Granddaughter of Tow Fung Jon
Interviewee: Grace Lee, Granddaughter
Interviewed by: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Interview Date: July 19, 2013
Location: Palo Alto, California
Length of Interview: 44 minutes, 47 seconds
20:30 Yu: So.
20:32 Lee: Because you know, it was terrible. The Chinese must go, you know, in Kearny – was just so awful. And it’s a wonder how that how the people survived.
20:40 Yu: Well,we have information. We have information that some of the herb stores sold to other Chinatowns, and they sold to people who,
20:50 Lee: Oh, they must have. They must have. But I know, I do not know that connection at all, but you would assume that.
20:59 Yu: Yes, and the other assumption is the Chinese railroad workers had herbs, because they didn’t have modern medicine and they didn’t have a Western –
21:08 Lee: That’s right.
21:09 Yu: -access to Western medicine so they had, they had regular supplies of herbs from San Francisco. So very possibly, these herbs could have come from your, your paternal grandfather’s store.
21:26 Yu: Yeah. So, how did you have, how did you get to Oakland? Was this after the earthquake?
21:33 Lee: How did I get to what?
21:34 Yu: How did your family end up in Oakland?
21:37 Lee: Oh, but what happened was, so after the earthquake, you know, San Francisco was completely devastated, so they went across the bay and lived in Oakland Chinatown.
21:53 Yu: And what kind of business did they?
21:55 Lee: Well, my mother and my uncle and my aunt – his wife – took a tailoring call – a class, and they open a tailor shop. And it was *Kong Gaai Sing* on Ninth Street. And that’s where I was born. *smiles*
22:13 Yu: And did the business do well?
22:15 Lee: No. Because, you can’t compete, you know, with the industrialization, you know. It may be finely tailored but it’s ahead of the times. You know, things have to be cheap and people would buy from mass production rather than from individual tailoring.
22:39 Yu: Tell us something.
22:40 Lee: Then, my mother was also a telephone operator at the exchange in San Francisco. So my mother was, my mother was literate. She spoke English and knew both English and Chinese.
22:55 Yu: So she worked at the telephone exchange?
22:57 Lee: Yeah.
22:57 Yu: When she lived in Oakland? Or when she lived in?
22:59 Lee: No, in San Francisco.
23:01 Yu: I see. And uh.
23:02 Lee: You see, then after that, in 1915, I was born in 17, we moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where my father’s clan had this huge restaurant – it was a very upscale, had a floor show and all the rest. And myfather was hired as a manager because he learned to speak English, and I can read you what he wrote to me, because the other people, they banded to pit the, the Tow clan, we banded together and built this restaurant. Its still extant today, it’s called Port Arthur Restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island.
23:49 Yu: Was that the name that you remember?
23:52 Lee: No, the one. When I was there as a child, I was lived there until I was five, it was on 123 Weybosset Street in Providence. And the name of the restaurant was King Fong.
24:03 Yu: King Fong.And they had a floor show? This is in the 20s or the 30s?
24:10 Lee: Oh, then the 17. In the 20s. I remember the first song I learn was “Over There.” “Over There.”
24:20 Yu: Well, that’s World War I.
24:21 Lee: World War I.
24:24 Yu: So, how long did you live in Providence?
24:29 Lee: I believe they lived until I was 5. [inaudible] We came back to Oakland in 1923.
24:42 Yu: And then, you could talk about your education and how you got into the service?
24:47 Lee: Me? Oh. [inaudible] From Oakland, we went to Stockton, where we had an herb store. And I went to high school.
24:56 Yu: In Stockton?
24:57 Lee: In Stockton. And we then came the Depression. We came back out to Oakland. And, by this time, my father had retired. Oh, he didn’t do anything very much but let’s see, now, I’m 16 and I entered the university, and so I graduated in 37 and I was 20. And I worked in Sacramento. The State Personnel Board, it came out to San Francisco, eventually worked for the Department of Employment. Because back then, you were lucky to have a civil service job. And then, let me see, it’s now called Human Resources, I think. Then came the War, and I felt that I should be to participate and so I enlisted in the service. And, I was going to – should I tell you what happened?
