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
Location: Palo Alto, California
of the Interview: 46 minutes, 36 seconds
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.
All materials on these pages © Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford.[/su_spoiler]