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In 1922, Wong Gin Wing brought his wife Mah Yel Sen from China to the United States. They docked at Angel Island after a 30-day trip from Canton with stopovers in Shanghai, Yokohama, and Honolulu. Entering the United States for the third time with a merchant’s passport, Wong Gin Wing was immediately released from Angel Island while Mah Yel Sen was detained. He returned the following day and saw many women crowd the second floor windows of the immigration station, eagerly looking for their arriving mates. Wong Gin Wing and the other husbands, previously freed from the detention center returned, bearing dim sum packages for their still detained spouses on “visiting day.”
Wong Gin Wing had been busy in San Francisco. Through the Wong Family Association, he met Wong Yu Fong, a student at the University of California. Wong Yu Fong listened sympathetically to Wong Gin Wing’s account of Mah Yel Sen. She was a pioneer, the second married woman to immigrate to the US from the village of Cheng Gong. Further, she was feeling poorly and believed she was pregnant.
Wong Yu Fong’s schooling had been aided by his godfather, Mr. Downing. Mr. Downing had been a lawyer in Ukiah and was now a Superior Court judge in San Francisco. With Wong Yu Fong’s help, Wong Gin Wing met the judge, who was prompted to make a call to Angel Island on Mah Yel Sen’s behalf.
In this way, Mah Yel Sen was spared the indignity and strain of the typical Angel Island stay. On “visiting day,” she was the first one called to be interrogated. Luck was at hand there too. There was a shortage of interpreters, and Wong Gin Wing was asked if he would take on the role during the questioning of Mah Yel Sen. He quickly said yes and not only posed the official’s questions to Mah Yel Sen, but also answered them for her. In ten minutes, the investigation was over. Mah Yel Sen and Wong Gin Wig were on their way to San Francisco.
To secure their wives’ release from Angel Island, other men hired lawyers who charged $500 fees. Nonetheless the women were detained for an average of three weeks. Mah Yel Sen was released after a two-day, one-night wait. The price Wong Gin Wing paid was a $20 thank-you box of cigars for the judge.
Linda Wing is the granddaughter of Mah Yel Sen.
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