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Ellen Wong Leung

Wife of Wallace Leung

Interviewee: Ellen Wong Leung (Wife of Great-Grandson of the father of Peter Leung)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Date: 2016
Location: Palo Alto, California
of the Interview: 46 minutes, 36 seconds

00:00 Yu: People, people who know Chinese will know.
00:03 Ellen Wong Leung: They say Guangdong Wong, yeah, yeah.
00:05 Fong: Okay. I’m ready.
00:06 Yu: Okay. Who you are – introduce yourself.
00:08 Leung: Oh, I am Ellen Wong Leung. I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My Wong, Chinese Wong, is the Guangdong Wong.
00:21 Okay, then, how did you – how did – what brought you to New Mexico? What brought your folks to New Mexico?
00:29 Oh my folks. My dad went back to China, I believe, brought the wife – my mother – over. And I don’t know how long they were in New Mexico but I was born there. And then after I was about a month old they moved to San Francisco and I was raised in San Francisco. Because it was too hot for my mom and for the baby, for me, I believe, that’s why they relocated. My dad was working for his uncle – they have a business – I believe it was a grocery and butcher business.
01:03 You want to describe the Chinatown and what your folks told you?
01:09 I didn’t hear much from them.
01:11 There was a Chinatown?
01:12 I believe so because they had – the uncle had a business there and that’s how my dad got started. And then he went back to China to get married, and after the baby came, it was too hot for them, oh, and the baby –
01:28 What year were you born?
01:29 30 – 1931.
01:31 Same as Wally?
01:34 Wally is a year older – Wally is 1930. I’m almost – right behind him.
01:39 And then what was your life like on San Francisco? Were you in Chinatown?
01:44 Oh, we lived on Mason and Broadway, right by the entrance to that tunnel, Broadway Tunnel. I have a lot – I had very good childhood, although money wasn’t that plentiful.
01:54 There’s five – there were five of us. I’m the eldest. I have a – I have three sister and a brother. And I’m the eldest. We would walk all over the place. Being young, so we would walk to Washington Grammar School. And I went to Jean Pa – then went to Jean Parker and went to Paly [unintelligible] High. My, my, and then I also have to go to Chinese School from, um, 5 to 7:30 every night, every weekdays and then Saturday is half a day where we learn how to march – left turn, right turn, to the [unintelligible] march and be in the parades. Yeah.
02:38 What else did we do? It was a very – we were such a happy group – we have good friends – we will play together, we, I know we have to share – my uncle gave us a pair of roller skates – but between the four of us, my, my brother is too young then – we share a pair of roller skates. And we had so much fun. We didn’t have many toys but it was – compared to that childhood they have now, I think we did better.
03:06 Fong: No video games.
03:08 Leung: Pardon?
03:10 Fong: No video – no video games.
03:11 Leung: No TV, no – yeah, we just –
03:13 Yu: We shared more.
03:14 Leung: Yeah, we tic-tac-toe, we bottles, there were people making their own wagon with wheels – it was just a lot of fun. Do a lot of these with our hands, yeah.
03:26 Yu: And then, what high school did you go to?
03:27 Leung: Pardon? Polytechnic. It’s no longer there. Yeah.
03:32 Yu: And then to which college?
