Great-granddaughter of the father of Anna Lee
Interviewee: Sandy Lee, Great Granddaughter
Interviewed by: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Interview Date: July 17, 2013
Location: San Francisco, California
Length of Interview: 48 minutes, 13 seconds
00:43 [inaudible] So I have recently discovered, just two weeks ago, changing my whole orientation of where I was from because now I find that my great-grandfather was sourced from San Francisco Chinatown and then went back to China, had his son, and brought him to New York in 1888. So I thought we started here in 1888, but it turns out my great-grandfather was born in Dupont Gaai [sic Grant Avenue] in 1874. So we are even going back a little earlier. That’s why I love the Bay Area so much, because I came back to my roots. It is really interesting.
01:22 On my mother’s side, my grandmother was born in Baltimore: one of the first Chinese babies there. Her sister was the first Chinese-American born in the city ofBaltimore, Lily Lee.
01:36 My grandmother, Anna Lee, had a father who did work on the railroads and he came to the West. He was working on the Northern Pacific Railroad and apparently their work team was accosted by an Indian tribe. Because the chief had just lost his son, he adopted my great-grandfather to live with him because of his size and stature. He was almost 6 ft so at that time that was really tall and strong, so he adopted my great-grandfather. He lived with the Indians for two years. He actually became a minor chief, they say, because the chief just lost his son to some kind of disease. So, he was looking for a son to raise, and so he kept my great-grandfather with the tribe for two years, and then let him go back to China to his family.
02:27 So that’s the full circle of how he worked on the railroad, went back to China, had a matchmaker wife, and they actually took the journey from ÒSirlao” is their town, it’s the water tower near Taishan, and from Sirlao they took a boat using her dowry as the blankets to stow away under the decks and to get passage to the U.S.
03:00 They actually ended up going back to Baltimore where his brother was. And that’s why the Baltimore story unfolds. Because he starts his family and business in Baltimore, and he actually starts a farm there, and then it evolved into a grocery store. Then the Chinese population in Baltimore started to build up from that.
03:20 Yu: I’d like to know what year your great grandfather worked on the railroads.
03:27 Lee: We think it’s in the 1860s that he came over and was assigned to that work team. Because the chronology from just the family stories and we have somewhat of a family history and some works that my uncle, who is the head of the San Diego Chinese Historic Society, has put together and it looks like he worked on the Northern Pacific and it was a tribe up in Northern California or maybe even Seattle or something around there. Then, he went back to China and got married and so the chronology works that he came back in the 1880s after he got married.
04:10 Fong: What year was that around when he was gotten by the chief -?
04:13 Lee: In the 1860s, about 1869 or something, right around the time when they were putting the railroads, connecting all the Northern, Southern, Union, and Central Pacific, you know.
04:26 Fong: About how old must he have been back then?
04:28 Lee: He must have been about, I think, sixteen or something like that.
04:33 And then when he went back to China he was already 18 and he married around 18 or 19.
04:39 Yu: He was still a teenager
04:41 Yeah, ironically he died at Baltimore at a very young age, at the age of 33, where he was chasing a runaway horse on a farm and this tall strapping man was knocked down. So he survived the whole other experience of being ambushed by an Indian tribe and having to be selected to survive and stay with the chief and he ironically died at a fairly young age and left my great-grandmother with a farm and a family. So she ended up having to raise the family pretty much on her own. So she became a matriarch.
05:19 Yu: So this great-grandfather had how many children?
05:24 Lee: He had two sons and two daughters in Baltimore.
05:30 Yu: And is this how you know the oral history?
05:33 Lee: Yes, I know the oral history because of my grandmother Anna Lee. I grew up knowing her very well and she would always tell us the story about the Indians, and when I got more interested in our family history and the archives I kept asking my uncles who were from that strain and said did you ever hear these stories and they said “Oh, absolutely. He was captured by the Indians.” And every account of it was always very similar. And we’re trying to find there’s one picture of him wearing a beaver hat that people are trying to locate, but it’s hard because we don’t know which relative has it and whether they’re still living, but people remember seeing that picture. Other than that there are very few pictures of him, but we do have pictures of my great-grandmother. So those are nice. Because she actually had to raise a family and then left the farm and opened a restaurant and store in Baltimore.
