Chinese community champion honoured with purple plaque in Cardiff

Angela Kwok Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Angela Kwok initially felt isolated after moving to Cardiff in the 1970s

Cardiff's Chinese community will kick-off their New Year celebrations a day early, remembering one of their champions with a "purple plaque".

For almost 50 years, Angela Kwok helped isolated Chinese people in south Wales.

She assisted through English lessons, legal advice and built social groups before her death in 2016.

Mrs Kwok is being honoured with the plaque on the Bamboo Garden takeaway on Cathedral Road, Pontcanna, which she ran with her husband.

Similar to blue plaques, the purple plaque scheme was set up by a group of female assembly members in 2017 to mark the achievements of outstanding women in Wales.

Mrs Kwok came to Cardiff from Hong Kong in the early 1970s, aged 16 and speaking very little English.

She was married at 19, and found the long and unsociable hours she and her husband had to put into their takeaway business left her tired, lonely and cut off from society.

As her daughter, Temmy Woolston, explained, Mrs Kwok soon realised she was not the only woman in that position.

"Back then the Chinese community was very patriarchal. The men had a support network through the system of elders, but the women were more often than not working long hours or stuck at home," she said.

She added that they "didn't have the opportunity to meet each other, let alone the wider community in Wales".

"My mother wasn't the sort of person to put up with things like that, so she set about getting the women together doing courses in things like English and computers which would improve their lives, but more generally just to chat and make friends," Ms Woolston said.

"At first she faced quite a lot of resistance from the elders, but eventually she won them around, once they started to see that happy women made for happy families and communities."

In the 1980s, Mrs Kwok established the South Wales Chinese Women's Association, which accompanied members to GP appointments and supported translation.

Image caption Temmy Woolston (yellow coat) was joined by family and civic leaders for the plaque's unveiling

By the end of the decade a group of more than 50 were meeting weekly at Riverside Community Centre, until the centre was gutted by a fire in 1989.

Mrs Kwok formed a new organisation, Cardiff Chinese Community Service Association, this time focusing on the wider community - women and men alike - and again providing advocacy, advice and events.

In later life she assisted South Wales Police with translation, became a member of the Race Equality Council, and helped found the Chinese Cemetery in Pantmawr, Cardiff.

In her spare time, Mrs Kwok also acted as a surrogate mother to over 15 Chinese overseas students studying in Cardiff.

'Energy and positivity'

The unveiling of Mrs Kwok's purple plaque comes on the eve of the Chinese New Year, which this year ushers in the Year of The Rat.

According to Ms Woolston, her mother would have been delighted with the timing.

"She adored New Year, and would always get so excited organising the celebrations in Cardiff," she said.

"It seems fitting to remember her at a time which brings the entire community together, as it was her energy and positivity which went a long way to moulding that community in the first place."

Mrs Kwok's is the fourth purple plaque to be awarded, following those dedicated to the late assembly member and equalities campaigner Val Feld, Merthyr Tydfil-born feminist historian Ursula Masson, and Megan Lloyd George, Wales' first female MP.

Julie Morgan, AM for Cardiff North, who helped establish the scheme, said she knew Mrs Kwok well and "admired the work she put in helping to support women in her community, making them feel part of the wider community and giving them a voice on important issues that affected them".

Ms Morgan added: "She embodies the essence of the Purple Plaques campaign - she was a remarkable woman and a community champion, and I'm glad to see a fitting tribute to her."

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