03:34 Leung: I went to a business school. I, being the eldest, I didn’t get to, I didn’t want to, think I should go to college spend that money. So I went to Hughes College – business, two year business school – and I worked in, uh, Premier Insurance Company, yeah. Just for two years.
03:52 Yu: And how did you meet Wally?
03:54 Leung: Oh, our Chinese school group. We always go to the Civic Light Operas, and we had tickets to a show at the [unclear] on Geary Street. And one of our classmate brought some of their friends from Cal – Wally was included – and that’s where I met him – at a show.
04:12 Yu: Someone from Palo Alto.
04:14 Leung: Yup.
04:15 Fong: Uh, Wally, so later, when we were talking about, Wally was talking about buying this house.
04:21 Leung: Yes.
04:22 Fong: You were saying it was difficult – that they gave you, kinda gave you trouble.
04:24 Oh, you can’t believe it. We got married in 1954. And then, he was at – yeah, 1954? – and then he was in the Air Force, the Korean War – and, um, we, I went him to [unclear] to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and had our first child there, Bing. And we came back, and then he had early discharge, he has had to finish school and all that. We had to live with our father and mother because we just came back from Ohio. We were looking for home and, uh, these realtors would not show us home. They would take us to East Palo Alto and by Bayshore Market. But being that Wally is born and raised, and the family has been, they didn’t, they don’t know that we know the town. So we refused to see, to go see, but that’s what they showed us. But this one fella, I forgot his name, show us this home, we’ve been in this home for 62 years now. And, um, we like it so much and it was just good location. Mitchell Park was being built and all that. The reason I got, we got this home – they were – the family – it was four years old then, the family had to move to Washington. They have a job, they have a baby boy too. And we had the down payment. And that’s how they were willing to sell it to us and we got in here.
06:04 Fong: Cash is king.
06:05 Leung: Pardon?
06:06 Fong: Cash is king. That’s what they say.
06:07 Leung: *laughter* We didn’t pay cash. We pay for half the cost of the house.
06:11 Fong: available.
06:14 Leung: Yeah, yeah, and they were, they had to leave so we got in there. This is the best home we saw of all the ones we, they showed us. Yeah.
06:23 Yu: And then, then, when did you start working?
06:25 Leung: Oh, I didn’t work till my youngest was in junior high and Bing was in college, and, uh, Kathy and Alyssa was in high school. They were ready to graduate. But I decided, what am I going to do? I’ve been, you know, uh, at-home mother for long time. I told Wally I’m going to look for a job. He was with Lockheed. I look in, uh, Peninsula Times, they advertise a part-time, three – what – ten to three o’clock. I said, just right, you know. I’ll go and interview. Interviewed and they hired me on the spot. So, at first it was part-time. And that suit me fine. They would be – Alyssa would be in school and I’ll be home before she gets home. And so, but then, it progressed to, they, they know me, the people get to know me, then the library offered me half-time, then full-time. And that’s why, that’s how it got started. And I didn’t know that they have this – what would you call that – you work till 5, so many years, you get tuition – free for your kids. So it worked out well for me.
07:39 Yu: Because your son went to Stanford.