06:32 Yu: So, how about your father. The other side?
06:35 Lee: The other side were Lees. There were three brothers born in, we thought, all in this town called ÒSun Tun.” I think it’s near the water across from Macau. It’s a very small village, about an hour or so south of Taishan. So in Sun Tun, my great-great-great grandfather had three sons. Two of the sons were born in China. And the middle son was born in San Francisco. That was because he had to come over to establish a business on Dupont Gaai [sic Grant Avenue] – that was 706 Dupont Gaai. So all the history we have – of the three brothers names, we just assumed that they were born in China and they came over to New York, bypassing California.
07:27 Then, when I went into National Archives file, we saw that my great-grandfather, who is the middle brother, was born in San Francisco and went back and forth many times as a merchant. Every time he went back, he was interrogated. So we have a file on every interview back and forth. That gave us so much more information about his two older and younger brothers plus where they were born, there wives’ names, and his kids’ names.
07:57 So his son, Harold, was the first born, who was born by the first mother. Back in Sun Tun. My great grandfather, Lei An, or Lei Kei Lo, actually came back from China after my grandfather was born, Harold, and moved to New York Chinatown in 1904.
08:19 At that time, he was married, and had this wife that he left in China and then he brought his only son, who was 11 years old, and enrolled him in the elementary school in Chinatown, which is still standing now. It’s still a building in the corner of Little Italy and Chinatown. It’s a fairly traditional school where everybody in Chinatown went to school there. My grandfather studied there at the age of 11 until 1908 – from 1904 to 1908 – and then he was sent away to a prep school up in Massachusetts where they had a program – Mount Hermon Northfield School. They had a program for Chinese foreign-nationals’ sons and children, exchanges, and many sons of Chinese merchants were able to go there for a year. So he actually spent a summer there and then he got sick, went back to town to get well, and never returned. He came back to New York Chinatown and rebuilt the business, converting a grocery store into a courier shop, and it evolved into foreign exchange.
09:26 Today that business is still standing. It is an insurance agency I run with my cousin. It also got a travel agency across the street. We’re the oldest standing business in New York Chinatown run by the same family at the same location. So this is our 125th year. It’s very exciting because we are doing a bunch of exhibits and events around that.
09:52 Yu: There’s a connection with the railroad with the Lee side too. From Taishan Sun Ching?
09:58 Lee: Yes. I know very little about that part, because that obviously is my great-great-grandfather. That was his impetus for coming, obviously, because he was in San Francisco. It could be that he worked on the railroad, although I don’t have any documentation.
10:16 I did find find a family tree that my great aunt had, recently – that we never translated – and that goes back three or four generations earlier than my great-grandfather. We can see their names and where they lived in village, but there’s not much about when the first one came over. But obviously it was prior to 1874, because he had his son born in 1874 on Grant Avenue – in Du Pont Gaai.
10:46 It could have been in the sixties, he came to work on the railroad, made some money, and stayed in San Francisco. Opened a trading company called Guang Sam Long at 706 Dupont Street and that’s the same address as Connie’s grandfather. They were doing work on the railroad. The name is Guong Shing Long, and it’s a very similar name, so we were in the same building.
11:17 Then I found out that my great-great-grandmother was probably the attending midwife for Connie’s grandfather. So that’s really interesting.
11:29 Yu: So the village, Sun Ching is in Taishan. And there were a number of workers from Sun Ching. [inaudible] 11:43 Lee: I don’t have as much information on that, but I’m sure that’s originally what prompted them to come, because if they were from the same village, they must have all come to the same building too, which is now the Bank of America building at Grant Avenue. I went to look for it, and I thought it would be still standing. I could see 706 but now it’s like a three building block.
12:11 Yu: 706?
12:12 Lee: Yeah. It’s right in the corner – it’s in between Clay and Sacramento.
12:18 Yu: And the Chinese went to the store, all the same. So, in English, we translate it differently, but it’s the same store.
