Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Mystery of Jue Shee

The more that we have learned about my great grand uncle Jue Shee, the more the mystery of his life has deepened. But understanding him is very important to understanding the story of our family. His actions and his choices changed forever the future of our clan. Our family has no pictures of him ( It turns out pictures we thought were him were not ). No one alive now ever met him. In fact we have only two tangible physical traces of his life.  There is this signature on a textbook, in Chinese with the letters J.S.

The other is his transcript from Pomona Prep School .

So what do you know for sure? We know that Jue Shee was born Sept 1867 in Sam Gong, Canton, China. He is 7 years younger then Jue Joe. Jue Joe in America sends money home while Jue Shee is growing up. Jue Joe brings Jue Shee over in the late 19th century. In 1902 Jue Joe leaves his business in the produce market and farm to his younger brother. The agreement is that the younger brother will manage and run the business and send some of the proceeds back to Jue Joe in China regularly. Jue Joe plans to marry and start a family and never return. Jue Shee enrolls in Pomona College Prep school in Sept 1904 taking classes in high school level chemistry and english literature but drops out after only three months in December of 1904. In 1905 Jue Shee leaves the United States for Paris, France and then turns up in Harbin Manchuria, working ultimately for the Ford Motor Company there. He sells the Jue Joe business and takes the proceeds of the sale without telling Jue Joe. Jue Joe no longer receives any money from Jue Shee and discovers that his farming operations and produce business have been sold to a Jewish man with a produce stall next to his in the market. He does not know the whereabouts of his brother and returns in 1906 to the United States leaving his young wife and two baby boys in China in order to rebuild his business in America. Meanwhile the wife and two sons hear nothing about their husband and father until 1915 when Jue Shee suddenly turns up in the village. He brings with him a 10 year old son and stories of having graduated from Pomona and then Berkeley with a PhD in mining engineering. He tells the family that Jue Joe is still alive and living in Los Angeles. He raises havoc for his sister- in -law, tearing up the yard looking for minerals and then building a large two story library. He seems unbalanced and strange to his sister- in- law, Leong Shee. Having reconnected with her husband, Jue Joe, Leong Shee begs him to send for her and the boys. She leaves China  in 1918 , her two boys in tow bound for San Francisco, their passage arranged by Jue Joe. During an interview with immigration authorities in 1918, Jue Joe says this of his brother: "The third son is Jew See, 53 ot 54 years old. He lives in the village with his wife. Can't remember her name or if they have children. He studied English in this country about 20 years in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Pomona. He went to China from Paris, France."

Despite extensive research there is no record of Jue Shee's name on immigration documents or ship passenger manifests consistent with his immigration and departure dates. This is quite odd because of the strict enforcement of the Chinese exclusion act and the extensive immigration documentation at the time. This leads us to assume that perhaps Jue Shee used a false name , like many Chinese immigrants did at the time.
Later, Jue Joe  brought over another  relative as a "paper son". Is it possible that he arranged for his brother's immigration in the same way, as a "paper son" of a merchant friend with a different surname?

There is no record of Jue Shee ever attending UC Berkeley. The only record at Pomona is the transcript attached above. On the transcript his religion is noted as Congregational. He takes courses in chemistry and english literature for 3 months and then is gone, dropping his classes. Auntie Soo-Yin remembers seeing some very esoteric and complex engineering textbooks in the Jue Joe ranch with dates in the late 1890's .  Auntie Soo Yin hears from her father stories of Jue Shee and a couple of college student friends of his  attending a movie premiere at the Orpheum theatre in Los Angeles and arranging for legal representation to allow them to break the "No Chinese Allowed "edict of the theatre. 

Researching Jue Shee's supposed educational credentials, I came across the compelling stories of  Fong Sec and Walter Fong, both Berkeley Alumni.The stories that Jue Shee tells later in life of his own academic career in America are remarkably similar to the real life academic careers of Fong Sec and Walter Fong. Fong Sec begins his education at Pomona Prep school in 1897 exactly as Jue Shee does 7 years later.  Fong Sec is about the same age as Jue Shee. Meanwhile,Walter Fong graduates from Stanford in 1896 and in 1898 enters the minining engineering program at Berkeley as a graduate student. He also is the same age as Fong Sec and Jue Shee. Walter Fong graduates from Berkeley in 1903 with an M.A. in Oriental Language. Fong Sec begins his Berkeley education as a sophmore in in the 1902-1903 academic year, so Fong Sec's Berkeley time and Walter Fong's time at Berkeley overlap. In 1903 Walter Fong is vice president of the Orientals club, a club at Berkeley for students of Asian descent. The story that Jue Shee tells in China of his own academic career, graduating from Pomona College and then going on to UC Berkeley to get his degree in mining engineering is sort of an amalgm of the academic careers of  Fong Sec and Walter Fong. The number of Chinese students in Berkeley and Pomona at this time was extermely small. In fact Walter Fong and Fong Sec may have been the only Chinese students in their colleges. It was indeed a very small world and it stands to reason that these students would know of each other.

