Posted on

Eleanor Soo Hoo Yee: Mei Wah Club Member

Written by William Gow

Eleanor Soo Hoo, the youngest sister of Peter Soo Hoo Sr., was born in a house on Apablasa Street in Old Chinatown. Her mother was a Chinese American who grew up in Santa Barbara. Her father came to the United States as a boy of about 11 from Hoiping, China. He settled in Ventura where he worked at a cigar factory and later met his wife. Eventually, the couple moved down to Los Angeles and settled in Old Chinatown. In an area made up mostly of crowded living quarters, they lived in one of Chinatown’s few houses.

Eleanor grew up in Hollywood, living with her elder sister, May. Despite the distance of her home from Chinatown, she would still come to the community as a child at least once a week. She remembers Old Chinatown distinctly, “The streets were unpaved. There were dirt streets. There was a playground at the end of Apablasa Street across from the playground there was a horse stable.�?

 

Like many other Chinese American youth her age, Eleanor was involved in a number of extra-curricular activities. She remembers the period fondly, “I belonged to a girl’s basketball team. We used to go on picnics…we went to dances. We belonged to different groups, so each group would hold a dance. We would go skating. There were lots of things to do.�? As a student at Hollywood High School, Eleanor would also be involved in the Glee Club. Despite being involved in a number of different extra-curricular activities, the activity with the longest-lasting impact on Eleanor’s life was her participation in the Mei Wah Club.

 

As one of the founding members of the Mei Wah Club, Eleanor played an influential role in the creation of the club. Started as a basketball team while Eleanor was still a student in high school, the club would last for more than sixty years. The club began as girls’ basketball team, and originally had about 15 or 16 members. Eleanor’s brother David helped to organize and oversee the group. The basketball team played other Chinese American teams, some from the Los Angeles area and others from as far away as San Francisco.

 

In 1938, the Mei Wah Club formed a Drum Corp to march in the Moon Festival Parade. The Mei Wah Drum Corp, along with the Los Angeles Drum and Bugle Corp, was one of two prominent Chinese American drum corps based in the Los Angeles area. As the club evolved, they began holding fundraisers and donated the money they raised to charities. Eleanor recalls, “We would hold fundraisers like dances. We would hire a hall, hire a band, or an orchestra, and we’d charge people for coming in to use the ballroom. So we’d make money that way. And we would have carnivals.�? With the money they raised, the group helped create scholarships at local high schools and also donated to a school for the blind in China. Eleanor and the other Mei Wah participants were truly pioneers who made lasting contributions to the local community.

Posted on

Tyrus Wong: Chinese American Artist

Written by Gemie Moon

Tyrus Wong was born on October 25, 1910 in Toishan, China. Seeking better opportunities in the United States, he and his father set off from their home in China in order to be able to send financial help back to their family. Upon arrival, he was processed through Angel Island alone, just nine years old at the time. His father, having come to the United States before, had already been processed through immigration at Angel Island and waited for his son in San Francisco.

 

After living and working in Sacramento awhile, his father would eventually make his way down to Los Angeles in search of better employment. Tyrus and his father lived in a small apartment in Ferguson Alley in L.A.’s Chinatown, sharing the space with other recent immigrants and farm laborers. Meanwhile, Tyrus at a very young age found an affinity for drawing and sketching. One of his instructors at Benjamin Franklin Junior High suggested he try for a scholarship at Otis Art Institute.

 

He would leave Benjamin Franklin Junior High School in Pasadena to attend Otis where his artwork left an impression on the dean, earning him a scholarship for the term. Once the duration of his scholarship had ended, Tyrus was in need of tuition in order to continue attending Otis. Through the help of members of the Chinatown community, Tyrus’ father raised the money for tuition for one more term. Tyrus then won a full scholarship to complete his art education at Otis for the full 4 years. He was the only Chinese-American student at the school.

 

While still a student, Tyrus helped his friend Eddy See create the name and concept for the highly acclaimed Dragon’s Den (1935) restaurant in the F. Suie One Company’s basement in Old Chinatown. With hammer and paint brushes in hand, Tyrus and fellow Otis alumnus and friend, Benji Okubo, created the atmosphere for Dragon’s Den by painting The Eight Immortals and a Chinese dragon on the exposed brick wall. While Tyrus worked without salary as a waiter in the restaurant during the Great Depression, his artwork was simultaneously displayed in the restaurant’s mezzanine gallery.

