Great-granddaughter of Hong Lai Wo
Interviewee: Rose Low, Granddaughter
Interviewed by: Connie Young Yu
Interview Date: September 17, 2013
Location: Stockton, California
Length of Interview: 19 minutes, 19 seconds
00:17 Rose Low: I was born in Stockton, CA, right here in the same town. I have been here all my life. Almost 91 years old now. This always has been my home. I grew up here, I was educated here. I was one of seven children. My oldest sister came from China when she was 11. So she was quite a bit older than us. But the rest of us were born in Stockton. There were two boys and five girls in our family. We lost our mother when I was just 5, 6 years old. Almost 6 years old. Then my father died five years later. The rest of us grew up helping one another. We all went to work. I went to work at a restaurant at age 13 and waited on tables after school until the NYA (National Youth Authority) came in and gave me 25 dollars a month. Then I quit the restaurant business. But my sister stayed there.
01:27 My brother was in China at that time at the time my father died. So he had to come back here and he went to Sacramento and worked in a grocery store. He made 40 dollars a month. Then he gave us money. And so together, each one, you know, earning a little bit, and my other two older sisters who worked in the same restaurant as I, so we paid the rent and took care of everything and we kinda grew up together. We all finished high school. My two sisters got married and went to LA. Stockton has always been my home.
02:09 I graduated high school but I didn’t go to college. And then the War came and saved my life. Because instead of going to restaurant work or laundry work, which I had done during the summers, I went out and got a job with a manufacturing company. That was the war years. And as a Chinese girl, after the war, we were able to get any kind of job. So I went back to school. Then I was studying bookkeeping, then I got married.
02:46 My husband had been in service for 5 years. So we started our family in Stockton.
02:52 But I didn’t go back to college until I was 45. And at 45, I went back and started – with the young kids going to the junior college. And then I finally decided she wanted to teach.
03:08 So I went into teaching the preschool kids. And then I was already 50 years old at that time. The reason why I went to college was because my oldest son went to college, and I decided, well, somebody has to make some money. My husband had a heart attack at the same time. So I figured, I better get to work. So I went to school and finally got this job at the school, at age 50. And I stayed for 20 years. Those were wonderful years. I loved working with children and all that.
03:42 There’s not too much after that. 20 years went by, now I have been retired since I was 70. And I am almost, I am 91 almost now. So that’s the story of my life. But I had four children, they all went through college. So everything, it has been a wonderful life, really.
04:04 Russell Low: Tell them the story of growing up as an orphan and what it was like living by yourself and singing the songs.
04:10 Rose Low: Well, we helped one another. We were just a family of children. And my two older sisters, after they graduated high school, they went down to Los Angeles and they sent money back to us. Everybody helped one another. We all paid the rent, and we were able to do all those things and everyone went to school.
04:31 Luckily for the, really, the war saved us, because we were able to get away from the restaurants and the laundries, and then the menial jobs that were only available to young Chinese girls. So we went out and worked on civil service. And many many jobs were open to us. Everybody, all of us led productive lives and we all lived to be over 90 years old. And there we are. So there’s not too much in my life, but it has been a wonderful life.
05:07 Interviewer: Well I’d like to ask you of your memories of the Chinese community in Stockton, because the Chinese did settle in Stockton.
05:13 Rose Low: Well yes, well after my mother and father died, they kinda adopted us, but they were more always admonishing us to be good or else you’ll be in trouble. We were always accountable to them for our behavior. We didn’t do anything wrong. But, they were always telling us, you’d better be good. The Chinese community, that was one thing. They wanted us to not make them ashamed of us. You’d better behave. That was all I remember, but you know, we just kinda took care of one another and grew up. Everybody came up pretty well.
05:55 Interviewer: Did the early Chinese come to Stockton because of farming or do you know?
06:01 Rose Low: Well most of the people that I knew were centered around Chinatown. In fact, the families lived in the stores. They were either in the fish market or the poultry market. And the two Chinese grocery stores and the rest were restaurants. And a lot of gambling.
06:21 Rose Low: There was one police man that supposedly had the control of the gamblers and they always had to give him money. And he came around and everyone had to give him so much – five dollars or something. He made a good living off of that.