Jue Shee begins his own aborted college prep classes at Pomona Prep in 1904, having originally immigrated in the late 19th century when Walter Fong and Fong Sec were attending college. All three men were of Cantonese descent from Southern China. If Jue Shee was interested in ultimately attending Pomona College and talked to Pomona College representatives, he must have been introduced to Fong Sec. Fong Sec was the first Chinese student to attend Pomona. I believe that Fong Sec must have been acquainted with William Fong. They both immigrate at around the same time. Their early life stories were remarkably similar,receiving initial education by Christian missionary schools in the United States. They have the same surname. Both initially came from Northern California and both attended Berkeley and both attended the University at the same time in 1903. Did they know each other ? I think most certainly they did. If Jue Shee had made contact with Fong Sec, he could have been  introduced to William Fong through Fong Sec.

Both Fong Sec and Walter Fong received education in Christian mission schools in the United States before attending college prep schools and ultimately receiving a University education. For Jue Shee to enroll in Pomona College Prep in 1904 he would have had to have had some evidence of previous education and recommendations. Why did he use his real name at Pomona?  I think the answer lies in the fact that  he received his English language education in Christian mission schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena where it was safe to use his real name without fear of his status being revealed to authorities.
Why did  Jue Shee delay his college education until 1904 when we know he immigrated in the late 19th century? My theory is that Jue Joe was eager to train his brother in running the farming and produce market operations so he could leave and return to China. I think it is probable that Jue Joe and Jue Shee decided that Jue Shee would work in the family business until Jue Joe left for China and then begin his college education with funds from the business, as well as sending money back home to Jue Joe. Meanwhile, Jue Shee would continue his education in the evenings and on weekends at the Christian missionary schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena. The business which was quite successful at the time would have  provided ample funds for both men to realize their dreams, Jue Shee of pursuing a college education in America and Jue Joe of marrying, starting a family and living comfortably in his home village back in China.

We know that Jue Shee did start his education at Pomona in September of 1904 but dropped out in December of 1904. He sold the family business immediately thereafter in 1905 and left for Paris, France and then ended up in  Harbin, Manchuria in that year. He did not tell his brother of this and stopped sending money to his brother and kept all the money from the sale for himself. Why the abrupt sale of the business and betrayal of his brother?

Auntie Soo-Yin and myself have discussed a number of  theories to explain the facts and the result of our research. I think we will never know for sure the "real" story.

What follows is a historically based fiction about Jue Shee's life that fits the known facts. I have decided to include Fong Foo Sec and Walter Fong in this historical fiction because their stories are compelling and in many ways their stories match the fictional story Jue Shee weaved about himself for all to hear. Did Jue Shee really know Fong Sec and Walter Fong ? We will never really know. But he could have and that is enough for me for this diversion into fiction.

Jue Shee  was the  younger brother of Jue Joe . Jue Joe who was working in America. Jue Joe arranged for his brother to immigrate to the United States in the late 19th century.  Because of the Chinese exclusion act, Jue Shee could not immigrate under his real name and immigrated as a "paper son" using a false name. Jue Joe arranges for this with one of his friends in the Chinese community who is a merchant ( one of the classes allowed to immigrate). Arriving in  America , Jue Shee is trained in the family farming and produce operations. Jue Shee is  eager to learn English and enrolls in classes at Christian missionary schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena. His real ambition is to attend an American university. He has heard about Pomona University from his missionary teachers in China and goes to Pomona and meets the only Chinese student there, Fong Foo Sec. Fong Sec is about the same age as Jue Shee and tells him his life story and how he is studying in the Pomona college prep school with hopes to enroll in Pomona university and then to go to the University of California, Berkeley.  Through Fong Sec, Jue Shee meets Walter Ngon Fong , the first Chinese student to graduate from Stanford and now a graduate student in mining at UC Berkeley. All three men are about the same age and all born in China and Cantonese and English speaking. Mining engineering is the career that Jue Shee wants for himself and he is eager to hear from Walter Fong all about mining. Walter Fong is quite a fellow, married to a white woman, president of the Chinese Revolutionary Party in America and a lawyer as well as a mining engineering student! In 1898 Jue Shee arranges for the three of them to go to the Orpheum Theatre for a movie premiere. He knows that Chinese are not allowed but has arranged in advance for legal representation to force the owners to desegregate the the theatre. Walter Fong ultimately decides to change from mining to the Department of Oriental languages and gives Jue Shee some of his mining engineering texts. Much later Auntie Soo Yin sees some of these books in the library at the Jue Joe ranch.

Jue Joe and Jue Shee discuss his plans to become an educated man like Fong Sec and Walter Fong.  Jue Shee has been an eager student taking English classes at the mission schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena. Jue Joe however, is eager to train his brother in farming and produce market operations as soon as possible and prepare his brother to take over the business. The two agree that Jue Shee will delay his college education until after Jue Joe leaves for China. Jue Shee works with Jue Joe in the farming and produce operations but remains friends with Fong Sec and Walter Fong and follows their careers and academic adventures. His dream is to ultimately follow in their footsteps.

