On 437 Cherry Street, West Newton stands a three-floor red brick building. The building has been there for half a century. Its current owners who were eager to find a stable spiritual home, however, did not find it until 1993. Everyone likes to call it GBCCA, which stands for Greater Boston Chinese Culture Association. It has been one of the largest headquarters of Chinese activity centers in Northeastern America.
Between 1950 and 1960, there were only about 30 Chinese families in Boston suburbs. Zhongying Zhao and her husband, Ruijun Li, moved to Boston from Michigan with their four children in 1956. They usually went out with the other Chinese families and held family parties together. In 1959 they thought they should do something for the Chinese communities here, rather than simply getting together and playing every week. So they established the Chinese Social Club and changed its name to GBCCA in 1963. The main goals of this club is to promote Chinese culture and heritage, to offer a multi-culture, bilingual environment for young people, to enhance the well-being, the civic rights and the image of Chinese Americans.
In the next year after they esbalished the club, they founded the first Chinese Language School in Newton in 1960. “Our children were born in America, so we wanted to let them know more about our own culture,” Zhao says. Zhao, as well as the other parents, wrote the teaching materials themselves and worked as the teachers too. “We only had about 30 students at that time,” Zhao says. Therefore, GBCCA is not only an activity center for Chinese families, but also a sea of Chinese culture for children.
At the beginning, they borrowed places from others as the activity center. “We moved many times,” Zhao says. Betty Yan, who joined the big family in 1980, even cannot remeber how many addresses they had been during the drifting time.
“We wanted to give our children a stable learning environment, so we decided to buy a building,” Zhao says. In 1991, GBCCA held the first fundraising party for their permanent home, and acquired the building at Cherry Street in 1993. The language school, with its new name Huaxin Chinese Language School, opened soon in the building. Now there are at least 15 Chinese schools in Newton with more than 1,000 students.
“It’s our own home,” Yan says. “We have more activities since then.” People works here are almost volunteers, except for a cleaner and an arranger, says Hongyan Gao, who is responsible for arranging the activity time for each programs and activities. Now there are eight core programs, including Huaxin Chinese Language School and Happy Elders, and 17 member-initiated activity groups, such as Karaoke Club and Choral Society.
The building was bought 20 years ago, but needs maintaining everyear. The main source of income of GBCCA are from annual membership dues and donations, says Zhao, who has been over 80 but still works as a volunteer for GBCCA. As the first founder, Zhao does not worry about the maintaining at all. “Everyone loves it and will help maintain it,” Zhao says.