Friday, August 6, 2010

Details: Jue Joe, Making Do in an Era of Hate

Jue Joe arrived in the United States in 1874 just as anti Chinese sentiment against coolie labor was reaching a fever pitch . He spent his early years living and working in a California in which a race war against his countrymen was at its peak . How Jue Joe survived and succeeded against all odds is a fascinating story. In this post I will explore how Jue Joe may have dealt with the discrimination and persecution.

The anti -chinese era was fueled by a depressed economy in which out of work white laborers scapegoated Chinese laborers as the cause of their problems . Mob violence , burning of Chinatowns, and rioters driving Chinese laborers out of towns were regular occurences in California in the 1870's and 1880's .

Auntie Soo Yin writes : "Indeed, Jue Joe suffered injury in the anti-Chinese riots following 1874. Immigration papers noted a gash at the end of his right eyebrow, and a crooked little finger on his left hand. Jue Joe told his son San Tong of attacks he had received at the hands of nogooders when he was a young man working the vineyards of Northern California. And a Chinese could not fight back. The case "People v. George Hall, 1854," ruled that Chinese may not testify against a white man in court. The Chinese Six Companies first sent Jue Joe to the vineyards of Marysville, then to the vineyards of St. Helena. His wage was 50 cents a day. But when discrimination got so bad in each town, and Chinese camps were set on fire, Jue Joe got work laying tracks for the Southern Pacific RR from a Chinese labor broker in Oakland's railroad yard. His wage was $1 a day. ...... There is a good book called, "Driven Out," by Jean Pfaelzer, that recounts the riots and the attacks on Chinese in California. Numerous incidents occured in Northern and Southern California. "

Violence against Chinese was a fact of life in the labor camps of the 1870's and 1880's where Chinese could be attacked in their sleep in their cabins by anti -Chinese mobs. A life long habit of self protection became ingrained in Jue Joe. Armed with a Colt.45 and a cleaver under the pillow he could sleep in relative peace . As violence got too bad , Jue Joe, like other Chinese would move on looking for work elsewhere. . First Jue Joe moved from the Marysville area , to St.Helena and then left St . Helena as the anti Chinese hysteria there reached a fever pitch as well.

"Jue Joe preferred a simple lifestyle and independence. My father San tong told us that Jue Joe always wore a khaki shirt and pants, knee high boots, and lots of keys dangled from his waist belt. He fired his Colt.45 once a year to clean its barrel, wore it in a holster around his waist, and slept with a cleaver under his pillow in his one-room cabin with a dirt floor on the Van Nuys ranch. In that cabin there was an indented hole under his desk where he always rubbed his barefeet on the dirt floor. His lawyers came to conduct business with Jue Joe in that cabin, too. There was a pot-bellied stove that served as a heater and on the walls were hung horse's bridles and yokes. When Jue Joe left to work in his fields he always locked his cabin door and never allowed--at any time!--his wife Leong Shee, who on the premise lived in a different cottage with their children, to enter his abode in order to clean it. Auntie Soo-Yin. "

With anti chinese sentiment growing , Jue Joe contemplated becoming an American Citizen .

Auntie Soo Yin writes :"My father San Tong told me that in early 1882, in San Francisco, Jue Joe had asked the Elders of the Chinese Six Companies if he should become a U.S. Citizen. He had given it serious thought. He'd heard a rumor about impending legislation against Chinese immigrants and so he thought he'd be better off becoming a citizen. And besides, China was beginning to fall apart. But because of extensive anti-Chinese incidents in California, and bitter hostilities growing daily, the Elders of the Six Companies told Jue Joe, "No! Don't do it." They told him to remain a Chinese citizen and be proud. They told him Chinese stand together and he would be better off. Four months later, the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882 was passed and Jue Joe had to get a certificate of Identity. He would never again be allowed to become a U.S. "

The 1882 law provided a system to identify Chinese who remained exempt from exclusion. Resident Chinese laborers, for example, received a certificate of identity—known as a “return” certificate—before they left the United States and presented the certificate for readmission upon their return. Jue Joe obtained one of these certificate of identities in St. Helena . It proved that he had legally immigrated to the United States prior to 1882.

In 1892 a much more stringent Exclusion Act was passed, the Geary Act , requiring all Chinese in the United States to have a photographic certificate of identity or face deportation . There was initially strong resistance to this law .

"The Chinese immigrant community had a strong internal organizational network that provided an institutional basis for their resistance to the policy. The Chinese Six Companies, known to Chinese as the Zhonghua Huiguan, was composed of leaders from different huiguan or district associations to which all Chinese immigrants belonged depending upon their region of origin. The Chinese consulate in San Francisco was the official representative of the Chinese government. Both the Chinese Six Companies and the Chinese consulate provided crucial leadership and financial support for the fight against discriminatory treatment of Chinese immigrants."