In 1902 Jue Joe leaves for China, leaving his business with his brother. Jue Shee is ready to realize his real dream of following in the footsteps of Fong Sec and Walter Fong and getting an American University education.Finally in 1904 he enrolls at Pomona Prep School and has subordinates running the farming and produce market operations for him. Unfortunately, the reality of  taking high school level classes at age 37 along side young kids over 20 years his junior must have been humilating to him. Being probably the only Chinese in the classroom and an ancient guy at that, he must have been the butt of jokes. Jue Shee realizes that there is at least 8 to 10 years more of this  before he can get a degree, a very long road indeed for a 37 year old man.  The alternative of spending the rest of his life as a farmer and produce merchant sending money back to his brother is also a bit too much to bear.  But there is another choice. His neighbor in the produce market, a Jewish merchant has offered many times to buy him out. Jue Shee sees his way out. He will sell everything and  leave the US for  China and make his fortune there. He will not tell his brother. Does he feel guilty for selling out his brother's business? Probably not. He feels his brother has enough already. He has gone home, and married and should be able to fend for himself without the extra money. Now it is time for Jue Shee to get on with his own life!  American dollars will be worth a lot in China. The question is where to go?

Harbin, Manchuria !  It is  1905 just after the Russo-Japanese war and Harbin is bustling and full of foreign companies. This is far enough away from Jue Joe that Jue Shee will feel safe from having to deal with his brother finding out where he is . His bilingual English and Chinese skills and his ability to read and write will stand him in good stead. So Jue Shee abruptly drops his Pomona classes in December of 1904. He sells the business and in early 1905 leaves first for Paris, France . It has been a big dream of his to visit Europe and Paris.  After visiting Paris he will go to Harbin where he ultimately lands a job with the Ford Motor company.

 Like all returning Gold Mountain men he wants to be a " big man" in China ,so like other returning Chinese before him, he will weave a story about his life in America, a story based on the lives of Fong Sec and Walter Fong. Yes he did attend Pomona college , he graduated there and then went to Berkeley and got a  PHD in mining engineering but because of discrimination he was unable to find work in the United States and ended going back to China. That is what he told family and friends and they believed him. Maybe he ultimately starts even believing a little bit of the fiction himself. He has read enough about mining to know how to dig and find precious metals. Ultimately in Harbin he gets married and has a boy, but his dream is still to return to the village and  become rich. He has heard from friends in America that lo and behold his brother has returned to the United States without his family to try to rebuild his fortune. So it is safe for Jue Shee to return to the village, which he does in 1915  and turns his sister- in -law, Leong Shee's life upside down digging up the yard looking for minerals and building a two story library and acting unbalanced !
 THE END   ( or perhaps the beginning ?)

In many ways the choices that Jue Shee made are pivotal to the story of our family in America. Without Jue Shee selling out his brother's business and stealing the money , the Jue Joe clan would have remained in China. Jue Joe , Leong Shee , and San Tong would have stayed in China and we would not all be here in America !!!  So while  Jue Shee may have been a scoundrel, we can thank this scoundrel for putting into action the events that caused Jue Joe to return to America and ultimately to bring his wife and sons back here.

Auntie Soo Yin :
I believe that you are on point!  It all fits together, now...
Ah Gung did mention that the Jewish wholesaler had always admired and had envied Jue Joe's produce.  And the way Jue Shee thought and behaved, in your scenario, conforms with how oral history portrayed him in stories handed down from Jue Joe to San Tong, and to my siblings and I.  This is why Jue Joe could never forgive his brother...he felt his brother had betrayed him.  According to Ah Gung, Jue Joe seemed sore about this to the end of his life, but only as if his "little brother was very very naughty."  To Jue Joe, and to San Tong, blood was thicker than water.  Meaning that no matter how "naughty" one had was still an integral part of the family.

Yet, it is this very betrayal that we have Jue Shee to thank for, as you've said...because BUT FOR Jue Shee's mischievious actions we would not have been born in America!  You are sooooo right to point this out, LOL, LOL!  I had a huge chuckle reading all your emails on the matter!       

ps. edited 6/7/2012    new research suggests that  Jue Shee was educated in Chinese Mission Schools  run by the Congregational and Methodist Churches in Los Angeles and Pasadena and that he first went to Paris France before Harbin.  See this post.  I have edited my comments above to reflect this new information.

Jue Shee's College Photo- Misidentified ?