12:27 Lee: Hmm. Okay. Interesting.
12:30 Fong: Can we get the names of both great-great grandfathers on both sides?
12:34 Lee: Oh, okay. So my railroad great grandfather – his name is Le Yik Yem. He’s the one from Sirlao. And then my paternal great-grandfather’s name is Lei Cay Lo or Lei An. So all the documents at the archives would be ÒDo you know Lei An?” And they would say, “yes, I know him. I see him in the store all the time. He’s definitely a merchant, he’s not a huckster, a laborer, or a railroad worker. He is truly a merchant. He was born in San Francisco.” He’s an American citizen, and therefore he should be able to go back and forth freely. Yet every time he went back and forth, he was questioned and detained.
13:21 In fact, one time, he came to Vancouver and he entered through Montreal and went down to Vermont. And they arrested him at the border in Vermont, in about 1898. And they said, “you can’t be a citizen. How can you be coming down through this way? *scornful laughter* Prove your citizen[sic ship].” And he said, “but my father has my birth papers and I do this all the time.” He had been going back to China several times. And they said, “well, we are not so sure.” So they detained him for a month and a half, and they didn’t put him in prison. They stuck him in a Chinese laundry in Vermont, where they felt that he could be watched, but he could live with the laundry people that spoke Chinese. And then once he got the clearance of his identity papers, they said “you are free to go.”
14:06 Then he was able to leave Vermont and go further down to New York, where there was another detention center that they kind of used to hold a lot immigrants that came through Ellis Island or Canada, on the East Coast. It was called Malone New York. I found that when he brought my grandfather Harold over at 11 years old, they had to go through that Detention Center. It was almost like an Angel Island, and I had never heard of that until I went to the archives. But all the cases refer to the Burlington case and the Malone New York case, which is when they would question his true identity – being an American citizen. And at time, then he started cutting his queue, and realizing that it would be easier for him to come through, if he didn’t look so, you know, so much like a new immigrant each time.
15:00 Yu: You mentioned a Lee on both sides?
15:02 Lee: Yes. So my mother is a Chin, but her mother was a Lee. So it was Lee, Chin, and then she married a Lee. Different villages, but both Taishan dialect.
15:21 Lee: Harold was born in Sun Tun, in China. He was born in 1893. And then after he returned to China in 1908, he actually, wait, not 1908, around 1911, he worked in New York from 1908 to 1911. Then he married my grandma in the village in 1912, and then he moved to New York. He brought her back to the family homestead in New York Chinatown. And then the first child was born in America. That’s Rose – my Aunt Rose. She was born in 1913. And then they continued to live in that building, have the business downstairs. They lived up on the fourth floor where we have an apartment now. Six children were born. Actually seven. One perished. One died at one years old. So they had six kids. So they were all born there.
16:25 Yu: Tell us about your father.
16:29 Lee: Okay. So my father was born in the building in 1918. He was the third child that survived – the third daughter had passed away – so he was the third born. The first boy, so very important. So they made a very big deal with really beautiful pictures – of his baby pictures – sitting with his two sisters. So Harold finally had an heir in New York. He went to the same elementary school as my grandfather, P.S. 23 – as all the kids did.
16:58 Then, in about 1930, Harold, it was after the Depression, that hit New York very hard, and Harold already had the foreign exchange, he had the pawn shop. He felt it coming. He had actually cashed in a lot of the gold that people had pawned and converted it to cash, and was trying to protect the family from just the abject conditions in New York City. So he decided to go back to China that year, to Hong Kong, established a home there, and sent for all the kids and my grandmother a year later.
17:32 So in 1931, he had gone back and found a place in Happy Valley in Hong Kong. And then, he sent for my grandmother and she took all six kids back with her. They were all ages – ranging from, I think, 7 to 16. They all took a ship and they applied – they were citizens, because they were born in New York Chinatown – so they had immigration papers, their passports were issued, and they were allowed to leave but they wanted to make sure that they could back in again, because Exclusion was still out there. So they were very careful to get immigration service in New York to recognize that this was a temporary move, that they were getting out of New York because of Depression, and that they were going to learn Chinese and live in China. So they were able to do that.