 

Tyrus graduated from Otis at the top of his class and continued to have a diverse and lucrative artistic career. At a time when Asian Americans were not widely recognized in the field, Tyrus Wong started at the Walt Disney Studios (1938-1941) as an entry-level in-betweener. Later, his beautiful landscapes and forest renditions helped him become a lead inspirational artist on the production of Bambi (1942). He also worked as a pre-production artist for Warner Bros. Studios, Columbia, RKO and 20th Century Fox for over thirty years. Tyrus hand-painted his designs on ceramic plates for Winfield Pottery of Pasadena. He also designed his signature line of high-end holiday cards for over 20 years, one design selling over 1 million copies.

 

On top of all of his successes and achievements, Tyrus Wong has a winning and friendly personality, earning him many devoted friends over the years. He can be found on the fourth Saturday of every month at Santa Monica Beach with friends and family, flying his many beautiful and hand-crafted kites.

Posted on

Jennie Lee Taylor: First Chinese Woman Welder

Written by Annie Luong

Jennie Lee Taylor was born on August 30th 1919, a year after the First World War. Her father and mother came from China with her brother, Jimmy, to Canada and down to New York in 1918. Her parents had a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York on Fulton Street. The family later moved to California due to her father’s health.

 

In California, her father started a laundry business in Los Angeles. During the 1930s, Jennie and her brother Jimmy attended California St. School, Central Jr. High and graduated from Belmont High. Jennie’s family was not greatly affected by the Depression due to the help of the Chinese American community.

 

When the Japanese invaded Shanghai in 1937, Jennie’s uncle was killed. At the age of twenty-three, she became involved in protests against the Japanese invasion and US exporting scrap iron to Japan in Long Beach. Jennie collected money and sent it to the Chamber of Congress to send it to the refugees during the War against Japan. In order to ensure their safety, Jennie and other Chinese Americans wore buttons that said, “I am Chinese�? to help avoid discrimination.

 

Jennie was twenty-two when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Many women went into welding school and worked in the defense industry. Jennie attended the Warren School of Aeronautics and passed the test at Douglass Aircraft Company as a top scorer, however they didn’t hire her. Six months later, Douglass needed aluminum welders and Jennie applied for the second time. Jennie was hired and was certified as “the first Oriental Woman Welder.�?

Posted on

Peter Soo Hoo Jr.: Memories of Wartime

Written by Linh Chuong

Peter Soo Hoo Jr. was born at home in a bungalow on Alvarado and Sunset, but spent much of his childhood at 12th and Burlington. He was a typical adolescent for his time: he would listen to the radio and go to dances. When asked in a recent interview if he noticed any differences during the Great Depression, he said, “ I didn’t… I was in my own world,�? although he did mention that some of his relatives were taking jobs as elevator operators, door-to-door salesmen, and sign painting.

Even though events such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor and developments of the war would not directly affect him, reactions from other people would. People would blur the lines between different Asian Pacific Islander Americans when attacking the Japanese. Peter Soo Hoo Jr. notes, “Because of Pearl Harbor and the resulting casualties, everybody who looked Oriental was fair game unless you wore the “I am Chinese” badge.�? He remembered an incidence once when he was wearing his military uniform: “…as we were walking past this older woman, she yelled, “Get away from me you Jap”.�? Service to your country was not enough it seemed.

The ensuing World War II would more directly affect him. He was one of the many Chinese Americans drafted into the military. After graduating high school in 1944 when he was still just 18, he was sent to get basic training at Camp Roberts from October 1944 to January of 1945; he was shipped to Italy in April. Sadly, three days after he landed in Italy, his father would pass away from a stroke, which Peter Soo Hoo Jr. partially attributes to concern for his only son. Luckily the war ended in May. Because he was inexperienced, he “didn’t know the dangers, really. Just what you read. You think you are a hero….�? The position he was in was especially difficult because, “ I was in reserve in case of a lot of casualties. They used to call us Rep Depo commanders…replacements who were rushed into the front in the event of a lot of American casualties.�?

He would get a break because the war in Europe ended in May, VJ day soon after, and his dependency discharge further shortened his service. He would come home and go to USC like his parents with three years covered through the GI bill, and eventually settle down with Lucy his girlfriend-turned wife.

Posted on

Charlie Quon

Written by Kelly Ha & Michael To

Charlie Quon, one of many Chinese Americans who grew up in Los Angeles, experienced many changes in Chinatown throughout his life. Quon was born in Butte, Montana, in 1923. Sometime between the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, his family moved to Los Angeles where his father owned a grocery business. He lived in an area rich with Chinese, at a time where many minorities chose to stay together for a comfortable life. “In the 30’s many Chinese families were hard working. They had grocery stores, laundries, fruit stands, and restaurants, produce stalls, farmers, and gifts shops. They saved their hard earn money so that would sent their children to school. Many would go to China for a Chinese education and return to USA to continue their higher education,�? said Quon. It was a period of strong prejudice and racism, but Quon never faced any strong doses of that “poison�? in his community.