06:40 My father was a gambler all his life. But he used the grocery store as a store front. So on all the papers he had to report he was a merchant. But most of the families lived right around Chinatown within the few blocks. We were all in the same area and everyone knew one another. And you were accountable to the whole Chinese community for your behavior. It was just like one big family.
07:13 Now they are all scattered and we don’t even have a Chinatown anymore. It was really tight-knit community then. The Chinese. It was like a family. They all watched over you, and scolded you, before you did anything wrong. Made sure you wouldn’t do anything to shame them.
07:38 We had so many people, going to high school 3 miles away. But there were a dozen of us walking three miles all the way up to school. There wasn’t any busing or anything. It was a very nice way to grow up. We had people around you, like one big family, even though we didn’t have any parents. We had lots of parents around us.
08:06 Interviewer: How about the holidays? Do you remember Chinese New Years?
08:08 Rose Low: Oh, in fact, we were just talking about the Moon Festival. That was a big one. All the Chinese, New Years, especially. Chinese New Years was a big thing. Everybody was going to each of the houses and we got packages that were red, coins, you know. Lucky packages, all the time. Then, my father, when he was alive, would take us down Chinatown. All the grownups would give all the kids the red little packages with the quarters in them. We got rich during them. It was really a nice way, good tight community. Now, everybody’s scattered all over the town. (But this next Sunday, they are going to have, everyone’s going to go back to the Chinese Christian Center. There’s going to be 22 clubs).
09:01 This one professor at University of the Pacific. It used to be called College of the Pacific. There was a theology professor there. He came down to Chinese community and got us all together into the youth groups. He had five children of his own, but he always spent so much time with the Chinese people, that he got all these people together by age in different clubs. So the Chinese children growing up had some place to go.
09:42 And the religion also, he was Methodist, so we all became Methodist also. Next Sunday, they are going to honor him by dedicating a building for me. So Dr. George Collifer was our savior.
09:57 But growing up in Stockton was really quite a nice, close-knit community. Everybody knew one another. We were in each of those houses. We lived so close together then in those days. Now now they are all scattered all over the town and nobody knows anyone anymore. When I was growing up, it was a good, nice, big family. There were so many things going on.
10:24 Interviewer: Do you remember any groups of elderly single men living in the Chinatown? The workers who didn’t go back to China? Do you remember the single men’s society?
10:34 Rose Low: There were a lot of them. Yeah. They always had families in China though. Most of them had families in China. I had a couple of uncles that came over on my father’s papers. Nobody had the real lat names. They used somebody else’s, another family’s papers to come over here. So, if they were Wongs they would become Lees. But the Lees became the Wongs. Whoever’s paper you came in, you adopted that name and you carried it on through your life over here. But you know, actually, they know each other. They know what their real names are. It was a really nice big community. So closely knit that everybody was, well, sometimes, they were in your business also, you know.
11:24 Interviewer: Was there a temple? A Chinese temple?
11:27 Rose Low: No, we didn’t have a temple. The only actually religious group was … Well, it was a Chinese Association building, and that’s where our Chinese Christian center became. Downstairs. Chinese school was above. We had a little storefront down below. It became our church. Our Methodist church, and that’s when Dr. George Collifer came in and got all the groups in the different age groups, and formed clubs for us. He had 5 children but he was always with us. So we really owed a lot to Dr. George H. Collifer. And we are going to honor him this next Sunday with a big reunion down there.
12:08 But I am over 90 and my group, not too many of them. My knees hurt, and I can’t go there. And two of them just died recently. My group is getting smaller and smaller. 90 and above. But the younger children, there were like 22 clubs. They are supposed to have a reunion next Sunday down there. And I wasn’t going to go because I don’t wanna go down there by myself and most my friends are gone or disabled. So they didn’t want to go down and stand all day or walk around. But one of my friends in Sacramento, she’s going to come and pick me up, so I will be there. But it’s going to be a big thing this Sunday, down there in Stockton.
12:53 Interviewer: Can I go back a little bit in the story? When your father passed away, how old was your youngest sibling?