18:26 My father went back in 1931. He went to middle school in Guangzhou. He went to St. John’s University for high school in 1936 and graduated in 1937. Then, he came back to help my grandfather, who had already returned. My grandfather only stayed back a year, got them settled, then went back to work. He was actually by himself in New York Chinatown from 1931 to 1937, until my dad joined him and started working in the business. My father went to NYU, he went and got his MBA at Columbia, and then he worked in the businesses. He started the insurance agency, and it was side by side with foreign exchange.
19:11 Then, in the early 40s, he was, the War was breaking out and he had bilingual skills, so he actually worked for the CIC, which is the Central Intelligence Corps for the U.S. Army. He was stationed over in China and Burma [inaudible] 19:32… using half and half cream, and what he had learned from eating at restaurants uptown, he decided to bring that to Chinatown. So that is what they survived on, apparently, selling coffee. Then my great-grandmother would make little *ham sur goks* she would serve hot dogs in these little patties for ten or fifteen cents. And apparently, they built up again through that. So that was called Sugar Ball. And his brother opened a similar restaurant called Rice Ball, nearby, so the Chins started to build up again. And then, in the 30s, they opened a hardware store on Mot Street, so it was called Cathay Hardware. And it was just a little mom and pop hardware store that the family owned.
20:19 Then in the early, well, in the 40s, my grandfather, Hong Chin, who was the eldest son of my great-grandfather Chin An, he opened, he started a farm, a produce farm, in Englishtown, New Jersey. That was a time when New Jersey was really farmland. I mean, nobody lived there. There were no condos. You know, Princeton was probably the only thing out there. And he thought that there was a need to make a farm, provide chickens, produce, and food for the Chinese businesses and restaurants. So they ran that farm for over 10 years, until the mid-, 1957, they sold the farm when my grandfather retired and he decided he would, with his wife Anna Lee – whose father was the one on the railroad – move to Phoenix, Arizona. And they retired there, to be with some of my grandmother’s family – her nephews. So they had settled on the West Coast.
21:22 So my grandfather ended up living out his life on the West Coast, and when my grandmother passed away, he moved from Phoenix to San Francisco Chinatown, and ironically enough, he was featured in an article in The Chronicle, in about 1982, when he was living in a single residency – *Ak SRO* – by himself – he had sons, but kinda far away. So he lived by himself. And actually Mayor Ed Lee was at Asian Law Caucus then and took care of his case, and they actually wrote a profile on him. So I have a picture of my grandfather, signed by Ed Lee in the back, and he is now our mayor, so it’s very interesting that they just found that and put the signatures together and realized that he worked with my grandfather, by just getting him basic assistance and you know, the ability to stay, living on his own. So that’s my mother’s side.
22:22 So we have a big family because he had six other brothers and one of my great-uncles is still in Walnut Creek now. He is 99, and I just took him out for his birthday last weekend. He is still very sharp and he has been able to tell me more and more stories. So I have been using my iPhone, taping him. But he had an interesting history too. Because he was born in 1914, on the SS, he was coming over on the boat, the SS Siberia, with his father, Chin An, and with his mother. And she was very pregnant. And they landed in San Francisco, in Angel Island. And they said, “she’s going to deliver soon.” And he said, “yeah, well, I have to get back to New York to my business.” So they got on a train, and the minute they landed in New York, he was delivered. So he was born in New York City, 1914.
23:17 And he is still very sharp. He plays ukulele, and he sings. And he went to **Leing Nam,** you know, the school in Guangzhou. And has very fun memories from 1929 to 1933. So there is a whole Leing Nam Association now. I am trying to link them with my uncle, Calvin Chin. And he’s from San Francisco. He grew up, he moved here after New York, after Leing Nam, and he worked in San Francisco. He has also been a translator during the War and intelligence. So he helped during the Korean War, and the end of the World War II. So he also left as a Colonel. He was actually very highly regarded. He had gone to the Monterrey Training School to learn Japanese, from here, and then relocated. So he used to live on Taylor and Stockton Street. So that’s my grandfather’s younger brother.
