Great-granddaughter of Lim Lip Hong
Interviewee: Andrea Yee (Great-granddaughter of Lim Lip Hong)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Date: March 12, 2013
Location: San Francisco, California
Length of the Interview: 24 minutes, 57 seconds
01:40 Yee: He got a job working on the railroad and he worked there until they finished the railroad in 1869. And then, we find a census taken in Carson City – I believe – in 1870, where his name appears. So in 1870, for several years he was in Virginia City, until there was a gold rush they found in the Black Hills of South Dakota. So then he went to Deadwood, South Dakota. But he didn’t stay there very long because, in 1879, he married his wife **Jin Shee** who was 20 years younger than him. They married and settled in San Francisco. So in a broad sense, this is the overall chronology of his life. He stayed in San Francisco, homesteaded in Potrero Hill. And died in 1920. Raised seven children with his wife.
03:26 Yee: And I think you heard already about her life. She came here to work with a family and then she was, uh, married at the age of 16.
03:43 Yee: So, let me think. From then, I did a lot of research at the San Bruno Archives, because we decided through my contacts with Angel Island, to set up a plaque for our first ancestor here, because we wanted to establish a Chinese American history here. So two summers ago, we decided to raise money for plaque for my great-grandfather and his wife. So I contacted all of his descendants, every one of them – and there are over four hundred of them, seven generations – and we decided to have a get-together for the plaque.
04:43 Yee: And I decided I better get some information about the great-grandparents because there’s no point in having a plaque without information about them. So I did a lot of research through the San Bruno Archives. Also I interviewed as many cousins as I could, including Auntie Renee and Uncle Dickie. And with Uncle Dickie, we had a committee and we worked on this for a long time so there was a lot of information gathered.
05:23 Yee: My being an actress, I realized that stories were so important. Because back in my young days, being an actress, I could never find work except being a prostitute or maid, whether it was in the movies TV or on stage. So we didn’t, we didn’t have anything to go by. So in 1973, I helped to found our Asian American Theater in San Francisco because we needed to gather writers and directors and producers to write stories about us. So that’s why I became very very involved with trying to find story about great-grandfather.
06:30 Yee: So here’s a picture of his first house in Potrero Hill. And this is also the house where my mother was born. So you know, hunting through the internet and every – anything and everything that I could collect, I found pictures of my grandfather selling pig entrails in Chinatown. This was in the early 1900s. And then I found this on the Internet. I was thrilled to find this one because it’s, it’s the same horse and the same cart. And this isn’t Chinatown where he established his business where great-grandfather started his business of selling pig entrails because he worked for butcher town. Okay.
08:19 Yee: This is my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother. Going through these archives in San Bruno, because his children wanted to travel to China or to Cuba, other places for visiting the family or for business. During those years, it was a Chinese, anti-Chinese Immigration Act. They did not want Chinese here. If they left they didn’t want them coming back. So these are records of all the interrogation they had to go through.
09:21 Yee: And my grandfather, who is the eldest son, went on several business trips. And he had to be interrogated for hours. And it’s all recorded. Every single question is recorded. I had one session where every time he left, it was a six pages single-spaced of questions about who he was, who his children were, who his family was, and then his father and mother were brought in too, several times. And they were questioned. So this picture was used to establish to the interrogators that these were the siblings. And they had to know what year they were born and that they were all born here in America and they were citizens. Or they would not have left, allowed my grandfather to come back.
10:42 Yee: So I just wanted to end with the fact that you could find all this information in the archives. And my grandfather who died when he was about 77, I believe, I found it and it was very, very nice to know that he was extremely lucid and bright, even at that age, near his death because he knew every single grandchild and how old they were and their Chinese names.
(missing portion of transcript)
13:06 Yu: I was thinking, I was thinking of a summary, a summary of the idea, all these records, you know, how do you feel, how you personally felt, you know, looking through all these, these records and seeing, you know, the paper trail and how hard it was for your ancestors to go back and forth and many coming back.
13:31 Yee: Yeah. Hmm. Like, like Uncle Dick said – is the camera on? – like Uncle Dick was saying, in these papers he had to have his law – he had to hire a lawyer, had to have businessmen vouching for him, even though he, he was the agent for all these steamship lines here. To bring in all the workers for the ships. That’s thousands of workers. He, he was the one who supplied all the food and supplies and all the people that worked on these ships that went back and forth. And even then. And he, he had a personal relationship with the governor. He was a highly respected businessman in Chinatown. He built a number of restaurants here right, Uncle Dick?
14:39 Richard C. Lim: Yes. Far East Cafe?
