Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jue Luggage at the Chinese American Museum-Los Angeles

Recently my grandson, Jackson, toured the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles with his kindergarten class. He discovered that luggage in the museum in a permanent  exhibit titled "Challenging Exclusion" had his name on them !

The luggage belonged to Yee Lai Ping who was my grandfather San Tong's second wife and the mother of my Aunties Soo- Jan , Pingeleen, and Soo-Yin and my uncle Guy. The luggage as well as other family items were donated to the museum by our family with the donation arranged by my Auntie Pingeleen who curated exhibits at the museum.

The luggage aptly symbolizes how many families including our own challenged Exclusion era laws to make long trans pacific journeys to and from China to create family units and to reunite families separated by great distances and discriminatory laws. My great grandfather Jue Joe immigrated to the United States in 1874 before Chinese Exclusion laws were enacted. After successfully making his fortune in America he returned to China in 1902 , never intending to return . He married and had two sons, one of whom was San Tong, my grandfather. Jue Joe left his farming operation in the United States in the hands of his brother Jue Shee who was supposed to continue to send proceeds from the business back to Jue Joe in China.  Unfortunately, Jue Shee sold the entire business, took the proceeds and left for parts unknown which forced Jue Joe to return to America to try to remake his fortune. Jue Joe left his family in China and despite immigration laws that should have prevented his return to America, he returned to America with the help of "friends in high places " although classified as a laborer and one of the excluded classes at the time.

There was a loophole in the Exclusion laws that allowed merchants to bring their families from China and Jue Joe who was a farmer and not a merchant established his merchant status by buying into a friend's produce business and was thus successful in 1918 bringing his wife and two sons to America as dependents of a merchant, including my grandfather, San Tong.  After the untimely death of my grandfather's first wife Rose who was born in America, my grandfather San Tong was able to return to China to marry again in an arranged marriage because of his merchant status ( by that time Jue Joe had his own produce outlet at the Central market in Los Angeles, and my grandfather as co owner of that business was able to establish his merchant status ) . Accompanied by his mother who was also able to travel back and forth to China as the wife of Jue Joe, a merchant, my grandfather married Yee Lai Ping and brought her back to America. Yee Lai Ping was also able to skirt the exclusion era laws with her new status as being the wife of a merchant. Ultimately the discriminatory anti Chinese exclusion laws were repealed in 1943 during the Second World War when China was a US ally.

There is a rather poignant footnote to the luggage. It was intended to be used on a trip back to China  in the 1950's by Yee Lai Ping when she was going to return to China with her daughters Soo-Yin and Pingeleen to visit her mother.  Unfortunately, her mother died before the trip was planned and the trip was never undertaken. Many years later, long after Yee Lai Ping's death, my Aunties Soo-Yin and Pingy did make the trip back to our ancestral village and met with relatives at the house that Jue Joe built long ago. They made a video of that trip which is included in this blog.

From my Auntie Pingy:
"Thank you for your interests in the CAM permanent exhibit. Since I had curated the antique sections of the exhibits, the luggage that Jackson saw belonged to my Mother. I had donated the set after It was included in the "Immigrant Journey" portion of the temporary exhibit I curated from "Hearth to Heaven". I choose the luggage although I exercised some artistic license on those pieces because the "Jue" was very recognizable!! How wonderful Jackson saw his name and brought new life to the past, that after all, is what the museum experience is all about.. connection."