Beth Ching may have physically left Vallejo in 1985, but it’s where her heart remains no matter how long she lives and works in Oakland.
And it’s not as if life was all sunshine during Ching’s childhood. Her mother was Chinese, her father Korean. And, though both were born in the states, it didn’t matter to the Floyd Terrace neighborhood in the 1950s and ’60s.
“Nobody knew what Koreans were,” Ching said. “I would say, ‘Have you ever seen ‘MASH’? It’s about the Korean War.’ The only people who were like me were family members.”
Inevitably, Ching was called “chink” and “gook” and everything in between.
“Kids didn’t really know what it meant,” she said.
No matter. Ching was always somewhere who tried to be respectful to all.
“I remember my parents telling me, ‘You’re as good as anybody else and have just as much right to be here as anybody else. Don’t let anybody intimidate you,’” Ching remembered.
At one point, white neighbors signed a petition to prevent Ching’s family from living there.
“We knew we were different from the people around us since we were very young,” she said. “I can’t recall a time when issues of racial diversity haven’t been on my mind.”
Not only didn’t Ching get down, she excelled. First at Hogan High School, where she graduated in 1980 and where here brother, Ernest Ching, taught for more than 30 years before retiring last year.
She spent two years at Solano Community College, then three at San Jose State University, where she earned a degree in occupational therapy.
For the last 10 years, Ching has been an assistant professor in the Occupational Therapy Dept. and faculty diversity coordinator in the office of diversity and inclusion at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland.
On April 1, Ching will receive a national award in Philadelphia by the American Occupational Therapy Association for her work in fostering collaboration among occupational therapists and other health care professionals, two years after Ching earned the Strommen Dillashaw Award for her “outstanding and exemplary commitment” to the university.
As an occupational therapist, Ching specialized in working with patients suffering from mental health issues and traumatic brain injuries. She earned an adult teaching credential in 1996 and a master’s degree in education with a concentration in multicultural education in 2001.
Ching said she’s always tried to make students feel comfortable “because I know what it’s like to be an outsider. I try and welcome everyone into the group not matter where they come from or whatever their background may be.” Ching frets about the future for young people, especially those in Vallejo.
“I have tried to assist in bringing a wonderful program — Faces for the Future — to Vallejo High’s health care academy but the process has been stalled,” Ching said.
The project — explained at facesforthefuture.org — is about exposure for under-served high school students getting a pathway to the health professions, Ching said, having spoke to 150 11th and 12th grade students in 2015 at VHS through her brother’s connection.
“The students were very bright but lacking resources to enter the health science pipeline which is a shame since I grew up in Vallejo with two hospitals,” Ching said.
“I feel for the youth,” Ching continued. “We had so many more resources back in the day.”
What she really misses about Vallejo?
“Some really good Mexican food,” she said, adding that her husband is a Mexican-American from Texas, making their teenage son — Antonio Ching Diaz — Korean-Chinese-Mexican-American.
Seriously, added Ching, “I miss the warmth of the people” in Vallejo.
Ching is pushing for a program to help Vallejo’s young people, “because I really feel committed to the youth there. I want them to have access and resources.”
The awards are fine, but Ching said they’re far from way she does her work.
“I feel really humbled because I know there are many people great work out there,” she said.
Working with many low-income people in occupational therapy, “we really do need to make sure the gains made to serve all in our community are kept,” Ching said.
So she keeps fighting.
“I love my job,” she said. “It combines my passions — occupational therapy and healthcare.”
Yes, it was a drive sparked from her early childhood.
“I think that all my family rooted for the underdogs or the outsiders,” Ching said. “That’s how we grew up. We just never felt like we were part of a group.”
There is one personality trait Ching picked up early.
“Coming from Vallejo, you know who’s a fake quickly,” she said, chuckling that when she tells students she’s from Vallejo, it gives her “street cred.”
“When kids know you’re authentic, they give you respect,” she said.
Ching returns to Vallejo five, maybe six times a year, visiting and cleaning the gravestones of relatives with her son.
“Honoring my ancestors,” she said.