"ON September 19, 1892, the presidents of the Chinese Six Companies, initially organizations of Chinese merchants established in major cities across the United States, ordered all 110,000 Chinese immigrants in the United States to commit mass civil disobedience. Red leaflets appeared on the walls and windows of Chinatowns throughout the country commanding Chinese to defy the new Geary Act that required Chinese residents to carry a photo identification card to prove that they were legal immigrants."

"The Geary Act is an unjust law and no Chinese should obey it. The law degrades the Chinese and if obeyed will put them lower than the meanest of people . It is a cruel law. It is a bad law. Read it and see how cruel the law is to our people. See how mean and contemptible it wants to make the Chinese. We do not want the Chinese to obey it . We do not believe the Chinese will obey it. In making the law the United States has violated the treaties. They have disregarded our rights and paid on attention to their promise, and made a law to suit themselves, no matter how unjust to us . No chinese can read this law without a feeling of disgust. Many whites say the law is not right . Let us stand together." -Chinese Six Companies

Thousands honored the call to disobey the “Dog Tag Law,” and they faced immediate deportation.Their refusal to carry an identity card, America’s first internal passport, created perhaps the largest organized act of civil disobedience in the United States. "

Chinese were asked to not only disobey but donate a dollar a person to a legal defense fund . This was used by the Chinese Six Companies to challenge the law all the way to the US Supreme Court . However , these challenges failed and the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law .

The Chinese did not suffer the indignity without further action ." On September 8,1893, many Chinese vegetable peddlers and laundrymen across southern California failed to show up for work. They knocked on the doors of the houses and hotels of their white customers, demanded payment of their bills, and disappeared. Hundreds made their way to San Francisco. Two days later the Chinese Consul as well as the Chinese Six Companies called for a general strike in Southern California ."

However , strikes , legal action ,and civil disobedience in the end failed . The Chinese Government also ceased to intervene with the US government over its immigration policies. By 1894 The Chinese six companies admitted defeat and advised all laborers to comply with the law .

Throughout California , Chinese were being attacked and persecuted by mobs of angry out of work white laborers. Vigilantes demanded to see certificates of identity for Chinese laborers and if they were not produced , these vigilantes made citizen's arrests and forcibly carted the Chinese off to the local police. The courts upheld the right of citizens to make these arrests. Businesses that hired Chinese laborers were target for public condemnation and boycotts by Anti-Chinese organizations .

In many ways the anti -chinese era was fueled by a depressed economy in which out of work white laborers scapegoated Chinese laborers as the cause of their problems . The elite in the white community had much to gain from the cheap Chinese labor and employed them on railroad construction , in large scale farming operations, and as domestic servants. But even the most elite and powerful amongst the white upper class were not immune to the racial hate being spread by the white labor movement . Railroad barons were forced to discharge Chinese workers, as were farmers, and even upper class women hiring Chinese domestics.

How did Jue Joe respond to the persecution ? In many ways , Jue Joe was the ultimate pragmatist . He registered for a certificate of identity not once but twice. Even when the Chinese Six Companies were advising civil disobedience, Jue Joe went ahead and registered. At the time of registering the second time ,Jue Joe was a houseboy working for well off American white families and the practical thing would have been to go along with the law and register so that his employers would not be accused of hiring illegal aliens and forced to discharge him.

According to my father , San Tong told him that one of the reasons that Jue Joe did not bring his family with him when he returned to the US in 1906 was that he knew that the country was hostile to Chinese , that Chinese were being persecuted by whites and he felt his family would not be safe in America. Jue Joe had intended to return to America by himself , remake his fortune and then return back to China to his family .

"Entrepreneurship is the ability to see value where others do not. It is also the ability to "make lemonade when life hands you lemons......Many seized the entrepreneurial moment and made a successful life for themselves in a strange land among a strange people."

Jue Joe like many other Chinese of the time were pragmatists, first and foremost, trying to survive in any way they could .

One of the fascinating stories of Jue Joe's life was how he became friends with the rich and powerful white men of Los Angeles during a time of racial strife. Remember , that the anti Chinese sentiment was primarily a working class white movement . The rich and the elite had much to gain from the Chinese being able to work freely . Otto Brant and his syndicate
prospered from Chinese farmers leasing and working their land in the San Fernando Valley, and from large numbers of Chinese working on their extensive land holdings in the Imperial Valley and Mexicali in Baja California. Upper class whites employed Chinese as domestics and treated them well . These men and their wives were not anti -Chinese at all . I think Jue Joe understood that . He could understand that if he could in some way become allied with these powerful men , they could provide him some measure of protection against the anti -Chinese sentiment of the time and help him to succeed in a very hostile environment.