13:00 Rose Low: My brother was only five. My mother died when he was one. So he was six, maybe, and I was twelve. And there was one under me, maybe eleven, we were thirteen months apart. And my two older sisters. Two years above me. And my oldest brother, I guess he was in his teens when my mother died. I had an older sister that came from China, and she was eleven when she came. I was like three years old when she got married, so she really was out of the family already. So we all went to live with her for a year, in Vallejo, while my father went back to China. We did get a stepmother but she was young, and we took care of her more. We were like her parents. Feeding her food, and she was sitting there. But it was a sad situation for her to be saddled with us, and we took care of her. And then after a while, she just went off on her own. And actually, we just took care of one another. Everybody had a chore. From my father’s days, we always had a schedule of who was going to do the dish washing, was going to sweep the floor, was going to take the garbage out, and we kept that up after he was gone. So we all grew up and took care of one another. And the ones that went down to Los Angeles. After they, my two older sisters, two years above me, and three years above me, but they went down and sent money back to us, bough us clothes. We all took care of one another.
14:38 My youngest brother was kind of, you know, he was only five when he was orphaned. Five, six years old. And he was heartbroken. So by the time he got to high school, he was playing hooky and not going to school, and getting in trouble. And so my oldest brother who came back from China – and he was working in the grocery store in Sacramento – said, well, maybe he should join the army. So at age sixteen, we gave him permission to go join the army. He went to Korea and got married. He came back and went back to get his high school diploma and within a year, he got his accountant, CPA, certified accountant. And he’s been doing very well. And everybody kinda grew up. It was lucky that none of us went astray. Because I think we all helped one another. We were all in the same boat. But there were a lot of people with Chinese families living close to use. All of them warning us, you’d better be good, you’d better be good. Or you’ll be in trouble. So that’s how I grew up. But now there’s no more Chinese community, they’re all separated and they don’t know one another.
15:52 Russell Low: Tell them the story about singing the songs.
15:56 Rose Low: What? Oh, yeah! Well, we didn’t have television or anything growing up. The neighborhood children would gather together on somebody’s porch in the evenings because it was so hot at night. You couldn’t go to sleep. So everyone was out in the streets playing. And there weren’t too many cars in the evening, so we played down in the streets. All the neighborhood children. We were all mostly, in my neighborhood, was all Chinese, and maybe Japanese and Italian and Spanish and a few Mexicans. We were all south of Main Street. And so, we would always played out in groups. Everyone was at the front porch in the evenings, out there, until it was time to go to bed, we were hours outside playing.
16:44 And I remember my father before he died. I was on one side, he was on other. He taught us how to skate running down the middle of the street. Because there weren’t too many cars. When I was growing up, actually, the ice wagons were run by horses. So we followed ice wagons. The rag man came with the horse. There were horses all the time. And when the horses dropped their droppings, the Chinese ladies all run out there with their dustpans, you know ever fighting for the manure for the fertilizer to put in the backyard gardens, because everybody had a backyard garden to grow their Chinese vegetables. And they were all fighting for the manure. I remember that. It was quite different. You know, horses, and things like that. My children never know about those things. We would follow the ice wagons, when he chopped the ice. Everybody running to grab the ice and eat it, off the street even. It was quite a different upbringing from my children. They don’t know a lot about all of those things. Little things like that, following ice wagons to get the chip of ice off the ground, even fighting over. Yeah. It’s completely different. Now the generations. There are televisions, and everything so easy. We have cars. Well, all we had were bicycles. Even I had to learn how to ride a bike, you know. It was fun.
18:26 And also, there were a lot of families. Next door was a Japanese family and they didn’t have parents either. So they would start a song inside their house and we would sing on this side. The windows were all so open because we didn’t have air conditioning. So you can hear what’s going on in the next door neighbor’s. Then we would all sing together. One family on this side would start a song and the other family join in. It was quite fun a thing. Nothing like that goes on anymore. I don’t even know my neighbors over here now. Because they all moved away. I am part of the last one. One lady, another lady, two houses down, she’s 87. We are the last ones left here.
19:02 I’ve been here 58 years almost. It was a different life, just a different life from what the children nowadays know. But we had fun growing up. It was good.
19:17 Interviewer: Thank you, thank you so much for sharing that story.
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