Thursday, May 24, 2012

      Two Chinese American Boys And Their White Mentors

  Two Chinese American Boys And Their White Mentors
           Adolescent peers, especially those of the same ethnic background, have major impact on the psychological development of each other.  But when peers of one’s own ethnic group are not available, what alternative resources assume this role?  The present account illustrates how much older white people functioned as mentors for two young sons of Chinese laundrymen, each coincidentally having the same name, John Jung.  They grew up in cultural isolation in two different generations, one in North Dakota, and the other in Georgia.  I used their written correspondences to determine the influence of white mentors on the social development of these ethnically isolated boys.  In one case, I examined letters written in the 1920s by the North Dakota boy to his fourth grade teacher after she moved from his hometown and in the other case I studied letters that white adults in my Georgia hometown wrote in the early 1950s to me, the John Jung in Georgia, after I moved to San Francisco when I was 15. 

 Devils Lake, North Dakota: Letters From John Jung (1929-1936)
         John Jung may have been the only Chinese child in Devils Lake, North Dakota in 1928.  According to the 1920 U. S. census schedule there were only 12 Chinese in Devils Lake, all men working mainly in restaurants.  Born in China, John came to live with his father who ran a laundry while his mother remained in China. 
        What is known about John Jung’s life comes almost entirely from the more than 20 letters that he wrote to his fourth grade teacher, Fanny Boulden, from 1929-1936.   The year after John was her student, she married and moved with her husband to a farm in Grand Forks County, North Dakota. A few years John himself moved to Bismarck, North Dakoka, where he continued his schooling and worked with his father who now ran a cafe. During these years, John and his teacher maintained correspondence with letters.
        Although none of her letters to him have been found, some inferences about their content can be made from what John wrote in his letters.  The seven years of correspondence reveal how a strong and lasting mentoring friendship developed, one that was a positive and powerful influence on John’s personal growth.
John’s letters provide a window into how he saw the mainly white world of North Dakota.  John reflected on life in the United States and described his daily activities and experiences in the American educational system.  His tone was mostly reverential and polite.  
       His first letter, dated June 29, 1929, was written in the awkward prose of an immigrant ill-at-ease with English:

Dear Miss Boulden.I regret to inform you that I as good-by to you that day, then I am very sorry and sad. Because forever without good teacher to help me as after today, for long time ago… O thanks for you are kindness, In spite of my foolish foolies and naughty, carefully to show me the anytime, I felt glad in the joy of my heart, you keeps me from carelss, and gives me unterstand all I have.

In closing, John implored her to write him when she had time:

”if you are leisure to send me a letter tell what place are you going on if you are so kind as to grant me this favour, I shall be happy very soon.”
Your friend,

       Over the next 18 months, John wrote six letters to his teacher,  These early letters are a combination of apologies for not writing more often, progress reports on his school work, and repeated expressions of gratitude for her teaching.
       However, his intellectual growth in less than two years was quite evident in a letter dated March 22, 1931.  By then John had discovered the New York Times, which he described as “a professor’s newspaper, which is liked by the first classes people.”  He boldly wrote, “I think that will broaden your mind and conception of things wonderfully”… and noted that “Reading good books or mazanes(sic)  is to improve the mind.”  He ended with a moral tone, “Men without knowledge is like the flower without gragrance (sic)!”  Yours truly, John Jung.  I
In a postscript, he added that the New York Times had an essay contest called, OUR NAVY DAY, which inspired him to enter a similar essay contest for junior high school students in Bismarck where he won Second Price (sic), leading him to boast, “This is the advantage from reading good paper.”
       In one letter, John’s sensitivities to racism emerged.  Outraged by his French teacher, he wrote that she was not fair or “anti-different-peoples” in her treatment of students."  He reported that his anger led him to write a complaint of letter to the principal.
In January 1932, John returned to China for approximately eight months to visit his mother, and during this period the growing hostilities between Japan and China galvanized John’s patriotism. He wrote about wanting to return to China later to fight the Japanese, and even enlisted in the Chinese army.  However, he returned to North Dakota to resume school.
         In a letter in March, 1933 John reacted with skepticism to his teacher’s recommendation that he read Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth.”  He expressed doubt about its validity, writing that he felt white writers about China were hypocritical.  He explained that his school history book stated that signs in Shanghai parks forbade entry to Chinese and dogs, signs that he claims he had never seen during his extensive travels throughout China.  Angered by this book, he had a tantrum at school and wrote: “I could hardly control my temper; I threw and tore the book in front of the teacher.”

