As Cranston's Mayor Allan Fung throws his hat into the ring for the governor's race, many think they know him well, given the fact that he was raised in Cranston and has served the Cranston people for so long. However, what many don't realize about Fung is how much his childhood, the first-born son of Chinese immigrant parents, has shaped who he is today, both personally and professionally.
"I was born on February 25, 1970. You can tell how old I am because I was born when Women and Infants Hospital in Providence was still called Lying In," Fung said. "My parents are Kwong Wen and Tan Ping. They arrived in Providence in 1969 and lived in south Providence because it was what they could afford at the time. Eventually they moved to Washington Park and then to Cranston."
Fung's parents opened a restaurant in Cranston, Kong Wen Restaurant, first located on Cranston Street.
"They were at that location, number 1011, for 24 years before they purchased the old Marcello's on Gansett Avenue, across from Bain Middle School. They ran the restaurant on Gansett Avenue for 11 years before they retired," he said.
Fung's parents also had two more children, both daughters. Anna and Arlene, and all of the siblings grew up helping out in the restaurant; an experience that Fung believes has influenced him throughout his life.
"I grew up from 9 years old, working in the restaurant. I was washing dishes on a milk crate because I couldn't see over the sink. We'd all work there helping out," he said. "I learned the value of a dollar and I learned about hard work, and I learned what it really takes to run a business."
Fung said that working in the restaurant had other positive takeaways as well.
"Working there really had an impact on all of us. My younger sister Arlene is disabled, and her teachers from Bain used to come into the restaurant. They'd be 'her customers' and that really helped her grow out of her shyness. My sister Anna is an excellent cook; we learned how to cook in the restaurant and you just can't replicate that type of cooking in a home kitchen," he said.
Fung attended St. Matthew's School for elementary and middle school, finishing up there in 1984. His former teacher, Michael Santilli, still remembers Fung for his strong work ethic and his academic abilities.
"Allan was probably the most gifted and talented student I have ever taught," Santilli said. "He was quiet and shy, reserved, but his idea of always doing his best was evident, and his parents were very supportive of him. He was so proud of what they gave him."
Santilli also remembers Fung as having "a wonderful group of friends."
David Morin, a lifelong friend of Fung's, was part of that group and the two remain as close as brothers to this day.
"He was a little shy back then, but pretty much what you see is what you get. He hasn't changed one bit. He'd go above and beyond to help anybody, even back then," Morin said. "At the restaurant, he cooked for all of us; we were always there and he was always hanging out at my house. My brothers and I treated him like a brother."
Both Santilli and Morin agree that Fung's humble nature from his school days remains with him today.
"He's always the person you can go to; he's a good listener," said Morin. "We went to St. Matthew's together and to Classical together, and I tried to get him to go to Bryant with me because I was going the accountant route, but he wanted to be a lawyer and he went to Rhode Island College."
It was at Classical High School that Fung met another lifelong friend, Angel Taveras, currently the mayor of Providence and also a candidate for governor of Rhode Island, having recently thrown his own hat into the ring. Both Fung and Taveras are children of hard-working immigrant parents and have remained close through the years, supporting each other as they ran for mayor of their respective cities.
"When I won, he was right there celebrating with me, and I was there for him at the Shriner's Club in 2008, celebrating. Allan is friendly, honest, cheerful he's got a good attitude and he's good to be around. He's always positive and that's good," Taveras said. "We have been friends since before all of this, and we'll be friends after all of this. Our story is a wonderful story and I'm not sure there's any other like it. Whoever of us wins as governor of this state, the state will be in good hands."
Fung agrees with his friend and colleague.
"Angel and I have been through a lot together. In 2000 when he ran for Congress, I supported him. He was my lawyer for my first run and for my recount of the ballots in 2006 against Napolitano," he said. "When you take a look at our high school yearbooks, both of us wanted to be lawyers, but neither of us had said much at that point about jumping into public service. We've both fulfilled our ambition and career goals," Fung said.
