Great-great-grandson of Gong Gim Hik
Interviewee: Grant Din (Great-great-grandson of Gong Gim Hik)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Date: October 1, 2014
Location: San Francisco, California
Duration: 27 minutes, 7 seconds
00:48 Yu: Getting back to your great-great-grandfather, do you have his name?
00:52 Din: Uh, his name is Gong Gim Hik. And I have him on the family tree, if you would like to see this. He’s right here, the 32nd generation of Gongs from our – from the Lok Cheung Village in Fa Yuen, north of the Guangzhou Airport. So he went back and then his grandson is my grandfather and then we’re down here.
01:24 Yu: Do you have any written records on your great-great-grandfather – like an immigration record?
01:30 Din: No, I haven’t found anything. I’ve even gone to the Railroad Museum looking for employee or pay records or anything like that and discovered that they would be like Wang – Gang of twenty men – you know they pay Mr. Wang and he paid the 20 men. But there were no records that I found of individual railroad workers.
01:51 Din: I looked about 15 years ago and now I’m starting to find things like that online, like Ancestry starting to scan the railroad records and things like that but it’s kind of been, uh, lifelong quest to find some proof of this. You know, information, and all I know is that family members told me this and then I heard that he worked on the railroad in Nevada and all along I thought it was the Transcontinental Railroad.
02:22 Din: And then I read Him Mark Lai’s chapter on Fa Yuen people in Becoming Chinese American, and he said that the most people from Lok Cheung came in the 1870s after the Transcontinental was, was done and that let’s see, he even mentions our village, which is amazing, because of all the villages in China, go down to Fa Yuen and then our village and mentioned that they were workers on the railroad in the 1870s was pretty amazing to me. So I asked, before he passed, I asked him for more detail. He gave me some publications but mostly he said it was just the oral histories he got from the village, people in the village who told him about that. So again, it’s kind of my quest to find some documentation of of these workers and you know I’m hoping the project will result in something that I could learn about.
03:21 Yu: Well the descendants of your, of your railroad ancestor, when they went through Angel Island, did they mention the village, the name of the village?
03:31 Din: Oh, my grandfather was a paper, paper son. So everything was about the Aw Village, which was not our village. So it’s all fictional. I know, it’s too bad. But I have been back to, I have been back to the village and our family has this big house they called the Feigi [Feiji] House, shaped like an airplane with wings and so it’s pretty well-known out there. It’s like three or four stories. And so I actually went to the house and my father’s cousin, oversees it now, he lives in Guangzhou but he still, he took me out to see it. And there’s this big plaque on the wall and I was all excited I said, oh maybe this talks about all the ancestry went to work on the railroads and all this. But it was more like rules for Gong men to live by – he should be righteous, he should be honest, and all these things like that – but nothing about, you know, any ancestors who worked on the Railroad.
04:30 Din: I actually went to his grave site and his site and his son’s were right next to each other but it didn’t say anything again about any, uh, adventures in California. Anything like that. I have a sense it wasn’t a big deal or maybe people knew about it but didn’t feel any need to document it. I have no idea how long he stayed to work on the Railroad either.
04:56 Yu: When you mention the grave site, this is the grave site of the great great grandfather who worked on the Railroad?
05:01 Din: Yes. Yes. That was exciting. So I have a photograph of that and I asked a friend to read it but he said oh it just says, you know, the basics.
05:11 Yu: Can we see the photograph later?
05:14 Din: Oh, I didn’t bring it.
05:15 Yu: But you know you could send it –
05:16 Din: Yeah, I could send it to you.
05:17 Yu: I think. So this was the grave that was in one of the ancestral mounds?
05:23 Din: Yeah, it was, actually the cemetery was kind of up the hill from the village, so it wasn’t really close by. We had to drive up there and I’ve no idea how to get there but yeah, my, my uncle showed, showed the driver how to get up there and then we thought he said “oh yeah, I hope you like this new location. It’s got a better view,” and things like that.
05:42 Yu: Could you say his name again?
05:43 Din: Gong Gim Hik.
05:45 Yu: Gim Hik. So, you have the date of his death?