14:42 Yee: Yeah. And the telephone exchange. And, and he also financed, you know, the college education of all his brothers and sisters. He still had to go through all of this Western Union telegrams. And, and, and, it was some – unbelievable.
15:06 Yee: Um, and you know what. This persisted for – from 1888 until 1944. Because I found it in my other uncle’s archives, he had to go through the same thing too because he was a businessman going back and forth to China. And then I find at the very end, in 1944, after all these papers he had to send back and forth and in all these interviews he had to go through, in 1944, all of a sudden it said, in, in an official typewritten, “oh, we no longer need to go through any more interrogations because Chinese can come now.” This was in 1944, Uncle Dick. *laughter*
16:11 That was very interesting because, because my father, who was a paper angel – a paper son – also went through the same. He couldn’t come in unless he was a paper son. Yeah, but that’s a whole another story.
(missing portion of transcript)
17:13 Yu: Could you – yeah – what I would like to know is, what gave you the idea or the proof or the documentation that your great-grandfather worked on the Transcontinental Railroad from the years that you gave. You know, that’s the years – that was the year of the building, which was 1865 to 69. So how did you know?
17:33 Yee: Right. Because in that period of time, when I was gathering information from all my cousins to do the family reunion and the plaque, I talked to my cousin Twig, we call him Twig, his name is Glen Lim Jr. He’s an architect here. And his father is – I’m sorry – his, his grand –
18:12 Richard C. Lim: Are you talking about Glen?
18:14 Yee: Yeah, who, who is Uncle Glen’s –
18:18 Richard C. Lim: I know Glen’s father is Uncle Bob.
18:21 Yee: Uncle Bob. Okay. Uncle Bob is the second son of Lim, okay. So I got a note from him – from his father, confirming that great-grandfather worked on the Railroad until they finished. And then, he went to Virginia City. So this is the trails that I’ve been following and as a result I’ve been studying all the conditions that they faced. I visited Virginia City and found out information about the conditions.
19:04 They were really horrible because anti-Chinese sentiment was, was very bad, especially right after the building of the railroads because there was no more work. They finished the railroad and all the white Americans were coming across on the Railroad and they wanted the jobs. They didn’t want the Chinese here. So they burned down 200 Chinatowns all over the West Coast. And I have collected photos of them, doing that. And photos of all the Chinatowns burning down. It’s a pretty horrific period of time.
19:47 Yee: But you wanted to know what great-grandpa did. Okay. He started, I have records of that, just through these interviews in detail. Where – he started in butcher town and he found it. They were throwing away all these pig tails, pig feet, so he collected them and then –
20:16 Yee: His son, my grandfather, started working as a laborer at age 11. So together they started this business with, with the pig entrails. Then my great-grandfather went into guano fertilizer business. So as a result, my, my grandfather took a trip to Cuba which is where all the guano is, is collected. Now if you read the history, many Cantonese were kidnapped and shipped to Cuba. They thought they were going to come to America but they were kidnapped and, and taken to Cuba to work in the guano fields. So my grandfather, in business with my great-grandfather, they went there and did that.
21:32 Yee: Then afterwards, they also went into -. Right, he, he mentions that he bought property and gave the property to my grandfather, who’s the oldest son. So my, evidently they, they were successful in the business. And then as a result, my grandfather started a shipping company. But the Americans would not allow him a shipping license. And that’s why he went into shipping agent business. It was a hard time. They just would not allow them many things. But they did own property which was unusual during that time.
22:30 Yee: Things that my mother would tell me about my great-grandfather was that they went into a shrimp business as well. And they also in Monterey, in China Camp and in lake, Clear Lake. So they shipped their shrimps all the way up to Sacramento as well. That’s about –
22:58 Yu: Was it, was it successful? I mean, did you feel that they made money?
23:04 Yee: They must have done very well. They were considered one of the most respected families, I think. There were a number of them, right.
23:20 Yee: There was one thing I wanted to say. Well, my grandfather was proud in that he was able to educate, help educate all his siblings. But he, he lost all of his money in the Depression, but he had thousands of Chinese men from China on his payroll. And my mother remembers, my, her mother crying because, during the Depression, they lost all their money. But my grandfather took all her jewelry, and my mother remembers that. Took every single piece of jewelry and sold it, in order to send back all the Chinese back to China who were on his payroll. And for this, he was very well respected and remembered. And it just a famous story amongst our family. But you’ll hear more about this from my cousins because he also was knighted by the Emperor of China because of his work in being so, so helpful with the Chinese that he brought over to work here but also because he did a lot of work in the 1906 Earthquake.
