By Darlene DeVita
The following is one in a series of sneak peeks at the upcoming People of Chelsea additions by Chelsea Photographer Darlene DeVita. The new work will ultimately appear on the fence of the Chelsea Public Library (CPL) Spring of 2022 a collaboration between the People of Chelsea project and the CPL.)
“I was born in Viet Nam, in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. I came to the States when I was around 2 yrs old with my parents. My parents divorced when I was about 8yrs old, and my mother, myself and my siblings, and her boyfriend moved to Chelsea in 1995. I’ve been here for 26 years.
I came out [as a lesbian] when I was 13, first to my brother. I met my wife Jackie through mutual friends. I proposed to her New Year’s Eve 2016. We got married on July 21, 2018, in RI. Jackie has two boys from a previous relationship. We have a daughter now, Star. We decided to name my daughter after me because my wife said my legacy should be able to live on. Men name their juniors all the time so my wife wanted me to have the same opportunity to have a junior.
In 1995 we moved to Chelsea. My step-father had ties to MA and Chelsea happened to be the cheapest place to rent at the time. Our rent was $425 for a 3-bedroom apt. on 65 4th st. After that my stepfather bought a home on Chester Ave. He hit a scratcher [lottery ticket] amongst friends, a believe a million and they split it between 3 or 4 folks. He put the money towards the Chester Ave house so we were in a home at that point. My parents split when I was 18.
Growing up in Chelsea, I played outside with friends playing kick the can, handball, basketball, and kickball. I was part of the Chelsea Youth Basketball League [CYBL]. I played throughout high school. I was captain during my senior year but got hit by a car, so I sat for most of it as captain.
I held many jobs starting at [age] 16. I worked as a waiter, worked at Blockbuster, Best Buy. I held 2 or 3 jobs at a time. At that time, it was just me and my mother and a bunch of younger siblings, so we had to do anything to keep the lights on. My mother was selling hats at a factory somewhere out West. I don’t recall where. She jumped on a work van, and the work van would bring her back.
I remember being at Best Buy in the Cambridge Galleria, where I worked and engaged with many Cambridge police officers. They said, ‘Hey, you have the personality to be a cop.’ I think it was because I led by example. I was very firm in where I stood, and stood my ground. And at the same time, I was also caring and careful. I was very concerned for human beings in general. I would feel bad for the thieves we would catch. When the police officers brought this up, I thought, hey, maybe I’ll put some thought into this. My major in college [at Salem State] was Psychology, and my minor was in Criminal Justice. There was a class called Psych and the Law, a fantastic duo. On one spectrum, you learn the guardian role, the nurturing role, the caretaker role. The other side is a blend of it, but now you’re able to put away really bad people and try to be a light in somebody’s darkest day. They’re not calling you over for a BBQ. They’re calling you because they’re having one of the worst days of their lives. And they felt they had no one else to call except for you, so you better go there and tow the line because you are potentially the first and last person they may have spoken to to make them feel better when they felt no one else could solve it.
I felt responsible to be here for my peers when I became a police officer. When they know who you really are, they know your intentions and understand your purpose. It becomes advantageous for you to have had some street knowledge. When you grow up living in a city surrounded by poverty and lower-income, middle-class, like-minded-folks, you appreciate it. It’s humbling to grow up and grow out of it and no longer choose to be a victim of your surroundings.
January of this year , I was promoted to Sargent. I was the first Asian female officer since the 1800s when the department was established, and now I’m first Asian female Sargent. I’m the only female Sargent in the department right now. I will always look after Chelsea. I’ve been my worst here, and I’ve been my best here. I’ve seen my worst here, and I’ve seen my best here. Chelsea is like a family member that you can’t get rid of it. It’s become a part of your blood because you grew up here. You have to take care of it. It’s like a delicate flower. In the words of Tupac [Shakur], “it grew from concrete.”