07:40 Leung: Bing was there already. And he only was able to use one year of it because he graduate early, had too many AP classes. So but then my two daughters at Cal was free-tuition, but by that time was only $600. I wished they would pay for room and board. That was more expensive.
07:59 Yu: Well, if you could mention on camera that you worked for Hoover or was it the Hoover.
08:04 Leung: Hoover Library. I was, I was hired. They had a grant to write a book on communism – world communism. And they, they need someone for clerical job to read anything – paper that I can read or magazine that mention communism, is it Bulgaria, is it China. I would segregate it and I would give it to each of the researcher. And they would write a book about them every year. That’s what I did. And I loved the job. Because I didn’t want anything too taxing. Reading, clipping, come home. And it worked out well for me.
08:43 Yu: Great. Such an interesting -. So you have the Stanford connection too.
08:48 Leung: Oh yes. And I, then I worked there for about maybe 18 years. And then my first grandson was born – Jason. And I decide to quit to babysit. And I quit in 1989. And I babysat, took care of my grandchildren.
09:10 Yu: Good. I think we have a great story.
09:14 Leung: Oh really?
09:15 Yu: Yeah. I’m so happy to hear about Chinatown. I never heard of sharing roller skates. How do you share roller skates?
09:20 Leung: In Albuquerque?
09:22 Fong: Oh, my, my, I have stuff – I have heard that story before too. So you share roller skates, you switch it back and forth, or they would make it like a skateboard, they put, uh, my grandfather –
09:32 Leung: Yeah, the wheels.
09:33 Fong: Yeah, they put the wheels on a, on a crate?
09:36 Leung: Yeah. Orange crate or something.
09:38 Fong: And you push, you could push couple kids around –
09:39 Leung: Yeah, we have such a childhood. And we have belonged to clubs, in the church group, you know, Presbyterian, and then we would go [Cantonese word] Chinatown. Mom didn’t have to worry about us. It was so safe.
09:50 Yu: So you know, as Chinese Americans, how did you feel? You’re very proud of being Chinese Americans?
09:56 Leung: I am. Yeah. My Chinese is very important. I wish my kids would speak more Chinese. We tried.
10:01 Yu: The background, I mean, I think when you live in Chinatown, of course you feel very safe and belong. But when you went outside, I mean, coming to Palo Alto, that’s so different.
10:14 Leung: Well, by time I came with Wally in the 50s, it’s little bit more better. But still buying homes, they were kinda, yeah -. Of course, my mom said, “where are you going to move into? Albuquerque, so far.” They say, you know, you are leaving Chinatown – you know – I guess you know. But it sounds so far to them. But, um, I have a very good childhood. In fact, friends I met in Chinese school? We’re still friends. Yeah. We went cruising one time, it’s funny. Someone tapped me in the theater and said, “I know you.” I said, “ooh, where?” “Chinese school.” “Chinese school?” He goes by name of Jimmy. I said, “well, what’s your Chinese name?” He said, “[Cantonese Name].” Oh, we were about six or seven years old but I remember where he sat too. But he’s all grey, and all, and I said, “who are you?” But people still recognize me.
11:10 Yu: Yes, good time you spent together. You know, I was just thinking, could we scan some pictures?
11:17 Leung: Okay, good, good, what else do we have to do? Go, let’s look at them.
11:21 Yu: Thank you so much.
11:22 Leung: Yeah.

