low and others had to find new jobs; he and his wife, Eva, got work at the post office. But members still saved, won a $190,000 state grant, and chose several possible sites in Miami and Broward. Earlier sites didn't work out because of zoning and other obstacles.

The cost of the building and land totals $500,000, according to Tse, with "a large portion" of the funds going to mandated "wetland mitigation." It will cost another $200,000 to get the center up and running.

As for those future generations, they are here. Catherine Wong, 13, gave her impressions Sunday. "It looks Asian, with bright rooms. It seems a happy place," she said. "I would be interested in classes in painting and calligraphy and any classes in language."

Catherine is the daughter of Dr. Antonio Wong, who has a 12-year practice in Pembroke Pines and is helping raise funds for the center. She says she speaks some Mandarin and the dialect of "our grandmother's village in China."

Joey Requejo, 11, is not Chinese, but with one adopted sister from China and another on the way, he'seager to study at the center, too. "I love all the martial arts," he said, adding that he might even eat the food. Apparently on a trip to China, some of the food wasn't up to his standards.

"I'll try it here," he said. "It might be better."

John Dolen may be reached at or 954-356-4701.

Copyright (c) 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel