In the early 1900s, my great grandpa smuggled himself in a boat, hiding from the authorities, coming to America, not knowing what his future held, in a foreign land thousands of miles from his family. My great grandpa, Huey Leong, was born in Canton, China, a period of many cultural uprisings. Huey felt that his life was unfulfilled, and was attracted to America because his brother owned a laundry business where a job was waiting for him. All he had to do was travel thousands of miles and evade authorities to claim his new job in America.
Unfortunately, in the 1900s the Chinese Exclusion Act was in place. When immigrants came to America, the Chinese Exclusion Act limited the number of Chinese immigrants entering America due to the American’s rampant xenophobia. Specifically, American citizens feared that foreign people would take all the jobs from the “native people.” In order to evade security guards at the border, Huey decided to sneak into the storage part of the boat and hid from the authorities. Huey had very little belongings, no food and no water. However, he survived these harsh conditions by relying on his passion to start a new life in America.
After traveling a week abroad with barely any food or water and cramped in a small space, Huey finally made it to Portland, Oregon. Huey’s brother, Allan, picked him up at the port with one of the first gas cars. Although it did not have a steering wheel, there was a steel bar controlling the left and right. But, it was considered very advanced, maybe equivalent to self-driving cars in today’s terms.
Huey and Allan were prospering with their laundry business. They had an effective system whereby, Allan would manage the place and help customers, while Huey would keep the records. Allan had another business apart from the laundry business, but it was in China. So Huey kept up the laundry business when Allan went China. Tragically, a few weeks later, Huey got a letter from China expecting that it was his brother writing him, but it was a relative who said that Huey’s brother was killed by malicious robbers wanting his money. Eventually, Huey could not work all by himself on the laundry business, and on top of that, the Great Depression hit the business hard, leaving Huey without a job.
Huey had a difficult time finding a job even though he was a graduate pharmacist, because he was discriminated due to the fact that he was a Chinese immigrant. Finally, after several months, Huey found a job building railroads for Pacific Union. It was really hard work, but it paid $80 dollars a month. By this time Huey had a wife and three children, so he really needed this job. He was considered lucky at the time of the Great Depression for even having a job. Not only did this job pay well, it also provided food on the table for Huey’s whole family. Huey’s motto was never let anything go to waste, so everyday, Huey would bring a wooden wheelbarrow to work and get scraps of wood and food that people would throw away from the train. This would include the stems of spinach and chicken feet. Chicken feet was being eaten by Chinese immigrants so often that it became a delicacy for the Chinese.
After working long hours for several years, Huey saved enough money to buy a two-bedroom house with an outdoor toilet. Through hard work and sacrifice, Huey was able to provide a comfortable living for his family and education for his children in one of the most troubling economic circumstances in the history of America, while being a Chinese immigrant and facing discrimination. But with his determination and work ethic, all of his children excelled academically and personally. Because of Huey’s sacrifices of moving to a foreign country and working long hours everyday of his life and principles that he taught his children, two of his kids became doctors, and one became an architect. All went on to have children and grandchildren, who also became very successful. Huey essentially gave his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren better opportunities because he moved to America. In Huey’s mind, he felt that he had achieved the American Dream through hard work, sacrifice, and most of all, raising a successful family. Huey now rests in peace, and if he were alive and looking back at his family that he produced, he would have been proud because it all started with him.
This story was written by the immigrant’s great-grandchild, a student in Palo Alto.