How would you feel if I told you that the first non- Caucasian member of the San Diego City Council hadn't been elected until 1963? When I first heard about this, I was shocked that San Diego had been such a segregated place.
Tom Hom was raised in San Diego's old Chinatown at 3rd ave and J street, just 3 blocks down from that Wyatt Earp saloon and gambling hall. Tom's house was in the upper floor of a building that was nearly a block long and made from brick, like most of old Chinatown at that time. It was originally built by abalone fishermen in the 1860s when if you were Chinese or Asian you would have to live in one of these places. Now there is not an especially large Chinese or Asian population that lives there. In my research, I read many articles about Tom Hom and about his life and all the challenges that he faced and overcame when he was young. When visiting the City Council his dad stopped him and said “Tom in America, the laws that come out of here [are] dependent on the kind of people they put in there.” With this in mind, Tom never stopped believing and because of it he did all of these things for San Diego.
When asking someone on the street or in a classroom that his not learned about him, generally they will know him as the first person of color on the San Diego council and not known for all the amazing things he did for San Diego. The most important thing that Tom Hom did is the dedication he put into San Diego to make it a better place over the years.
I believe that Tom Hom’s work itself has been of great importance to the evolution of San Diego, both as a city and as a community. By his "work", I am referring to his fight to ban racial deed restrictions, his support for immigrants trying to establish a legacy here, his movement to revitalize Gaslamp Quarter, his effort to preserve the minimal traces of the past’s exuberant Chinatown through the Chinese American Historical Museum, and many more. However, most importantly, Tom Hom ended an inequitable past in 1963 by becoming San Diego’s first non-caucasian City Councilman. His achievement of his was astronomical, as it not only gave him a platform to bring change, it also made a path for the coming generations to do the same. An example being councilmember Chris Cate, who along with Todd Gloria, is the only Asian-American or Pacific Islander to be in the City council after Hom. Cate recently stated, "Tom Hom’s bravery, trailblazing, and courage is why we’re here today.” Moreover, his contributions cannot solely be measured by his personal efforts, as evolutionary changes to this day are being made to our community by the countless number of individuals he has inspired.
In essence, it is vital to know of Tom Hom’s trials to completely perceive his triumphs. Influenced by the magnitude of his personage, many may falsely presume his journey was that of little turmoil and great luck. However, Tom Hom did face much turbulence throughout his life, major obstacles being the early death of his father followed by an overload of work to help sustain his family. In addition, the cruel Chinese Exclusion Act, an abrasive enter into politics, the horrific burning of one of his prominent investment properties, the Farmers Bazaar, and the most disheartening and crumbling, the unprecedented death of his dear wife Dorthy. Despite the former, Tom Hom has accomplished an exceeding amount in many fields, from being a real estate agent, restaurant owner, boat captain, and pianist to being a council member, a state assemblyman, an avid artist and investor, with a hoard of skills and positions in between. The sole reason he has been able to do all this is indeed his inordinate sense of equanimity which has led him to never be affected by any external disarray. In summary, Tom Hom made history by breaking it. Though faced with many obstacles, Tom Hom led a life like no other, in which he accomplished tenfold than his peers.
In conclusion, Chinese-Americans have had such a positive impact on San Diego. They have added features to this place that make everything better, which is why these amazing people deserve a Story Stone. With this Story Stone, many more people will know about the amazing story behind Tom Hom, and just the community in general!
Unknown , Author. “Chinese Historic District San Diego Information Guide.” Trolley Tours San Diego, San Diego Sightseeing Tours , 25 Sept. 2020, https://www.trolleytours.com/san-diego/chinese-historic-district.
Hom, Tom. Tom Hom Rabbit on a Bumpy Road - A Story of Courage and Endurance. Sunbelt Publications , 2015.
Mecija, Melissa. “First Asian American Elected to San Diego City Council Reflects on Life.” KGTV, KGTV, 24 May 2021, https://www.10news.com/news/local-news/first-asian-american-elected-to-city-council-reflects-on-life-in-san-diego.
By Vihann, Brianna, Kai and Valerie