24:15 Yu: Paternal?
24:16 Lee: Yeah, paternal. Oh, no, my maternal. Yeah, right. Yeah, yeah.
24:24 Yu: When did your mother pass away?
24:26 Lee: My mother passed away when I was 7, in 1954. So she was born in New York Chinatown. She was very much – she was Chin An’s granddaughter, Hong Chin was her father, Annabelle Lee was her mother – and she was the first born of that family. Because my grandfather was the oldest son, she was highly prized as the first-born in America. And she was born in 1921. As a young girl, she contracted scarlet fever, which at that time was pre-antibiotics, so she didn’t have anyway to ward off the infection. So she always had a weak heart and a history of rheumatic heart disease. Her valve was damaged because of the rheumatic fever.
25:11 So when she married my father in 1943, she had been a college graduate, she went to Hunter College with [inaudible] all these luminaries in New York. She was one of the few Chinese women in New York that went to Hunter from Chinatown. So she married my father, and they settled down, had a family, and then she had three children. So she had my sister Linda, in 1943, I was born 1947, and my brother, Doug, the first boy, Lee boy of that generation, was born 1953. And at that time, my mother was already getting weaker in terms of her health.
25:52 And there was a new surgery perfected for heart valve – replacement and repair. So my father convinced her to try to go for that surgery to make the quality of her life better. And she said, “well, I have three kids. I am happy. It’s limiting what I can do but I’d rather not do surgery.” But they, you know it was a new thing, and it was really being talked about. So she actually went for the surgery at NYU, which was called University Hospital at that time, and because she was so tiny, when they did – they did it manually, and it was a mitral valve replacement – they made the hole too big, so she ultimately perished because she survived the surgery but about a year later, there was too much blood rushing through her body. So she died at the age of 33, leaving my father with three children. Young children. And her, always, you know, her parting words according to what my father and my aunts have told me was she said, “make sure these kids have a mother. And I think that’s very important.” So she encouraged my father to remarry.
27:02 So it worked out. Because about 1956, he met my mother, my step-mother, Marie, who was from California, and she had been a Cal grad, moved to New York City to work with her roommate in New York, you know for that experience. One of her roommates worked for my father in the insurance office. So she was introduced to my father. And it turned out to be a really good match. You know, they were very happy. And she was a wonderful mother to the three of us. And she still is.
27:41 Lee: Yes
27:42 Yu: I know when you were near your c
27:52 Lee: It’s interesting because you are right. I mean, it was very suburban, affluent, and liberal. It was a largely Jewish town. It was the town of Great Neck on Long Island. So, it was a place where they accepted other groups. In fact, many of the teachers, were, at that time in the 50s, even Japanese Americans who couldn’t get jobs on the West Coast because of internment or African American teachers. So it was a liberal community. So in terms of direct discrimination, we really never felt it.
28:22 But we lived this sort of schizophrenic life because every weekend we would go to Chinatown to be, to go to church, to go to shopping, to see my grandparents, to visit the business. My father was open on Sundays so we would spend many Sundays just in Chinatown hanging around on the streets with all the other kids. So we lived this life – we had a very comfortable life on Long Island but we also saw the parts of being Chinese and the heritage and the importance of being a pioneer family and setting an example. So I always felt that there were a lot of ties for me. So even in high school, I got involved with some groups in Chinatown, like bowling leagues, basketball teams – through the church – so we would come into Chinatown to meet friends, go bowling and to do things like that, even though I also had a lot of white friends and Jewish friends on Long Island. So it was sort of tucked away in my consciousness. For my sister and brother, not so much. Because they really were pretty comfortable with that suburban life, and they didn’t get as involved with the community.
