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Richard Jeong Jew’s Angel Island experiences, from his autobiography: Story of the Water Buffalo from Hong Kong, written in 1996. Richard Jeong Jew was born as Jew Jeong Ngar on September 4, 1924, in Sun Huey Village, Dow Moon (Doumen, Zhuhai), in the Chung Shun District (Zhongshan) about one hundred miles from Hong Kong. He made the voyage to America in 1937, he said, as an illegal immigrant. Later, he became known as Richard Jew when he started school in San Francisco in 1938.
In 1935, Richard’s father moved to Hong Kong after his business in Macau went bankrupt. Later, the rest of the family joined the father in Hong Kong, where Richard was told that he would be going to America to stay with his uncles and grandparents. Richard and Chuck Hing, a boy who would travel as his “paper brother,” were given coaching books; Richard would be living with his uncle and aunt, who were supposed to be his parents.
In April 1937, Richard and Chuck Hing boarded the President Coolidge to travel to America. Before they left Hong Kong, Richard’s uncle gave each of them two American dollars. After seventeen long, tumultuous days, Richard Jeong Jew arrived in San Francisco on May 5, 1937. He and Chuck Hing were immediately taken to Angel Island, where they were examined by medical doctors, who determined that Richard was ill. He stayed in the hospital on the island for almost three weeks, when he rejoined Chuck Hing. Another of Richard’s uncles, James Jew, sent them forty American dollars to spend at Angel Island.
Richard remembered his first experience with American money when he had to pay one and a half U.S. dollars to the Self Governing Club on Angel Island for membership fees. He recalled not wanting to use American money to buy various miscellaneous items while staying at the main barracks. “About two hundred Chinese were interned at the main barracks. Some were said to have been there for two or more years. I found out later some had committed suicide, because they did not want to go back to China to face their families. I was really scared when I had to get up at night to go use the restroom.”
“I can say we hardly ever saw meat for our meals except hot dogs while at the hospital, and I did not like the smell of it. At the main barracks every meal was served with rice and one dish of mostly vegetables…One dish I always hated was Golden Needles, something like bean sprouts but not soft; I’d say like eating baling wires….Despite all those conditions, I loved to eat. One time I was stopped by the guards because everyone had finished eating and left. I was the only one still eating, and the guards did not want to stay to watch. I think I had seven bowls of rice. Every day, dinners were served at 4:00 p.m and at 6:00 p.m. You can go down to the dining hall to buy some snacks if you have money. One day we were told by some older men that we can eat congee free of charge at 6:00 p.m….I found out those men had raked up some traps to catch quails through the fence. They cleaned and chopped them up like hamburger, handed it to the guard. The Chinese cooks furnished rice to prepare it for us. I just remembered eating quail congee one time. Maybe they had killed all the quails on the Island or the guards had stopped the illegal operations.”
On June 10, 1937, Richard and Chuck Hing began their interrogations.
The interrogations lasted four days.
“I do not remember being scared. To this day, I don’t see how as a twelve-year old, I can act and lie like we did. Anyway, it was a disaster. We were denied entry into the United States and ordered to return to Hong Kong. After several months of appeal, we were finally allowed to leave for freedom. The day was September 28, 1937, at 4:30 p.m. We took the last boat to go to San Francisco. We were glad to leave.”
By the time they left Angel Island, Richard’s clothes and shoes were too small to fit him. After finally arriving in San Francisco, Richard moved to Firebaugh, near Fresno, to stay with his paternal grandparents on their farm and to attend school, where he continued until he had to work on the farm. A teacher said Richard was “like a mushroom; he only saw him when it rained!” For a time, he went to school in San Francisco and spent summers on the farm, until he moved to Firebaugh full time.
During World War II, Richard tried to enlist in the army air corps, but he was rejected because of bad eyesight. Later, when he was drafted, the owners of the farm got the military board to allow him to stay on the farm to help run it. Eventually, he ran the farm, and his Tai Hing Company grew to own 930 acres of land. Among three farming entities, he managed and farmed 3,880 acres. The farm became quite successful, and he received three Union Sugar Top Grower awards.
In 1946, Richard married his wife Jennie and they had two daughters, Donna and Brenda (and later four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.) In 1960, Richard took advantage of the government’s program to straighten out their immigration papers, and on October 14, 1963, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. “That day made me the happiest man on earth. My mother had told me before I left Hong Kong that I was going to the Gold Mountain. I did not see any mountain, but found a flat country called Firebaugh. I have lived here over sixty years, knew lots of people and made many friends, people who help me all the time. I truly enjoy them and love them all.”
Throughout his adult life, Richard Jew wished for a better education for his children, an education that he was not able to receive growing up. He was proud that his daughters graduated from U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis and that his sons-in-law were engineers and had good jobs. Richard and Jennie paid for all their grandchildren’s college educations. They graduated from U.C. Davis, Tufts University, Santa Clara University, and Arizona State University.
Richard Jew passed away in 2010 at the age of 85.
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