9-Man Volleyball

In Fun
Relationship: Child of im/migrant
A 9-man volleyball competition with the Chinese Youth Club of Washington, D.C., on H Street NW. Photo courtesy of Penny Lee and the Chinese Youth Club Archives

I remember D.C.’s Chinatown as a real community. Growing up in Chinatown at a time when there wasn’t much opportunity for Chinese American teens to play organized sports, the Chinese Youth Club (CYC) and 9-man volleyball was the first to introduce me. When the city began building the Washington Convention Center in Chinatown in 1980, other community members and I spoke up, saying the plan would be detrimental to the neighborhood. No one listened. The houses where the majority of Chinese Americans lived, including my family's home, were cleared to make way for the Convention Center. The Chinese businesses supported by those people then left. Now, DC's Chinatown is full American chains with Chinese characters on the storefront. Our Chinatown has lost its identity. But we keep that with us as we move out into different parts of Maryland and Virginia. We continue to play: CYC and 9-man live on. Years ago, nobody knew what 9-man was. It was just a game played in a parking lot. Nobody realized how the sport helped Chinese neighborhoods endure American bigotry in the shadow of the Chinese Exclusion laws. Nowadays, we’re up front. The Smithsonian even invited us to set up a net on the National Mall at the 2017 Folklife Festival. 9-man helps Chinese Americans build a sense of community and stay connected. While Washington, DC’s Chinese American community is spread throughout the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland, 9-man helps keep things cohesive. 

For the full story and additional photos, visit the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's Magazine or Blog.

Place(s): Washington, DC

– Garry Goon, Chinese Youth Club Past President and Lifelong Member

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant