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Jennifer Yu

Great-great-granddaughter of Lee Wong Sang

Interviewee: Jennifer Yu (Great-Great-granddaughter of Lee Wong Sang)
Interviewer: Barre Fong
Date: March 29, 2013
Location: Los Altos Hills, California
Length of the Interview: 17 minutes, 28 seconds

30:31 Jennifer Yu: Okay. So my name is Jennifer Yu. I’m at my parents home in Los Altos Hills. So I’m the 5th generation. I’m the great-great-granddaughter of Lee Wong Sang. Ah, let’s see, so I grew up here in California, grew up here, went to college here, a great school, I could probably stand on the Stanford dish and see everywhere that I’ve been. I’ve also lived a little bit in Northern Ireland, just for a tiny bit, for work. I work at the Google right now. I graduate from Stanford. I have a husband and a young daughter.
31:04 Barre Fong: When did you graduate from Stanford?
31:05 Yu: 1987. So quite a while ago.
31:09 Fong: And you studied?
31:10 Yu: I studied biology. Unfortunately I didn’t use that degree at all. But I did take what I learned in general at Stanford.
31:19 Fong: So tell me, generally, what your experience was like at Stanford.
31:22 Yu: Oh, let’s see. I had a lovely experience. One is I had the opportunity to be on the fencing team. So I went there in a fencing scholarship so I had the nice experience of being involved in sports team as well as academics. I wasn’t very good at biology, but I did like it, quite a bit. And afterwards, after I graduated, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do after that. I ended up working as a temporary worker at for computer company at that time which end up being NeXT software which was run by Steve Jobs. And that’s how I got to technology at that time.
31:57 Fong: And on the Stanford campus, did you actually ever look at the Golden Spike? That’s at –
32:03 Yu: I’m sure I did at some point. I’m sure we’d be kind of – I’m sure it’s probably part of some scavenger hunt that I was involved in way back when. We also looked at, you know, the Museum of course and I’ve been there just recently – at the Cantor Museum – to see a bit about the Stanford family there, just a little bit interesting. Always felt like, you know, you think of the Stanford Tree and the Hoover Tower, but from my family knowing a little bit more about the Stanford history, and the railroads and the role of the Chinese worker there, it was always made it a little bit more different.
32:33 Like when you look at Cantor, you see, one of the most striking things is a beautiful display of all Mrs. Stanford’s jewelry and all the things that they had in their beautiful garden. And just knowing a little bit more about where that came from, I thought was always interesting. I had an advantage in that way.
32:49 Fong: Do you remember anybody talking about the railroad at Stanford? I mean, in your general history?
32:56 Yu: You know, I would have to say no. I don’t think that really came up that often. I think when there’s certainly about labor discussions and about Chinese history would come up but in general I would say probably just being in biology maybe not.
33:10 Fong: Tell me about your fencing career.
33:12 Yu: Oh, let’s see, so, I got it, fencing, from my mom and somehow the whole family and cousins got into that too. So my sister, my brother and three or four other cousins had tried fencing. So I fenced the weapon of foil. I did pretty well – regional championships – I was an All-American one year and then I competed nationally as well, and a little bit internationally. Oh, and I was National Champion too. [unclear].
33:40 Fong: What year was that?
33:41 Yu: That was 1989.
33:44 Fong: [unclear].
33:47 Yu: I fulfilled my high school dream. I was a national champion in 1990 and I was also a second alternate on the Olympic team.
33:58 Fong: And so, [unclear].
34:04 Yu: Yes, yes, I was lucky enough. One is I went on my own, after college, my own trip there too, and I had a second chance to go with my family and my grandmother and we had some aunts and cousins and really toured the family village.
34:19 Fong: [unclear].
34:20 Yu: Completely. It was an adventure, it was an eye-opener. I think you just realize too what, what kind of courage and leap of faith it took for people to come so far. And what an opportunity, what a gift you’ve been given too. China is so big, and I think one of these things – it’s hard to feel like an individual. And I think that’s one thing that we really appreciate back at home too. But it just made me so thankful that, you know, great-great-grandparents had immigrated over here too.
34:52 Fong: And what do you know about your great-great-grandfather? Anything? Any stories?
34:56 Yu: Uh, only the ones that my mom has told me too. I think also, my memories are of our great-great-grandmother [Cantonese word]. And um you know, how, how hard she worked and that she lived independently. She injured her eye and we also thought, um, it was a little bit scary looking but she was always so gentle about it, with us. You know, and always had that little treats and had a cute little vests on and she, she – I remember it was an accident that hurt her eye – was chopping wood – and we thought wow she must have been strong then back then to chop woods, all by herself too.
35:31 Fong: Do you know where they lived? Do you remember where they spent their lives?
35:37 Yu: Um, no. No, I don’t. I don’t. I mean I just know we just went and visited their apartment. We were pretty little back then.
35:43 Sure. Yes, so I guess my memories of how I learned about Chinese history is of course my mom and through my grandfather and grandmother. So we went to Angel Island. We, we took road trips, we were going up to places far north, and we managed to find the only Chinese restaurant there. I learned a little bit more about the history, learned about the gold up there.
36:04 I think my gonggong would always talk about Chinese achievements, too. In a really interesting way and at interesting times. We were watching this one horror film where at the key moment this man is pinned by two railroad cars, and we’re all just, you know, closing our eyes and, gonggong looks and goes “hey, you know that the Chinese invented that, that fixture?” And just took it out. We weren’t scared anymore. But he could, he can manage to see that in anything. Anything about railroad through that type of thing. So I would say that was, this how we learn things with him.
36:37 Fong: So he would lecture you, just sort of blended into the -?
36:40 Yu: Yeah, it was so interesting. He would take us to different place, he’d talk about things. Yeah. And it was never, it was never boring. It was always interesting. It was always personal stories too. And he just knew so much also. I remember touring the soy sauce factory. That was a big thrill too. Just seeing the big vats there, just how big it was, to be in a real soy sauce factory. It was kind of a thrill too.
37:05 Fong: If you have a – you have a daughter?
37:08 Yu: Yes. I do.
37:09 Fong: And uh, what, what part of legacy would you pass on to her? Uh, do you think -?
37:14 Yu: Oh, I think there’s certain just like, the celebrations – she’s three years old. Some of the things, just the cultural celebration. So one is Chinese New Year’s. Things like that. And I think to try to take her as she grows older the same things we did which is Angel Island. she’s been to the number of Chinese historical events too. You know. She, she knows her middle name in Chinese. So just some I think those things to start her young and have it just be part of what we do and to take advantage of all the history in the area.
37:46 Connie Young Yu: And also Jennifer, you have done a lot of volunteer work, I believe, in – a great support for the Chinese historical events and [unclear].
37:58 Jennifer Yu: Okay. You want me to talk about that? Okay. Oh, so an example of what I would say when we take Clementine is, over at the Woodside Walls, where the walls were built by Chinese workers. It’s in a beautiful area too. Near the stables. And so she’s been in an event there, I think twice now. To be a participant, and also just to, just to walk around the area too. So, as she goes to these types of things we would definitely talk to her about the history there.
38:28 Fong: Uh, so, uh, you are working at Google now. What do you see as the Stanford-Google link? Do you see a link there?
38:37 Jennifer Yu: Yeah. Well, I think just because the founders are from Stanford too, that you see a lot of people in the Bay Area. Um, they also try to aim for diversity so Asian American groups for Googlers, there are all different types too. So I think you see a lot of local people. But yeah, I think there’s, there’s tons of people. There’s also huge a Berkeley contingent also. So you definitely see the Berkeley-Stanford, you know, come out every once in a while too.
39:02 Fong: Do they work together?
39:03 Jennifer Yu: They do work together too.
39:08 Connie Yu: You are the only
39:11 Jennifer Yu: Oh sure, Okay. Uh, yes. So growing up in our grade school there was one other, one other Chinese boy at the time but that was about the number, wasn’t a lot of other Chinese families. Um, my parents did enroll us in Chinese school but even then I think there was a lot of newer immigrant family so I think they were enrolled because they could speak obviously Chinese fluently. But they wanted to have other Chinese kids to play with.
39:32 But over time, I think once we got to, you know, junior high and grade school, we did see more Chinese immigrants over here. And also just, Asians of, you know, Vietnamese, East Indians as well too. So definitely became more diverse over time.
39:48 Stanford is now they say 51% people of color.
39:53 Which is a really good thing too.
39:54 Yeah. But what was your experience like?
39:56 Um. Boy. I think, not certainly, it didn’t feel that way when I was there. And this is many years ago. I certainly didn’t feel like that. And I think, I also lived at Ujamaa, which is the African-American dorm too. So I think it was definitely diverse but probably not as much as it is, as it is now.
40:17 Did that change your perspective on the world at all? Did it kind of?
40:23 You know, I think I was just raised with diversity in mind too. Right? Which is that one, I think you felt confident about who you were, and the other thing is just being aware of that too. Living Ujamaa house was an interesting experience for me as well too. To be immersed in a different type of culture and different awareness.
40:38 Was it by choice to stay there?
40:40 Yeah. It was. Yeah. They had an Asian-American house but I thought, you know, some other person can go there too. Yeah. Yeah, I think, you know, you definitely got the people pulling at their eyelids, you know, and saying chinky and things like. They definitely made fun of you for just the way you look, I would say too. But I think just having kind of a strong background and identity, I didn’t, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t bother us too much also too.
41:14 You know, by contrast, I had later on in college, you know, I had a roommate who was a recent immigrant from Korea. And he felt really compelled to have the eyelid surgery and that type of thing. His whole family did it too. So I think just having a strong identity, it was definitely helpful.
41:31 I think the only prejudice I did really feel was actually when I was working briefly in Northern Ireland. Two little kids came up, as I came out of the gym, and they said, “hey chunky.” And I though, I’ve been cussed out by a five-year-old. And then somebody said, “That’s not very nice to call her chinky. How’d you like to be called chubby?” And I realized they were calling me chinky. And I was like, I would much rather be called chinky than chubby, which I am not sure if that’s right or not. But anyway, that is my experience there, where I got called out by a five year old in Northern Ireland.
42:02 But otherwise I think, because this area is so diverse, because I’ve been, I think we just have more confidence here, and because we know when sometimes people react that way with prejudice where it’s coming from, I think we’ve been, again, benefiting from our background here and history.
42:18 Connie Yu: So you have a strong feeling about having roots in America. And part of this whole technology revolution? Do you feel that? I mean working for Google? You know, we always talk about competition with China and this is America. Just wanted to know how you feel about it – conflict, loyalty, or [inaudible] 42:46 Jennifer Yu: Um, you know, I think, I’m just one of the many people that work at Google too. But I think, one thing that we’re trying to just come up, actually, was in some areas where there is, they’re being suspected of trying to break in – privacy attempts or security breaches there. So, you know, I don’t know if it’s specifically about Google and China or I’m not sure, I’m not sure what you –
43:14 Connie Young Yu: No, I think that you are answering the question. You know, it’s a global world.
43:22 Jennifer Yu: Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s hard not to think of, you know, China is just one country. There are so many other pieces about it too. But being in a business, that’s the aspect that we see. It’s China as a government or China as a, you know, forcing certain business policies, not the people themselves, I would say. Just in a business environment.
43:41 Connie Young Yu: all this is very exciting and there’s some great things are going to happen to continually
43:48 Jennifer Yu: Yeah, I think so. Definitely. I think, just in the Valley in general I think we feel that too. Especially now, we’ve been through a number of downturns in this business cycle. Feels like one of the upturns. Um, if I can just go back to the Google. One thing too is, there are five, four other Jennifer Yus, so if you want for diversity, we get each other’s email all the time, I’ve never been a place where there’s four other Jennifer Yus, so I would say that’s, that’s one way just to measure diversity there. In my small world.
44:21 Fong: That’s interesting. Actually.
44:22 Jennifer Yu: Yeah, and when I worked in Northern Ireland too. The person that’d report to me, when I told him my name, he look shocked. I said, “oh, do you, you know?” And he said, “oh, my girlfriend – his boss is named Jennifer Yu. She’s a doctor who came over from Taiwan.” So it just shows, like, how people have immigrated even into Northern Ireland and there happens to be Yus everywhere.
44:48 Yeah, sure. When I was thinking about Stanford, I was thinking, one thing I’m very proud of I can say “my grandfather went to Stanford.” You know, way back then, he went to Stanford and graduated with a degree in petroleum engineering. I thought that was always great to have that in my roots. And then, of course, my dad went to med school there, coming from Shanghai and the Philippines, so I felt lucky to be the third generation attending there too.
45:11 And as far as classes, I felt like I had, unlike a lot of people, that you know, want to continue, maybe for the first time, to take an advantage of such a really strong academic environment to learn about the Asian-American roots or history. I ended up taking different courses. I took American religions, because I felt that for me, that was the gap. But I know for a lot of people this is kind of an awakening for them. But I felt kind of I, I at least had some history there to go onto with college.
45:40 Uncle Andrew, right, too? And my cousins? So I can talk about that too.
45:44 Connie Yu: [unclear] Can we have that? Just the –
45:48 Fong: Sure. Yeah it’s kind of a, kind of mind-bending to think, right, basically, if Chinese labor did not arrive in the United States, the Railroad probably wouldn’t have been completed at that time. And the benefit that Leland Stanford got from the Railroad.
46:12 Yeah, I can say one thing about Stanford here too is, you know, you hear about how he, you know, grew this Empire and became the governor but just knowing the one aspect of the one role that Chinese played in that, in the labor there too. It was, it was always felt like it was interesting. And I remember growing up, we always had the picture, my mom had the picture of the railroad, the final meeting of the railroad there too. And how that linked up also.
46:34 Fong: And there’s no Chinese in the picture.
46:36 Yu: And there’s no Chinese in the picture too. And all the things we had were, either things from one [unclear] been turned into a panel in a quilt. Right? So these were all things that had to be dug up, and archived, and found. You know, found things. Not things that are, you know, a part of, you know, the sort of natural story that people get right out of the textbook. I had to go a little bit deeper than that too.
46:59 Fong: And so you know, obviously your mom is deeply into history. Why do you think it is important for her? To keep these archives and these stories alive?
47:14 Yu: Um, because I don’t think there’s anywhere else that it’s there. Right? Not yet. I mean, I think there’s certainly a lot of, you know, an academic, discipline, but I think a lot of that like a lot of history comes from personal stories, and grassroots, and connections into the community too. And just a lot of outreach. So I think that’s important. We look at, you know, and there’s a lot of stuff out there, like some of the things my mom, you know, for her birthday, we’ve getting her stuff that if you look on eBay it’s listed as “racist Chinese memorabilia” I mean it’s really embarrassing to have those searches, but there are materials out there, people have it there, and so I think, you know, the research continues in that way too.

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