Previously, my Auntie Soo-Yin and I thought we had discovered a photo of my great grand uncle, Jue Shee as a student at Berkeley in 1898. The original picture is a group photo of students in a summer engineering surveying class. This class was an undergraduate class required for students in civil , mechanical and mining engineering and was usually taken in  junior or senior year.The original photo as well as more information on Berkeley at the time can be found in this previous post. Since the time of that previous post we have done extensive research into the story of Jue Shee. We have determined that although Jue Shee later told everyone after his return to China that he had attended Berkeley and graduated with a degree in mining, this actually never occured. The reasons for the fiction and Jue Shee's true life story as we currently understand it will be detailed in a future post. UC Berkeley's annual registry of students and the Blue and Gold annual yearbooks have been digitized by Google Books. During 1898 there were only a couple of Asian students enrolled in engineering programs. I believe the picture that we thought was Jue Shee is actually of a Japanese student named Yoneshiro Shibata who was a student in mechanical engineering. The photo detail of the Asian student in the 1898 picture is followed by a yearbook picture of Shibata who is a junior in the 1899 Blue and Gold Yearbook.  Shibata graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1900.  

                Detail of  Asian Student in picture of Engineering class surveying outing 1898.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

San Tong Jue and Family-1940 Census

I have been able with the help of my father, Jack Jue Sr. to locate the census data on the San Tong Jue family in 1940. They lived in a 2 bedroom 1 bath house on 814 East 27th Street in Los Angeles.
The City Market where San Tong worked was on 9th and San Pedro not too far away .

Here is  photocopy of the  1940 Census data (Click on  picture to enlarge in a separate window) .

Here is a detailed zoomed and cropped picture of the San Tong Jue Family census data. San Tong's occupation is listed as merchant, wholesale fruits and vegetables. Under income he has zero under wages and salary as his income is from "other sources "- This is how the income of merchants, or farmers who  made their income from sales were listed under the census at the time .

Residents of the house are San Jue age 35, wife Ping age 22,  son Jack age 11, daughter Joan age 9, daughter Soo-Jan ("Sue Fan" on the census record ) age 1 and son Guy age 9 months. Looks like next door is a lodging house on 800 East 27th , and on 818 East 27th another Chinese family .
San Jue was renting the house with a monthly rental fee of  28 dollars.  
Here is a picture of the house as it is today.  It is still standing!

Here are details of the house  in the current market.
This is a Single-Family Home located at 814 East 27th Street, Los Angeles CA. 814 E 27th St has 2 beds, 1 bath, and approximately 1,083 square feet. The property was built in 1897. The average list price for similar homes for sale is $215,774 and the average sales price for similar recently sold homes is $236,583. 814 E 27th St is in the 90011 ZIP code in Los Angeles, CA. The average list price for ZIP code 90011 is $266,835

Here is a home movie shot by my grandfather at the 814 East 27th residence close to the time of the 1940 census . The baby is my Auntie Soo-Jan , the boy is my dad, Jack Sr., and the other girl pushing the stroller is my Auntie Joan. My dad  identifies the location while he is commenting on the movie.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

City Market, Los Angeles

In the previous post we identified the location of the City Market of Los Angeles which was the main produce market serving Chinese farmers in the greater Los Angeles Area during the early to mid twentieth century. Jue Joe sold his Asparagus there and I have shared previously a wonderfully evocative article from the 1930's LA Times about the market and about Jue Joe - the "Asparagus King ". An excellent history of the City Market and the Chinese produce markets in general was written by Tara Fickle. It was previously archived on the web but the web site archiving it has been taken down . I would like to include it in it's entirety on this blog  as it is essential to understanding how  Jue Joe needed to  maintain a presence both on the farm and at the produce market. In the article by Tara Fickle , there is a discussion of Louie Produce.  The Louies are relatives through my mother's side of the family .

Here are some pictures of the City Market through the years . Click on pictures to enlarge and see detail .The article by Tara Fickle follows.

A History of The Los Angeles City Market: 1930-1950

Tara Fickle

[Gum Saan Journal, Volume 32, No. 1, 2010]

Chinese involvement in vegetable farming and peddling far predated the opening of the 9th Street City Market in 1909. Even before large-scale immigration of Chinese men began to flow into California due to the Gold Rush and railroad construction in the mid 19th-century, Chinese had long devoted parts of their home plots to sustenance farming, particularly in the Sze Yup provinces, where the majority of early Chinese immigration originated. Due to the similarity in climate and soil fertility, the transition to growing vegetables in California soil was a relatively easy one. As Chinese railroad workers began to arrive en masse, they were accompanied by farmers and cooks, also men, whose primary role was to grow Chinese vegetables and cook familiar meals for their compatriots.