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Housing Discrimination in San Francisco / 150th Anniversary of Transcontinental Railroad


00:51 Fong: So you mentioned the beginnings of the CHSA during the Civil Rights Movement. I am kind of wondering, how old were you at that time and what it was like for you as a Chinese American, in San Francisco?
00:05 My own story was, I remember my grandfather telling us that he tried to buy a home in the Richmond district. *inaudible* I think it was in 1961, 1962 and people will just take the signs down when he came to the door, “oh no, it’s sold already.” I am kind of wondering what it was like for you in the 60s, what your life was like?
00:25 Choy: Well, I think in the 60s, of course, we were just beginning to feel the benefits of the Civil Rights, except for one thing. Housing was still a basic problem. I would not be able to buy a house right here, in Russian hill.
00:51 I remember when Sarah and I got married. We were looking for a place around, outside of Chinatown area to find a place to live. We are up in, near Nob Hill. Here’s a place to rent. We walk in there, and the management says, “oh, I’m sorry. We just rented it.” “Okay,” we walk away. Next day, we come back, the sign is back again already.
00:34 My favorite phrase was that after World War II, everything for the Chinese improved because of the manpower shortage. We were able to find employment in every industry. One of my very first jobs, in high school, I was working in the waterfront as a longshoreman. I was paid even more, I was making more money than my father was making. So things were improving, looked very positive. Things have finally turned at changed.
00:24 But after the war, when you start to move in, there’s still the real estate governance that said: “no color. We are not going to sell to you” People of our generation and generation before that were still facing that discrimination until Truman passed the Civil Rights Act that you can’t discriminate and so on, and there are penalties for it.
00:00 Well, North Beach was unusual in the sense that it was different. Because the Chinese were able to move in. But we have forgotten that the Italians in North Beach were also immigrants and they, after the war, were able to achieve the upward mobility. They also were looking for the American Dream. They were also looking for the car and the garage and the backyard garden and the single home. So they moved. They were able to move to Millbrae. I think that’s where a lot of them moved in. So who’s gonna buy the homes, right next to Chinatown? So then the Chinese were able to move in and were able to buy the homes.
00:03 The Italians, of course, were able to buy home at that time, let’s say, for 10,000 dollars. They could sell their homes to the Chinese for 24 or 25,000, two units, the average price was about 24,000. So these were flats and units they bought for maybe 4 or 5,000. Of course, you look back on it, I think the Chinese made up because these buildings are millions of dollars now. *laughter* So we got the last laugh anyways.
00:55 Yu: You know, I think that we covered the railroad part. We can always go back to that history but that’s for another time.
00:03 Fong: Anything else you have on your mind about the railroad?
00:09 Yu: Anything about the building? Have you been to Cape Horn? Did you make any pilgrimages? A little more?
00:18 Choy: I haven’t been back for quite some time for seeing what has developed.
00:27 Yu: But the railroad was fascinating to you. Right? The railroad was very important and fascinating to you.
00:33 Choy: Again, the railroad was the pivotal point in making the Chinese known in participation of the American history. Yes, I think that at that moment – unfortunately, I felt that I failed my charge, so to speak. But, that was the grand – the great moment to take advantage of.
00:14 Fong: So we are coming up on 150 years soon, so maybe there’s another moment for the CHSA to shine.
00:20 Choy: Well, they better not make that mistake again. I don’t think. It would be impossible to make that mistake.
00:30 Yu: But you can bring out the points. You can do another presentation.
00:37 Choy: 150th? I ain’t gonna be around. (Laughter)
00:42 Yu: Well, it’s certainly, for the hiring of the Chinese–that’s next year. 2015.
00:56 Fong: And now we have Stanford alongside. That will help a lot, I think.
00:01 Yu: And Stanford has to make up for another thing, for the 100th anniversary of the railroad. The whole celebration was about the golden spike and Leland Stanford. Not one mention about the Chinese and the fact that his fortune was made on the backs of Chinese workers.
00:23 Oh, I do have a question. Do you know about the history of the Chinese working at Stanford on the farm?
00:32 Choy: No, I don’t know much about the farm workers but obviously, the Stanford—on one hand, while he was mouthing anti-Chinese rhetoric and so on, he was hiring all the Chinese on the farm.
00:51 Yu: And for certainty(??).
00:53 Choy: And, you know, at the mansion, when he was governor, he had Chinese servants and cooks and everything else. So it’s some of the unknown parts of history.
00:17 Yu: Is there anything—
00:18 Fong: Yep.
00:19 Yu: I think we got—
00:19 Choy: —important part of the program. Um-hm.
00:25 Yu: The Chinese—they didn’t think of the Chinese as being any part of society to—you know, that they didn’t care about offending people
00:33 Fong: I think what’s happening in the—


Both Barre Fong’s father and Phil Choy faced housing discrimination when they tried to rent or buy houses in San Francisco. World War II made it easier for the Chinese to find jobs, but it was still difficult to find housing until President Truman passed the Civil Rights Act. When Italian immigrants moved out of North Beach, many Chinese moved into those homes which are now worth millions of dollars. The 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad is approaching. The history of Chinese workers is also tied to Leland Stanford, who profited from the railroad and hired Chinese servants.


150th anniversary of Transcontinental Railroad; American Dream; Chinese Historical Society; Civil Rights Act; Civil Rights movement; Employment; Housing prices; Italian immigrants; Leland Stanford; Milbrae; Nob Hill; North Beach; President Truman; Richmond; Russian Hill; San Francisco; San Francisco Chinatown; Stanford University; Upward mobility; World War II


American dream Civil Rights Act of 1964 (United States) Discrimination against Chinese Americans Housing, Discrimination in Housing–Effect of inflation on–United States Stanford, Leland, 1824-1893