Fung graduated from Rhode Island College in 1992 with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Business Management, and went on to graduate from Suffolk Law School in 1995.
"I was the first in my family to go to college. I am very proud of that fact," Fung said. "I commuted from home and came back whenever I could to help at the restaurant, but it was there at RIC that I began to be able to be involved in some of the school activities that I couldn't be involved in when I was younger. Having that diverse background [of both Chinese and American cultures] was wonderful, but it was also something I struggled with. I wanted to be that all-American boy playing basketball and baseball with my friends after school or going to football games on Friday nights at the high school, but I had a lot of responsibility at a young age," Fung said. "My parents spoke very limited English, so very often I had to translate for them for many important life decisions. I was 8 or 9 when they bought their first house, and I had to do the translating for them for the banking transactions. I translated when they bought their car, when they went to doctors."
He emphasizes that this was not a bad thing, but instead a different way of life.
"It was just different from your all-American boy experience. I had a lot of responsibility and weight on my shoulders from a very young age," he said. "But, it makes me appreciate so much more, my culture and the experience that my parents had, leaving their own family and friends to move to another country, not knowing a word of English. My experiences growing up have given me a deep connection to my parents and I'm thankful for what they've done for me and my sisters," Fung said.
When Fung isn't working or spending time with his family, he has other ways he likes to relax and decompress.
"I love to golf and play tennis. I played tennis in college. I still like to spend some time on the weekends with my family for dinner and just catch up," he said. "My sisters and I still alternate attending appointments with my parents also, to translate for them. My mom speaks more English than my dad, and she has a good working knowledge of the language, but my dad is still limited."
Fung has noticed an exciting benefit to being in local politics, one he couldn't have foreseen years ago.
"My parents were never really political at all. When I first jumped into politics, running for City Council, my mom was so nervous. Chinese families tend to be very private," he said. "You should see her now though. She keeps on top of things, watching me on television. Even my sister Arlene gets a kick out of seeing me on TV. It's exciting for me personally that they're learning about our government, getting involved in our government. Before, they were registered to vote, but not actively involved."
Fung credits his girlfriend of about a year, Barbara Ann Fenton, for some of the newer hobbies and activities that he's recently been involved with during his time off.
"She's gotten me to really open up and try new things. We did the Boulder Dash together, and the New York City Five Boroughs Bike tour together, which was 40 miles. She's also involved in politics, which is how we met," Fung said. "She's the chairwoman of the Rhody Young Republicans and I met her a year ago in Tampa at the convention. She was a delegate from Newport and on the first day there we went to a late lunch at the hotel. That first day had been canceled due to a storm, and she almost hit me in the head with her umbrella in the wind. We ate lunch together and we started dating after that," he said.
As for Fung's run for governor, he said Fenton has been very supportive and understanding of the demand on his time and the lack of privacy that he has.
"I'm very excited to be doing this with her. She's got a warm heart and she's involved in a lot of charitable things, so I'm happy to support her, too," he said.
Reflecting on his journey from a child of Chinese immigrants in the early 1970s to a candidate for governor in 2014, Fung knows that his upbringing has had the biggest effect on who he is and how he makes his decisions.
"I enjoyed growing up in a Chinese family. Now that I'm older, I realize the struggles my parents had coming to a new country, and the struggles they had as business owners. That restaurant meant so much to me and to our whole family. Our lives revolved around it and it's a huge part of who I am today," Fung said. "I hope to never lose the values that my parents have instilled in me, and to never take for granted the traditions that we have from our heritage."
As Fung continues on in his journey, he hopes to balance learning from the mistakes of past history to preserving the valuable traditions he's enjoyed while growing into the person he is today.
"It's important to change and evolve, but it's also important that you don't lose your past either. It's important to hold onto those values. My proudest moment out of all of this was when I won my first election. They had the inaugural ceremony at Cranston East. My mom and dad were right next to me as I was taking my oath. I looked down as I was sworn in, and I could see the pride in their eyes."