26:03 Yu: Yes!
26:04 Lee: Ok. You know, there were three of us. Ruthie, Leonard and I. Ruthie, went into the Red Cross, Lennie went into the Red Cross, and I thought, “Aha! I will go into the Red Cross.” And this is God’s truth. I interviewed, and to my disbelief, I was not accepted, because I was not quote unquote “typically American.” Now, this happened also when I tried to get into the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (World War II women’s branch of the United States Naval Reserve)].
26:41 But anyway, I was bound and determined to do my share and I enlisted in the service, and eventually got into the Air Corps. And I was signed to the wing where we train, uh, the cadets that under Jiang Kai-shek, under Lend-Lease.
26:60 And then, after the war was in for two years, came home and my husband went to Berkeley under the GI Bill of Rights and got his engineering degree. Then, we had two children and after my second child was born, I stayed home for 10 years. And then Hong [Lee’s husband] after the, let’s see, came to work for SRI, and I went to work at Stanford. I’ve worked at Stanford, in the School of Medicine Department of Surgery for 26 years, under the same boss, who was the Head of the – it was a Chairman of the Department of Surgery. And then, I retired, when I was 72 and a half, and that’s the end. *laughter*
27:56 Yu: Well, I want to hear you talk about your husband. Could you tell your – tell us yourhusband’s name? And the fact that you met him? You met him in service?
28:04 Lee: Okay. My husband’s name is Hong Lee and he was born in Castroville, in, on August 10, 1923. And I met him at Santa Ana Army Air Base, in the bowling alley of all places. And we were married at -. Finally we went from station to station, as we, as the group was, the whole wing was being transferred. We finally ended up at Maxville [sicMaxwell] Field in Montgomery, Alabama and I was married at this Catholic chapel at Montgomery, Alabama.
28:44 Yu: Did you ever serve overseas?
28:46 Lee: No. Did not. What I did, let’s see, Hong, okay, Hong, my husband was in the service, and – because they giveyou the army intelligence test – and he had a choiceof going into medicine, engineering or something else, under the ASTP, which is called the Armory Special Training Program.
29:09 And so, he wants it. “Okay, I’ll take medicine.” But the officer-in-charge said, “You only have a high school education and you will be competing with people who’ve already had a college degree. And I would have advice against that.” And he said, “Okay, I’ll take engineering.” “Well, the same is true there.” So he said, “How about foreign language and where’s that being held?” “Harvard.” He said, “I’ll take that.” So he was at Harvard for two years, under the ASTP program,to be an interpreter. And he was scheduled to go – where they call it now, the, not the CIA, but behind the lines in China [possible reference to OSS (Office of Strategic Services)].
29:58 But anyway, what ended up was, he ended up with this one training because of his knowledge of Chinese and English. And then after he graduated from the University, he worked at the Stanford Research Institute, until, then he, oh, with a two other or two or three other people who started Advanced Research Application Cooperation. And he worked with them, until he retired.
30:38 Yu: So both you and your husband, you speak Chinese in two dialects. How did you, where did you learn Chinese? You are third generation.
30:47 Lee: Oh, at home. In my days, at home you were not allowed to speak English. And because they said, [speaks in Cantonese]. So I spoke Cantonese, both Sam Yup and Sze Yup, third dialect and fourth dialect, which is Sze Yup.
31:05 But I learned Mandarin first when I was in college in 1933,but then I only had two years, and that wasn’t sufficient. So when China opened up in 1978, yes, I was working at Stanford, and I audited Mr. Zhuang’s Chinese classes for four years. And I learned a great deal from him. They’re wonderful person whose father was the director of the museum in Taiwan. But, I went through my paces. That’s where I learned my Mandarin.
31:53 Oh also, at that time, I, in the 70s, China had opened up and a lot of the exchange students came from China – and doctors. You know these are the China’s graduates, you know with, on the doctoral level. And I, it was very funny, Hong had a Q clearance, a security clearance. And of course at that time, you know, you weren’t supposed to associate with the Communist China and so forth. But I felt so sorry for them, they were so far of home. They always came to our house and, you know for dinner and so forth. And as a result, I have very many good friends in China today.
