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Convention celebrates 'Wongness' Star reporter roots through his family tree

4 July 1993
The Toronto Star
Copyright (c) 1993 The Toronto Star

I've talked to more Tony Wongs over the last few days than I ever dreamed existed. There was Tony Wong the accountant, Tony Wong the real estate agent and Tony Wong the lawyer. There was also a Ton Wong, but he didn't count.
Some of them were at last night's Wong National Convention dinner billed as the largest sit-down Chinese banquet in Canada.
Altogether, about 1,300 people - a football field of Wongs - mingled at the Regal Constellation hotel in Etobicoke, all of them discovering their new found . . . Wongness. There were Wong T-shirts, Wong balloons and earlier in the day, an awesome display of Wongpower with a dragon dance featuring hundreds of Wongs dancing through Chinatown.

It was a perfect opportunity to seek out my roots - in an Alex Haley sort of way, though on a more modest scale - by starting with all the Tony Wongs at yesterday's convention.I wanted to know if we had some common ground, if our folks were from the same village in China, if we read the same comic books when we were kids, I'd even settle for the same brand of shampoo.
Tony Wong the accountant from Boston looked at me as if I had been inhaling too much helium from the Wong balloons.
But I found a kindred spirit in Tony Wong the president of the Montreal delegation. His eyes lit up and he immediately suggested we break away and form a radical new Tony Wong splinter group, sort of like the Black Panthers, but with better luncheons.
"They have groups for everything nowadays - even for left-handed people. Why not a Tony Wong group?" he enthused.
Tony Wong the driving-school owner caught on and suggested we have our own lion dance. Tony Wong the accountant from Cleveland via Malaysia, said he wasn't sure about the lion dance, but it would probably be too confusing having all these Tony's under the same roof - would we be on a first or last name basis? He had a point. Tony Wong a Spadina Ave. lawyer who I hadn't met before said he was getting my faxes and didn't know what to do with them. "They phone and want to know why I won't write any stories about them," he said. I apologized and told him to send his clients over if they ever need free legal advice.

Then there was the big cultural question. Would a Tony Wong from Cleveland get along with a Tony Wong from Jamaica such as myself? I liked Bob Marley, he liked . . . Barry Manilow. Desperately seeking a common bond, I asked them to extol the virtues of being a Wong, but nobody would open up. Try as I might, I couldn't get them to say stuff like 'The Wongs are more beautiful and have nicer hair than the Lems and the Lees put together.' That sort of one-upmanship is frowned on in Chinese family organizations, who prefer a more fraternal atmosphere, apparently.

All of us agreed the convention was a great idea, but bemoaned the lack of relevant seminars and suggested topics such as 'Bad Wong Jokes I Have Known' for the next tri-annual convention. I did find out that many Tonys choose their own names because they didn't have an English name when they first arrived in Canada. Montreal Tony named himself after St. Anthony's Church in Hong Kong. Lawyer Tony named himself after a world championship Italian bridge player named Antonio.
Driving school Tony said it was closest to his Chinese name - Tong. I told them I didn't have the foggiest idea why my parents named me Tony, but would work on it.

In a round about way, that's what hundreds of other people were doing at the convention last night. They were finding out who they were, where they came from, and where they wanted to go - a theme that's universally applicable whether you're a Wong, a Smith or a Mohammed. The Chinese clan associations played a different role in the beginning though, starting out as an integral safety net for many new immigrants to Canada who had to deal with tough conditions. The clan associations - many of the early members still in the room last night - were the organizations that kept the early settlers going and lobbied for rights that now benefit the younger generation of Chinese Canadians.

The theme of this years convention was passing the torch on to the younger folk some of whom were in the room last night trying to figure out how they fit in.
As for me, I'm still working on who I am, but it's been a great start.

Star photo (Stawicki): FAMILY AFFAIR: Hundreds of Wongs get together for a family photograph at Grange Park yesterday; photo: Reporter Tony Wong, left, met many of his namesakes at the Wong family association's convention

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