Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jue and Yen Family Plaques at the Angel Island Immigration Station

Yesterday , on July 23rd , 2011 , The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation dedicated the Immigrant Heritage Wall on Angel Island . "For generations to come, this wall will serve as a reminder of the perseverance of our immigrant ancestors and the contributions they made to building a better America. The Immigrant Heritage Wall was created through the donations of over 600 individuals, and over 350 immigrants are honored on the plaques. Many of the Chinese and Asian immigrants were among thousands detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station between 1910 and 1940 during the era of racially discriminatory immigration laws." More information about the Angel Island immigration foundation and it's work can be found here.
My wife Liz, son Jordan, cousin Eric , his wife Karen, their son Elliott, Auntie-Soo Yin and Uncle Ed, Auntie Estelle and Uncle Miles attended the dedication.
(Click on pictures below to enlarge.)

Here is a picture of the crowd gathered for the ceremony on Angel Island

Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey whose district includes Angel Island and who has been instrumental in getting federal funding for Angel Island restoration spoke at the ceremony. Here is a transcript of her speech .
I have included some of her remarks below.

"The story of Angel Island is a story of America’s contradictions – the soaring idealism of our founding principles colliding with the sometimes-cruel reality of our conduct.

Imagine leaving the only home you’ve ever known and coming to a place where you don’t know the language or the culture or the way of life. All you know is that America is a different, special kind of place where things will hopefully be better. And after an arduous journey of several weeks, you reach this place you’ve heard so much about…only to face interrogation, humiliation and in many cases deportation.

Angel Island Immigration Station is a monument to the struggle and the dignity of these brave people. But I also see this place as a symbol of hope that America is self-correcting, that we can live up to our ideals; that we can deliver on the promise of equality, freedom and opportunity for everyone.

We haven’t completed that journey yet. We know that. We’re still grappling with the divisive, emotional issue of racism, and immigration remains an open wound in our society and our politics. But I do know that we’re closer than ever to realizing our nation’s promise, to living up to the creed e pluribus unum – “out of many, one.” America in 2011 embraces inclusion and diversity more than at any other moment in our history. Whatever the current differences over our immigration laws, we can be certain that anything as cruel as the Chinese Exclusion Act will never be repeated.

Let’s all work together to continue this path of progress toward moral justice. Let’s look to the past to shape a more decent future. Inspired by the stories etched into these walls, let’s create a country worthy of the people who came to Angel Island looking for the American Dream. "

Here is picture of the Immigration Station Museum Building

Here is a picture of the Immigrant Heritage Wall

Here are Soo-Yin , Eric and Elliott at the wall. The Jue family plaque is just to the right of Elliott's hand and the Yen Plaque is two plaques to the right .
My Auntie Joan ,San Tong Jue's eldest daughter, married Richard Yen , whose father was Harry Yen. The Yen family sponsored the plaque honoring Harry Yen and his wife Soo Hoo Shee Yen . The Jue family sponsored the plaque honoring San Tong Jue , Jue Joe, Leong Shee , and San You Jue , whose stories are the subject of this blog .

Here is the Jue Family Plaque

Here is the Yen family plaque

The Yens settled in Phoenix Arizona. Here is my cousin Bob Yen speaking about his paternal grandfather during a local television interview about Arizona's Chinese pioneers :
"The first person on my father's side of the family was his father. So my grandfather, his name was Harry Yen. His Chinese name, I think is Ong Hep Lo. And you can tell already that the family name is different. He had a family name of "Ong." we are actually Ongs. Unfortunately, my grandfather's father was not in the United States . My grandfather therefore took the name of a distant family member, a Mr. Yuen, Y-U-E-N, took those papers, these false papers, came to the United Sates as the son of this merchant, Mr. Yuen. He came here when he was 17 years old in 1915, just three years after Arizona Statehood. And the story that he told me about his migration was that he got on a sailing ship, it was a 30-day journey at the time to come here. And he landed in San Francisco , at Angel Island . He joined his brother -- we always called him Uncle Sing -- who lived in Glendale at the time and who had a grocery store there. He said that Phoenix in 1915 was a different place than what we know now. There were no air conditioning units, no evaporative coolers, and his first impression of Phoenix on stepping off the train was this was like hell! LOL "

The extended Yen/Ong family also sponsored a plaque for my uncle Richard Yen's brother Cobb Ong and Cobb's wife Ying.

Here is a view of the restored detention barracks and immigration station museum

Here is a picture of boys getting physical exams at the station. My grandfather, San Tong was 13 years old at the time he , his mother and brother were detained here on Angel Island . They remained on the island for 3 months while Jue Joe worked to secure their release .

Speakers at the dedication as well as the museum exhibits themselves served to educate the public about the harsh and discriminatory nature of immigration laws and practices that targeted Chinese immigrants and led to a much different reception for immigrants arriving here then those arriving at Ellis Island on the East Coast. Part of the work of the Angel Island Immigration Foundation is to celebrate the lives of those immigrants who perservered despite these racial descriminatory practices to make a life here in America for themselves and their families and for the generations to come. A new online "Immigrant Voices" section of the Foundation website gives voice to the stories of these immigrant pioneers. I have submitted a story about Jue Joe that hopefully will soon be posted on the web page.

The island is beautiful but for many immigrants like my grandfather it was also a prison and their fervent hope was to leave the island and begin their lives in the new world beyond it's shores as soon as possible.

After the dedication we and other families gathered at Four Seas restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown . Auntie Soo-Yin was kind enough to host our family's table. The food was delicious !

To thank Eric for his efforts in getting the Jue Family Plaque placed on Angel Island , Auntie Soo Yin presented him with a framed piece of Chinese calligraphy that contains the three historical sonnets of the Sung (Zhao, Jue)dynasty with the new generation's names added . This was truly a special day for all of us !