“My name is Connie Ling, and I came from a Chinese family living in the Philippines. My father was very strict-all of the kids had to work hard in the family store after school. The store was in a very poor community in the Southern Philippines. The customers were sometimes very tough or rude. I learned to understand these problems, but also to protect the store. My mother came from a very large, poor family with ten children, always struggling to survive. She taught me to love my neighbors, because the neighbors always helped each other out.
When I was a teenager, my father sold the store and moved the whole family to Hong Kong. I had to learn to speak Chinese. After a few years, it was time for the family to find me a husband. The family would find young men to meet me. I was very picky. I did not grow up in Hong Kong or China speaking Chinese, so I was not the traditional Chinese girl. I wanted to find a husband who spoke English. I went through 18 young men before I finally agreed to marry George Ling, who was born in the US, raised in China, and spoke English!
Life changed a lot for me when I came to New York, to America! Like a lot of other immigrant women, I got a job in a Chinatown sewing factory, very close to where we lived. It was hard work, since I did not have experience with the sewing machine before. I worked in the factories for 10-12 years, both non-union and union shops. Since I spoke English and Chinese, I helped my co-workers ask questions and get information from the union rep who visited the factory. I was never afraid to speak up…I had a “big mouth”!
I always liked to help people. One day the union rep asked if I would like to work for the union. I met the union’s President (Jay Mazur) for a job interview. He told me that the work involved more than helping people. There would be struggles and protests to organize the non-union factories and fight for the workers’ rights. I thought it over and discussed it with my family, and finally took a job with Local 23-25 in 1982, just before the big Chinatown strike. Working in the factory and in the union, I saw lots of problems faced by the workers, like unfair pay or getting fired for no reason. When workers had complaints, some bosses got very angry and yelled at me to get out of the shop. When I came back with more union co-workers, we convinced the boss to resolve the workers’ problems step by step. I worked in the union for twenty years, and retired in 2002. The most important result was a close relationship with hundreds (thousands?) of workers in the community who still keep in touch today.
I had three children in the years I worked in the factory. I was active in the parent association of the middle school that my kids attended, for five or six years. As Parent Association President, I helped to raise money for the school, sponsor parties to thank all the teachers, and organize parents to go to hearings and rallies at the school board and City to support our kids. My children are grown up and married now, and I have three beautiful grandchildren. Family and community are very important to me, as well as all the old friends from the union days and new friends in retirement. My late husband’s Chinatown village association picked me to organize a Women’s Committee because they valued my union organizing experience. I am also active in Church activities, Bible study, and home visits to seniors. I love to travel, and I love to learn.
My message to the young generation today: life is full of ups and downs. Keep moving forward, look to the future, don’t give up your dreams!”