Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

The Wongs in Stockton: The Early Years

Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

The Wongs in Stockton: The Early Years

Article excerpt

My ancestors, the Wongs, from the village of Gan Tang in the township of Taishan, Guandong Province, had a long history of sending many of their male offspring abroad to make their living. Some went to Singapore, some went to Malaysia and the Philippines, and the daring ones went to America to work on railroads. Since Taishan was principally a farming community, it was not possible to sustain all the young men if they all opted to stay. By tradition, the oldest son inherited the family plot of land and the younger ones left to look for work, either in the capital city of Guangzhou or abroad.

Much has been written about the lives of the immigrants who came to Gold Mountain and their hardships and contributions in general, but very little of my own family's history was ever recorded, as far as I know. One can only surmise that in the olden days, people felt that sufferings and deprivations were best forgotten.

When I was very young, Grandmother told me stories from time to time about her life in the village, raising her family of three while Grandfather was away in America. She spoke only the Taishan dialect, and since I had never been to our home village, this dialect made little sense to me. Some of what I learned about my roots came from the records of my father's immigration interrogations while he was detained on Angel Island from June 1 to August 4 of 1915, upon his arrival in America. Later, after he landed in San Francisco, he also recorded all the statements that Grand Uncle Sai Jick had made to the Immigration Service during his question-and-answer sessions.

Through the years, I learned from my father that his and Grand Uncle's recorded statements contained falsehoods, in keeping with the papers that Great-Grandfather Wong Hui Ting had "bought" for his two sons, Grandfather Sai Ping and Grand Uncle Sai Jick, to enable them to join him in America. Great-Grandfather had been the first to arrive in America. He had worked as a clerk in a grocery store in Southern California. After a few years, he had saved enough money to buy two fake papers belonging to two distinct and totally unrelated families. In the end, father and sons all worked in Los Angeles, all denying knowledge of one another.

It was never made clear to me why Grandfather did not sponsor Father. I do know that Grand Uncle Sai Jick's paper was for a married man with a family. As a result, Grand Uncle Sai Jick petitioned for Father, as his supposed second son, to come to America at age nineteen and afterward, his own son, Nea Yue, as well.

Father studied and worked in the Los Angeles area for a while, doing housework for an American lady in exchange for his board and room. Later on he moved north to Stockton, finding work among his countrymen. He operated a watch repair/pawn shop business on Washington Street in Stockton's small Chinatown, where he met and married my mother, Sue Mark, in 1927. Two years later, I was born.

MY EARLY CHILDHOOD

The year 1929, the year of my birth, marked the beginning of the American--and eventually, global--depression. By 1931, the American economy was still mired in high unemployment and my father's watch repair business suffered the same fate as many others. There were many letters from China urging my parents to go home to visit Father's parents. Times being as hard as they were in Stockton's small Chinatown, my father consented to his mother's pleadings, for by that time he had been in America for sixteen years. Within six months after we arrived in Guangzhou, Mother was stricken with typhoid fever and succumbed. I was only two years old.

Grandfather married his first wife, my own grandmother, when he was a young man in the village. She was from a family of humble circumstances in a nearby village. Her mother had bound her feet just days before her wedding, and they hurt so much that she took off the cloth binding after she was married. Her explanation was that she had to remove them to plant rice while standing ankle-deep in muddy water. …

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