         Out of respect for Mrs. Peterson, he promised, “But I will read the “Good Earth”, however, as you said it is good!  As I was raised in China, I should by now know my fatherland well. After having read it, I will make a little critic to it and tell you whether it was just or not.”

        In Dec. 1934, John confessed some personal failings in a letter in which he acknowledged, “I broke my friendship with a so-called friend and gave up all my ambition of making friends and all my unholy desires of making money.  This experience led to some difficult times for John, who admitted...”I would become immoral ___falling into a bad habit of drinking, gambling and fooling around in a pool hall.  I did smoke once a while when I was in Devil’s Lake, but, taking your advice, I quitted (sic) smoking for almost four years.”  
After Mrs. Peterson offered advice about smoking and drinking in response to his confession, John replied on Jan 3, 1935:

             “But I always have the feeling of danger of smoking and drinking. It is not the matter of money,
              but the matter of my health.  Men shall never begin a bad habit!  To learn a bad habit takes
              only few hours while to learn a good one takes several years … I tried quite smoking for many
              times, but in vain.”

             “In your instructive said, “these views are entirely personal and you are
              under no compulsion to pay any attention to them if you disagree.”

           He feigned disappointment in Mrs. Petersen’s disclaimer that he was free to ignore her advice.
             ”What kind (of) person do you think I am, Mrs. Peterson? Do you think I am a boy
              who turns good advice out from me? I should say not…As you have been my teacher
              and know more than I, you should correct my errors whenever you can find it .. .
              From now on, please tell my faults and don’t just try to make me happy, for my future
              has many days coming.”

       John graduated from Bismarck High School in 1935 and secured a scholarship to attend Purdue University in Indiana and on Aug. 5, 1935, he wrote to inform Mrs. Petersen.  Despite many invitations in the past several years and promises to visit the Peterson farm, John finally managed to visit them for the first and only time in mid- August on his way to attend Purdue.
         0n Dec. 30, 1935, he wrote to Mrs. Peterson from Purdue informing her of his academic challenges during his first year. The level of difficulty and competition was more than he was prepared for.  He confided that he was barely able to obtain B’s in many of his courses. He criticized himself,

          “Since I am not working, I ought to make higher marks than ‘B.’ Well, I cannot blame anybody
           but myself that I didn’t take drawing in high school, that my foundation is not much
           good for engineering school and that i am too dumb or did not study hard enough.“

          The story, however, does not have a happy ending.  No record of what happened to John after 1936 has been found. His last letter dated December 27, 1936 gave no indication that he intended to return to China but given that he did join the Chinese army in the early 1930s, Mrs. Peterson speculated that he may have returned to fight in the Sino-Japanese War, which broke out in July 1937.
          Years later, in 1984, Fanny Peterson, reflected that  “his intriguing letters are a literary event, I feel. They reveal a developing personality and a young man dedicated to making it in a 'white man's world'.”

  1 Photocopies of the John Jung Letters were deposited in the Orin G. Libby Manuscript Collection at the University of North Dakota by Fanny Boulden Peterson of Larimore, North Dakota in December, 1984. The original letters were deposited by Fanny Welte (Peterson’s daughter) of Aneta, North Dakota, on November 18, 2003 in exchange for the photocopies (Acc.#84-1338). Also included was one letter to Jung from Nelson Sawvain, former Superintendent of Schools in Devils Lake, a story written by Jung after he had been in Boulden’s class for eight weeks, a biographical account about Jung written by Carol Welte, and photocopied materials from the archives at Purdue University.

Macon, Georgia: Letters To John Jung (1952-1954)

         Like the North Dakota John Jung, a generation later another son of a Chinese immigrant, laundryman also named John Jung, experienced a solitary childhood  in Macon, Georgia.  His family members were the only Chinese in the entire city during the WWII years, a time before the civil rights movement challenged and refuted the Jim Crow laws that were prevalent throughout the South for decades. There, his parents operated a laundry.  When he was 15, John, like the North Dakota John, was suddenly uprooted from his hometown when his parents decided to move the family to San Francisco to provide them with contact with a Chinese community.  His father make the sacrifice to stay behind alone to run the laundry to support the family in San Francisco.  Overnight, John went from being totally isolated from other Chinese in Macon, to living in the midst of the largest Chinese community in the United States. 
         During this sometimes bewildering transition, his emotional ties remained to Georgia and it was through letters that he maintained ties with people in Macon that were important in his life.  Two teachers were faithful correspondents.  Miss Rosa Taylor, the retired principal of  his elementary school, who had taken a special interest in my development as far back as when he entered the first grade.  She invited John to visit her occasionally after school at her nearby home.  There, they would sit on her front porch and converse at length on many topics.  She served in the role of one of his grandmothers in China that he never met, always patiently listening, with indulgence, to his undoubtedly childish banter.
        What was important to John about this relationship was that a highly respected adult had a genuine interest in his personal growth.  After he moved to California, she would often write spirited letters of encouragement.  When John  once confided that his high school in San Francisco was very difficult, she wrote: “I only know that you are in every way an A-1 boy and will always be a joy and a credit to everyone who has had the happy privilege of knowing you. Right you are! Show the Westerners that the “deep South” is not so benighted as we have been pictured…

       A second mentor, Mr. Guyton Carr was John’s 9th grade science and homeroom teacher.  A curmudgeon at heart, he was a master teacher captured and held the attention of fidgety 14-year old boys long enough to teach them the principles of physical science. In his letters, Mr. Carr was full of encouragement and praise, expressing high hopes for John’s success.  When he disclosed that his new school, the prestigious Lowell High, was intensely competitive and that he was no longer making all A’s, he offered support with a dose of humor.  “As far as I am concerned, something about your school has the delicate aroma of a two weeks old fish-head. Surely that school is not than much harder … Another thought just struck me… Are you a courting boy now?  If the love bug has bitten you, that explains it.”

       Mr. Carr treated John as a colleague or peer rather than as one of his pupils.  For example, in more than one letter he described his ideas for new ways of teaching certain concepts, and then asked for John’s opinion: “Do you think I give too much homework? What methods could be used to get them to have fun doing science? Anything you can say would be very much appreciated. You would be a much better critic than practically any of the students I had last year.”

           And then there were townspeople who cared about John.  Mr. Shirley, the manager of an office building, was a father-surrogate to him, and a family friend who treated them respectfully and was always available to assist my father in business matters. Mr. Shirley was a prototypical Southern gentleman, the kind who tipped his straw hat and nodded to women as they walked by on the street. 
           His style was polite, genteel, and refined.  In one letter, he wrote,
          “I pass by the store daily, and it suddenly dawns on me that my fine young friends,
            are 3000 miles away.”  He also would comment reassuringly on how well John’s father
            was doing alone in Macon.  And he often noted my father “missed his family a lot.”

        A second correspondent was Mr. Jessie Cooner, an elderly good ol’ boy who served as a surrogate for the grandfathers in China that John never met.  He was the clerk at the small liquor store next door to the laundry.  The two of them developed a deep friendship through their mutual interest in baseball, and they would spend hours discussing major league teams and players and listening to radio broadcasts of games.  On Sundays, they often attended local games together under the broiling Georgia heat. 
         From Mr. Cooner, John would get a letter every few weeks lamenting about the local hot weather, how much he missed his companionship, and how poorly the local baseball team was playing.  He liked to tease  when John’s favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, was not doing well.  He often mentioned his conversations with John’s father when they would sit outside their stores to cool off during the summer evenings, “I talk with your Daddy every night and of course it is about you all. He tell me every time hear here (sic) from any of you.” In several letters, his Southern racial biases would emerge, “John, your Daddy just told me that Negroes go to the same school you go to.  How about that.  I bet you don’t like that at all.  Write me all about how they work that kind of business.”
         And so it was, that when John moved across the country, this assortment of correspondents helped him adjust by expressing interest, concern, and confidence.  These correspondences lasted for only for one to two years, brief compared to those of the North Dakota John Jung.  Nonetheless, the affirmation and support John received were invaluable in giving him confidence in his potential.
        None of the letters that John wrote to these mentors are available.  John recalled that he usually rambled over many topics, as adolescents tend to do.  He usually wrote about new experiences, schoolwork, tourist sights, career plans, the weather, and, of course, how much he missed his Georgia friends

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jack Ong - Portraits of Pride - James Wong Howe - Nancy Kwan

