The SFPUC is celebrating Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month, paying tribute to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) colleagues. In fact, SFPUC’s crucial water, power and sewer services couldn’t be done without the diverse workforce that includes a large percentage of AAPI workers from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Wyman Fong, a Senior Engineer for the Oceanside Wastewater Treatment Plant (Oceanside Plant), recounts what it was like growing up in the 60’s as an Asian American.
“When I was growing up in Sacramento, I was the only Chinese person in many of the activities I joined. The Boy Scouts and football team, just to name a few. My dad, a Chinese Immigrant to the U.S., pushed and supported me to integrate into my surroundings, whether it was this sport or that sport. I’m not sure if my dad felt comfortable hanging around the other parents, as he didn’t have much in common with them, but he did it for me anyway,” Fong said.
Fong shared that as a young, adolescent boy, it was all about play and fun. As he grew up, he realized it was a life lesson that his dad wanted to instill in him.
“I am a first generation in the U.S. and my dad wanted me to know that the sky was the limit and that I could do anything I set my mind to. I am grateful he inspired that in me as a young kid,” he said.
Fong went on to pursue a career with the SFPUC and City and County of San Francisco after attending San Francisco State University for a few years and then accepting a Local 39 Stationary Engineering Apprenticeship Program. Living in San Francisco and working at the SFPUC, he observed diversity in the workplace, something far different than what he grew up around. It was through food that he bonded and developed relationships with his colleagues.
“Gumbo, Caribbean food, fresh boiled crab… we always had a giant pot of food here and everyone would eat and be happy,” he fondly shared.
For 31 years, Fong has held watch over the Oceanside Plant. In fact, he was there in 1993 when the plant was switched on for the first time.
Fong’s job at the Oceanside Plant throughout the years has been to assist everyone at the plant, whether they needed contractors, operational support, maintenance or lab personnel. Whatever the issue was, Fong and his staff had to find solutions. The toughest part of the job, Fong explained, is the fact that the plant is mostly underground, which makes for a challenging work environment.
“I’d wake up, it would be dark and overcast. I would commute into the plant and everything inside the plant is gray, lighting is not optimal although it has gotten better over the years,” he shared. “You are there for 12 hours. Then you leave to go home and its dark and overcast. The only time we got sunshine was on our days off.”
But Fong focuses on the positive. He joked with a serious face, “Humor will get you through the job.” As he sets to retire in June, he said he wouldn’t change his career for the world.
“I’ve had a wonderful career with the SFPUC, and I am grateful for all the people I’ve met along the way and with whom I’ve forged lifelong friendships with,” he explained. “I have high hopes for all the new people coming in. What I’ve seen time and time again is that if you take care of people, they in turn take care of the plant, and the plant takes care of the environment and protect the public health.”
While Fong is close to hanging up his SFPUC hard hat, he reflects on the recent violence against the Asian community. He hopes human kindness can stand strong.
“My wish for this country is for all of us to create a more inclusive and understanding environment, where we can break race-based stereotypes and misconceptions. I hope people can find a commonality between differences, break down barriers and see each other, for who they are,” he shared. “We’ve come too far to go backwards. The near fact that I’m being recognized for being Asian American speaks for itself.”