Submit your Story
My grandfather, Ng Lung Woo, was born in Gong Me village in the Hoy Ping District in 1864. He came to San Francisco as Charley Lee. He married my grandmother Mary Sullivan, a young immigrant from Kilarney, Ireland, in Durango, Colorado on June 22, 1893. They moved to San Francisco and lived there from 1894 to 1906 and had seven children. The children were George Lee, Benjamin Lee, Annie Lee, Willie Lee, Frances Lee, Henry Lee, and Richard Lee, who was my father.
In 1902, Benjamin, age 7, and Annie, age 5, were sent to live in Gong Me village with Ng’s mother and other family members. Benjamin went to school in China, and when he returned to San Francisco in 1909 at the age of 15, he could no longer speak English and answered his Angel Island interview in Chinese. He lived with his mother in Oakland and relearned English. He left home in 1911 to go to work and make money for the family.
In early 1915, Ng Lung Woo went to Hoy Ping and saw his daughter, Annie, and other family members. Annie would not return to San Francisco for 30 years. While in China, Ng married another woman and used the name Ng Hok Hing. He stowed away back to the United States on the SS Mongolia and arrived in San Francisco on October 27, 1915. He was held at the Angel Island Immigration Station from October 1915 to September 1916 and was required to testify to a grand jury regarding 86 Chinese stowaways on the SS Mongolia. During his imprisonment on Angel Island, his wife Mary died of cancer in Oakland on August 16, 1916 at the age of 38. After his release from Angel Island, Ng Lung Woo found work as a cook in San Mateo. He died in San Francisco in March 1919. His death was acknowledged only by Ng Park of 31 Waverly Place, San Francisco, who was probably from the Ng Family Association.
While his mother was dying and his father was in Angel Island, Benjamin, who was 20 years old, applied for guardianship of the younger children and moved to Oakland to care for them and keep the family together. He never spoke Chinese again, and none of the younger family members knew that he went to China or that he understood Chinese. It was not easy to be poor, young Chinese children in Oakland, and it was even more difficult to be “half castes” as they were labeled at Angel Island. The family did not talk about their Chinese heritage as they grew older and had families of their own. The rich Chinese culture from which they came, and the Ng name was lost to future generations.
Benjamin married in 1931 and had three children; Betsy Lee, born in 1932; Bernice Lee, born in 1937; and David Lee, born in 1941. Benjamin Lee died in Oakland in 1984.
Annie Lee returned to San Francisco in 1930 and spent three months at the Angel Island Immigration Station before being admitted as a native returning to the United States. She could no longer speak English, and she could not write in any language. Her brothers and sisters were not told of her arrival, and Annie was never able to find her brothers and sisters.
Annie had three children in China, and she suffered from discrimination because she had freckles. After the death of her husband, she was banished from the village and eventually was returned to the United States to marry a Chinese man in Illinois. She had three more children with him. Annie’s children are Wu Yin Chee, born in China, died in 2001; Wu Wuan Ten (Ted), born in China and now lives in the U.S.; Wu Eva, born in China and died in the U.S. before 2000; Yong Ming, born in the U.S. in 1932; Yong Yee Bang, born in the U.S. in 1933; and Yong Oi, born in the U.S. in 1937. Annie Lee had 24 grandchildren.
Through documents found at the National Archives in San Bruno, I have been able to find Annie Lee’s families and now enjoy knowing her children, my cousins. But I am sad that my father and his brothers and sisters had to live in times that forced them to hide their heritage.
Marilyn Lee McConnell, the daughter of Richard Lee, lives in Novato, California.
Submit your Story