Portland's Old Chinese Burial Grounds

Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland, Oregon

We tend to whitewash history, viewing the past as an era of innocence. Portland was no different from many places, formed by people eager to better their lives, often at the expense of others. All the greed and cruelty in the world today was around long before Portland was born.The building that once stood on the southwest corner of the cemetery was built in 1952 by Multnomah County. Prior to that time, this was Block 14 of Lone Fir Cemetery. This section was set aside for Chinese immigrants, and referred to as the Old Chinese Burial Ground. Chinese have been in Portland since 1850 and were integral in the building of the city. They performed much of the most brutal work building railroads, mining, and in Portland also built the seawall, the original sewer system and chopped the stumps out of the roads after the ancient fir trees were cut. They chopped firewood and ran laundries and grew produce for the entire town.
According to Chinese custom, immigrants were buried here for a short time, with their bones later dug up and returned to China, to be reunited with their ancestors. This went on for a time, until the County wanted the land for use as a maintenance yard for the highway department. In 1948, this block was excavated with a bulldozer. All remains found were packed off to China and the building was built shortly thereafter.
In January of 2004, Multnomah County held a hearing, planning to sell the property as surplus, to the highest bidder, presumably for a high-rise condo/business establishment. Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery was able to notify community members and packed the hearing room with 150 people. Over the course of the next six months, information was gathered which indicated that intact burials might well exist beneath the asphalt here.
Records at the Oregon Historical Society and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) showed that not all of the Chinese buried here were meant to be returned to China, and had probably been left when the excavation occurred in 1948. County Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey commissioned an archaeological investigation. Using ground-penetrating radar for a preliminary test, several anomalies were identified. In January 2005, a team of archaeologists found two intact burials. At this point, it became clear that this land, still classified as a cemetery and a historical landmark, could not be sold for commercial development. The County recognized its civic duty to remove the building and repatriate it with the rest of Lone Fir Cemetery.
In 2007, the building was removed; the ground was leveled and returned to grass. Multnomah County and the City of Portland of Portland collaborated to complete the project and then deeded Block 14 over to Metro, which manages the rest of Lone Fir Cemetery.
In 2008, the Block 14 Work Group comprised. Coordinated by Metro, the work group comprises representatives from Friends of Lone Fir, CCBA, Buckman Neighborhood Association and other community groups. Lango Hansen Landscape Architects is leading efforts to create a memorial to honor the Chinese who helped build Portland. With more than 130 of Dr. Hawthorne’s patients buried nearby, a memorial to the asylum patients who died without family, and were given a decent burial by the good doctor, has also been designed. Creating an entrance to the cemetery that reflects its original look and feel as well as an interpretive area that shares the history of Portland through a timeline of Lone Fir Cemetery, are also a part of the plans being considered. These enhancements to the cemetery will elevate its significance to Portland. Like many great cities around the world that encourage the community and visitors from around the world to learn about its oldest cemeteries, Portland will do the same with Lone Fir.

Founded in 2000, Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery is an all volunteer, 501(c) 3 organization dedicated to education, preservation and restoration efforts for the cemetery. With its first burial dating back to 1846, Lone Fir is the oldest cemetery in the Portland area and the largest of 14 pioneer cemeteries managed by Metro regional government. Through fundraising events, monument repair workshops, clean up days and historic tours, Friends of Lone Fir strives to raise dollars and awareness to overcome the inevitable deterioration that many of America’s oldest cemeteries face. Metro still coordinates burials nearly every week in the cemetery, and Friends of Lone Fir seeks to honor the deceased and their survivors through encouraging community involvement in this treasured greenspace. Lone Fir Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and was named one of the top 10 cemeteries in the world to visit by National Geographic Traveler Magazine..

Come Together Home  

Discover the remains of early Chinese immigrants, and their extraordinary final journey from Portland to Hong Kong. Block 14 in Lone Fir Cemetery, the first Chinese burial ground in Portland—and site of as many as 1,500 burials—now stands as a fenced off void of gravel after most of the remains were exhumed and shipped back to China in 1928 & 1949. Sixty years later, Director Ivy Lin follows the footsteps of the missing 1949 shipment in an extraordinary journey from Portland to Hong Kong.
Film review from Aaron Mesh of Willamette Week, 07/21/2010:
"Portland documentarian Ivy Lin has a patient, naturalistic eye for the boarded-over and fenced-off bits of the city;s history; her camera is an unflashy reservoir of lost places. As in her first movie (Knowing All of You Like I Do, which chronicled the shuttering of Northwest 23rd Avenue's Music Millenium), she has a direct narrative to propel her along: The story of Chinese railroad workers buried at the edge of Lone Fir Cemetery, the removal of their bones when the Multnomah County decided to build a warehouse, the traditional (and desired) shipment of those remains back to China, and the now-confirmed possibility that not every body was dug up when they were supposed to be. She gets strong assistance—and most of the hard reporting—from Brent Walth of the Oregonian, who is an excellent storyteller. Lin's eventual journey to Hong Kong doesn't quite get to where the bodies are buried, but the mystery slides smoothly into an understanding that when it comes to honoring the dead, it's the thought—any thought—that counts. Her movie should, at the very least, leave smug Portlanders a little uneasy about the city's liberal inheritance."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Anti-Chinese Cubic Air Ordinance