Charlie was one of the many Chinese Americans who were sent back to China by their parents to study. Charlie recalls, “In 1937 Dad and I went to China on President Hoover by way of San Francisco, Hawaii, Japan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Many of my shipmates were Chinese in 3rd class and, like me; their children would be going to school in Canton. On July 7, 1937 Japan invaded China in Peking and August 29 1937 bomb Canton near our school. The school relocated inland with war many overseas people began returning to the USA. I came back in April 1938.�?

 

During the war Quon recalled wearing a badge that said, “I am Chinese�?. Due to the mounting racial tension of the war, many Chinese had to identify themselves all the time. Quon remembers once while traveling, he and some friends were stopped by a highway patrol officer and held overnight while the officer determined whether they were Chinese or Japanese.

 

Like many other Chinese Americans, World War II was a major factor in Quon’s life. In 1943, he graduated from high school and from there, went on to serve his country. Charlie remembers, “I was overseas in England and had an unknown assignment for weeks in Egypt, then we went by land through Israel, Syria, Jordan Tehran, to Kiev, Russia. We spent weeks preparing an airfield and facilities to service airplanes. Before, during, and after D-Day, we had many missions of planes, based in England, bombing Poland and landing in Russia for service to bomb Romanian oil fields and then return to their bases in England. When the war with Germany was over, I was assigned to the European Air Transport Service to move supplies, transfer war personal for trial in Germany in April 1946.�? After the war, Charlie returned to Los Angeles.

 

In Chinatown, Quon and his son joined the Los Angeles Drum and Bugle Corps. The American Legion ran competitions and provided awards to the top students. Due to the amount of instruments and items needed for the drum corps, it was expensive to maintain. The drum corps was basically composed of a horn section, a drum section, and the color guards. The members of the color guard were mostly girls. Quon played an essential role in helping to guide the group.

Posted on

Stanley Mu: From ROTC to Military Service

Written by Mable Tang

Stanley Mu was born in China in 1923. He and his parents immigrated to the United States in 1927 and settled in Hawaii. After a fire forced them from Hawaii, Stanley’s family moved first to San Francisco and then down to Los Angeles. He lived in Old Chinatown on Marchessault Street, and his father’s Chinese herb store was a couple of stores down from his home.

 

He attended Macy Street School in Chinatown, Central Junior High School, and Belmont High School where he enrolled in the ROTC. After graduation, Stanley wanted to enlist into the army, but because he was not a US citizen, he was not allowed to enlist. In 1938-39, with the construction of the Union Station, his family was forced out of old Chinatown, and moved to Kensington Street, east of Echo Park on Sunset Blvd. His father’s shop was relocated to Gin Ling Way, and they sold curios to tourists.

 

After half a semester at Los Angeles Community College, Stanley volunteered into the army, and was put into the Corps of Engineers. He was stationed in Fort Belvoir, VA for training, and in 1943, he rode on the Queen Mary and sailed to England. At the end of 1943, Stanley was naturalized in England as a US citizen. After the war was over in Germany, Stanley volunteered to enlist in the 44th infantry division to fight in the South Pacific. The infantry reported back to the US for a 30-day furlough in August, 1945. Halfway through his furlough, the US dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan and the war was over. Stanley got discharged, returned to Los Angeles and where he went to school on the GI Bill.

 

Stanley attended the National School and studied electronics for a year. Upon graduation, he went to work for Hoffman TV as a production technician. During this time, he was responsible for driving his sister to the movie studio where she worked as an extra. It was at the movie studio where he met his wife. After a year and a half at National School (1948), he applied to work at Hughes Aircraft and was hired in the production line. After many years of working, he decided to go back to school and get his engineering degree. By that time, he was already married, raising a family and working 40 hours a week. He attended UCLA, and graduated in 1967 with a BA in Engineering. He continued to work at Hughes Aircraft until his retirement. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 84.

Posted on

Ruby Ling Louie, Ph.D.: A Multicultural Childhood

Written by Andrew Jung

Trying to find a better life for his family, Ruby’s adventurous father traveled to Seattle, then to Chicago and finally settled in Los Angeles. An industrious entrepreneur, Ruby’s father participated in the World’s Fair in various cities.
Ruby Ling Louie was born on April 11th, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois. Traveling seems to be a part of the Ling family tradition. Her parents came from a village called Tsingtien in Chekiang Province. Her mother was the eldest of seven children and her father was the youngest of four brothers.