Yes , I can understand that . But here is the rub , how did Jue Joe become friends with these rich and powerful men ?

Auntie Soo Yin writes :"Jue Joe's two best friends were Otto Brant of California Land Title and Trust, and General Harrison Gray Otis founder of the Los Angeles Times. Otto Brant also had a land syndicate in which William Mulholland and Mr. Grant founder of California Bank were partners. Through this syndicate Jue Joe acquired land to farm in Indio, Imperial County, and in SFV because the syndicate owned most of the land in both regions.... "

Just being employed by them as a houseboy does not insure that you will become life long friends with the rich and the powerful . We are missing something. Something really big . I think the missing ingredient is that Jue Joe must have been quite a character . And I mean , a REALLY BIG CHARACTER. I mean , there HAS too have been something about how he talked to these men , how he related to them , that drew these rich and powerful men to this humble Chinaman with a broken command of English .

There are clues . Jue Joe holding court in his western style saloon , Jue Joe sipping moonshine with Harry Chandler (or was it Harrison Gray Otis or maybe both ) in his cabin , holding legal meetings with his attorneys in a one room cabin with a dirt floor, closing deals with a handshake and meaning it, a guy you grew to like and whose simple word was his bond !. I think my Great-grandfather was one of those immigrants who could sense how to become a part of a new culture and did in a big way . I think he was a Chinaman who was also a big time wild west frontier character. Los Angeles at the turn of the century was a frontier town on the verge of becoming a big metropolis . The movers and shakers of the time were men who thought of themselves as self made men , frontiersmen in the best sense of the word ,yet were required to assume the appearance and habits of proper East Coast type stuffy aristocrats. They must have loved letting their hair down and spending time with this strange wild west frontier Chinaman with the broken English , who presided over his own saloon with colt .45 strapped to his belt , , who despite a lifetime of menial service had saved enough money to make THEM loans ! , and despite being a successful farmer, shared moonshine with them in his little dirt cabin . San Tong told Soo-Yin that Jue Joe was a cranky father at times. But I am almost positive , that he knew how to laugh and share some jokes with these guys . All the pictures , I have of him are of a stern wooden guy .. I think those pictures may ultimately belie the man !

"On the Van Nuys ranch San Tong recalled seeing Harrison Gray Otis and Jue Joe sitting on stools in front of a round wash tub near Jue Joe's cabin. They were talking and drinking Jue Joe's "moonshine" through a rubber hose dipped into the tub. Auntie Soo-Yin.
(Harrison Gray Otis, one of Jue Joe's best friends, had died on July 31, 1917. So it must have been Harry Chandler that San Tong saw sipping moonshine with Jue Joe on the ranch. Or perhaps San Tong had heard that Otis came to visit Jue Joe at the ranch in earlier times and had sipped Jue Joe's homemade brew. Auntie Soo-Yin.) "

It was not only the rich and powerful that were important to Jue Joe . My Dad at the age of 13 helped his 81 year old Grandfather pay the Jue Joe Ranch farm workers. Dad says Jue Joe could not read or write English so he had my Dad write the checks for him. Jue Joe had a great memory , and identified each worker by personal characteristics and remembered exactly who they were , and how much work they did and was careful to pay them exactly what he promised. My Dad wrote the checks as the men came up to be paid .

1 comment:

  1. San Tong said that his father Jue Joe was "...very unconventional. He did not follow the crowd, he always stood out...and people remembered him." Jue Joe taught his son to think creatively, to look ahead of what life dealt you, and to make the most of opportunity. Although Jue Joe appeared to be cranky and demanding of his family, always lecturing to them, he operated on a different level with his friends and his associates. They saw in him an unconventional and gifted man. A man with humor behind his serious eyes. My mother Ping told me that just before meeting Jue Joe for the first time, my father had told her that Jue Joe was a very temperamental man. This scared my mother. One day she witnessed Jue Joe scolding his son San Tong. He was relentless in his tirade. But as soon as San Tong left the room, Jue Joe turned to Ping, he gave her a gentle smile, and he said, "Don't get me wrong. I love my son. This is why I must teach him well." Ping understood. She told me that Jue Joe raised his family in the Chinese way, as a stern Confucian patriarch. He was critical of his sons, but this was a teaching tool. He knew no other way. I think my father San Tong taught us in the same way, though not as harshly as Jue Joe. I remember San Tong's long-winded lectures. He always had proverbs, too, that embellished his points. Then I observed how differently he behaved toward the families of his friends and associates. He was endearing. Auntie Soo-Yin.