The Promise of Gold Mountain: Tucson's Chinese Heritage

Esther Don Tang

Family picture taken March 1, 2003, Phoenix, Arizona, at the Historymakers™ Gala
Family picture taken March 1, 2003, Phoenix, Arizona, at the Historymakers™ Gala

Congratuations to Esther Don Tang and family for being honored with the Generations of Commitment Award by the Pima Council on Aging at its 41st Anniversary Gala, April 2008.

Based on interviews with Esther Tang and her writings

Esther Don was born on March 5, 1917 in Tucson, the third child of Don Wah and Fok Yut Ngan. As a child she attended both public and Chinese school. After school, her time was spent helping at the family store and playing with the mix of Chinese, Anglo and Hispanic children in her neighborhood. She has many memories of her early years and of growing up in Tucson's Chinatown . These early experiences helped shape Esther's personal motto: "to serve and improve the community in the areas of education, business and social services."

Esther Don in sombrero with siblings
A picture of Esther and her siblings taken on the south-east corner of Convent and Jackson Street in 1927. The brick building was a pool hall owned by an African-American. The Don Wah family had a grocery store and living quarters on the northwest corner. Pictured in the Mexican sombreros are Esther Don and Luella Don. Between Esther and Luella are Phillip and Dorothy Don.
[25K ET12]

Esther attended several historic Tucson schools, including Mansfield, Safford, Roosevelt, Roskruge and Tucson High. After graduating from high school in 1937, Esther moved to San Antonio to live with her sister. There she attended the Draughtons Business College and managed one of her brother-in-law's markets. She also was active in the community, raising funds for the poor and selling bonds to help China's war effort.

Returning to Tucson in 1939, Esther met and married David Tang. Esther entered the University of Arizona, graduating with a degree in nutrition and a sociology minor. Responding to needs in the community, Esther was active as a volunteer with several Tucson agencies. She provided leadership in several areas: 3 terms on the YMCA board serving as treasurer and chairman of the advisory panel; the Community Chest Board; and spearheaded a drive for a city-wide girls sports program. Esther was named Tucson Woman of the Year in 1955.

Esther Don Tang holding trophy that the Phoenix Chinese Organizations awarded to her after she was named Tucson Woman of the Year in 1955
Esther Don Tang holding trophy that the Phoenix Chinese Organizations awarded to her after she was named Tucson Woman of the Year in 1955. The Tucson Woman of the Year Award was presented by the Press Club, and was subsequently assumed by the Tucson Chamber of Commerce. In 1968, Esther was named Woman of the Year in Administration.
[18K ET13]

Esther was appointed Executive Director of the Pio Decimo Neighborhood Center in 1966, and guided that institution for the next 20 years. During that time, she expanded services available at Pio Decimo to reach all segments of the neighboring communities: organizing a kindergarten, a summer Head Start program, adult literacy classes, courses in sewing and cooking, and an after-school remedial reading program.

In 1975, Esther was elected to the Pima Community College Board of Governors. In a 1974 editorial supporting Esther's candidacy, the Tucson Daily Citizen said,

"One candidate ... offers that post an extraordinary combination of 25 years of public service to Tucson, a working expertise in education, proven leadership ability and knowledge of PCC affairs."

During her tenure, Esther was instrumental in building the PCC East Campus. She served on the board for 10 years.

In addition to her commitment to education and social service awards, Esther has been active in business. She and her husband, David Tang, operated grocery stores and Dave's Beverages. She is also co-owner of a Campbell Avenue shopping strip. Today, she is Vice-Chairman at NetWest Development Corporation. NetWest develops properties in areas outside Phoenix and Tucson, focusing on building complexes to serve families with children, the elderly, and entry level workers. In addition to constructing the buildings, NetWest strives to build communities by incorporating areas that encourage interaction among the residents and provide for the unique needs of each focus group. NetWest's philosophy earned them the 1994 YWCA Corporate Award.

Esther's talent, intelligence, and energy as well as her commitment to the community have influenced Tucson's services, programs, and business climate. Her efforts have been recognized with awards from many agencies over the years. Esther retains a firm belief in the strength of the Chinese-American community today and in the future of Tucson.

Continue with Ong Bing Lok - David Tang

Go To Homepage Go To Historical Perspective Go To Biographies Go To Videos Go To Publications