Gene Lim Yee
Granddaughter of Lim Lip Hong
Interviewee: Gene Lim Yee (Granddaughter of Lim Lip Hong)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Location: San Francisco, California
Length of the Interview: 14 minutes, 38 seconds
Yu: Your introduction of yourself.
Gene Yee: Well, I’m Gene Lim Yee, and my husband was Don Moon Yee from Salinas, and I’ve been a widow for–
[omitted section] Gene Yee: Well my grandmother wore these two-piece outfits with the wide pants, and the jackets, they were so beautifully done. But it was the same fabric, this heavy heavy black silk. And she had this fair fur cape that she wore over. And that’s how she commuted from where they live up to the ferry building and she came across and sometimes we knew she was coming, we’d run from Josephine street to Hopkins where the train came and we’d run out and meet her. It was just so cute to see her like that. She was very proud, very fussy about her fur cape.
Yu: Do you remember her hairdo?
Gene Yee: I think she wore it in a knob, but I’m not quite–I couldn’t say positively.
Yu: Did she wear any jewelry?
Gene Yee: She just wore what women wore–I’m sure she had things.
Yu: Could you describe what your grandfather dressed in?
Gene Yee: My grandfather sometimes wore this long Chinese robe, and that’s how I can picture him.
Fong: Also, there was a little bit of rumors about your grandfather having a Native American family. Have you ever heard of that?
Gene Yee: No, I’ve never heard of that. That’s kind of interesting.
Yu: A lot of *inaudible* at the time had mistresses.
Fong: The story we heard–the ghost story is that your grandfather had a Native American mistress and eventually ordered–called for a Chinese bride.
Yu: Because he lived–he lived in different places. He lived in *inaudible*, then he lived in Deadwood, South Dakota.
Wendy Jane Yee: I guess all you would have is either white women or *inaudible*
Gene Yee: Well this is really interesting.
Fong: We also heard from one of the aunties–knew who that family was, but it was sort of lost. So we’re kind of creeping around and trying to find out–
Yu: Someone should fly to South Dakota.
Fong: And start asking for a half-Chinese, half Native American..
Yu: But what’s really important is that you actually remember what your grandfather looked like. And I think it’s very important that you said he wore the Chinese robe, that he was tall, and he was very fun.
Gene Yee describes her grandparents’ looks and clothing. Barre Fong asks whether Gene Yee knows about a rumored Native American mistress of her grandfather.
Chinese clothing; Chinese jewelry; Chinese robes; Chinese women hairstyles; Don Moon Yee (husband); Gene Lim Yee; Grandmother; Mistresses; Native American wives; Salinas
Chinese–Clothing & dress Mistresses–China–History Mixed race families
Fong: [to Gene Yee’s daughter] Have you heard your mom speak about any stories that you might want to remind her to tell?
Wendy Jane Yee: Well I think a charming story is–she told me when she and her brothers were older, I think maybe teenagers or going to UC Berkeley, there was this charming case of mistaken identity. They were in this restaurant in Chinatown in San Francisco, and they saw this man that my mom thought had been their Chinese private tutor, that she referred to as *inaudible*. They invited him to share the meal at the restaurant.
Gene Yee: [laughs] And he did.
Fong: Wait, let’s have you tell the whole story.
Gene Yee: I wasn’t picking him up at all.
Wendy Jane Yee: Well, you were–yeah, with your brothers. Tell the story, mother. It really is funny.
Gene Yee: It’s just funny that he cameÉ[laughs] Wendy Jane Yee: After they ate the meal, they found out he wasn’t the tutor.
Gene Yee: That he wasn’t the tutor.
Fong: Wait, start from the beginning so we can get it on camera. So you’re in a restaurant in Chinatown…
Gene Yee: We were having a meal, you know, and I thought he was the tutor. So I asked him to join us and he did. And he wasn’t the guy. Stupid huh?
Wendy Jane Yee: Not that high on common sense.
Yu: What time? Was this the 1920s?
Gene Yee: Oh, long–the 30s. Probably high school.
Gene Yee recounts a humorous family story of an encounter with a stranger in a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant.
Chinese private tutors; Chinese restaurants; Gene Lim Yee; Mother; San Francisco Chinatown; UC Berkeley
Chinese restaurants–California–San Francisco
Yu: You mentioned that your mother was from a pioneer family, and her father was a minister?
Gene Yee: Well he was an educator, he taught Chinese.
Wendy Jane Yee: And then a merchant. And her maternal grandmother was born here, because I saw her death certificate.
Yu: And what’s her maiden name? Your mother’s maiden name?
Gene Yee: Su Hu.
Yu: Oh, I know the Su Hu family. The famous educator–they lived through the earthquake, it was–well anyway, they had a lot of children–
Gene Yee: No.
Wendy Jane Yee: They had four daughters and two sons. And one of them, the eldest daughter, was married Joseph Shone, head of the National Dollar Section.
Gene Yee: And then we were close families. They had three children, they lived in Oakland, so we were together a lot, my mother and her sister.
Yu: There are a lot of pioneer stories. Did your family ever talk about the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Law, or the fact that the Chinese were not allowed to come after 1882.
Gene Yee: I never heard.
Yu: How about Angel Island?
Gene Yee: Oh, Angel Island–my father worked there at one time.