25:03 Yu: Could you give his name please?
25:07 Yee: Oh.
25:08 Yu: And then point out his face?
25:09 Yee: Oh, yeah.
25:11 Yu: Just from the photo.
25:12 Yee: Yeah. This is him right here, the eldest son. And his name is – they called him – oh, Lum Sing.
25:23 Auntie: But there should be in the middle: Lum Fok Sing.
25:27 Yee: Lum Fok Sing. Thank you Auntie.
25:29 Auntie: Because Uncle Bob’s middle name is Fok. Everybody’s middle name is Fok.
25:33 Yee: Fok. Yeah. Lum Fok Sing. And this is his brother Uncle Bob. And all his brothers here. This is his wife. This is our great-grandfather. And as you can see, he’s very big and tall and I heard from one of my cousins he was considered a Lothario, which means he rode, he dressed in cowboy outfit, leather boots, leather pants, had a horse. And was the wild one.
26:18 Yu: Do you have the sense that your great-grandfather, working on the railroad, had a unique position? That perhaps he was a foreman?
26:25 Yee: I didn’t want to imagine it so much because I don’t know. I know that the gangs of railroad workers were 30 in in a group. And then usually the head person was an Irishman. But underneath the Irishman there was usually the head Chinese guy. And the fact that he had enough money to purchase a wife, which was very unusual then, and also to purchase some property, he may have saved some money from that railroad business. Yeah.
27:14 Yu: And about his son – eldest son? He certainly was a leader.
27:19 Yee: He was the leader of the family. Of course, he was the eldest son. And he, they’re just forever dedicated to him because all the stories I hear from all the relatives that were passed down is that he was so, so generous. And one thing I remember my mother saying about him, asked about the world, how to make the world better. She told me that he said, “if we had all the races in the world living together, it would be a – we would have peace and have a better world.” So he was, one of the first diversity champions, you know. And at his time, that’s – that has always inspired me.
Interviewee: Andrea Yee (Great-granddaughter of Lim Lip Hong)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Date: March 26, 2013
Location: San Francisco, California
Length of the Interview: 18 minutes, 33 seconds
31:16 Yee: So when his uncles left for America, that was in the 1850s, when China was submerged in the Opium War. Now, the Opium War started in 1842. China was battling the British ships that were bombing all the harbors – from Canton all the way to Shanghai. There were 5 major harbors. And the British were bombing all the harbors out so they could dump their opium into China. And that was their war strategy: to conquer China. Now the British grew all their opium in India which they had already conquered. So by the time the 1850s came, China was deep into famine and addiction to opium and they could no longer protect their country. And that’s why all these poor farmers, all these sons who were left in famine had to go to other places.
32:49 Yee: And I, I think Vick had mentioned that Lim Lip Hong’s ship was heading to Australia. But all I know is that his ship took 6 months to get to California. And whether he took the Australian route or he went up north through the Japanese current, we don’t know. But we do know that in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there’s a dead spot. And the sailors know about getting caught in that dead spot. And most people died if they did get caught in that. If they manage to get out of it, it would take them a long, long time to get across.
33:40 Yee: So at any rate, he was only 12 years old when he finally arrived in California. He was so young that he could not haul the boulders out of the mines. So they sent him to work in the laundries. He worked in the laundries until he was old enough to haul boulders, at which time he helped his uncles to do the mining. And also there was a mention how they build all the stone walls. And if you go to the east part of Central Valley, all the ranches that run through there have hundreds and hundreds of miles of stone walls. And they all are about 4 to 5 ft tall, two and a half feet thick. All boulders and stones that the Chinese built for all the ranchers there. And no mortar. And they, and they still exist. They still use them. One of the reasons is that they passed a law in California that the ranchers had to build these walls in order to keep their livestock from wandering off. So Lim Lip Hong spent the late 50s and early 60s with his uncles doing that and the mining.
35:38 Yee: Then, in 1865, he joined the Railroad crew. Until 1869, he worked all throughout building the Railroad going up through the Sierra Nevada and then he also, after the, the railroad was finished, up to Utah, he went on to continue building railroads through the desert into Salt Lake City. He ended up in Virginia City, because I have a record of a census in Carson City of his name. And we know that he lived in Virginia City for quite a few years, his, let’s see, I think it was his grandson used to go visit Virginia City. And it was called the bloody bar in Virginia City, where he’s famous. He was very famous. He was also known as a Lothario, Lothario, gun-toting cowboy. So he evidently live the good life there but he worked really hard, because in Virginia City there are mine – silver mines – that they discovered. I went there and I discovered that there still are some shacks left in Virginia City that – where the Chinese lived, but they’re all run down and I, I was told by the shopkeeper that they’re going to just plow them under, which is a real shame. Because the Chinese built the railroad that goes to Virginia City but it’s a small gauge railroad. And they were not allowed to work in the mines because of the Irish Union, but when the silver mines had to go very, very deep underground, they would hire the Chinese. Because that was dangerous work. And the mines would, the temperature would go high as almost 200 degrees. And when they sent the Chinese down there, they would have to bring them up after few minutes and just flood them with cold water and then send them back down again. Oh! This is what they had to endure in order to work in those mines. And I was just there and just a few years ago to hear these stories.
