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William Leong

Great-grandson of Leong Way Fong

Interviewee: William Leong (Great-grandson of Leong Way Fong) (Leong Way Xie)
Interviewed by: Connie Young Yu, Barre Fong
Interview Date: 2016
Location: San Francisco, California
Length of Interview: 38 minutes, 18 seconds

Introduction / Family Project

Leong: William Leong, I am the descendant of the railroad workers–the Chinese railroad workers, and the man I was talking about was an uncle of my maternal grandfather. My maternal grandfather’s name was Leong Hay Gum–we called him Gum. The first wife of my grandfather was married in China. My maternal grandmother was–they were married in the US, My mother came from the second side and I am the only son of my mother. I was the only child. I was interested in this project because my mother died when I was two years old, in 1927. And I never knew her family during my youth because there was a lost connection. And I really didn’t get interested in this project until my uncle–his name was Ray, who was a brother of my mother–reconnected with me in Berkeley where I was living at the time. It was back in the 1980s.He introduced me to my relatives on my mother’s side, and I really got interested in the connection between my uncles and aunts and my descendants. And that’s how the project started–with this family. The project has been going on for over thirty years, and it’ll never end because I have to change it when new babies get born into the family. That’s what made the project so interesting: because I get to know everybody in the family.


Berkeley; Chinese railroad workers; Descendants; Family; Family trees; Leong Hay Gum (maternal grandfather); mother; Ray (uncle)

Chinese American families Chinese Americans–California Summary: William Leong’s maternal grandfather, Leong Hay Gum, married twice. He was the only child, and his mother passed away when he was young. After reconnecting with his uncle Ray, Leong began a project documenting the family lineage. Railroad workers

Three Leong Brothers' Immigration Story

Leong: Okay, so this man who I was talking about–Leong Way Xie–worked on the railroad. He was accompanied in 1866 in immigration to the U.S. by two brothers, Fong and Chuck. Leong Way Fong and Leong Way Chuck. And Xie is the one that actually prospered from this venture because–well, I should say that the three brothers were the first of our Leong family to immigrate to the U.S., according to my distant cousin Sun Hoy who–Hoy was considered the patriarchy–Chinese in Watsonville. Xie worked as a foreman on the railroads and became wealthy after the railroads through gambling and prostitution enterprises. He had four wives, believe it or not. Well, I guess that was common those days. He could afford it anyways. His success enticed more of the Leongs to immigrate to the U.S. And Chuck himself immigrated to the U.S. in 1865 and returned to China in 1905. They both died in the early 1920s
Leong: Chuck immigrated to the U.S. in 1865. The other two brothers, Fong and Xie came in 1866. That’s the story I was told. And Xie–well I already told the story about Xie.
Yu: You mentioned–you said that you thought he might have started out as a laborer and became an agent?
Leong: Oh, I don’t know. All I know was, I was told that Xie became a foreman for the railroad as well as doing the hiring of the Toisan folks to come over here to do the work on the railroad.
Leong: They all came from a village in Toisan called Dui Fong, and that’s where they originated. That village was visited by my cousin a few years ago back in the 80s or 90s by himself, in person. But I’ve never been there myself. I’d like to go.

Three brothers–Leong Way Chuck, Leong Way Fong, and Leong Way Xie–immigrated to the U.S. Xie was a railroad foreman who was tasked with hiring Toison residents, and grew wealthy after through gambling and prostitution enterprises. He married four wives and inspired more of the Leong family to immigrate. The family came from Dui Fong village in Toisan.

Dui Fong (ancestral village); Gambling; Immigration; Leong Way Chuck (maternal great-grandfather’s brother); Leong Way Fong (maternal great-grandfather); Leong Way Xie (maternal great-grandfather’s brother); Lu Sun Hoy (cousin); Prostitution; Toisan; Watsonville

Chinese American business enterprises Chinese American businesspeople Chinese American families

