[Scroll down to see more]

What Else Can “This Town” Offer Besides Being a Political Swamp? [2019 Op-Ed]

In late February, President Trump met with Kim Jong-Un for the second summit in Vietnam. The negotiation ended with unpleasant outcomes, which has been a topic reported by various media outlets in the past weekend. I clicked on the newest article– “Trump blames congressional hearing with Michael Cohen resulting in not signing a deal with North Korea,” but gradually lost interest in the entanglement of politics.

So I stopped scrolling down the article on my phone and finally paid attention to the jazz music that my Uber driver was playing on the radio now. It sounded chaotic at first, several instruments playing not on the same frequency. The music became integrated within seconds after I delved into the rhythm.

“Your music taste is fantastic! Are you a musician?” I started the conversation. “Of course! I can play guitar, piano, you name it, on any type of music,” he answered my question with excitement. He is an African American who owns two regularly-perform bands. He shared how he does music in “this town” — “You ain’t gonna success if you stuck in your own culture, it’s a global culture mixing time now.”

So does in politics. Many reports before the Trump-Kim second summit hold positive views toward the outcome, but “the failure” could actually be foreseen. How Trump dealt with the trade war and resisted to the WTO have shown his lack of efforts to understand globalization. However, the similar type of coverage on the U.S. foreign policy does not fully represent local American cultures, at least not in D.C., a cultural hodge-podge where everyone can find a place of his or her own.

Reverse back to February 5th, Trump announced his meeting with Kim in the State of the Union address. Coincidentally, that same day was also the start of 2019 Chinese New Year. D.C. celebrated the tradition in its own way- holding the annual Chinatown parade, creating special Chinese New Year menus, and even displaying wax figures of Chinese icons at Madame Tussauds DC. During the lunar new year celebration week at the Kennedy Center, I was lucky to get a ticket of the “National Ballet of China: Raise the Red Lantern” show. The show was directed based on a 1991 film which tells three women’s miserable lives being concubines of a rich landlord in feudal China. As entering the hallway, I was shocked by the Center’s interior design- red carpet, red lantern raised highly on the ceiling, and delicate red paper-cuttings hanged next to national flags. The auditorium was quickly filled audience with a diverse composition.


No need to translate anything, arts do the communication for languages. The combination of western ballet and traditional eastern costumes represents the multicultural characteristic in a broader context. Through the eyes of an outsider who only have been in D.C. for two months, I’m fascinated to see the harmony that diverse cultures play along with each other. At its core, D.C. is engined by the underlying political power. But the swirling political chaos cannot conceal the cultural harmony and globalization around the city.

“Listen to Yanni! He’s one of my favs,” he said. “Will do, sir!” I said, looking at his eyes in the rear-review mirror, and we both smiled.

Cambridge Chronicle [published in January 2019]

Why does Cambridge’s top-ranked fire department lag in diversity?


Despite being located in a city that cherishes its diversity, the Cambridge Fire Department has very few minority and even fewer women firefighters. Only seven of 269 firefighters – about 2 percent – are women. Only 50 firefighters – about 19 percent – are members of minority groups, according to statistics from late October.

In contrast, more than one-third of City Hall employees are women (35 percent), and almost a third (31 percent) are categorized as minority. The Cambridge Police Department lags behind City Hall but still does a better job as far as women are concerned. According to November statistics supplied by the department, 27 of 276 officers are women (about 10 percent), and 36 percent officers were considered minority.

When asked about the number of female and minority members, acting Fire Chief Gerard Mahoney said high costs of applying and health concerns contribute to an overall decrease in the number of firefighter exams completed by Cambridge residents. The process is also a long one.

“I have friends who are in the Fire Department, and if I didn’t have those friends, I would have given up because I had no idea what the process was,” said Stephanie Crayton, the only minority female firefighter from Cambridge in the entire department. She was a single mother when she took the written exam in April 2012, which she said was “very long, confusing, and emotional.”

Since 2012, the number of Cambridge residents applying to be firefighters has dropped by 33.3 percent, according to City Hall. This lowered application rate, Mahoney said, impacts the number of women and minority applications, too.

The process

In order to become a firefighter, a person has to take the state-administered Municipal Firefighter Exam and a preliminary physical abilities test (ELPAT), which together cost $200, according to the state website, although applicants can request a waiver.

Once tentatively accepted, candidates have to take a second physical costing $150, Mahoney said. When ranking accepted men and women, veterans get priority over all other applicants. This could be another reason that non-vets don’t apply, according to Mahoney.

“I can see a young person that hasn’t been in the armed forces say, ‘I got to spend 500 bucks to take an exam for a job that I really don’t stand a chance to get? I am not going to pull up and take it,’” Mahoney said in a group interview that was also attended by Sheila Keady Rawson, the city’s personnel director, and Betsy Allen, director of Cambridge’s Department of Equity and Inclusion.

After the exam, the state sends a score-ranked list of those who passed to City Hall. The names are ranked in order: veterans and Cambridge residents are ranked highest, then non-veterans and Cambridge residents, and finally, non-residents. The sequence matters in terms of hiring more women and minorities, Rawson explained.

“Veterans tend to be men, and most of the veterans that we have seen on the list have been white men,” she said.

Looming health concerns

In addition to facing high costs and uncertainty during the application process, some would-be firefighters might also be wary of the health risks faced by firefighters. A multi-year study with a sample of nearly 30,000 firefighters by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found firefighters have higher rates of certain types of cancer than the general U.S. population.

Mahoney said he has been a firefighter for 35 years, and that his father was also a firefighter. But he told his child to “do something else” because of the higher risk of cancer.

“It has been kind of a legacy occupation for many generations to be firefighters,” Mahoney said. But “a lot of people have steered their kids away.”

Recruitment has led to little change

The city’s Department of Equity and Inclusion has been aware of the diversity issue within CFD, Allen said, noting that her department is working with the Cambridge Veterans Services to get more minority veterans to take the exam and help them score well.

CFD has also made efforts to reach out to more young people, Mahoney said.

During the past two summers, the department coached 35 students, ages 13-18, about basic firefighting and medical skills in the Youth Fire Academy during a six-week Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP).

But, he noted, applicants have to be 19 to take the firefighter exam, which means teenagers from that program have to wait.

“Between now and then, they could wind up pursuing another career path,” Mahoney said.

The department said it has also made efforts to improve diversity by sending firefighters to talk about the profession on career days in high schools, encouraging all employees to speak to their friends, and organizing regular neighborhood walks.

But there has been little change.

Although CFD is slightly more diverse than two decades ago, the percentages of women and minority officers both have increased by just 2 percent.

Four new firefighters who will be appointed this month are all white males, Mahoney said.

Representatives of Cambridge’s firefighter union Local 30 said they are committed to ensuring the department meets the dynamic and growing needs of the city.

“We share concerns about our membership reflecting the population we serve, and have approached the city at many levels to offer our assistance in increasing the size and diversity of the Fire Department’s applicant pool,” the union said in a written statement. “We look forward to working with the city on our proposed solutions, and on any other equitable solutions which may be presented.”

Cambridge is not the only city struggling with diversity issues. Only 26.7 percent of Boston Fire Department employees are from minority groups and about 5 percent – 90 of 1,654 – are women.

To learn more about the state’s Civil Service, visit

To learn more about the Cambridge Fire Department, visit

Minority firefighters join the conversation on Cambridge department’s lack of diversity

Two of Cambridge’s minority firefighters said they have never experienced racism or sexism in the department, but did have some ideas of how to increase diversity.

Dave House, an African-American fire captain, said he would like to see more outreach to young people on social platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Stephanie Crayton, the only minority female firefighter in the department, said that she would like to see recruitment at places like the Rindge Tower, a 273-unit affordable housing in Cambridge, to reach “families that are from different nations that would love to do something for the city.”

“What a great community outreach that would be,” she added.

In their own words

– Dave House, fire captain (Engine 8, Taylor Square), 20 years working experience

Born and raised in Central Square area, Dave House never thought about becoming a firefighter until the summer of 1986. He was preparing to go to Connecticut for college when he learned that his track-and-field scholarship would not work out. Feeling upset, he went back home where his cousin, who is now a retired firefighter, told him to take the firefighter written test.

“I turned out to be in the right place at the right time,” House said. “Because back in 1986, when I came on in that climate, they were looking for minorities.”

After a year of training, he was officially a Cambridge firefighter. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1998 and has served eight years as a captain since 2010. He is in charge of 16 people and Engine 8 at Taylor Square.

House financially assisted his four minority friends who grew up with him to take the firefighter exam, but none of them made it through. He said one person he supported through four attempts finally got to the final interview stage, but was withdrawn from the candidates’ list due to a “sealed record.”

House said that while the state-wide firefighter exam could help hire more qualified people based on scores, the drawback is that minorities might not be able to compete with those who have more privileged backgrounds.

