Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

The American Dream

by Judge Delbert Gee

Taken from a speech given by the Honorable Delbert C. Gee during the ceremonial administration of his oath of office as Judge of the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda, in January 2003 at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.


I want to close my remarks tonight by telling you a story.  My father came to this country from Hong Kong in 1938 when he was eighteen in search of a better life.  His family was very poor because his father had been incapacitated by a stroke.  When he came to this country, he was interned at the Angel Island Immigration Station due to laws restricting Chinese immigration.  He was interrogated and spent ten days there before he was released.  After his release, he had no money and never had the chance to go to college because he had to work.  He learned English by attending an Oakland Chinatown elementary school.  After Pearl Harbor, he couldn’t get a job because he had been classified “1-A” and could be drafted at any minute - so he asked his draft board when he would be drafted, figuring that he could get a medical deferment because of his hearing loss and could then get a job.  They didn’t know when he would be drafted, so they suggested that he enlist instead and take his physical right away and get his deferment.  My dad enlisted and took his physical.  They took him and he went into the Army!  He’s never trusted the government since and has always voted Republican!

My mom was born in Shanghai and immigrated in 1949 after the war to escape the Communists.  My dad likes to remind her that she flew here while he came by boat that took weeks sailing across the Pacific!  They were married and after their honeymoon, they returned to Oakland only to discover that my dad had been laid off from his job.  Despite that setback, my dad was eventually able to find a job as a mechanical design draftsman at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory where he worked until his retirement.

When I was born in 1955, my parents decided to move closer to Livermore and looked to buy a new home.  They went to Castro Valley to look at a subdivision but were told by the salesman that the nearest school was ten miles away.  They left and when they turned the next corner, they saw the elementary school.  They then went to San Leandro where the developer said that he could not sell them a home because they were Chinese, but if they waited until the next-to-last home in the development had been sold, he would sell them the last home.  My parents then heard of a developer in Hayward who would sell to Asians and we moved there.  Although Hayward was almost all white at that time, our particular street was filled with Asian Americans families who had heard the same thing about this development, and I grew up with other Asian American kids.

In 1964, we moved to Livermore and were one of the very few Asian American families in town.  I think there were only five other Asians in my high school graduating class.  In 1970, my mom gave Chinese cooking lessons that were so popular, she opened up a Asian food and gift store in Livermore, and it stayed open for 18 years – an eternity for a small business.  I was amazed as to how a store like that could survive in Livermore.  But not only was the store the first exposure many in town had to Asian culture, my mom later became a sort of social services agency assisting the Vietnamese immigrants who came in the late 70’s by acting as a clearinghouse for donations.

My mom is a fantastic cook and I’ve often said that I’ve never had a bad meal at my mom’s house.  She is also a wonderful artist, specializing in Chinese watercolors.  

Neither of my parents had a chance to go to college, but they raised five children who did.  My sister Marilyn is a teacher in New Jersey.  She flew all the way out here because she couldn’t believe her baby brother amounted to anything!  My brother David is a college professor at Central Washington University.  My brother Dennis works in finance and my sister Melissa is an attorney in San Francisco.  

If you want to know who I am, I am proud to tell you that I am the son of Stanley and Amy Gee.  They sacrificed so much for me and my brothers and sisters.  When my dad’s mother put my dad on the SS Grover Cleveland in 1938 - on that “slow boat” from China to this country - when he was only 18 years old, she had to know that she would never see him again.  Could she have imagined that one day, a grandchild of hers would be appointed a judge by the Governor of the greatest state in the greatest country in the world?  It’s the American dream.  

I’d like to introduce to you my mother and father, Amy and Stanley Gee.  Mom and Dad, could you stand up and be recognized?

Photo caption: Stanley Gee portrait taken during Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation Annual Gala, 2009.

Place of Origin
Hong Kong, China

Place of Settlement
Livermore, CA, US

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