38:44 Yee: At any rate, this brings us to around 1874 when he heard about the Gold Strike in the Black Hills of South Dakota. And so he went to South Dakota there and worked in the mines there. It’s a city called Deadwood and it was probably the only city that welcome Chinese in the Midwest. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, all the western states were burning down all the Chinatowns. They were trying to get the Chinese out of it, out of the United States, send them back to China, any way they could. Because after the Railroad was completed all these Chinese were out of work. And then when the Railroad was completed all the Euro-Americans were coming across on the railroad that the Chinese built, finding that there was no work and getting very resentful to the Chinese man who were preferred as workers. So by 1880s, the Chinese population had decreased by 2/3. So as many as they could, they just sent them back, got them out of there. And there were a lot of hangings, massacres that we’re uncovering now. It’s a very sad, untold story but interesting.
40:49 Yee: At any rate, by 1877, uh, 79, Lim Lip Hong came back from Deadwood, South Dakota and, um, settled in San Francisco, Potrero Hill. He married a young Chinese woman who was six-, 20 years younger than him. And he settled in Potrero Hill. He had seven children. When he first settled, he had bought a horse, two cows, ducks, chickens and geese. This is all in the diary. Very interesting. He lived in a shack. And we have a picture of that shack where all his children were born. The first one was born in 1879. And it was told that he worked as a laborer. He worked in butcher town, as in the slaughterhouse there. His, he took all the unwanted pig parts and his two sons would cart them into Chinatown and sell them to the Chinese. Then, he began to work as – he raised chickens, and his wife sold the eggs. And he also worked to import – guana, gu – guano, guano from Cuba and he, he states that, he states that he brought his two sons into business with him to do this business.
43:10 Yee: And in fact, the eldest son, Lim Sing left to go to Cuba in 1911. So we have a record of that. And he also went there again in 1989 – no – yes, he, he, he left again in 1918. So we have a record of these goings and comings because the officials could not believe that the Chinese could be free to come and go whenever they please. They wanted to get them out of here as soon as possible. So I combed through the San Bruno Archives and I’ve uncovered what they had to go through in order to leave the country which the officials were happy to have them do, but they didn’t want them to come back in. So the interviews lasted for a long, long time. They had to bring in other members of the family. And they had to bring in photos, they had to bring in certificates that they were citizens and each one of them, they questioned in great detail about how many brothers and sisters, what are their names, how many children each one of them had and what were their names. So we have a record of great-grandfather and great-grandmother coming into the office and being questioned.
44:58 Yee: And the interesting thing about this is that it happened with each one of the sons. And they all went into business importing, exporting. My grandfather had to go to China in order to hire his crews for all the steamship lines. So one of the brothers – so interesting – he has this record of, of questions and interrogations that he had to go through. And then finally, in 1942, he went back in for questioning and then the official said “Oh, no. That’s all over with. The anti-immigration law is no longer in effect.” But if you can realize that anti-immigration, Chinese, Anti-Chinese Immigration Act started in 1882. So it lasted until 1943. And during that period the Chinese were – there were many, many laws that were passed that encouraged the racism and the discrimination that all, all these ancestors had to suffer through, yeah.
46:38 Yee: Well, this is a wonderful story, you know, about our great ancestors. And we need to, we really, really need for these stories to, to be told to the descendants. So they appreciate the history and, and what they went through in order to build America. Because that Railroad was built. It had a great part in the Civil War. I don’t think many people know that. It was Abraham Lincoln who was the first president to realize that we needed this Transcontinental Railroad to come across because the West was wild and isolated. The East was going through their Civil War. They needed all the minerals that we had and they also needed the men to join and fight the Civil War. So the completion of this Railroad, built by the Chinese, is historical in our general American history. That, that created the nation. And it’s not in our history books. This, I don’t understand. Okay, I think that’s about all I wanted to say.
48:20 Yu: Yeah, you summarized it well.
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