An additional hurdle for minority kids is not having family members or people who can guide them through the process, he noted. He suggested using both social media and in-person tactics, like sending more young officers to go into public and private schools to attract young men and women rather than someone “around 50 years old like me,” he laughed.

While the captain admitted that the department needs to make more effort in hiring and outreach, he said the current staff members are pretty decent.

“Whoever walks in that door – black, white, male, female, transgender, straight, gay, whatever it is – the bottom line is, we all wear that same patch and we all feel pretty proud of who we are and what we do,” House said.

– Stephanie Crayton, minority female firefighter, 4 years working experience

Stephanie Crayton, who works on the River Street firehouse, is the only minority female firefighter from Cambridge in the entire department. She was a single mother when she took the written exam in April 2012.

Crayton said she is a member of Triple F (Fabulous Female Firefighters), a group that gathers women working in fire services around the world to motivate each other through organizing regular discussion and training.

“Being a member of Triple F helps to remind me I am a woman in a male-dominated field,” Crayton said.

The Cambridge Fire Department is supportive and open, Crayton noted, but said that abuse is not unheard of. A firefighter friend received personal attacks online, she said, after posting a photo on Twitter of 15 Asian female firefighters who graduated from the academy in New York.

Below, people had posted horrible comments, she said: “Who needs a bunch of women on an engine truck?” “I’d like to see them try to carry me out.”

“Even though it’s not about you and you know it’s some crazy person on the internet who probably isn’t even firefighter, it still stings and hurts,” Crayton said.

Before receiving training in the Fire Academy in July 2014, Crayton said she went through a five-hour-long background investigation, as well as psychological and physical tests.

“I have friends who are in the Fire Department, and if I didn’t have those friends, I would have given up because I had no idea what the process was,” Crayton said, which she said was “very long, confusing, and emotional.”

Three events in her life paved her way to becoming a firefighter, she said. As a girl, she witnessed three major fires on Cogswell Avenue where she lived in Cambridge. In the 1990s, she worked as a flight attendant and attended a fire class. And after reading a book about women and firefighting, she became determined to be a firefighter.

“I have always hated working behind a desk and not doing physical things,” Crayton said. “I couldn’t be happier now.”

Crayton completed the EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians) test, earned a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration of emergency management, and recently passed her paramedic test.

Zirui Liu is a journalism student at Boston University, writing as part of a collaboration between the Cambridge Chronicle and BU News Service.

The Daily Free Press [2017]


This Sunday, the 89th Academy Awards ceremony will take place. Here are some of my favorite Oscar nominations and who I think will bring home an award this year.
“La La Land,” which I bet many of you have already seen in the movie theatre, is definitely one of the biggest Oscar-nominated movies. The movie, both a musical and a romantic drama, has received 14 nominations, which equals the nominations of 1997’s “Titanic” and 1950’s “All About Eve.” It is a movie about two lovers in Los Angeles trying to maintain their relationship while being successful in their own careers.

There are also two frontrunner movies among the list, “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.” The drama film “Moonlight” looks like it might win the award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Writing (Adapted Screenplay). “Manchester by the Sea,” which is another drama, may win Writing (Original Screenplay) and lead actor Casey Affleck might take home the Best Actor in a Leading Role.

For the Best Actress in a Leading Role, the award looks like it will go to Isabelle Huppert in “Elle.” The drama film “Hidden Figures,” about a group of women who calculated important equations for NASA, is “La La Land’s” major competitor for overall Best Picture.The Best Sound Mixing award will probably go to “Hacksaw Ridge,” a war drama, because of its intensive soundtrack. In the Costume Design category, it looks like it’ll go to the 2016 British comedy-drama “Florence Foster Jenkins” for its extravagant costumes.No matter who you want to take home a prestigious Academy Award this Sunday, it is sure to be a historic night for the movie industry.

A letter to Boston and its people

Last weekend, I went on a whale watching tour at the Boston Harbor. It was a sunny day, and I could see the top of Prudential Center when I first went on board. As I started the voyage on the ship, I somehow felt detached to the city. The new memories that I have in Boston all came back to me and I began to reflect.

Coming from Bejing to Boston was hard, but it’s been a year to remember.

I also want to thank everyone at The Daily Free Press who contributed to my freshman year. Especially to Weihua, Kalina and Meredith. Throughout this semester, I wrote blogs and shot videos with my peers together. They guided me when I met difficulties and encouraged me to be the more confident person I am now. I also want to thank you for reading my blog. Thank you Boston, and the people I have met and will meet in this city.