32:41 And one of them, whose grandfather was Zuo Zongtang, the giant, the general’s chicken, well anyway, Wen Chen, it was the vice mayor of Shanghai, and now she does a lot of, she, liaison between China and the countries. And so about some 19, when I was 90, 6 years ago, I took my daughter and my two grandsons to China so that they could see China for the first time. And boy, were we were royally treated.
33:19 And then, I have another friend who is a chemist who is now in New Zealand but I have a whole group of people that I correspond with, and it’s nice to see what their children are doing, you know, after their exposure here.
33:40 Yu: Have you been to your ancestral village in Taishan?
33:43 Lee: No, i have never been back to my guhoeng, guxiang. I, I just didn’t. It would have been too emotional.
33:55 Yu: Now, why is that?
33:57 Lee: Hmm?
33:58 Yu: Why is it? Because of the connection with your parents?
34:00 Lee: Excuse me?
34:01 Yu: Yes, you said it would be too emotional.
34:04 Lee: Yes, because you see,my generation, of the, the American born here. But you know, the majority went to Chinese school after American school and it was “You are Chinese, you are Chinese, you are Chinese.” But with the succeeding generation, “You are American,you are American.” But my generation observed so many of the old Chinese customs.
34:34 Except that my family was very progressive. We did not celebrate the Lunar Chinese New Year, but the American Gregorian, because of the connection with the Revolution, the 1912, where the 16 year old *Low Kow Tong* [Cantonese name] conceived and designed the Chinese flag – you know, the, the 12 stars, those are red, but the blue, rhymes with heaven, blue for the sky, and the 12 rays for the 12 hours of the day and so forth. So I followed the, of course, the whole gamut of history, you know. Through Edgar Snow’sRed Star over Chinaand all the rest. But until the present day.
35:37 Yu: So itsounds like your your parents and grandparents were very progressive. And -.
35:44 Lee: Yes.
35:44 Yu: Yeah. They were supporters of Sun Yat-sen.
35:49 Yu: So, did you talk to your – you don’t, you don’t remember your grandparents, your grandfather, because they died before you were born.
35:59 Lee: No. None of the my – the onlyone I know is my grandmother. The others, the other grandmother was in China, she never came here. And my two grandfathers were deceased.
36:12 Yu: And did your grandmother tell you stories?
36:15 Lee: Well my grandmother told us Chinese stories.Chinese, you know, *Malawong*, you know, Saijaugei [Xiyouji], and all of the Monkey Kingdom, and all the wonderful stories. And we said [Cantonese sentence], “grandmother, tell us the …”
But, as the family is concerned, mum’s the word. For some reason, they just never owned.
She, her feet weren’t bound, but she bound my mother’s feet, my aunt’s feet. Wasn’t that awful? And that is, now Lisa See describes a foot binding, which is absolutely inhuman. It’s so torturous. It’s bending the heels to meet the toes. It was terrible. It was just terrible.
36:56 Yu: So she bound your mother’s feet, even though she could walk around with you.
37:00 Lee: That’s right. My grandma. And my aunt’s feet. Poor thing. Anybody. My mother bought size 2 and then when unbinding the feet was awful too. But I made up for it, wear size 9s. *smiles*
37:14 Yu: *laughs*Well that is unusual that your family was involved with Sun Yat-sen, and but your grandmother, you know, she believed in foot binding. Because Sun Yat-sen tried to ban -.
37:27 Lee:Oh yes, oh yes. Oh, so, oh, so, they met up with Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and wanted to go to China to help but he said, “No, do what you can here in the United States.” You know, with your children. And the progenies has done very well.
37:52 Yu: Very successful. Now were you aware with, during World War II, when in 1943 the Exclusion law was repealed. You were aware of that?
38:02 Lee: Of course. Yes, my father got his American citizenship in 19 – let’s see – 46. Yeah. My, my Chinese girlfriends were his witnesses.
38:20 Yu: Ah. You worked at Stanford for many years. You worked at Stanford.