From Railroad to Vineyard

Once the primary sections of the transcontinental railroad had been completed in 1869, vast amounts of track having been laid all across the Sierras and into the interior plains, thousands of Chinese men migrated to Western urban centers, particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles. Their movement and settlement patterns were greatly restricted due to both discriminatory housing and employment laws, as well as general anti-Chinese sentiment, culminating in anti-Chinese riots in 1894. Chinese migration between the two urban centers was common; interviewee Keong Lee’s father moved the family from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1925, tiring of working as a cook in a Chinese restaurant and hoping for better luck in the burgeoning Los Angeles produce market.[i]

Los Angeles proved to be an ideal location for Chinese vegetable growers, both because of its climate and its vast tracts of undeveloped land. Initially, the acres east of Alameda Street, between Macy and Aliso streets, were owned by one of the earliest Angeleno families, the Apablasas; “Apple Blossom Street” is the Anglicized name for the thoroughfare that cut through their land. This area, bounded by Macy and Aliso streets to the north and south, and Main and Juan streets on the west and east, became most of what came to be known as Chinatown (later “Old Chinatown”). Juan Apablasa was an early employer of Chinese laborers, mostly displaced railroad laborers who worked the thousands of vines on his property. In addition to working the vineyards, many Chinese also raised beans and other vegetables, peddling them door-to-door in two sacks balanced on a bamboo pole. This process was vastly simplified by the existence of zanjas, irrigation ditches which ran along the city streets: Zanja Madre, the largest of the two, ran along the west side of Alameda Street, while Zanja 2, which later would provide water for the city’s first ice factory, ran between Chinatown and the Los Angeles River. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Chinese were discovered siphoning water from the zanjas in the dead of night to obtain water for their gardens.

Building the Produce Market

Outside of Chinatown, other Chinese entrepreneurs established large vegetable gardens in South LA, in the area now known as Watts, Lynwood and Compton, and as far down as Wilmington and San Pedro; smaller farms, many of them growing asparagus, dotted the fields of El Monte, Artesia, Fountain Valley, and La Puente.[ii] By 1880, fifty out of the sixty registered vegetable peddlers in Los Angeles County identified as Chinese, and by 1894, there were 104 licensed vegetable wagons owned by Chinese.

By the turn of the century, the agricultural business is estimated to have employed a full one-quarter of the Chinese male laboring population in California. Produce was taking its place alongside restaurants, laundry, and gambling as one of the Sei Dai Kuen (“Four Big Businesses”, )of Chinese America , both because of untapped markets and discriminatory hiring practices, which confined Chinese to certain sectors of the service industry.[iii]

A market established by the Chinese themselves, however, was quite long in coming to fruition. Initially, the majority of vegetable selling was done around the circular Olvera Street Plaza, just South of Macy Street, where Caucasian, Japanese and Chinese farmers congregated with their goods. However, the increased presence of wagons and the long hours of the makeshift vegetable market became a nuisance to the city; in 1926, horses were legally prohibited on streets, making wagons an obsolete method for transporting produce.[iv] However, it was clear to the City of Los Angeles that the demand for fresh produce was only increasing; subsequently, it leased a vacant lot at 9th Street and Los Angeles Street to provide a more regulated space for the vegetable market. This new market, known as the Hughes Market, opened its stalls in 1901, expanding at a rapid rate until it outgrew its bounds and leased another vacant lot from the city at 3rd Street and Central in 1903, establishing the Los Angeles Market Company.[1] Infighting amongst the shareholders and stall vendors led to the creation of two new markets in 1909; one was the City Market of Los Angeles on 9th Street and San Pedro, established by Mr. Louis Quan, while the other remained, in name, the Los Angeles Market Company, established on 6th Street and Alameda (the Southern Pacific railroad, wanting to run track through the 3rd and Central street location, exchanged this land for the lot on 6th street). Both markets grew at a tremendous rate, and while the City Market was able to expand three blocks south to 12th street, and 1 block west from San Pedro to Wall Street, the Los Angeles Market Company soon moved to a larger space on 7th and Central Streets. The construction costs, however, soon became prohibitively expensive due to war costs, and the Southern Pacific Railroad purchased the company, completing its construction and opening the Wholesale Terminal Market in 1918.

Louis Quan was an instrumental figure in the creation of the City Market, which was unique in the ethnic diversity of its vendors and clientele. Due to his English competency and business savvy, Quan was able to raise 41% of the initial capital from 373 Chinese stockholders, raising $81,850 towards the Market’s development. This contribution was exceeded only by Caucasian shareholders, who contributed $81,900, and was supplemented by Japanese owners, who contributed $36,250 towards the $200,000 investment required.

The day-to-day machinations of the market, and the community that began to develop around it, are not nearly as well-documented as the story of its legal establishment. In some cases, the oral histories of residents from “9th Street” (around the City Market) provide our only insight. A number of these histories are from men and women who grew up in the first two decades of the 1900s, and their accounts suggest that Quan’s business venture initiated, or at least coincided with, an increasing specialization in agriculture. While the City Market itself supplied produce wholesale to hotels and restaurants in addition to individuals, exclusively Chinese supermarkets began to cater to the taste of a growing Chinese population.[v] Several interviewees recalled that their parents often shopped at one of a few large Chinese grocery stores, such as Wing Cheung Lung and Yee Sing Cheung, which sprung up in the 9th street district and provided groceries to Chinese residents from all over Los Angeles. Some entrepreneurs, like Chung Moy Louie’s family, started produce companies to take advantage of the growing market, or rented vending stalls at City Market for $35 a month (~$800 in today’s money)[vi].