05:51 Din: Hmm, gee, I don’t think so – it’s probably – I’m sure it’s on the grave site. It would have been – yeah actually I don’t know, I don’t know when.
06:01 Yu: But you know he went back.
06:03 Din: I do know he went back. Yeah. And I always thought that he had made enough money on the railroad to build the big family house but it turns out it was his grandson who had come to ÊAmerica, my grandfather who ran a laundry, and I guess they made enough to send his brother to school in China and he became a government official. And he made enough money there to build this big house. So I’m not sure exactly, you know, how he became so well off, but it’s probably from that. So it wasn’t the railroad that really, you know, helped them out, that much.
06:42 Yu: It started somebody coming.
06:44 Din: Right, right. It was the first one.
06:47 Yu: Within the family, the idea of coming to America. So where was the laundry?
06:51 Din: The laundry was in Woodland. First, the family – the Din family – actually, the paper name story is pretty interesting too. But, the family settled in Merced, and I just found out recently that they had, they worked in, I don’t know if they have their own grocery store or they, they ran a grocery store or they, they worked in a grocery store.
07:10 But then from Merced, they heard about a laundry for sale in Woodland. I think the man who ran it was going back to China so he needed someone to run it. So it’s a Tai Lee laundry and I can get you pictures of that, that we have. It’s not the actual laundry but it’s the building that had the laundry. And so people thought my grandfather’s name was Tai Lee, but that was just the name of the laundry.
07:36 So they ran that in the late twenties or in the 20s and 30s and a number of the family, my uncles and aunts, were actually born in in that laundry. So every year they have a stroll through history in Woodland and my uncles and aunts and now cousins, and lot of us cousins join in to go, go through the stroll. It’s just a three blocks walk down Dead Cat Alley. That’s the reason why I think they have the [unclear] colorful name. [unclear] I even have pictures of the family working on, in the laundry, putting clothes up on the lines and things like that to dry.
08:20 Yu: So this would be the grandson of Gim Hik – But what’s his name?
08:25 Din: Yes, yes. His name Gong Bow Gwun. And he papers from the Ow family, so he was called Ow Luen. Now that was 1912, I believe. And his brother bought papers for Doon Ho. Doon Ho came here about 1919. Doon Ho’s papers were for a married man. Ow Luen came when he was about 17, and he bought papers a single man. And when Doon Ho came, he said he was married, but for whatever reason his wife didn’t come over.Ow Luen’s wife, and I don’t know if they were married in China, because he didn’t go back to China. Ow Luen’s wife Lock Shee came over as Doon Ho’s wife. So she came over as her brother-in-law’s husband. So when she came to this country, I know, we needed a diagram. When she came to this country in 1921, she said she was married to Doon Ho. And she, they all passed through Angel Island and passed their interrogations.
09:35 Din: And when she came, they all, actually all three of them lived in Merced and then they all I think they all were in Woodland together before my grandfather’s brother passed away. So my uncle says that his mother and father actually had separate addresses next door to each other because if the authorities came, they wanted to know that my grandmother was married to her brother-in-law.
10:07 Din: So when he passed away, my grandfather took his brother’s name which was Doon Ho, but somehow over time it became Hew Din. So that’s why I’m a Din. It’s like a third paper name. And so we just kind of kept it. I have a cousin who changed it, Howard, Howard Din Gong, and he changed it to the family’s real name and I thought about that but never got through with it.
10:33 Yu: The amazing thing is that your family keeps track.
10:37 Din: Yeah, fortunately my uncle knew enough to be able to tell me or knows enough to be able to tell me these things. And we interviewed him a while ago.
10:45 Yu: Was it oral history? [inaudible] was any of this written down? So people could remember?
10:51 Din: Pretty much oral history but I’ve taken it and put it on our family website and share it with all the cousins. And every time I find out something new I’ll tell them. Yeah. So it’s just kind of a lifelong obsession.
11:06 Yu: It’s quite complicated when you talk about third generation paper name. Because of the Exclusion Law.
11:15 Din: Right, right, exactly.
11:16 Yu: So it was all because of the Exclusion Law. The wouldn’t have been able to come over like other immigrants – with their real name.
11:23 Din: Right, right. He, he, they, you know, they had the, in the file at the National Archives, they have the village, he had to describe and they had all the questions he had answer and who lived where and what kind of feet did the wife have, you know, all those things just like so many Chinese immigrants.
11:42 Yu: And the Ow family, when you said they bought papers from the Ow family, what ÊI’d like to know is would these families be doing this because they might be related or they are from the same village or this just for money?
11:56 Din: I’m pretty sure it’s just from money. I don’t think they were related at all because they gave him a different village and totally different name. In the national archives file, there is a copy of my grandfather’s paper-father’s birth certificate, which no doubt was recreated after the earthquake, when he probably went down just like everyone else and said I was born here, when he wasn’t and I have many children in China and my grandfather was one of those who took that identity. Yeah.
12:31 Yu: That makes it quite complicated.
12:32 Din: It is. It’s, I mean, if I hadn’t talked to my uncle, there’s probably no way I could find anything about that side of the family in the Archives because I wouldn’t know the real name.
12:42 Yu: As far as the Chinese name, they always used the written character, you know, Gong?
12:48 Din: Gong. Yeah. Yeah.
12:50 Yu: So it was kept. It’s just like the cemetery in Colma. The names of the people are their Chinese names, even though they might be paper names in English.
13:02 Din: Right. Yeah. That’s why, you know, researchers can find gold mines sometimes on the gravestone – this is the real name.
13:11 Yu: So what year did you go back to – did you go to the village?
13:15 Din: 2006.
13:20 Yu: Did members of your family go?
13:22 Din: That time, I went with my Owyang side relatives. Kathy Owyang Turner is like a seventh cousin once-removed and folks like that. And we had this Owyang reunion in Isleton, and a lot of folks were there and like, some other cousin twice-removed, Jeremiah Owyang, who is like a Internet pundit, he organized the trip along with other relatives. And so we went to the village in Zhongshan.
13:57 And the first day, I was able to do something different, when the group went somewhere, I actually met up with my Dad’s cousin in, in the village where the Gong side lives. So I got to see the house and the grave sights and so on. So we had an Owyang cousin’s wife drove up, I hired her, and she hired a driver to pick me up at the hotel and take me up to the village. So otherwise I would have had no idea. She could translate for me.
14:31 Yu: And the Owyang side is on your mom’s side.
14:34 Din: Mom’s side. Yeah.
14:37 Yu: So it’s the Zhongshan side, you know, Gene O. Chan, her [unclear] great-grandfather, the O stands for Owyang.
14:46 Din: Oh, okay.
14:47 Yu: They are from the delta area, the Zhongshan people.
14:50 Din: Yeah my mom’s from Courtland, so it’s a small world. Yeah, she knows a lot of that. You talk about someone, and “oh yeah, she’s really an Owyang.” You know, things like that. And then, let’s see, after I had the one day in Lok Cheung, we went to Dalian, which is our Owyang village and spent a couple days there. So, there’s no railroad ties there for me, that I know of, but, you never know.
15:22 Yu: The villages are fairly close together? Within one day?
15:25 Din: They’re few hours of drive apart. One is more near where Sun Yat-sen was born, and the other’s north of the Airport. So it’s like a few hours away.
15:36 Yu: I think the Gong side would be closer to where a lot of the supposedly railroad people came from.
15:43 Din: Oh, okay. So they all came from that side. Oh, interesting.
15:46 Yu: And were there any towers or those watchtowers in your village?
15:52 Din: Yeah, I think there was one in our – the Owyang village – that I saw. I didn’t see any in the Fa – Fa Yuen. But area has become really industrialized. In fact, our family house is surrounded by factories now and other large buildings, whereas the picture I had from the early 1900s, of course, it was in the middle of fields. So now it’s totally changed.
16:14 Yu: Which village is changed?
16:15 Din: This is the –
16:16 Yu: Fa Yuen
16:17 Din: The Fa Yuen one. It’s called Lok Cheung in Cantonese. So the one in Zhongshan, Dalian is, the old village is still pretty much intact. I don’t know how much of it has been lost. But there are condos, not too far, across the main road. And the man who developed those was, I think he’s an Owyang too, and he showed us around the village.
16:46 Fong: So about your great-great-great-grandfather, do we – is there any oral history about what he was like, what kind of person he was.
16:53 Din: Nothing at all. No, I wish. I don’t know anyone who, like I asked different family members, and this one aunt who told me that he came from Nevada, didn’t know, you know, didn’t have anything beyond that – the village and then that he worked on the railroad, and he worked in Nevada. And so, that’s all I know. Yeah, I wish I knew something like he was adventurous or you know where he was –
17:15 Fong: He must have been adventurous. *laughter*
17:16 Din: I know!
17:18 Yu: And also, to decide to go back too. You know. Because these trips were tremendous, either way.
17:25 Din: I was amazed he was able to go back, because I know it costed a lot of money to come. So I’m thinking – I don’t know how he made enough money to go back.
17:35 Yu: Did, uh, when he, this is just, you know, what you can derive from oral history or imagination, when he came to, from the village, to Nevada to work on the railroad, was he married? Did he have relatives? Was he married then?
17:51 Din: I don’t know.
17:52 Yu: Okay, when he went back, was he an old man or a young man? Because you know, he’s [unclear] had children, right? Do you know when he?
18:01 Din: Yeah, yeah. I could only speculate that he was not that old when he went back just because he was, I don’t know. It’s just kind of in my mind.
18:11 Yu: I mean, he had children, and they were born in China. So that was after – hmm – because very seldom would a worker, you know, yeah it’s possible to have children first and –
18:24 Din: My dad is an architect – my dad was an architect. And his brothers, one was a doctor, yeah he is retired, and others were – worked for the state, pharmacists, and different professions, you know, professions that Asians could get into back then. But my dad died when I was only 2 and my sister was only a few months, I was only, I was only 2 and so I never really knew him growing up.
18:54 Din: So the Din side, we only spent time with the Din side because my mom and her namesake, her sister-in-law, her brother-in-law’s wife, had the same name – Esther Din. They were like best friends so we’d all go up to Sacramento and spend a little time with the Din side. But if it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t, I wouldn’t know as much. And I think it was in high school at a wedding when I heard about the Railroad story. Yeah, so, I didn’t really know much about it, you know, growing up and – . That kinda got me started to think – wanting to learn more – all the time.
19:27 Din: So my, so actually, just last summer I got to see a dining room that my dad had designed. By coincidence, my wife had a board member of organization who worked with my dad. He was a landscape architect, my dad was a regular architect. And they kinda shared space. They weren’t with the same firm but they knew each other. And my dad designed dining room for him in Mill Valley, so we got to go see this dining room, and it’s really pretty. So that’s kind of the – the one tangible thing I can see that my dad designed. He mostly worked on homes and things like that. So he worked for Henry Hill who’s pretty well-known architect in the Bay Area, I think, and so –
20:17 Din: Yeah, on my mom’s side, she was one of the six kids. And they grew up in Courtland, in the delta. During the war, well actually, my, my grandfather came over as a merchant so he had – when he came through Sumas, Washington, he had to present that he had $500 worth of gold and he had a banknote that said he had a thousand dollars, and that he was a partner in this firm. So this is 1905, before Angel Island even, and so he came through Canada and made his way down to San Francisco.
20:48 Din: I think his address he gave somewhere in Chinatown but then he ended up in the delta, went back in 1916 to get married. I found, I’ve seen the papers where he had to have two witnesses, other than Chinese, testify on his behalf that he – “have you seen his hands? They do not look like a laborer”s. No, they look fine. He does not work.” You know.
21:07 Din: And so, I’m told that maybe he worked a little bit in the store – it’s Kwang Cheong Chen Firmware, Lincoln Chen’s Family, and he did, he did calligraphy so he designed some of the, did some of the drawings for some of the buildings that are still on, in Courtland. And he was a fishmonger. He would buy fish from people when they catch them and sell them door to door. And things like that. So a lot of odd jobs. And then, also was a principal of the Chinese School in Courtland.
21:38 Din: So, um, but in 19 – in the 40s, I think after World War II broke out, he heard from family members or heard from somebody that they needed a cook at this restaurant in San Diego. I think it’s called the Peking Cafe – Peking Chop Suey – and it’s still in existence now, they’ve kind of updated it and everything. But he went down and work there for number of years until he, until the war ended. And then my aunt had gotten married up in the Bay Area so that’s when they came up to the Bay Area. So, the Owyang side’s interesting too. I spent a lot more time with the Owyangs growing up. But yeah, interesting family too.
