Daughter Hazel Lim shares the wide arc of her father’s life, who was detained on Angel Island at age 15, worked in San Francisco Chinatown restaurants in his youth, served in the Army-Air Force in World War II, and retired in San Gabriel as a grocery store owner.
My father’s legal name was Fook Keung Lim. He was born on January 3, 1909 (approximate date) in Canton, China to Lim Gue Soon and Chin Haw. He was named Lim Ga Yick and given an adult name Lim Sen Chong when he married. (In China the family name is first followed by the given name. Women kept their maiden name). His mother passed away when he was 6 years old. His father married MacYung and began a new family. His paternal grandmother, Fong Hon, raised him with his younger sister, Lim Yit-Moy.
My great-grandfather (my father’s grandfather), Lim Douk Len, came to the United States to work on the railroads. He persevered through discrimination, hardship and humiliation. He returned to China with money to start a business. Lim Douk Len never intended for any of his descendants to work in the United States. My father was a rebellious, headstrong youth and wanted to go to “Gold Mountain” (USA). In his first attempt, he was refused entry into United States because he was unable to answer questions such as how many steps it was to his neighbor’s house and how many goats were on the property. Another set of immigration papers was obtained and this time he memorized the “coaching notes” that contained answers to questions matching his new identity. My father became Lim Fook Keung, the “paper son” of Lim Jim and older brother to Lim Fook Kee.
Lim Fook Keung arrived in Angel Island where he and fellow passengers were quarantined. The physical exams and interrogation during the quarantine period were long and stressful. Several new groups of immigrants would arrive and leave, but Fook Keung was not allowed to leave. He remembered being alone and hearing ghosts crying. He was scalded with hot water which developed into a serious wound leaving permanent scars on his right leg and foot. This may have been the reason his quarantine was prolonged. He was ignored until a missionary woman found him hiding in a corner and gave him a blanket and food. He was finally released to a liaison, Lim Lep Clew. His issued ID read
“Lim Fook Keung, age 15, height 4 feet 5 inches. Occupation: Student, Kingman Arizona, son of native. 21721/5-26 SS President Wilson December 27, 1922 physical marks scar left cheekbone, pits near left corner mouth. Issued at port of San Francisco, February 1, 1923”.
My father lived in a 10’x10’ room with 12 men at the Lim Benevolent Association, 12 ½ Ross Alley in San Francisco Chinatown. He was enrolled in school for a year. He worked in Chinatown restaurants washing dishes and performing janitorial chores. In 1929, he returned to Canton, China where his grandmother arranged a marriage to Soo-Hoo, Fay Wah. My mother, Fay Wah, gave birth to my sister, Lim Hay Len (Helen Lim), in 1931 and my brother, Lim Dean Yem (Harry Lim), in 1932. My father returned to the United States in 1932 with the goal to earn enough in 10 years for a comfortable lifetime in China. He dutifully sent money to China for his family. He purchased Nationalist War bonds to support Chiang Kai Shek. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. On January 26, 1942, Fook Keung Lim was summoned to the Selective Service Board at 444 Market Street and began service in Army-Air Force on Feb 24, 1942 serial number 390 90595. Money he had been sending was now surreptitiously intercepted and spent by village elders. Then the Japanese shut off China from the outside world. Relatives told my mother that my father was probably dead. My mother with two young children suffered through the poverty of war, the constant battles among political fractions in the village, and invasion from the Japanese. Communist raided villages and tortured the wealthier landlords and merchants. Among those killed was my mother's sister.
Fook Keung Lim was honorably discharged on December 26, 1945. Service No. 39 090595 Rank Sergeant of US Army. He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal. He sent for my mother, brother, sister and claimed his 15 year old half brother as his older son. An immigration photo was submitted with a document stating: "Applied by admission to the United States on February 7, 1947. Form No. I-I36 was filled out of each in accordance of an act to expedite the admission to the United States of Alien spouses and alien children of citizen members of the United States Armed forces”.
In 1947, my father went to baking and confectionary school. He commuted from San Francisco to work at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California. My mom, legal name Fay Wah Lim, was a seamstress in a sewing factory. I (Hazel) was born in 1948 and my younger brother, Harold, was born in 1949. In 1953, our family moved to Los Angeles and opened Lim’s Market in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood on Brooklyn Ave. Harry was the business manager, my father was the butcher, my mother was the cashier and the rest of us stocked the shelves. My father learned to cut down a 200 lb side of beef with expertise. There was also demand for tripe, tongue, brain, liver, kidney, pig’s feet but the customers would line up for my father’s home-made chorizo. His secret ingredient was hoi-sen sauce! What we could not sell, we ate. Fortunately my mother was an innovative cook making a feast of Chinese style menudo from the occasional unsold tripe. My mother earned her citizenship in 1954. In 1967, my parents operated Village Market in San Gabriel with Harry and his wife Betty until retirement in 1978.
My parents were proud to be US citizens. They shared their beliefs and good fortune by sponsoring and housing new immigrants to their “Gold Mountain”. They sent money to the Lim village compound in China to build a school. My father passed away in 1986. My mother Fay Wah Lim passed away in 2006 at the age of 95. The four children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren of Fook Keung and Fay Wah Lim are grateful for their love, wisdom and sacrifices.
Submitted by Hazel Lim Hoshiko for Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
Photos (top to bottom) Top - Photo taken in 1947 for immigration showing Fay Wah with her children Harry, Helen and Henry, Middle - 1949 Fay Wah and Fook Keung Lim, San Francisco, Bottom - Fook Keung Lim celebrating his 70th birthday and an early celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary in Los Angeles Chinatown on March 1978