In addition, the presence of a second-generation of Chinese Americans and the developing English-speaking abilities of first and second-generation Chinese allowed for strong competition with Caucasian produce markets. The transition from truck farming and door-to-door or wagon vegetable peddling to produce brokering and wholesaling allowed the Chinese to progress in the farming business. Out of the 155 Los Angeles produce companies in 1910, the Chinese owned 17. They had, of course, to compete with certain technological factors as well; the introduction of refrigerated rail cars, which allowed produce to be shipped from the San Joaquin valley and as far as 100 miles away in mid-winter to the large Caucasian produce markets, meant that Chinese farmers and sellers had to work even harder to break even.

Some of these ventures proved quite profitable: The Louie Produce Company, founded in 1908, was able to turn a profit of $300 a month (~$7000 in today’s money); according to Chung Moy, the family did their business by streetcar, and delayed buying an automobile until 1940.[vii] To meet the rise in demand, other Chinese Californians upgraded from home vegetable plots to farms, often 20-50 acres, as did Marie Louie’s family: “My father bought an asparagus farm, and my eldest brother managed the farm. They hired other relatives and other Chinese people or sometimes Mexican people to harvest the asparagus and sold it at the City Market on 9th street.”[viii] But while employment opportunities as a laborer might have been plentiful, S.K. Lee noted that it was “difficult to get into [the] produce business. You have to know someone to lead you in.”[ix] Various Chinese business associations, with membership often determined by home province and kinship, was key to organizing and differentiating the growing labor force.

These new enterprises did not, however, mean a life of affluence and leisure for the majority of the 9th street district. While according to Keong (S.K.) Lee, most men working in the produce business had wives and families who remained in China,[x] discriminatory legislation, financial difficulties and cultural mores meant that the growth of Chinese households, and Chinese homeownership, were slow to develop in the States.[xi] As a result, most of the men working in the City Market lived in nearby boarding houses run by Caucasians, one of which Clarence Yip Yeu recalled being on Ninth & Wall Street, for which the Chinese boarders paid $6 a month to lodge (about $140 in today’s money).[xii] The fact that Chinese resided in such a small radius, concentrated between San Pedro and Crocker streets, was also a result of the grueling demands of the City Market: Mr. Louie recalls that, before the union was created in 1937, he worked from 8pm to 12 noon the following day, often putting in 18 hours a day.[xiii]

Others, particularly the vegetable sellers and their families, were forced to live in hastily constructed residences adjacent to the market due to the long hours and difficult labor; unlike the other two markets (Los Angeles Market Company and the Wholesale Terminal Station coexisted for a brief period), the 9th Street Market opened at 2am rather than 3 or 4am, increasing the demands on its laborers. In addition, as the City Market began to prosper, a number of Caucasian stockholders, discovering that they were not going to be able to squeeze out their Asian counterparts and thus eager to move to the Caucasian-dominated Los Angeles Market Company, pulled their investment out and insisted that the market be closed unless the Chinese and Japanese vendors could produce $100,000. Luckily, the Asparagus Association supplemented the approximately $70,000 that the Asian shareholders came up with to keep the Market open.

Hard Times

Despite their successes, the Chinese in the City Market also suffered intense competition from their counterparts in the business, the Japanese. Japanese Californians, who were usually more established and had English-speaking Nisei children to assist in translation of business transactions, were farming 15% of the land in Los Angeles County dedicated to produce; that is, 40,804 acres out of 270,431. With that 15%, they were producing 68% of the county’s vegetables by the 1930s, including 85% of its celery, 60% of its cauliflower, and 40% of its potatoes and cabbage.[xiv] The domination of Japanese farming and production severely depressed the Chinese American economy, to the extent that the late 1930s still saw Chinese American businesses in a deep depression, while other American businesses were emerging from the Great Depression. Many Chinese families like Mr. Chow’s were hit hard by the Great Depression, which, in addition to Japanese competition, kept the local Chinese economy so low that families often had to sleep on the floor, and there no lysee (red gift envelopes containing money) were handed out on Chinese New Year.[xv]

The role of the Chinese hui, a system originating in China and found in nearly every Chinese diaspora, became particularly important during the Great Depression. By pooling money together, groups of Chinese families, often linked by the kinship of home provinces, were able to lend significant sums to those individuals in need. The fact that the City Market continued to employ mostly Chinese meant that the produce market was keeping more families afloat than simply the vendors’. Tyrus Wong  explained how he was able to get an education during the Depression despite his family’s financial difficulties:

"And then that was during Depression times and my dad says gee, I don’t have that kind of money, and I know in your heart, you’d like to go to art school and he wanted me to go to art school. So he asked some friends from our old village, the same village back in China, from the City Market, they were all young men making good money , so I asked him about it and he could borrow money for that. So he borrowed $100 and he said well son, here’s $100 for you to go to Otis and so forth, but this money isn’t mine and I borrowed it, so I have to pay them back! So I want you to promise me to really work hard and I said I will. So I’m assuming he must have paid them back afterwards. That part I don’t remember or not, but he, that was very nice of him." [xvi]

 This form of rotating credit reflects a tight community, one based largely on extended kinship, and one which was greatly concerned with the welfare of its members. When Eleanor Soo Hoo was asked how the Great Depression affected her family on 9th street, she replied:

…It didn’t really affect us. Because my brother-in-law was in the produce market so it didn’t affect him.

