Chapter 1: Life in China

Family portrait in 1944. Li Keng is second from left. (Photo courtesy of Li Keng Wong)
My father came to the United States in 1912 to search for a better life. There were no jobs in our small village of Goon Do Hung in southern China. My father needed money to take care of his new family and his widowed mother. When he first arrived in the United States, he did any kind of job he could get. After a while, he became an apprentice in a friend's herbal store.

He sent money home several times a year, and once in a while, he came for a short visit. After one of these visits, I was born in 1926. When I was young, I lived with my mother, older sister Li Hong, and younger sister Lai Wah.

As a child, I was a tomboy. I climbed trees, explored the forest behind the village, played hide-and-go-seek, hunted for bamboo shoots, and waded in the lake in front of village. Life was peaceful in our sleepy village. Villagers got along well and helped one another during the rice harvest twice a year.

Father came home once or twice that I could remember. He could never stay long because he had to go back to the United States to work. He never mentioned that someday that he wanted to take us to the United States, but he was thinking about it.

On his last visit home, he was sad at how poor the villagers were. They made a living by planting rice crops. People were so poor that no one had milk to drink or had much meat to eat. Almost no one had ever learned to read or write. So my father decided that his family must immigrate to the United States to have a better life.

When we decided to leave, it was 1933. I was only seven years old.

 

What were some of the hardships of living as a rice farmer in China? To learn more about the Chinese way of life, click here.

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