by Cindy Sue
Granddaughter Cindy Sue describes the life of Gain Fong, who emigrated from Canton at age 15 in 1917. Like many immigrants, Mr. Gong began his stay in the U.S. as a laborer and eventually saved enough money to start a grocery business in Castro Valley, California. His legacy endures through the values of hard work, sacrifice, and education that he instilled in his children and grandchildren.
My maternal grandfather, Gain Fong, immigrated to California at the end of World War I at the age of 15 from the village of Ho Choong in the Canton province of China to join his father who was already there. He brought with him three items which I still have: a metal can, a metal canteen, and he wore a shirt with the Chinese character for “courage” written on it. He spent two difficult and humiliating weeks at Angel Island, the “Ellis Island” for Asian immigrants at the turn of the century. For an intelligent, self-sufficient person like him, being treated like a “prisoner” or “an animal” as he described it, was very difficult. Whenever he recounted his experiences at Angel Island to me, I could hear the bitterness in his voice and see it on his face. He told me that the Irish and the Italians were the most prejudiced, especially the Italians.He initially worked in the fruit drying industry, one of the few industries available to Asian immigrants. He told me there was much racism against the Chinese. For instance, there were areas where Chinese were not allowed to reside; there were barbers who would not cut a Chinese person’s hair. As bad as the treatment was against the Chinese, he told me blacks were treated even worse.
After moving to Oakland at the age of 20, he began working in the fish markets and eventually embarked on becoming a butcher and a grocer. He returned to China at the age of 29 to obtain a wife. His father had already returned to China when my grandfather was 18 years old. In China, my grandfather married 18 year old Ruby Leong (my maternal grandmother) and shortly after, returned to California.
Place of Origin
Place of Settlement