WG: How did his being in the produce market help you?

ESH: Well, they had plenty of food, Some, they distributed to people that didn’t have anything.

WG: Did you know Chinese that were affected by the Depression?

ESH: Well Chinese. They don’t spend a lot of money on a lot of things.

WG: So can you think of any examples of Chinese that were hard hit?

ESH: No. Because you know a lot the Chinese people would go to these family associations they would take care of them

WG: When you say take care of them you mean…

ESH: They would give them food and lodging. And that’s all they needed.

WG: So these family associations worked as a kind of welfare system?

ESH: Yes right.[xvii]

The Chinese community thus became a source of both economic and social support. With the destruction of Old Chinatown in 1933 to make way for Union Station, some displaced Chinese residents began to create a community around the City Market in the late 1920s, making the nearby streets of West Adams a kind of Chinese suburb. Other families lived on Crocker, 9th, 10th streets and Towne Ave.[xviii] As a result of this proximity, and because New Chinatown and China City would not be built until five years later, it was the City Market that became, at least temporarily, a stable Chinatown for Los Angeles in the pre-WWII years. The oral histories provide us with some insight into the differences between the “Old Chinatown” and the new 9th street district:

WG: How was the Chinatown on 9th St. different than Chinatown?

PSH: It’s smaller a little more spread out. You really couldn’t identify it as a Chinatown, but there were a lot of Chinese grocery stores and the Ninth street market was close by. There was a church there, and some Chinese residents. I’m not sure what the numbers were but enough to make it look like a Chinatown but it wasn’t.[xix]

WG: What was the difference between Old Chinatown and Ninth St?

ML: The old Chinatown had been there a long long time and then the Union Station was built there so they had to move away. They couldn’t seem to find one specific place to move to. A group would move here, a group would move there. A little group went to China City, which was on Spring and Ord, another group went to the main Chinatown on north Broadway and another group went to Ninth and San Pedro. There were a lot of produce houses there. So there was a small Chinatown with some stores and restaurants. Hong Kong Noodle Company was there. Sometimes my mom would pick me up after school and we’d go to Ninth Street that was closer than going to Chinatown and we would buy what we needed.[xx]

WG: In terms of this area around the produce market, the 9th street area. The difference between 9th Street Chinatown and Chinatown itself… Was there ever any tensions between the people?

JY: They were different types of people. They were more or less professional. They owned business. They lived in homes, old homes. But they had their own bathrooms that we didn’t have. We lived in flats and took baths in big tin tubs. We didn’t have any hot water. The people in 9th Street might have been a little more affluent than we were.

WG: Was there ever any rivalry?

JY: No no. Must have been a lot of envy what they had and what we had. The break up of Chinatown was in two phases. East of Alameda they were evacuated about five years before west of alameda. We were the west part. We didn’t move until during the war. That’s when my family move in with my brother. Prior to that, the east part of alameda moved about five years [earlier]. So it was in two phases. They got out of the ghetto before we did. Lets put it this way. They were more Americanized.[xxi]

The influx of Chinese families from Old Chinatown, joining with the already present Chinese families near the City Market, created a need for a number of newly-built institutions, such as schools and churches, which eventually had an exclusively Chinese membership. Children who had remained in China, or were sent there for schooling, now arrived in the United States as a result of the Japanese invasion of China in 1939, further changing the dynamic of a Chinese bachelor society.[xxii] The younger ones attended the 9th Street Elementary School, often working alongside their parents in the produce market all morning before attending.[xxiii] Rodney Chow, a teenager at the time, recalled that the junior high school in the 9th street district had a mostly black population, and that many Chinese children used false addresses in order to enroll elsewhere. Many of them seem to have returned to the area to attend Poly High School, where Mr. Chow recalls high school students making extra money by pulling rickshaws for tourists; others were able to make $25 a week (~$600 today) as an all-around helper at the grocery store.[xxiv]

Years of Plenty

This change in fortunes for the 9th street Chinese came almost overnight with the passage of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The hasty internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps along the West coast meant that all Japanese businesses, the majority of which were farms, produce wholesale and brokering companies, and grocery stores, had to be sold immediately for far below market value. Chinese and Caucasian entrepreneurs were quick to seize this opportunity, leasing or buying up much of this property for rock-bottom prices. Along with the employment of thousands of Chinese in the war industries, the elimination of Japanese competition, which had comprised 10% of Los Angeles food stores, created a massive boon in the Chinese American economy by the mid 1940s.

