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Longtime Chinatown activist Frank Chin passes away at age 91

Frank F. Chin, a longtime activist of Boston’s Chinatown, passed away peacefully in his home on Oct. 9, 2023, at the age of 91. He joins his late wife Kathleen (1933-2017), and is survived by their son Mark. [1]

Chin battled health problems in recent years before his death, but throughout his life, he served as a pillar of the Chinatown community.

Born in Chinatown on July 23, 1932, Chin and his siblings moved to China when he was just two years old to be raised by his father’s first wife, due to the death of both his parents. At 14, Chin’s adoptive mother also passed away, and he returned to Boston with nothing. [1]

Chin and his siblings received assistance from friends in the community, to gain employment and establish their lives in the United States. Upon graduating high school, he was drafted into the army, and stationed at Fort Belvoir during the Korean War. After serving, he began dating his future wife Kathleen, according to Chin’s obituary. [1]

Since the beginning, Chin had a knack for navigating both economics and policies. He invested in real estate and restaurants, while also involving himself in activism to improve living conditions in Boston’s Chinatown. Perhaps his most well-known feat was getting Chinatown’s number of registered voters up, from the hundreds to the thousands. [2]

In an interview with WBUR News from 2013, Chin said when he checked the voter rolls in 1970, he found just 300 Chinese surnames. By 1977, after a voter drive, he’d increased the total to 3,600. The iconic gate that stands at the entrance of Chinatown was a result of Chin’s tireless efforts. After Mayor Kevin White saw those 3,600 voters, it was a “done deal.” [2]

For decades, Chin has advocated for community—affordable housing, cleaner and safer streets, small business and economic development, and youth development among others. Although he was well-known for his activism, the people who met him knew him better as “Uncle Frank”—a kind and humble man. [2]

Mayor Michelle Wu, reflecting on her time with Chin, stated in a recent tweet that meeting him “changed my life, and I will always treasure each memory of his life lessons, gentle encouragement, and immediate requests for precinct-level election results.” [3]

Paul Lee, chair and founder of the Asian Community Fund at the Boston Foundation, had this to say about Chin, in an interview with WGBH:

“I don’t know of anybody who met Frank who didn’t like him, and he remembered everybody he met: the names, the faces… So, when he needed something, he felt very comfortable calling on people, and people were so impressed with his humanity that they wanted to help him. That’s how he got so much done for our community.” [4]

Chin received many awards and recognitions throughout his long life. In 2019, he and his wife were honored by the city when the Chinatown section of the Rose Kennedy Greenway was named “Auntie Kay and Uncle Frank Chin Park.”

So while visiting Chinatown, remember to look at the gate. Take a walk through the park, and listen to the sound of flowing water. Reflect on life, those who have passed and their accomplishments that have made the world a better place.

For anyone who’d like to honor Chin, a visitation will be held at Wing Fook Funeral Home on Oct. 23, between 1 and 8 p.m. The funeral service will also be held at the Wing Fook Funeral Home on Oct. 24, between 9 and 11 a.m. The procession will leave at 11 a.m. Instead of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Boston Asian Youth Essential Service, Kwong Kow Chinese School and South Cove Manor. [1]

[1] Wing Fook Funeral Home. Obituary of Frank Chin. https://wingfook.com/tribute/details/4174/Frank-Chin/obituary.html
[2] Scharfenberg, D. (2013, Sept. 23). For Boston’s Asian-American Community, A Political Arrival. https://www.wbur.org/news/2013/09/23/boston-asian-american-voters
[3] https://twitter.com/MayorWu/status/1712179222981087672/photo/1
[4] Ruhalter, K. & Rath, A. (2023, Oct. 16). Celebrating the life of ‘Uncle Frank’ Chin, the unofficial mayor of Boston’s Chinatown. https://www.wgbh.org/news/local/2023-10-16/celebrating-the-life-of-uncle-frank-chin-the-unofficial-mayor-of-bostons-chinatown