Oral Histories

Interview of Evans Y. Lam

Immigrant from Hong Kong. Senior vice president and senior portfolio manager of Citi Smith Barney. Senior vice president of UBS Financial Services.
Series:
Suburban Chinatown: Chinese American Business and Political Leaders in the San Gabriel Valley
Topic:
Asian American History
Interviewer:
Cline, Alex
Interviewee:
Lam, Evans Y.
Persons Present:
Lam and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Lam's office in Pasadena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research; musician. Cline prepared for the interview by studying biographical information supplied by the interviewee.
Processing of Interview:
Program staff prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Lam was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
Length:
5 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
Series Statement:
The Suburban Chinatown series focuses on political and business leaders in the San Gabriel Valley who came to the U.S. in the post-1965 wave of Asian immigration after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the quota system based on national origins. The series was undertaken as a collaborative effort between the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research and the American East Asian Cultural and Educational Foundation (AEACEF). AEACEF recommended the majority of the individuals interviewed and introduced the interviewer to the narrators. Many of the narrators are also featured in the AEACEF’s book Thirty Years of Chinese American Immigration in Southern California.
Father’s background and his impact on Lam’s values in life--Mother’s background--How his refugee parents met in Hong Kong--Birth of his sister--His father’s qualities as a parent and his strengths as a person--Lam’s relationship with his younger sister--His mother’s qualities as a person and his relationship with her--Lam spends much of his time when not in school in the new public library in Hong Kong--The small apartment in which the Lam family lived--His working-class neighborhood on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong--His elementary school experience--His explorations of Hong Kong as a youth--Lam’s competitiveness and achievement as a student--In high school the primary spoken language changes from Cantonese to English, creating challenges--His early aspirations to be a statesman or a poet--His avid interest in politics and current events while in high school--His early disdain for Chairman Mao Zedong--Lam’s career ambitions focus on banking and economics--He meets his future wife Suzanna in the library when he is seventeen and she is fifteen years old--Lam’s contention that people of his generation from Hong Kong often suffer from identity confusion--His changing spiritual and religious point of view from his education in Christian schools in Hong Kong to his interest in Buddhism as a teenager to his personal version of Christianity at present--Class distinctions and the impact of American and British culture in Hong Kong--More on his relationship with his younger sister--Lam is offered a full scholarship to attend the University of Rochester--He succeeds in getting a visa to travel to the U.S.--The quality of education he received at U. Rochester--Credits his U.S. education for his success--His flight from Hong Kong to the U.S.--His time in college is spent studying and working many jobs to pay for his room and board--What Lam decided to do with a big tip he received while working as a waiter at U. Rochester’s Faculty Club--Students from the People’s Republic of China who were students at U. Rochester during Lam’s years there--Spends one summer touring the U.S. in a car with some of the students from China--Some of the many jobs he held while at U. Rochester--Lam impresses professor Robert Barrow--How he chose the name Evans to be his Western name when he started high school.
The names of his family members--Lam’s thoughts upon visiting New York City’s Chinatown while a student at U. Rochester--How the experience of coming to the U.S. unites Chinese immigrants from separate regional and linguistic communities--More about his cross-country trip around the U.S. --How economics, statistics, and mathematics became his academic focus at U. Rochester--Classes and classmates at U. Rochester--Friends while in college--Demands and competition at U. Rochester--Receives his B.A. in economics and his M.B.A. in accounting--Begins his graduate studies in finance with the distinguished faculty at the School of Business--Is awarded an internship at the Hong Kong branch of the Bank of Boston--Is hired by the Bank of Boston and sent to Los Angeles--Loans Sun Microsystems, then just starting out as a company, $25 million--His training continues as he is assigned bank branches in different cities around the world--Requirement that investment bankers become instant experts in whatever industry they are assigned to advise--Lam participates in making recommendations to privatize the failing national shipping company in the Philippines during the 1980s--Marries Suzanna--Suzanna’s personal strengths and interests--Lam’s view regarding the value of a scholarship candidate being driven rather than being intelligent--The Lams marry in Las Vegas and have their traditional wedding banquet in Hong Kong that December--Lam’s father-in-law and family in Hong Kong--Reasons Lam and his wife decided not to have children--The Lams’ parents’ feelings about their decision regarding children--The moment when Lam realized his wife shared his feelings about not having children--His preference to help deserving students obtain access to an excellent education have children of his own--A career opportunity leads Lam to relocate from Toronto to L.A. --Early impressions of the L.A. area and the development of the Chinese immigrant community there—Lam’s view that L.A. is the most entrepreneurial city in the U.S. --How the Lams came to settle in Pasadena.
Changes Lam witnessed in the L.A. area’s Chinese American community between the early eighties and the beginning of the nineties--To generate more connections in the community, he co-founded the Hong Kong Schools Alumni Federation in 1996--His efforts to connect with new immigrants from mainland China leads to his starting the Tsinghua Education Foundation North America--His tenure as president of the Hong Kong Association--His philanthropic activities on behalf of U. Rochester--Chinese American business in the L.A. area is represented largely by professionals from Hong Kong and entrepreneurs from Taiwan and mainland China--The importance of the import-export and real estate businesses as typical enterprises adopted by successful Chinese immigrants--Lam’s sense that a capitalistic nature is shared by all Chinese and binds them together--The challenge for Chinese immigrants of assimilating into mainstream American life--Opportunities for the various factions of Chinese immigrants to work together--More recent Chinese immigrants’ limited interest in the history of earlier Chinese immigrants in the L.A. area--Lam founds the Morning Light Foundation to help provide scholarships for underprivileged undergraduate students from overseas--His complaints about the U.S. immigration policy of the last twenty to thirty years--The Chinese community in the L.A. area becomes the largest and most diverse Chinese population in North America--Manifestations of growth in the San Gabriel Valley as waves of Chinese immigrants from different places pour into the area and establish businesses--Impact of the influx of Chinese immigrants into on Chinatown in downtown L.A.--Connections between the Chinese immigrant community and immigrants from South Korea and Vietnam--Reasons the Chinese community in the L.A. area has yet to contribute significantly in the arts--His feeling that prospects for Chinese Americans to continue their own language and culture have improved--His assessment of the current political and economic situation in China and China’s relationship with the U.S.--His experience as an investment banker weathering the economic crisis of 2008--How he views his role as a protector of his clients’ wealth--His own sense of being a “fine mix” of Chinese culture and values and American education and opportunity--What Lam values most in his life and how he would like to be remembered--His opinion that the Chinese American community has not given back and contributed sufficiently to the U.S.--How he would personally like to inspire his own community--His projections regarding the current unstable economy--His opinions about the need to reform the current American democratic process.