29:38 So, when it was time for the business to start reinventing itself, my father was slowing down and I had a background just as a nurse, I had worked in Chinese hospital in San Francisco, I had helped start a community health center in New York Chinatown. I was still pretty involved in the community in New York. So, I embraced the idea of helping the business in Chinatown and since I knew people from my community work and activism, it was sort of natural for me to help my father and uncle who were still in the business kinda phase out and then my first cousin, Steve, who is exactly my age, he was born pretty much in the business, lived with my grandparents when he was little – his parents had an apartment next door. He knew Cantonese well, he had also been looking for a career change to be closer to his family instead of traveling abroad so much. He came into the business in 1978 and then I joined in 1981. We have been able to take the business to the next generation and then stay very involved with the community.
30:51 I think that’s why this project of just finding out my background and the pioneer nature – the leadership in the community plus the modest roots in the village – has all come together for me. It’s great that now I serve on the board of CHSA, and MOCA in New York. These are all organizations that are all non-profits that are working at heritage and cultural background, ancestry, it’s sort of a new area for me to pursue outside of the healthcare, which has always been my passion.
31:30 So It’s been a very enriching experience and every day – it’s also brought all our relatives closer together, because we had to go ask our great-aunts or our aunties that are in their 90s or uncles to tell their stories. Normally we wouldn’t see them except on family holidays but now we are making concerted efforts to get together with them, to document, and to see what they have in the way of all their pictures, their family trees, the things they kept and they have never talked about. Kinda piecing a puzzle together. It has been very rewarding.
32:09 We’re just excited and we’ve gotten the younger generation – my brother’s daughter Ming is in college, she’s a sophomore – Bryn Mawr – and she’s a Lee, her name is Ming Lee. She’s getting involved in this project of documenting our family history and doing an exhibit for MOCA. Then, my cousin Wayne Lee, who is a set designer in New York, he went to Yale School of Drama, he’s got a masters in film and set design. His younger daughter is also interested in the family project because she’s an art student. So she’s helping us curate the exhibit for MOCA. So we’ve brought in the next generation, which is the fifth generation. So it’s pretty exciting.
32:52 Yu: [inaudible] Have you been to the ancestral village?
32:55 Lee: I’ve been to China five times but I have not been back to the ancestral village. Just because, prior to recently, I thought we were from Taishan so in 2010 we had an opportunity to go to Taishan because it was a Taishan Conference National – International – that one of our friends were attending, and they said, “oh, have you ever been there?” and we said, “oh no, we’d love to go.”
33:21 When we go to China, we usually see our relatives in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. There, the descendants of the two are the brothers of my great-great-grandfather. So we still are pretty close in touch with them and the family home. We visited it in Guangzhou, which has now been torn down. But it’s so far back from the village that we don’t know if there are anybody there that would know where our village home was. Because we’ve already been in Guangzhou since the turn of the century, since probably 1800s. So, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, the house that my grandfather founded in 1930, we stayed there over the summers. It’s still there. We don’t have it any more but we’ve gone back and taken pictures recently. It’s in Happy Valley and is still a nice building. So it’s there.
34:13 Lee: I actually never came to college here. I went to school at University of Rochester, and because the weather were so cold there, the first thing I thought about was moving to California, because it was a snow region. And so, once I graduated that June, my sister was already living in the Bay Area as her husband was a Cal grad student. So my father said, “oh it’s okay for you to go out and help your sister with her two little daughters.” So he would have probably been resistant to me moving to California at that time. And no one had ever even told us we had roots in San Francisco either. It’s really interesting. Because I knew my grandfather quite well. He told me how to use the abacus, Harold, and he was a merchant. He spoke English and Chinese, and Taishanhua, but he never referred to his father being born in San Francisco. It was almost like a part of his history that he didn’t share with us. My father and aunts and uncles never referred to it either. And only recently I told Auntie Cat, you know, your grandfather was born in San Francisco. And she didn’t even know that.
35:17 So, when we came out here, it was liberating because the Asian American movement was starting, I had been involved in college at SDS a little, the activism, but there weren’t enough Asians on East Coast colleges to really have a concerted ethnic studies or Asian Studies department. So I started to work in Berkeley and I got a job at Cal at the Asian Studies department that was just starting. I was a teaching assistant and I actually helped set up that department with the leaders that were at the State Senate and Asian Studies professors, you know, Ling-chi Wang and Floyd Huen, people that were instrumental in setting up Asian Studies and the APASAs, all those organizations – I got to work with them, and it was the anti-war movement.
