By Alton Takiyama-Chung
Two young men leave China and voyage to Gam Saan, Gold Mountain (San Francisco) America, in 1850. One of them writes a letter home to tell of their adventures, misfortunes, and of a promise to his best friend, which he could not keep.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A Letter from Gold Mountain
- Why would people, who are born in one country, decide to move and live in another country with a different language, culture, food, religions, and traditions?
- When moving to another country, why is it important to learn the language spoken in that country?
- Is it important to hold onto the language and culture of your ancestors? What do you say when someone asks you, “Who are you?”
- What superstitions, traditions, or customs do you and your family have regarding the death of a loved one?
- Chinese Exclusion Act, The American Experience, PBS (Season 30, Episode 6, 1 hour 51 minutes) https://www.pbs.org/video/the-chinese-exclusion-act-eixnlw/
- The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist6/chinhate.html
- Asian Americans in Washington State, University of Washington, Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest
- “Files Found in Oregon Detail Massacre of Chinese,” The New York Times, 1995, https://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/20/us/files-found-in-oregon-detail-massacre-of-chinese.html
- Asian Americans/Asians
- Living and Traveling Abroad
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hello, my name is Alton Takiyama-Chung. The story about here is a condensed version of a larger piece which I call A Letter from Gold Mountain. In this piece I’ll become a character named Ming Wong.
[replicated Chinese accent]
Good health and long life to you all.
Ahh, sorry for not writing a letter to you much sooner. I have hope of a scholar or a priest will be able – be kind enough to read this letter to you. I have a Chinese scholar with me in America writing for me. I talk he write. He is very good.
I not know if other letters get to village. I not know if elders or parents are still alive, so I’ll start at the beginning. I am from the village. In 1850, I 17 years old. And around our village, ho, in Taishan district in Guangdong province near Canton, China. Ohh, too much rain, flooding, harvests poor. Everyone’s starving. Then these Chinese people come back from this strange land called Gam Saan – Gold Mountain, America. Dey have fancy clothes lots of money. Ooh me and best friend, Tong Sung we think maybe, maybe we should go Gam Saan earn money. Send money back to family. And then after a few years come back to village. Thy family gather money, just enough to buy one ticket send me Gam Saan.
Come the day, Tong Sung, me, others from the village we all head toward Canton. Three days we walk to Canton. Canton big port city. We get on big ship go Gam Saan, America.
We arrive San Francisco, California. Immediately we start looking for jobs. Looking for gold. But all cannot just pick up, pick up gold. All easy find gold gone!
We spend months, years bent over in stream swirling pans of sand and mud in stream looking for little bits of gold. Ho! Hard work.
Then we start hearing that people come with guns steal your gold sometimes kill Chinese. Ho! Too dangerous. That’s when Tong Sung and me we made a promise to each other. Say,
“Whoever dies first, the other one make sure his bones get shipped back to China to the village.”
You see we believe that we far from home. You die your spirit cannot rest until your bones rest with the bones of your ancestors in the village graveyard. Oh, I make this very solemn promise to my very good friend Tong Sung. We decide try new place. We go Seattle, Washington. We arrive. We find jobs. We start sending money back China.
Then after while Tong Sung tell me, “Ming Wong, we go back gold panning. We make plenty money short time. I want to go back China. I miss family.
Ahh, I tired of dangerous job. I want a safe job, steady job. No make much, but family safe. I safe.
But I don’t want abandon best friend Tong Sung. Ooh, ya difficult. Like getting Moon from steel pond difficult. I wish my very good friend best fortune and good luck. Say goodbye to my good friend Tong Sung.
I stay Seattle. I get good job as houseboy, domestic servant to kind Low Faan family, the Kimballs. Ho, I learn how to cook their food. I serve their food and I learn little bit English. Oh, dey treat me good.
Then I get another job in Chinese grocery store in Chinatown. Owner hire me because I know little bit English.
Most Chinese cannot read English, but everyone can understand picture. Cartoons are showing up in the newspapers. Get this Low Faan, this Westerner with a whip in one hand pulling on a pig tail of a Chinese man.
Then Low Faan start saying, “Chinese must go. Chinese must go. Hooo!”
I start praying Quan Yin, Goddess of Mercy. Mercy for me. Mercy for them. Mercy for everybody.
Then get special law pass. 1882, Chinese Exclusion Act; for the most part, laborers from China not allowed back in America. Ho, for the most part Low Faan not want us here anymore.
Law say you leave country, you cannot come back. Law say Chinese no can become American citizens. Hiya, hard times!
Oh, but… with help of customers from the store and kind Low Faan family Kimballs, oh, dey help keep me safe.
I no like, but I gotta tell true. May 1887. Snake River. Hells Canyon. Eastern Oregon near the Idaho border. Over 30 Chinese miners shot. Killed! Dey panning for gold. Dey doing good. Then these bad Low Faan, these bad Westerners come. Dey kill everybody. Take their gold – throw all the bodies in the river.
Sheriff catch some of these bad Low Faan. Get trial, but nobody go jail. Everybody go free. Dey say nobody care. Just Chinese.
One of these Chinese miners my best friend, Tong Sung. Please tell his family. I sorry, but I cannot send his bones back China. I don’t know where stay.
I pray Quan Yin take care him. That’s all I can do. I sorry my good friend I cannot keep promise. I pray you at peace.
Life here Gam Saan hard. We different. Not everybody like us but it’s some good kind Low Faan, kind white people. I know deep down Low Faan and us we are all same, same. We care about family. We care about friends. We care about children. Hopefully, one day we will see that.
Life here hard, but as hard as life here – worse in China. I stay America. I hope. I dream… children or children’s children have better life… easy life. Don’t have to be like me… no pain, no suffer.
I hope one day children children’s children stand tall. Be proud! No be shamed be Chinese. I dream one day children’s children become Americans.
I sorry for writing such a long letter. I promise next time I write more soon. Until then I wish you all good fortune, good health and long life.
With greatest respects,