By Storyteller Nancy Wang
This story follows the journey of Nancy Wang’s ancestors who arrived in California on a junk boat in 1850 and started the fishing industry of the Monterey Peninsula. However, both legal and illegal violence ensued against them for generations. This story reveals how a group of immigrants rallied with resilience and ingenuity so that the 7th generation of Chinese Americans thrives today.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Immigrant-Story-A-Chinese-Family-in-the-U.S.
- 1.Why is it important for Nancy to read about her family in a book? What does that book represent?
- The family originally emigrated from China for what reasons? And did they accomplish what they set out to do? Were there differences of opinion within the family toward their former and present country?
- What was a Celestial? Why were the Chinese given that name? By using the term Celestial, how/why does this separate the Chinese? Were the Chinese different from other settlers moving into California? How?
- The Chinese in America: A Narrative History by Iris Chang
- Asian American/Asians
- Crossing Cultures
- Education and Life Lessons
- European American/Whites
- Family and Childhood
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
- Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
1850, a hundred and sixty years ago, my great, great grandmother So Mui and my great-great grandfather Quock Po, like most of China, had heard about the gold rush in California. But they’d also heard about the anti-Chinese, unprovoked violence in California but China was plagued by famine, earthquakes, floods, droughts, civil unrest. So, there was very little to lose leaving China. And so, my great-great grandparents So Mui and Quock Po, who were married and just teenagers, with four other teenagers, would take a 30 foot chungs (a junk boat, a Chinese sailboat) across the Pacific, from the Delta River region in China all the way to California. Hugs and tears, family charms, a small red altar with incense, were given to the teens because, who knew when or if they’d ever see them again.
The voyage to this unknown would be four months, maybe five more months at the most if they were lucky. And they were lucky until they got to the foggy shores of California. There, they got caught in a storm. I can imagine the terror as the waves thrashed the boat about and the wind tore the sails and the, the, the tide rushed them towards the rocky shore. “Mung, mung! Tǔdì, tǔdì! There, there! A beach! Still there, there!” But the boat capsized, spilling the teens into the rushing waves. Now only by pure luck and probably the generosity of the sea goddess, they missed the rocky shore. They were pulled to dry land on the beach by the Rumsen Indians. They had gone south of San Francisco, passed right by it, and crashed into the Carmel Bay at Point Lobos which is right near Monterey, California. And one of the first things they noticed was… that in the bay and in the Pacific Ocean beyond, there were no sail… there were no fishing boats. And they were fisher people.
So, they started their very industry, the fishing industry that Monterey became famous for. They built their own fishing boats, they built nets and they fished out into the bay and the sea beyond. And they dried that fish. And they sold it to the Chinese miners, the Chinese loggers, the Chinese farmers, up and down California. And they sent hundreds and hundreds of pounds of this salted, dry fish back to China. And each year, their sales grew and each year the villages grew in size and numbers. And not only at Point Lobos now but at Pescadero Beach, at Maccabee Beach and that Point Alones. Monterey thrived with the Chinese doing all of this wonderful business. They built the very fish, fish canneries. The very first ones, despite the fact that from 1850 through the early 1900s, hatred and anti-Chinese violence was rampant up and down the west coast, and I’m not just talking about California.
There was a cry for extermination or deportation. The Chinese were being murdered and mutilated, robbed, set on fire. They would be rounded up; whole villages were rounded up and marched out of wherever they were for hundreds of miles, no matter what the weather, and sometimes only with the clothes on their back. They were rounded up by angry mobs of thousands of white men with clubs, and poles, and pipes, and guns. I could hear my great-great grandparents, now, “Oh! It is this time to go home. Go to China. We work so hard. Our hands never stop working. We give so much. I know Quock Po. I know. But we make good living right now. Everything going to be OK.” But everything wasn’t going to be OK.
As the European settlers increased, bringing their own broken-heart hopes and dreams, they began to use their anger by accusing the Chinese of taking their jobs. And then they turn that into anti-Chinese immigration, not their own immigration but our immigration. Even though the Chinese were fully employed, and the miners tax alone, which was only level… levied on the Chinese, was one-fourth to one-half of the entire California budget at one point. And as, uh, the Monterey people began to grow in numbers in terms of their European settlements, they began to be a little more personal. Now, we weren’t marched out, so we were a little bit better off than the rest of California. But we were, because we weren’t marched out, but the Italians did burn down our fishing cannery so they could build their own. The Portuguese ran their boats into… to ours over and over so that they ripped our nets, crippling our fishing capabilities. And the very politically savvy Irish men, well, they, they stirred up hatred group fury with the slogan, “The Chinese must go. The Chinese must go. America is for whites.” But we weren’t marched out. They began to burn our villages. A Chinese man was hung in Monterey for voting but we weren’t marched out. Who they marched out were the Rumsen Indians, who had been the original inhabitants of the area. And who they marched were the Mexicans, who the Spanish had deeded their land and their ranches to before most of the Europeans even arrived. But they didn’t march us out for some reason. And through all of that, the first generation gave birth to the second generation and the second generation continued to harvest the gifts of the sea; squid and seaweed.
And I say squid because at one point, the Monterey people began to pass their our laws encouraged by the European at the federal government that had passed laws that Chinese could know… could not testify against the white people in court. They couldn’t own land. And then there was the exclusion act that excluded only the Chinese immigrating to America. So Monterey began passing own laws. For example: Chinese not allowed to fish from shore. Chinese is not allowed to fish during the day. “Oh! Then we, we fish at nighttime. We hang lanterns on top of boat, attract squid, like in old country.” The Europeans hadn’t counted on our stubborn perseverance; our time was patience, and our ingenuity. So, the second generation started to dry that squid. And then within a few years, a new law: Chinese not allowed to dry squid. And if the Chinese couldn’t dry the squid, then they couldn’t preserve the squid. And if they couldn’t do that, well, they couldn’t ship it anywhere. And they thought, well, Chinese make no money, no more Chinese…they thought.
Because by then, a third generation began to figure out what next to do. They began to gather all the fish heads and the fish innards, and the fish tails that the Italian canneries had just thrown out onto the beach and they made fish emulsion, fertilizer. And they began to sell that up and down the California valleys to the farmers. But once again, in time, the Italians burned my grand-uncle’s fish emulsion factory. And when the locals also burnt yet another village, that was it. Here we been in the Monterey area for over 59 years, more than most of the European settlers. And there we stood outside the fence that was constructed around our burnt village so that we could not rebuild, while the white folk were inside the fence rummaging through all the ashes looking for our treasures to keep for themselves. Well, that was it. We began to disperse.
And I tell you, that still today we are here. We are. I am a fifth generation. My children are the sixth generation and my sibs have grandchildren who are the seventh generation. We are still here and we continue just like our forefathers to contribute to the success of this country called America.