36:11 Then at that same time, I got a job at a Chinese bookstore on Telegraph Avenue. They were importing books from People’s Republic. Very unusual at that time. Because they were sort of quasi-banned. You know, they weren’t supposed to be in but it was from an academic perspective they were allowed in. So I got very active in the U.S.-China Friendship Association, and just reading about the Chinese Revolution, Long March, you know, linking that with all the activism of the sixties that were happening here.
36:44 And that’s when I met my husband at San Francisco, because he at the same time had dropped out of school from the East Coast and he was draft counseling the kids from San Francisco Chinatown and Japantown, the Asian kids that didn’t have the resources to get deferment. And they were all being sent over to Vietnam so he were, he opened a draft counseling center, it was called the Chinatown Manilatown Draft Counseling Center. He actually got the kids linked up with lawyers and doctors to get deferments, to get occupational deferments, and to get deferments because they were the sole supporters of a single household, you know, with the mother being the sole breadwinner. So he was able to say that if this kid goes abroad, the mother is going to be by herself without any support from the son. So that worked a lot. So we met in San Francisco, we were married in Berkeley in 1970, on July 1st. So we definitely have roots here, so that’s why it has always been our hope that we would be able to come back and now it’s a full circle. It’s really interesting. Yeah.
37:50 Lee: Okay. So my husband is Japanese American, Sansei **Arn Kolano** Arnold Kolano, he is born in Philadelphia and his father is from Honolulu and his mother is from Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. His mother, her father was a pharmacist and went to USC very early, obviously, and started a little pharmacy in Little Tokyo. So they had a beautiful house in Boyle Heights and a pharmacy, a thriving drugstore. And then the war broke out. So they were interned, and they were sent to Poston, Arizona. They lost the house, they lost the business. The family was sent to Poston where many Southern Californian Japanese Americans were sent. And the father, who wasn’t married yet, James Guano from Hawaii, were sent to Heart Mountai, Wyoming. But he had worked for Arn’s mother’s father. So he basically married the boss’s daughter. He was a pharmacy intern for the pharmacy and had known family. So after the war ended, they had no homes to go back to, and no place to live. So my mother-in-law had been sponsored by a Quaker family and the American Friends Service Committee to move to Philadelphia in 1940, I guess it was around 3 or 4, right at the time that the Japanese were still interned in the camps and incarcerated, and they couldn’t leave unless you got into a college on the East Coast. So she furiously applied and had graduate from the camp
39:31She got into Temple University, as a freshman. So she took that chance as an 18 years old to go by herself with a friend to Philadelphia. Never had left California or you know, outside of Arizona in her life. And she was on a train to Philadelphia, which took five days, and she had to stand the entire way because the Japanese still, you know, the American soldiers were not gonna let a Japanese, two girls, sit down, the whole time. So, these stories just came out recently when we asked about the camp experience. They were always very quiet in talking about it to their kids.
I think the Japanese Americans really shelter their kids from the pain of that experience. They had ration coupons, they had a lot of memorabilia, but a lot of times they didn’t want their kids to be tainted by this dark cloud that hung over their background.
40:26 So only until the activism of the seventies and the eighties, when people started talking about this, the egregious experience, [was] that I think Japanese American families began to share with their kids. And that’s how we found out about, my, both my in-laws’ experiences. So they’re quite civil rights minded now. They are very grateful and loyal to the Quakers. Because she was able to get out earlier, she could send for her parents and her little sister to get out earlier. So they actually came to Philadelphia. Her father, her mother and father had to work as domestics. In here, they had owned a house, owned a drugstore, they were working as domestics for a Philadelphia white family. They finally scraped together enough to open a little luncheonette where they would make Japanese food, serve people at this little counter, and make snacks.