 

In San Diego that the Ling family discovered the auspicious weather offered by California and settled in Los Angeles with a curio shop in China City, which sold “scholar’s stone�? carvings made by villagers from Chekiang.

 

Established by Christine Sterling, China City was created due to the success and the need for Chinese Americans in the burgeoning movie industry in Hollywood. As a young child, Ruby considered her neighborhood a multicultural environment. There were Italians, Russians, Croatians, French along with various Chinese immigrants.

 

Ruby helped work at her father’s curio store. As the youngest of four children, she was allowed the luxury of running around and visiting her friends as opposed to her older siblings who had to constantly mind the store. In school, Ruby attended Alpine Street Elementary and later attended Belmont High School. She laments to this day how her Central Junior High School was closed down because she feels that if it had remained open, many of the different ethnic communities in Chinatown could have further intermingled. Ruby fondly remembers her China City; as a multicultural and multiethnic community where “honest immigrants�? had an entrepreneurial spirit and creatively worked to better their families’ lives.

 

During World War II, the war in Asia prevented Ruby’s father from continuing to resupply his three shops with curio and art goods. After consulting with a family friend, Ruby’s father decided to start a restaurant business. In 1942, Ling’s Café opened in Long Beach, California. There the family made “good American Chinese food�? for everyone. Ruby, being the youngest, served as the out-order clerk while her brother and sisters worked as waiter/ess.

 

After graduating high school, Ruby continued to work in her parents’ restaurant. Trying to find more to her life, she luckily was advised by a counselor to attend Long Beach City College. To this day, Ruby advocates for city colleges as an incredible source of education for all peoples. Ruby attended Long Beach City College for almost five; interestingly, she also set the record by accumulated at that institution with 62 credits. Eventually, Ruby attained a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in general elementary education at UCLA, where fortunately pioneering librarian, Frances Clark Sayers, encouraged her to become a librarian. Ruby entered Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh for her Master’s degree, and eventually obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California that helped her to establish the first public library in the L.A. Chinatown community. Along the way, she married Hoover J. Louie, a member of one of the founding families of Los Angeles Chinatown, where they raised their two children and still live today.

Posted on

Johnny Young: From Chinatown to Manzanar

Written by  Annie Luong

John Young was born in Los Angeles’ Old Chinatown in 1923. His father was born in Canton, China and immigrated to the United States in 1870 and was president of the Hop Sing Tong for 13 years. In 1906 he went back to San Francisco to marry Young’s mother who was 35 years his junior. Young recalls, “In those days, you really lived in poverty. My mother never worked. My father just ran the store. But my mother was the one who kept the family going.�?

Growing up in Chinatown, Young remembers playing “kick the can�?, “roll the hoop,�? and other games that they had to create themselves. He attended California Street School up on Bunker Hill and transferred to Macy Street School. He then attended Central High School and later on transferred to Abraham Lincoln High School. He was one of the founding members of Wah Kue, a basketball club that was started in the mid 1930s at Chung Wah Chinese School. At the age of 16, Young and a few other youth opened up a parking lot in a vacant lot, adjacent to New Chinatown. He learned how to drive by parking cars up in the upper and lower parking lots.

 

During his senior year in high school, Young met Kiyoko Ishihara, his future wife. She asked him out, but he had to work at the parking lot. Young remembers, “We set up a date for another time, and then we started riding the street car home from high school together and meeting each other every morning and riding the street car to high school.�? After they graduated in 1941, they got engaged in November and on February 14th, 1942, they married on Valentine’s Day. At that time they were only 18 years old and “so young and in love.�?

 

In April, his wife entered Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp, and he soon followed in May. Their first daughter was born in March 1943 and they were released. The camps were “just army barracks. It was about 120 feet long, and they divided it into four sections and two or three families in a small quarter.�? He remembers there were “a lot of doctors. The wages were $12 to $16 for ordinary laborers to $19 a month for professionals, like doctors and nurses…Before I went in, I was making about $35 a week as a truck driver for produce.�?

 

After Young was released, he registered for the army and on September 1st, he was drafted. In cadet training, Young was sent to Denver for more testing and was then shipped to La Grande. He went to college there and graduated from the pilot and navigator program in 1944. Young was in the Squadron 306 bomb group and volunteered to go overseas. In February 1945 he was stationed in Thurleigh, which is a village north of Bedfordshire, England. He recalls that “out of 36 planes, we’d lose maybe one or two. It wasn’t too bad.�? When the war ended, Young had flown 16 combat missions in his 27 months of service. He stayed in the service on camera mission in Russia until he was finally discharged in 1946.