Leong Hay Gum's Immigration / Three Leong Brothers

Leong: The next generation was descended from Fong, one of the three brothers. He had a son name Leong Hay Gum. He’s my maternal grandfather. So Leong Hay Gum’s actual date of immigration is not known. As far as I know it was not documented, because it was just before documentation was required by the exclusion law. But nevertheless, I think it was around the time of the exclusion law that he immigrated. The wife didn’t go with him because as a custom the wife had to stay at home to take care of the parents. Probably she wanted to go, but you have to obey the Chinese customs.
Yu: So she stayed in the village?
Leong: She stayed in the village to take care of the parents.
Yu: Now that first ancestor, who you know was an agent, you said he went back to China?
Leong: Yes, I think he did. I have it recorded. He went back to China and died around 1922.
Yu: And he’s the one with four wives?
Leong: Four wives.
Yu: Are they all in China?
Leong: I don’t know. What I told you is all I know
Leong: All three of the brothers that came over–Chuck, Xie, and Fong–worked on the railroads. And Fong is the one I know the most about, or think I do, because he was my maternal great-grandfather.
Leong: The name Xie of the three brothers is important because he did so well after working on the railroads. He made a lot of money from gambling and prostitution enterprises. I guess he was wealthy enough for four wives.
Leong: The brothers, Fong, Xie, and Chuck, all came together in 1866. Chuck returned to China in 1905. I don’t have the dates of going back, but it was 3 years I think.

Leong Hay Gum, William Leong’s maternal grandfather, immigrated to the US without his family. Leong Way Xie returned to China after growing wealthy from business in the US.

Ancestral villages; Chinese Exclusion Act; Gambling; Immigrants’ families; Immigrants’ wives; Leong Hay Gum (maternal grandfather); Leong Way Chuck (maternal great-grandfather’s brother); Leong Way Fong (maternal great-grandfather); Leong Way Xie (maternal great-grandfather’s brother); Prostitution

Chinese American families Chinese Americans in business Railroad workers

Leong Hay Gum's Life and Family / Description of Parents

Leong: Fong himself is my maternal great-grandfather, the father of my grandfather. And I don’t know much about him except that he was born in 1824 and died in 1927, age 93. His name was also, he had an alias Lu May.
Yu: And what about his descendants?
Leong: Well, that’s my grandfather, Gum, and all his descendants which I have worked so hard on for thirty years.
Yu: What did Gum do for a living?
Leong: Gum was a–he was into retail in Chinatown, San Francisco. He worked at various stores selling general merchandise or whatever. I don’t know much more besides that. I know he lived in San Francisco before the earthquake, and after the earthquake he decided to move to Oakland. That’s where most of the family is located.
Yu: What did your mother’s–well that’s your grandfather.
Leong: That’s my grandfather. And I come from the second part of the family which was the US part. The first part of the family is–they were born in China. Two sons were born in China. I keep in contact with both sides of the family. I don’t discriminate which grandmother was associated with any of them.
Yu: Could you give me the last name of your father and the last name of your mother?
Leong: The last name of my father is Leong. He used the name Gum most of the time. His Chinese name was Leong Zhong Gum. And my mother–I know her as Lu King. That’s how I designate her, because she was born in America.
Yu: Where was she born?
Leong: There’s some problem because we think she was born before the earthquake. We all think it’s around 1904. That’s what we have on her tombstone. And I look high and low for her birth certificate but no luck. It was probably destroyed in the fire of Ô06.
Yu: Do you think she was born in San Francisco?
Leong: I think she was because my grandfather was living there.

Leong Hay Gum worked in retail in San Francisco Chinatown, and moved to Oakland after the San Francisco earthquake. William Leong still keeps in touch with his grandfather’s family in China. William Leong talks about his parents.

Chinatown (San Francisco); Leong Way Fong (maternal great-grandfather); Leong Way Gum (maternal grandfather); Leong Zhong Gum (father); Lu King (mother); Lu May (maternal great-grandfather’s alias); Oakland; Retail stores; San Francisco earthquake

Chinatown (Oakland, Calif.) Chinese American businesspeople–California–San Francisco Bay Area Chinese-American families San Francisco Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.) San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Calif., 1906