41:24 And then my father-in-law, James from Hawaii, was able to open a pharmacy. Because he was again admitted to a college, Drake University in Iowa, where he could finish pharmacy school. So he never finished at USC. He had gotten so many credits at SC, they did mail him a certificate and said you get a diploma because you fulfilled everything at Drake. So he had a dual diploma. And he didn’t know what to do, he went to Philadelphia, he actually then married Arn’s mother, and they started a family, and ran the pharmacy. And he opened the pharmacy in an African-American neighborhood. Because at that time that’s the only people that would patronize Japanese, you know, store. So he became very well known in South Philly as Doc Koano. He would cash checks, and take out splinters, and prescribe. So he kept that drugstore going into the seventies. That was his livelihood. He had you know three sons.
42:47 Lee: Right. So we have two sons. They were, I think in high school, there wasn’t an Asian Club in our suburban high school, so we actually went back to Long Island where I grew up and left Manhattan because it was tough to raise two kids in the City. We had an apartment in Chinatown, not our family building but in new high rise apartment when we first married. After we were starting our second kid, we said, “we gotta get out of Manhattan, with two kids.” So we went back to the town where my parents were still, the suburban town of Great Neck, that were well known for public schools. So we, my kids graduated from the same high school I graduated from. They did well.
43:29 By then, there was an Asian Club, there were a lot more Chinese, Japanese, and Korean families because they realized that the value of public schools were good. So it was like a magnet to attract people to move into Great Neck. So they were not as isolated as we were when we were growing up there. They were much more conscious of being with the Asian American kids from there through the social strata. In school, they were fairly active. In terms of activism, being aware of disparities.
44:09 And then they both went into small colleges. One went into Wesleyan in Connecticut. And the younger one came out to California and went to Pomona College. And that was sort of a plan that we had – to get one of the kids to fall in love with California, so that we can get back here. So we took them both on college tours from coast – from San Diego to Davis – we looked at every campus that was something they’d be interested in. We went to all the UCs, we went to Pomona, we went to Stanford.
44:41 And the elder son almost went to UCLA but then he got into Wesleyan and was pre-med and thought that would be a better choice. And the younger son, undoubtedly once he saw Pomona, he said, “this is it. I am applying early decision. That’s all I wanna go to.” And he’s the one now living in San Mateo. So he works for Apple and just left Apple, is doing a start-up. Our older son is an interventional cardiologist in New York and he’s now looking for his next position. So they are not as involved as their parents though. Their parents are still going to meetings, we always ask them, “what are you folks doing?” They write checks. They may do that. But they are not in the same sense of engagement as our generation.
45:27 Yu: establish these things
45:36 Yu: Do you have any thoughts about the railroad project? Just about the descendants about the [inaudible] 45:47 Lee: Yeah, I think it’s a wonderful testimony, finally, for just the general public and for Stanford, and the whole Bay Area community and California to finally recognize the contributions of the Chinese railroad workers and other, you know, Chinese in other fields, because obviously, we’ve made so many contributions. The railroad is a very concrete one that’s been so overlooked and obviously other people profited so greatly.
46:19 When I used to come into the kid’s schools, I used to always bring in this little book about Chinese railroad workers that actually had the picture of them in it, because so many of the textbooks don’t have them, at Promontory Point, they just never have a picture of the Chinese.
46:34 And so, I think to finally get this to the level of really national importance, and international importance, with maybe having a conference abroad brings it all full circle. I think that the Chinese really don’t have the appreciation – the Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the P.R.C – of these struggles that the Chinese endured and actually persisted in building life here with all the adversity and the Exclusion Acts.
47:08 I think it sort of a coming-of-age now that all the major museums that I’ve been working with – New York Historic Society, the Smithsonian, MOCA in New York, and now Stanford, they are all wanting to do exhibits on the Chinese because right now it’s very timely. It’s very behind schedule in terms of mainstream America learning these stories, but I think it’s great that national institutions are doing it too, so that it’s not just within our community talking about sharing our stories and personal sense of history but a much broader impact, our contributions and how we well integrated into the mainstream community and also shared some march with other communities of color who paved the way for us. So I think it’s really, it’s the coming-of-age and I think it’s a great time to be doing this. I am very excited to be part of it. Thank you.
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