Posted on

Marie Louie

Written by Annie Luong

Marie Louie was born on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles on April 6th, 1927. Her mother was born in Ventura in a place called “China Alley�? and moved to Los Angeles when she was nine. Her father came to the states from Hoi Ping, China in 1905, having studied medicine in Canton. Through an arranged marriage, the two were matched and married in 1910. Her father ran an herb store in the business district on South Broadway in what is presently known as South Central. Growing up, Marie recalls going to her parents’ herb store after school where she chatted with patients as they waited for their medicine.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Marie and her family were one of many who began boycotting Japanese goods. At one point she notes that her mother, along with their family friend, Mrs. Tom joined other women who were picketing at San Pedro against sending scrap iron to Japan. They picketed along the shore where men were loading the iron onto ships. She remembers, “my mother is a very shy person. And yet she went to picket, which we thought was out of character for her, but she really felt the need to picket.�?

As World War II dragged on, Marie and her family were one of many that were greatly affected by the war. Marie attended Jefferson High School for only one semester and transferred to Manual Arts High School during the war years. During the war, many Chinese were given little buttons with wordings such as “I am Chinese American.�? She remembers, “we wore that on our clothes every day to school and my father had it on his jacket. We didn’t want to be mistaken for Japanese.�?

After the war, from 1945 to 1949, Marie attended the University of Southern California. During those years, she was part of a club sponsored by the YWCA called “We Are One.�? In the club, Marie and her fellow members aided returnees from the internment camps by helping them fix and clean the homes that they had to abandon. The war was over, but hostile feelings towards the Japanese were still prevalent. For instance, Marie remembers that there was a flower shop that did not welcome Japanese. With a couple of other girls from her club, they pretended to be Japanese, while another girl lectured the shopkeeper about discrimination being against the law. Marie worked in the Doheny Memorial Library on campus for 15 years.

Before the war, Marie’s older sister, Lillian returned with her husband to China in 1933. Her brother Arthur, went to Yenching to study to be a doctor, and her sister, Marian, fell in love with one of Arthur’s schoolmates and went to China when his time in the U.S. was up. When the Communists took power in 1949, her siblings were not able to return to the United States. In 1975, after almost 25 years, her family was finally reunited. Marian states, “our family was reunited for the first time in about 25 years and that meant a lot to all of us.�? She recalls her mother saying, “and now all my children have come home!�?

Posted on

Albert Lew: A Boy at the Sun Wing Wo Store

Written by Mary Chang

Albert Lew was born in 1924 in Los Angeles’ Old Chinatown, on Alameda Street, across from what is now Union Station. Albert was the first in his family to be born in the United States. However, due to the Great Depression, Albert’s parents decided to move their family back to China in 1929 when he was only five-years old. Albert and his family arrived in Hong Kong and eventually settled in Kowloon where his merchant father continued to manage his business.

Unfortunately, within five years of their homecoming, Albert’s father passed away, which also resulted in the end of the family business. In 1937, when Albert just turned thirteen, his mother decided to send him back to America.

In 1937, Albert boarded the S.S. President Hoover steamship in Hong Kong and headed to San Pedro. Although Albert lived in America for the first five years of his life, he returned to his birthplace as a stranger. Albert recalls “[It was] strange to me because to me, there I was, supposedly born right here. I don’t know anything about this place. I was too young. It was fantastic because, you know, there was all this modern stuff.

 

Upon his arrival in San Pedro, Albert was brought in by his distant relatives, who also owned the Sun Wing Wo general store in old Chinatown where Albert would work. Being only thirteen years old, Albert lived in a room above the store with two other workers and worked in the store after school. Albert remembers, “My job was only to climb up there to wind that clock… I come back [from school], I dust the shelf, I put items on the shelf, with the open boxes. You know, it all comes from the upstairs because there’s not too much room to store downstairs. The rest of them go upstairs. I mean, those days, we don’t have an elevator. Everything gets carried up there by hand.�? During that time, Albert also attended Central Junior High School.

 

Six months after his arrival to America, Albert had already begun to feel homesick and yearned to see his mother once again. He soon left for San Francisco to be with his other family members. In his four years there, Albert worked at a laundry business and improved his English at school. Later on, he joined the U.S. Navy. Albert looks back, “I always idolize when I was living in San Francisco as a sailor walk the street, they look like they own the world.

 

In 1955, Albert returned to Los Angeles with his wife and children. By then, Old Chinatown no longer existed. New Chinatown had taken its place. Today, Albert volunteers at the Chinese American Museum, located in the historic Garnier Building, where the Sun Wing Wo store once stood. Every month, he gives visitors his personal stories about working in the store, taking them on a journey back in time.