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Jimmy Ning Fong (aka Fong Mee Ning) of Sacramento, California thinks his Angel Island experience did not have much of an effect on him. He can recall it well and likes to start with the day he first left his home in China. It was an early June morning in 1936 when at the age of fourteen he left Guore Leung village (Gow Leung Tung) of Leung Boi District and Hoy Sun County in Kwong Tung (Guangdong) Province. He was fulfilling the dream of many people in his farming village–to go to the United States for the opportunity of a better life. So as planned, Mee Ning went with his father, Fong Kee You, on his father’s fourth trip to the U.S. They left behind Mee Ning’s mother, Chin Yoak May, a younger brother, and two older sisters. They also left behind Mee Ning’s three half siblings and their mother. They each carried a suitcase while Mee Ning’s sister-in-law carried their “mein hoy” blankets balanced with a long stick over her shoulder. They walked two miles to the town of Sue Thi Hueh, where father and son caught a small steamboat that took them to Thlum Fow, the three cities located at where two rivers come together. Next they took a larger steamboat bound for Bok Ki, where they boarded a steamship headed for Hong Kong. Mee Ning was amazed to see the lights on the hill very late that night.
Mee Ning and his father stayed seven to ten days in a room of a four storied building that housed the Gong Wai Chen export and import business on the ground level. During this period they bought tickets for the overseas trip, got their passports, and completed other business. Many other Chinese men were doing the same things in Hong Kong. The Fongs boarded in second class (for laborers) on the President Pierce, a large steamship with huge smoke stacks. It made brief stops in Japan and Honolulu. Mee Ning walked about the ship, but often felt seasick and had to lie down. He managed to eat Chinese meals regularly. The ship docked in San Francisco in July 1936–about four storm-free weeks after leaving Hong Kong.
On the San Francisco dock Fong Kee You gave his son a few dollars, told him that he had to go to Angel Island, and left for Leung Ki apartments in Chinatown. Mee Ning and the other newcomers were directed to small boats for the short trip in the bay. “Everything new….The country is beautiful,” he said of the island. After they landed, they were escorted to the main building, a large barrack on high ground.
Mee Ning stayed on Angel Island for about a month. He found the conditions satisfactory. He was one of the youngest among the 100-150 Cantonese adults and teenagers crowded into the men’s sleeping quarter. They slept on narrow beds arranged in tiers of three; and he had the top bed, which he reached by climbing on the two beds below. The facilities seemed to be maintained, although he never saw who did the cleaning. There was a common restroom area with shower stalls. Toilet paper was available, but not soap or towels. He had his own toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, and comb. He took a shower every few days. Everyone there seemed to have the same level of hygiene. He did not notice any sickness. They all walked to and from another building daily for their Chinese meals.
Since his fellow detainees were also from Guangdong Province, Mee Ning was able to speak with them and to enjoy casual friendships. Sometimes he watched others play cards, gamble a bit, and feed wild pigeons with old bread. Some people read. He tried to read the poems on the walls, but could not understand some of them. The poems he could understand expressed the writers’ feeling of frustration and homesickness. He heard that some people were kept there as long as two or three years. He witnessed nothing unusual or distressful. Some detainees argued, but people tried to get along with each other. He felt well treated by the others including the people he met later at his interrogation. He was not lonely, sad, or frightened.
Meanwhile, Mee Ning’s father with a friend’s assistance hired a lawyer to start the process to get Mee Ning released from Angel Island. Mee Ning was informed of the date for his interrogation a few days in advance. He recalled that it was held at ten or eleven a.m. and that he was not afraid. There was an immigration agent, interpreter, and a woman recorder in the room. The interpreter spoke Cantonese instead of Mee Ning’s dialect, but they were able to communicate with each other. For one hour or one and half an hour Mee Ning was asked many questions regarding his identity, such as details about his village. It went well for him, because he was released in the afternoon. “I feel happy,” he said as he recalled that moment. He packed up immediately and returned to San Francisco.
After docking at one of the piers of the Embarcadero, Mee Ning met his father. They walked for ten to twelve blocks to the Leung Ki apartments at 760 Clay Street–which was available to all Fong clan members from Leung Boi District for a small fee. On another day his older brother took him to a photographer, who took a picture of them together. Mee Ning stayed in San Francisco for seven to ten days before leaving for Sacramento.
Mee Ning lived alone in Sacramento and attended Lincoln School until shortly before Christmas 1936. An older cousin from Red Bluff came and helped him move to live with his father in Red Bluff. Mee Ning transferred to Red Bluff Elementary School and attended Red Bluff High School. He was drafted during World War II, and he served in the army. He was married in China and returned to Sacramento. He worked as a grocery clerk at a few grocery stores/markets and then owned a small grocery store. He provided almost all of the financial support for his five children’s college education. Since his retirement in 1980 he has lived a quiet, comfortable life and taken two trips to tour China.
Submitted by Mabel “Madeleine” Fong, first born child of Jimmy and Helen Fong.
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