Am J Public Health. 2009 March; 99(3): 440.
PMCID: PMC2661442

The Anti-Chinese Cubic Air Ordinance

Joshua S. Yang, PhD, MPHcorresponding author
An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 440fig1.jpg Object name is 440fig1.jpg
Out of the frying pan into the fire. Courtesy of the Bancroft Library.
AS CALIFORNIA'S ECONOMY slowed in the late 1860s and job opportunities dwindled, White laborers in San Francisco actively created an environment hostile for Chinese immigrants, who were seen as the source of their inability to find work. Organized labor groups used, among other strategies, public health measures to create an environment so hostile as to “persuade” Chinese immigrants to return to China. One such law was the Cubic Air Ordinance, a city ordinance requiring 500 cubic feet of space for every person residing in a lodging. This illustration from The Wasp,1 a popular San Francisco magazine of the time, shows a caricature of the enforcement of the Cubic Air Ordinance: a White official removing Chinese men from their sleeping quarters into the even more crowded county jail by order of the Cubic Air Ordinance. Published in 1878, the Cubic Air Ordinance had its origins in the anti-Chinese agitation earlier in the decade.
In June of 1870, after a labor dispute between White laborers and San Francisco's local government,25 Thomas Mooney and Hugh Murray—President and Vice President, respectively, of the Anti-Coolie Association—seized upon the dissatisfaction of White workers and submitted a request to the county board of supervisors for a sanitary measure against the Chinese.6 Their request for the measure was based upon the health officer's report on Chinatown. In his annual report to the board of supervisors in 1870, the health officer wrote of the Chinese that “their mode of life is the most abject which it is possible for human beings to exist.”7(p233) They “live crowded together in rickety, filthy, and dilapidated tenement houses, like so many cattle or hogs.”7(p233) In Chinatown, “the most absolute squalidness and misery meets one at every turn.”7(p233) Recognizing that “the Anti-Coolie feeling is rapidly growing,”8(p1) and that it was possible that “the horrible demagogues who are stirring up the bad passions of men, may succeed and riots ensue,”8(p1) San Francisco's board of supervisors passed an order regulating lodging houses on July 25, 1870.9 Order 939, Regulating Lodging Houses, popularly known as the Cubic Air Ordinance, was approved on July 29, 1870.10 The ordinance required every house, room, or apartment used for lodging within the limits of San Francisco, except public prisons and hospitals, to contain 500 cubic feet for each person residing in the lodging. Owners of lodgings would also be held responsible under the order. Violating the order was considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of between $10 and $500, 5 days to 3 months in prison, or both.
County police records show that arrests for violation of the Cubic Air Ordinance began in May 1873,10 and hundreds of arrests were made under the ordinance during the rest of the year until the county court found in favor of a Chinese hotel owner who challenged the ordinance, essentially rendering the county ordinance unenforceable. Arrests resumed in 1876, however, after the state adopted its own Cubic Air Ordinance. In all, thousands of Chinese in San Francisco were jailed from 1873 to 1886 under a public health law driven by anti-Chinese sentiment. “Anti-coolie” groups would eventually be successful in passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first restrictive immigration law in US history, quieting the nativist clamor around Chinese immigration that would, in short order, be redirected at other Asian and European immigrants.


This study was supported by funding from the University of California, Los Angeles Institute for American Cultures.


1. Out of the frying pan into the fire. The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp March 2, 1878: Vol. 2 (83).
2. The unemployed. Daily Alta California March 23, 1870:1.
3. Work for the unemployed poor. Daily Alta California March 29, 1870:1.
4. The unemployed. Daily Alta California April 5, 1870:1.
5. Meeting of workingmen. Daily Alta California April 8, 1870:1.
6. Mooney and the Chinese. San Francisco Evening Bulletin June 14, 1870:1.
7. San Francisco Board of Supervisors San Francisco Municipal Reports, 1869-70. San Francisco, CA: Cosmopolitan Printing Company; 1870.
8. The Chinese matter. San Francisco Evening Bulletin July 19, 1870:1.
9. Lodging-houses. San Francisco Evening Bulletin July 26, 1870:1.
10. San Francisco Board of Supervisors San Francisco Municipal Reports, 1872–73. San Francisco, CA: Spaulding & Barto Printers; 1873.

Articles from American Journal of Public Health are provided here courtesy of American Public Health Association
Write to the Help Desk