By Ernie McCray
I just put down a nice read, “Rabbit on a Bumpy Road,” by Tom Hom, a man who was the first person of color to be elected to the San Diego City Council.
That took place back in 1963, a year after I had moved to the city. So I was greatly interested in the book for the history, a history in which, as a citizen, I’m a player.
I was a 24-year-old back then, still getting my feet wet and my mind wrapped around what was going on in my world socially, politically, and otherwise.
I already had a few concerns, having come to San Diego from Tucson, the Old Pueblo, thinking that I had somehow escaped Jim Crow and had landed in a city of open-minded thinkers, and seeing that that wasn’t so, I started paying attention to who was who and what was what – and the more I looked around I began to see, clearly, that Tom Hom, a Chinese-American with the warmest of smiles, was a prominent player around town. A man on the scene: the first politician I ever heard even mention “diversity” and the first I ever saw actually doing something about it.
He was a man on the go: Vice-mayor; State Assemblyman; Republican icon; legendary entrepreneur extraordinaire who envisioned a downtown like the one we now have…
He takes the reader on a smooth journey over the bumpy road that has been his life, a life that began in 1927 (the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese Calendar).
Now, having no business sense of any consequence, I got into a groove of moving my eyes rapidly through some of his recollections about how he created companies and the risks involved in that and the players and all that, although it was rather fascinating.
I, however, perused the political stuff a little more closely because I remembered a lot of it, how, before Tom took office as a city councilman, no one had looked seriously at how minorities might be involved in city matters. No one had insisted on getting rid of the hateful covenants in the city regarding who could or couldn’t get reasonable bank loans or who could or couldn’t live in particular neighborhoods. He was on the job when it came to such things. Courageously. Persistently.
But what made Tom’s book a very interesting read for me was the spiritual connection with him that I felt.
He grew up in a working-class neighborhood and so did I. He had a teacher in the third grade he liked who made learning fun and made him feel special. I had a teacher I adored in fourth grade who was a joy to be around and made me feel like I was smart and appreciated.
As a kid, Tom hawked newspapers on the street to help a large family survive. I, an only child, just got tired of hearing my mother say “Money, don’t grow on trees,” and started shining shoes so I could have me some do-re-mi. Tom shined shoes, too.
One day when he was young, Tom’s dad pointed to City Hall and said to him: “Tom, here in America the kind of laws that come out of there depend on the kind of people the voters put in there!” And Tom, right then and there, thought to himself, “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I could one day be inside looking out and making laws, too?”
I could relate to that because I knew that I wanted to be a teacher at a young age, thinking that I could make learning more exciting than the “Shut up, sit still, and answer the questions at the end of chapter 8” style of teaching of my day.
Tom lost a wife, a soulmate, and I have suffered the same fate, the having to dig yourself out of a deep dark hole wherein you wonder, as he wrote: “How does one start life over?”And along comes someone to fill the void you’re feeling deep down inside and you move on, breathing again, willing to feel like living a full life again as a giving human being.
As I read some pages I couldn’t help but reflect on how much Tom and I were blessed by being born in families that helped us “understand the importance of having good character”; that lead us by example to approach the world with a sense of dignity, warmth, compassion, gratitude, enthusiasm, and love and respect for our fellow human beings.
I gained a sense that to Tom Hom, per his Rabbit sign, living life in this way is all that really counts. I agree.
Giving one’s life to the pursuit of endeavors like achieving “The American Dream” in a spirit of creating a better world, makes the journey a little less bumpy.
Because the book was written with that kind of feeling, I found it hard to put down. Turns out it’s a love story.
bob dorn says
I wonder if anybody writing locally is better able to get the word love into his or her
attempts to get people to wake up and live. I can only admire this column, and Tom
Ernie McCray says
Coming from you, Bob, this is a big compliment.
Lori Saldaña says
Wonderful review- . I remember Tom, but mostly thru my father’s relationship with him. Tom was on City Council when I was in elementary school. I didn’t appreciate the “diversity” he represented at the time, but my father (a new reporter in town) must have.
Around the same time I remember being introduced to downtown’s China Town that was “redeveloped” with little fanfare or concern about preserving diversity. My family ate at the restaurants there- we were encouraged to appreciate them before they were torn down.
Thanks for the reminders, and for giving us insights into two remarkable lives.
Karen Lim says
Great review drawing parallels between your life with Tom Hom’s. On behalf of the San Diego Chinese Women’s Association, thank you for sharing your insights and broaden the readership of Tom Hom’s book. By the way, I am also a native of Tucson raised on the south side and eventually graduated from U of A. We should share stories some time!
Ernie McCray says
That would be great. I grew up on the North-side, a couple of blocks south of Speedway and a couple of blocks west of Stone. Went to John Spring Jr. High and Tucson High (’56) and the U of A (’60 and ’62).
Linda LeGerrette says
Great article. Carlos has a profound respect for Mr. Hom. He went to school with one of Tom’s daughters and more recently has had contact with a younger member of the family.
I want to thank you for writing this article. Because of you, I have ordered the book SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!! for Carlos. It’s a surprise. He will be so excited! Thanks again !!Un abrazo
Karen Lim says
I went to Catalina H.S. graduated 1972 and
U of A in 1976. Ernie you have an interesting life to share. How about being a speaker for World Cultures at City in February? Send me an email.
enrique morones says
great review ernie, tom and family are close friends as i grew up with his only son as one of my best friends.,will share w family if ok w you? blessings, e
Muchisimas gracias for the history lesson.