22:19 Yu: So the first ancestor from the Owyang side was the grandfather who came in 1905 as a merchant?
22:30 Din: Right, yeah, and his wife came in 1919. Yeah, with him. Well, not with him, but shortly after him. She brought my grandfather’s nephew over as his paper son. And so she had to pretend she was the stepmother of this nephew of her husband’s. So I found those papers. That family ended up moving to, settling in Arkansas. So I met a couple of, yeah.
23:01 Yu: So, how long did the – your grandfather, the merchant – he didn’t stay in Portland and
23:06 Din: Courtland, Courtland. He stayed there, he was there in the 20s, the 30s, into the early 40s. And that’s when they moved to San Diego.
23:15 Yu: But was this – I’m just trying to think about the pictures with Sun Yat-sen and the Sun Yat-sen followers. A lot of the old photographs, I have some from 19 – uh, 1914.
23:27 Din: He might be in there.
23:30 Yu: Yeah, and so, so if he came in 1905, his first place of employment, even though he said he was a merchant, was a store in Courtland.
23:39 Din: Right. I’m pretty sure that was it. He might have had some ties with San Francisco, because that’s where he put on his immigration papers. But he did end up in Courtland. Yeah. My mom has show me pictures of the Young China Association, and you can spot him because he was tall for that time. You know. He was like 5′ 9″ and you know there’s everyone *hand gesture* and there’s my grandfather *hand gesture*. So if you have pictures, he might be in there, yeah.
24:07 Yu: Interesting. Now, that’s Zhongshan. You know. The followers of Sun Yat-sen. And this Jim King, the great-grandfather of Gene Owyang Chan, you know, he came very early to work on the, to work in gold mines, and then he was recruited early for the railroad. So when he came to the delta area, Courtland and Isleton, he recruited, he recruited a lot of Chinese. So he brought a lot of people over before Exclusion. So that’s why there’s a lot of
24:50 Din: Zhongshan people. Yeah, it was fascinating to read his story.
24:54 Yu: So there’s a railroad connection that was unexpected. Because everyone thinks only the Toishan people worked on the railroad, but not so.
25:04 Din: Yeah, yeah. I’ve always asked my mom, where in China we are from and she said, well, Zhongshan, but that’s kinda like not that many people are from there. But there’s a fair number the delta. Yeah. And the Gong side, I learned from Him Mark’s book that a lot settled in Central Valley, in Salinas Valley and they have butcher shops, had grocery stores, and things like that. Yeah, Dennis Dun is like a distant cousin, the actor, I know his brother too. He’s come to some of our genealogy events.
25:35 Yu: Is it Dun like Din?
25:36 Din: Dun is like Din. Dun is really a Gong. In fact, Him Mark says, “since the existing pool of Hua Xian,” which is Fa Yuen, “immigrants was extremely small, with only a limited number of surnames, the odds were extremely high that an individual’s paper surname would not be the same as the individual’s real surname. Thus, although many in the Gong clan entered with their real surnames spelled as Gong or Kong, others became variously Chin, Ow, Dun, Don, Jung, Young, and so forth.” So we have Dun, which is Doon, and we have Ow. So, it’s like he’s telling our story. And it’s like, I asked him once, why he picked Fa Yuen, and he said, well I just, I don’t know if it was Laura or something, somehow he was interested in that and he decided to put a lot of effort into it – which I’m eternally grateful for.
26:32 Yu: But the dialect, do you know if it was the Toishan dialect?
26:35 Din; No, it’s not.
26:36 Yu: Sze Yup?
26:37 Din: No it’s, it’s, it’s, I don’t know, it’s not Sze Yup but it’s more I guess, typical, I don’t know what to -?
26:48 Yu: More San Yup.
26:48 Din: More San Yup. Yeah, and Zhongshan is – we’re Zhongshan. So my mom said, they don’t understand me in Chinatown. We have a village dialect. So our country dialect, or something like that. But I think she gets, she could get by.
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