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So where was Rose Pak born? Central Subway plaque sparks debate

The Rose Pak memorial plaque at the new Chinatown-Rose Pak Station in San Francisco stated Pak’s birthplace as Henan 河南 Province; however, many records show that she was born in Hunan 湖南 Province. | Han Li/The Standard

Days before the opening of the highly anticipated Chinatown-Rose Pak Station, a plaque at the entrance sparked heated debate over the birthplace of one of San Francisco’s most prominent Asian American figures.

Was Rose Pak born in the northern Chinese province of Henan, as claimed on the newly minted commemorative display? Or is she from Hunan, a southern region in China, as many other sources contend?

San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency is trying to find out after The Standard raised the question on Twitter and The San Francisco Chronicle published a story in response.

In 2019—three years after her death—the city voted to rename the Chinatown station after Pak, who was considered a critical force in making the subway line connecting Chinatown and SoMa a reality. And on Nov. 10, the Rose Pak Community Fund hosted a gala inside the Chinatown transit hub, with city leaders unveiling the plaque in her honor.

The bronze display states that Pak was born in Henan, a northern part of China closer to Beijing. However, numerous sources in Chinese and English, including a booklet at Pak’s funeral, say she was born in Hunan.

A pamphlet from the funeral service for Rose Pak on Sept. 23, 2016 | Courtesy Frank Jang

“Rose Pak was born to Yun Shan Pak and Anna Wong in Hengyang, Hunan Province, China, in 1947,” according to the bio in her funeral pamphlet.

Several sources who had firsthand conversations with Pak also confirmed to The Standard that she said she was born in Hunan.

SFMTA, which is in charge of the station and commissioned the plaque, confirmed that the Rose Pak Community Fund provided the content of the plaque, and then the city agency paid for its production and installation.

When asked, the agency did not clarify what it plans to do to settle the debate.

Family Knows Best?

On Saturday, the Rose Pak Community Fund wrote a strongly worded letter demanding that The Chronicle retract its story. The letter called the article’s premise false and claimed that the plaque is correct as is.

“Ms. Pak was indeed born in Henan, China,” the missive asserted. “Prior to submitting this inscription, the text was approved by Ms. Pak’s sister, Joanna Kish.”

Kish is Pak’s younger sister, who fought with another relative in court over control of Pak’s estate after her death.

The Chronicle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Central Subway, including the Chinatown-Rose Pak Station, will open this Saturday.