Yu: Was he an interpreter?
Gene Yee: Mhmm.
Wendy Jane Yee: And a photographer.
Gene Yee: And he became an expert bridge player commuting on the ferry every morning to Angel Island.
Yu: So this is the son of the railroad worker working as an interpreter on Angel Island.
Wendy Jane Yee: But Angel Island came into existence long after my grandmother came.
Yu: Oh yes, 1910. But it’s part of that same heritage of Chinese immigration. Did your father tell you about his experiences?
Gene Yee: Oh, sometimes.
Yu: So he was an interpreter. But he also took pictures. Did he take pictures for the service?
Gene Yee: He did. He was quite a photographer.
Yu: Was it photographs of the island or of the people?
Gene Yee: I think it was–maybe the whole thing, but at least of the people
Yu: Do you have any of these photographs?
Gene Yee: No.
Yu: Maybe you could find some that are attributed to your father.
Wendy Jane Yee: We have a lot of family photographs taken in the 1890s. Because I have a–he did his own developing.
Yu: So your father took pictures of his father too.
Wendy Jane Yee: I have a lot of the negatives.
Gene Yee: You have the picture of that family in our backyard?
Wendy Jane Yee: I think my grandfather took this picture, and this behind the 13 27th in the backyard *inaudible* But I think he told me, he set the camera up, and somebody else did the whatever. But this is before you were born. Because this is 1914. This has my grandfather–
Yu: You were going to talk more about the railroad, and the connection with your father. That your father–he took a lot of photographs of the family and your grandfather. This is fascinating that you have such documentation. That your father had so many talents. But did he sell his photographs? Or was this just a hobby?
Gene Yee: Oh, no, this was a family–private thing, that’s all.
Yu; But when he took photographs for the service on Angel Island–
Gene Yee: That was a job.
Gene Yee describes her grandparents’ employment. Her father worked as an interpreter and photographer at Angel Island. She also has a family photograph from 1914.
Angel Island; Chinese Exclusion Law; Chinese interpreters; Educators; Family photographs; Father; Grandfather; Joseph Shone; Merchants; Mother; National Dollar Section; Oakland; Photographers; Pioneer families; Pioneer stories; San Francisco earthquake; Su Hu (maternal grandmother)
Angel Island (Calif.)–History–Pictorial works Angel Island Immigration Station (Calif.)–History Chinese–Employment–California–San Francisco–1900-1930 Family history
Fong: So we didn’t hear too much about your own life, after college. How many kids do you have?
Gene Yee: I had three children, and now I have three children and three great-grandchildren. Four grandchildren. There’s a newest one. They live in Albany next to Berkeley.
Yu: When did you get married?
Gene Yee: June 3, 1942. I talked every day in town and everything.
Yu: Where was your first home?
Gene Yee: Our first home was in San Francisco by Ghirardelli Square.
Yu: The rental. Outside of Chinatown.
Wendy Jane Yee: They never lived in Chinatown.
Yu: It’s just that during that time it was very hard for Chinese to live outside of Chinatown People did not mention–there were exceptions. So your neighbors were all white.
Gene Yee: Yeah. We sort of had what was like, in this house, what was the downstairs and it was converted into a little apartment. Then the extra part of their lot was a beautiful garden. And we just walked to Ghirardelli square. We passed it today.
Yu: So you raised 3 children in this neighborhood.
Gene Yee: In Berkeley?
Yu: When did you move to Berkeley?
Yee: My husband was gone three and a half years during the war. He was overseas.
Yu: So you lived in Berkeley?
Gene Yee: I lived at home with my parents.
Yu: In SF.
Yee: No, in Berkeley.
Yu: One last thing about your grandmother. You had quite vivid memories of your grandmother.
Gene Yee: Oh yes, she was a vivid person. Oh yeah, when the bridges were built, she walked across both bridges until they stopped her. She was a very independent woman.
Yu: She walked both bridges as far as–
Gene Yee: Until they caught her.
Yu: For the scenery of it, or–
Gene Yee: Oh yeah. Something wonderful happening.
Yu: So obviously, she didn’t have bound feet.
Gene Yee: Oh, no.
Yu: Did she ever tell you about her background, that she was–where she came from in China.
Gene Yee: I really didn’t know that.
Yu: Did your father talk about it?
Gene Yee: No.
Yu: Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Gene Yee: No. A nice family. Wonderful daughter.
Yu: Do you have regular family reunions.
Gene Yee: We have had before. We haven’t had recently.
Gene Yee describes her family, and her experience living in San Francisco outside Chinatown as a child. Yee recounts a story of her grandmother, calling her a “vivid person.”
Albany; Berkeley; Family reunions; Footbinding; Ghirardelli Square; Housing segregation; San Francisco Chinatown; Su Hu (maternal grandmother)
Chinese American families–California–San Francisco–History Chinese American women Housing–California–San Francisco
Gene Yee: Well, this piece of jade was my father’s stickpen. When he passed away I was given the jade, so I had it made into a ring. The jeweler–there was a pretty nice jeweler in Berkeley. I gave it to him to work on and I was totally surprised it came out such a contemporary setting. But I really enjoyed it.
Gene Yee describes a jade ring she wears.
Father; Jade jewelry; Jewelers
Chinese jewelry Chinese–Clothing & dress
All materials on these pages © Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford.