Chapter 7: Growing Up in Oakland

Asian children wait at Angel Island. The average Chinese immigrant waited two weeks. (Photo © California State Museum Resouce Center)
We lived in Oakland's Chinatown from 1933 to 1948. Chinatown was a small enclave of four square blocks. Like us, most of the Chinese living here spoke the Toishan dialect because they came from the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong Province in southern China.

We attended American school and concentrated on learning English.

All the children in our neighborhood attended Lincoln Grammar School, a school within walking distance from Chinatown. The student body was made up of mostly Chinese, some Caucasians and a few Japanese. The students spoke Chinese and English. The new immigrants were put in limited-English- proficiency classes and received extra help. Sister Li Hong and I were assigned to these classes. Slowly we started to learn English.

We attended Chinese school after American school each day. We had very little time to play or to get into mischief. There was very little money during the Depression years. Even though life was hard, we loved being Americans.

Although we were now Americans, we did not know many Caucasian Americans except for the teachers at school. We socialized with the other Chinese Americans in Chinatown. Chinese Americans were not allowed to buy property in certain areas of Oakland because of racial prejudice. We were also not allowed to do certain jobs like law enforcement, government work, and many professions. Because of these restrictions, many Chinese opened restaurants, grocery stores, and laundries.

My father was one of those people. During World War II, my father opened a restaurant in Oakland's Chinatown. We children all worked in that restaurant — from waiting on tables to mopping the floor. We never got paid because, as a family business, we worked to make the restaurant succeed. The entire family worked seven days a week. Our hard work paid off when in 1948 we were able to purchase a home outside of Chinatown.


America is known as the "melting pot" of different cultures. How did segregation and racism keep Chinese Americans from being part of American society?

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