Lu Sun Hoy's Life and Family Tree

Leong: People who work on the railroads–all I knew was the three brothers worked on the railroads. I have their names in Chinese script.
Everybody was interested in the fact that he got wealthy after working on the railroad, but nobody talked about the other two brothers. I don’t know what happened to them, actually. There’s no record of what they did or anything of that sort.
Hoy of Watsonville was a nephew of my grandfather, Leong Hay Gum. That was an interesting connection because he was the only one of my extended family that bothered to record on paper the family history–the family tree–extending back to generation fifteen because my grandfathers were known as being in the 23rd generation of that village. So we go back eight generations before my grandfather. I only remember very few names with the earliest generation. Sun Hoy became prominent in Watsonville because he worked as a laborer in a apple drying company. That was documented in the book written by some lady, I forgot her name. He had many descendants and grandchildren, great-grandchildren. The document he left behind was in only Chinese, nothing in English. I had to decipher his family tree so it could make sense with what I have, in the way I documented the tree in both English and Chinese.
Yu: Could you say his name again?
Leong: His name was Lu Sun Hoy. Hoy–the same script as in Shanghai.
Yu: Was he from Zhongsan?
Leong: No, they’re all from Toisan. They’re all family from Toisan.
Yu: This is very important. Hoy?
Leong: Lu Sun Hoy was a grandson of Chuck, one of the three brothers on the railroad. Hoy had a big family and he started in Watsonville working as an apple drier worker around 1918. This particular photograph I have of him–I didn’t take it, of course–but it was from a book I found. Just this picture here. I can enlarge it. I can get it bigger. You can see his face better this way.
Yu: So he would be the son of the railroad worker?
Leong: Grandson.
Yu: Okay, and his name again?
Leong: Lu Sun Hoy.

Of the three original Leong brothers, people are most interested in Leong Way Xie. Lu Sun Hoy, a cousin and prominent laborer in Watsonville, documented the Leong family tree.

Family history; Family tree; Leong Way Chuck (maternal great-grandfather’s brother); Leong Way Xie (maternal great-grandfather’s brother); Lu Sun Hoy (cousin); Toisan; Watsonville

Chinese American families–History Chinese Americans–Employment–California Family tree

Leong's World War II Experiences / Education / Wife and Children

Leong: I was 18 when I was drafted in the army during WWII. I had finished one semester at UC Berkeley and then they took me and I had gone through this basic infantry training at Camp Roberts, California. Later I moved into the 69th infantry stationed in Mississippi, Camp Shelby. Later we went overseas to Belgium where they had just finished the Battle of the Bulge. We didn’t participate. Then after the Battle of the Bulge of course we chased the Germans all the way to the east as far as Lexig and *inaudible* the Russians. I was with the 69th infantry division, and ours was the first to hook up with the Russians near Lexig in Germany. I was in *inaudible* for General Rinehart, the commanding general for the 69th. I was chosen for the *inaudible* because I was Chinese–I was the only Chinese among the whole place. Being Chinese at that time was a big advantage for me, I felt. I didn’t want to go into the front line to shoot other people.
Leong: I had my college work in UC Berkeley both before and after my army was done. I had my bachelor’s in mathematics in UC Berkeley and then I did my masters. I did a little bit of phD work but by then it was very late in my life, in my late 20s and I wanted to see what I could do with what I had already learned. I later worked at Boeing in Los Angeles and later Philco in Palo Alto. I didn’t know at the time it was going to be Silicon Valley. That was much later. I stayed with Philco which became Borderspace, and that came into Loralle which was subsequently acquired by Lockheed Martin.
Yu: Can you talk about–you’re married, and your family?
Leong: Yes, I was married. I’m a widower now. My wife and I were married for 49 years.We have one child. Her name is Gene Leong. She is married to a cocasian who works at the Mccerin airport in Las Vegas.
Yu: What is your wife’s maiden name?
Leong: Her maiden name is Margaret Long, but actually the Long came from a paper name the father had. His clan name is actually Yee, and they were from Zhongsan, and they spoke Long Du very well.
Yu: Where was your wife born?
Leong: My wife was born in China before she immigrated to the US with her mother. The mother and my wife were separated from the husband for about 10 years.

William Leong describes his experience fighting in World War II. He graduated from UC Berkeley and worked in California. He describes his wife’s history and his daughter, Gene Leong.

69th infantry division; Battle of the Bulge; Belgium; Boeing; Camp Shelby, Mississippi; Gene Leong (daughter); Lexig; Lockheed Martin; Long Du; Margaret Long (wife); Paper names; Paper sons; Philco; Silicon Valley; UC Berkeley, Camp Roberts; William Leong; World War II; Zhongsan

Chinese American engineers Chinese American families Chinese American veterans–Personal narratives Chinese Americans–Education Silicon Valley (Calif.) UC Berkeley World War II, 1939-1945

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