The City Market, and the Los Angeles Chinese population, underwent significant changes as a result of the economic surge during World War II. This meant, however, that many residents were now able to work outside of Chinatown in various war industries, and in some cases to move outside of the area with the increase in salary. There seem to be multiple hypotheses for the collapse of the City Market’s prominence by 1950. Mr. Louie cited the lack of re-investment in farmland that he felt characterized many Chinese businesses: “The landlord offered to sell the Louie family farmland for $30 an acre, the Louie family rejected the offer and replied: ‘You keep your land, I keep my $30. I take my $30 home to buy an acre of good land. I can pass my life easy.”[xxv] Mr. Louie noted that this led to increasing transience of the Chinese American population, which was not tied to the land in the same way as the Japanese, who began to reestablish themselves in the produce business after their release from internment. The return of Japanese Californians also changed the landscape of the City Market “Chinatown”:

WG: Was there any problems…After the war, how did the neighborhood become Japanese again?

JY: Slowly. Slowly. They were moving them out. There was quite a few Chinese restaurants down there. They almost had to close up too because they lost all that Japanese business.

WG: Did the people that were living give the businesses back? How exactly did it work?

JY: I guess they couldn’t make it. And slowly the Japanese came back in. Just like the produce. Same thing. All the produce, about 25%, were owned by Japanese. And they lost everything. A lot of these big places. Venice celery. Lot of big produce down there owned by Japanese. They lost everything. But they came back. They were so industrial [sic].[xxvi]

The construction of China City and New Chinatown, the slow breaking down of discriminatory housing practices, and the outmigration of second-generation Chinese Americans to employment opportunities beyond Chinatown all contributed to the decline in the City Market community. The majority of its residents moved to the area between New Chinatown and China City, bounded by Sunset Blvd and Bernard Street on the north and south, and Yale and Alameda Streets on the west and east. This sharp post-war decline in City Market population meant that it lost much of its prominence as a community and residential center for Chinese Americans. By 1952, only 25 Chinese families remained in the City Market area. Today, the City Market remains an integral part of downtown Los Angeles, but is no longer a Chinese American hub as it was half a century ago. Though there are a number of Chinese produce sellers occupying stalls, the Market has begun to focus its attention on the wholesale merchandising of garments, made more relevant by the fact that the City Market is now adjacent to the Fashion District.

Tara Fickle is a third-year Ph.D. student in the English Department at UCLA. Her interests include Asian American Studies, Women’s Studies, and Contemporary American Literature.

Below are links to some more information about the City Market from KCET. The first is a series of pictures of City Market through the years and the second is a nice interview with Charlie Quon. Click the thumbnails under the pictures to activate the slide show and interview. 

CHARLIE QUON - The City Market and East Adams

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jue Joe Family in the 1920 and 1940 Census

(Click on all images to enlarge and view details)

1920 Census Record for Jue Joe Family
I was recently able to locate the 1920 Census  record of the Jue Joe Family. The family at that  time lived  at 1311 Newton Street in Los Angeles. The family members at the time were Jue Joe age 64 , wife listed as "Ho"  , (I assume this is Leong Shee) age 36, San You , son , age 16, San Tong ,son age 14, and  daughter "Ah How" (Corrine) age  9 months. Jue Joe's occupation is listed as a truck farmer.
I assume that at this time Jue Joe was farming in the San Fernando Valley but had a residence for his family in central Los Angeles. This house was very close to the City Market  on San Pedro /9th where Jue Joe  sold his  produce at the time.   Perhaps other family members can fill me in as to more information as to this time in our family's history. By the way all the neighbors do not have Chinese names , and it looks like the Jue Joe family was the only Chinese family in the area.

Here is a current modern day map with the location of the Jue Family's 1920 residence.

Here is a  map  showing details of how Jue Joe got to and from  City Market to his house. This residence is in an ideal location to the produce market.  Location of the Jue residence is  A. Location of City Market is  B.  Not much of a commute to work in the produce market, but a huge  long commute to the farming operations in the San Fernando valley!

By the  1940 Census the family has moved to the Van Nuys  Ranch  on 16608 Vanowen Street . Here is the 1940 Census Record of the Jue Joe Family. 

It lists the worth of the property at 60,000 dollars and the residents as Jue Joe age 82, Leong Shee, wife, age 56,  daughter Ah How (Corrine) age 21, and daughter Dorothy age 19. Jue Joe's occupation is listed as a truck farmer.Since the time of the  1920 census Jue Joe's first son ,San You, has died  and his second son, San Tong, is married and living in Los Angeles with his own family. 
Thanks to Andy Hurvitz who located  our family information on the recently released 1940 census records.  Andy has a great  ongoing  blog about Van Nuys  and  has a nice post about the information  he learned from the census record of  his own street in 1940.