38:27 Lee: That’s right.
38:28 Yu: The Medical Center?
38:29 Lee:Medical, so yes.
38:31 Yu:And were you aware of the history of the railroad and the Big Four?
38:35 Lee: Ohheavens yes. I, yes, I read extensively. And then you know, the really, Russell Low, I’m, you know, you really should get hold of him. Because, he has documented everything and written a thing all about his family and what what they did and his grandfather is just absolutely amazing. He, he went to Salem, Oregon and had a [inaudible]. It’s, I wish I had it here, but I gave all this stuff to my cousin Ezra who’s doing genealogy. But Dr. Low is a specialist in MRI and he’s in San Diego but he has it all documented. And that’s how I, he contacted me because of what you were doing and he saidI was so eloquent. I don’t know how eloquent I am, but he is amazing.
39:42 Yu: Your history is remarkable. I think what’s remarkable is your ancestors came so early. Your ancestors.
39:48 Lee: Yes.Well, I’m kind of old, you know. I’m 96. *laughter*
39:54 Yu: You don’t look 96.
40:00 Lee:44. I was only in the service about almost two years.
40:05 Yu:So you were very patriotic. I mean, did you feel your, you must have just stood up for the fact that “I’m an American.” Right, everybody regarded you as not quite, I mean, the Americans, the so-called the, the your bosses, the people who are hiring, of course looked upon you as Chinese.
40:28 Lee:That’s right.
40:29 Fong: Where did your kids go to school?
40:32 Fong: Wheredid your children go to school?
40:35 Yu: Where did your children go to school? Your daughter and your son?
40:37 Lee: Oh, they are bothStanford graduates. And Michael got his master’s at USF and Donna did her medicine at Tulane and then she did a residency at Harvard for five years. She’s a practicing, she’s a board-certified psychiatrist.
40:58 Yu: Both your children went to undergraduate at Stanford University.
41:03 Lee: Both of them.
41:05 Yu: You must have been very proud.
41:07 Lee:What was, I, back then since I worked there, they went tuition-free, which was quite a boon.
41:18 Yu: What years did they graduate?
41:20 Lee: Pardon?
41:20 Yu: What year did they graduate? What year?
41:22 Lee: Oh gee. I can’t remember, let’s see. 75, 79 something like that? 75? I don’t remember the dates. Dates and I aren’t very good.
41:35 Yu: Did you tell them a lot of your, his family history? Did they grow up knowing the family history?
41:41 Lee: Oh,they should. But Michael will always say, “with mom, if it’s [inaudible] it’s final.” *laughs*
41:59 Yu: Did you send them to Chinese school? How often?
42:01 Lee: No. They wouldn’t go. And my husband didn’t want me. I shouldn’t have listened to him, but he didn’t want themto have the conflict of identity and I did not teach them Chinese. And they don’t even speak the language, which is unfortunate.
42:28 Yu:Did you feel that, you know, they went to Paly High [Palo Alto High School], right? Did they go to Paly High?
42:33 Lee:No. They went to – where did they go? Oh, Cubberley.
42:37 Yu: Cubberley! Oh, that’s right. Cubberley.
42:38 Lee: Because this is within walking distance.
42:40 Yu: Right, right, that’s the school.
42:42 Lee: That’s why we bought this house because, because of the standing -because of the rating of Cubberley and the proximity. Because I went back to work full time when Donna was 10, but in this neighborhood there were all children and all the mothers are around, you know.
43:01 Yu:Did they identify with the Asian-American because that was during – in the 70s?
43:07 Lee: Uh. Well, see, most of the people were Caucasians here. Then, oh, in Stockton, I grew up amidst Caucasians, because I didn’t live in Chinatown. In fact, I won some – something in the library, some contest, and because. Actually there was segregation – based on economy and based on races, because you couldn’t buy places. They would not sell. Well, my cousin, who was it, Mary, was a lieutenant colonel, was in the service with the Purple Heart – couldn’t buy a place in San Mateo for the longest time. Can you imagine that? Anyway, here he was returning from the war and all – was with six boys, but you just you “we shall overcome.”
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