ANNOUNCER: Major Funding for this series is provided by the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting, with support from PRI – Public Radio International.
HOST: This is Crossing East… Our stories, our history, our America…
RONALD TAKAKI: America represented opportunities, economic opportunities
JEFFREY BARLOW: Oregon really was the last frontier.
JUDY YUNG: They signed with their thumbprints that say that they are going to
work four years as a prostitute for this person who owned them.
HAROLD TAMANO: I think for a lot of Issei’s it’s almost like farming is like part of
our heritage as Japanese Americans.
CAROLYN MICNIHIMER: There are eight unmarked graves here with no record
of them and the fact that there is no record of a name or anything perhaps they
HOST: I’m George Takei… When we return…“Frontier Asians” on Crossing
(MUSIC BREAK 30-SECONDS)
HOST: I’m George Takei, your host for Crossing East…Our stories, our history,
Frontier Asians. Chapter One. Gold Mountain.
19th Century China. Widespread poverty and political chaos after the Opium
Wars and the aftermath of the peasant rebellions. First, Chinese men were lured
or forced to become contract laborers in faraway lands. Then word spread of
“Gum San”…Gold Mountain. There were riches to be had working the mines of
the American West.
SQUARE DANCE MUSIC FADES UNDER
HOST: Villagers pooled their money to send sons, brothers, husbands to get rich
and send money home.
From the Shasta Courier newspaper…December 3rd 1853.
ACTOR: Three years ago it was a matter of no little curiosity to the American
miner, to see a real live representative of the Celestial Empire, with his wooden
shoes, his prodigious hat of fantastical proportions, his shaven head, his long
black cue dangling to his feet, his light springy pole poised upon his shoulder,
and freighted with provisions and mining tools, as he wended his way to the
mines…thousands of these sable sons of Asia have crossed the Pacific - poured
into our towns, and are now swarming in quest of gold through every part of the
HOST: At first it was free-for-all. Gold fields opened up everywhere in the West
and Alaska. Chinese men took over mines abandoned by white miners.
MUSIC UP UNDER
TAKAKI: America represented opportunities, economic opportunities, for them.
HOST: Ronald Takaki, professor of ethnic studies at the University of California-
TAKAKI: But they wanted to settle here, and fifty percent or more of them who
came here were already married and so they had left wives behind. America did
not want these Chinese workers to bring wives and children with them and to
settle in America. Essentially, they saw the Chinese as temporary workers.
HOST: When the gold mining ran out, American businessmen found other uses
for these hard-working men.
TAKAKI: But what was the American west for Chinese immigrants? It was the
Gold Rush, California. It was also building the railroad.
SOUND OF STEAM ENGINE TRAIN
TAKAKI: The superintendent of the Central Pacific Railroad, which had a
workforce that was ninety percent Chinese, the superintendent, Charles Crocker,
in testimony before Congress, said, “We want these men to come over here,
work for the railroad temporarily and then return to China.” He said, “We don’t
want them bringing their wives over here, settling in America and becoming thick”
and he used that word, ‘thick.’ Essentially, there was this view and a powerful
view, a pervasive view, that the United States should be a white man’s country.
And so the Chinese were welcomed as workers but not welcomed as settlers.
HOST: Chinese men built the western half of the transcontinental railroad. In
spite of this contribution, these immigrants faced discrimination and violence
throughout the frontier.
In 1885, a mob of white coal miners killed 28 of their Chinese co-workers in Rock
Springs, Wyoming and burned down 79 Chinese homes causing hundreds of
Chinese residents to flee.
In 1887, in the Snake River Massacre, 30 Chinese miners were murdered near
the Oregon-Idaho border.
Chinese immigrants were only welcome as long as their labor was needed. After
the American Civil War, widespread economic depression forced many to the
West to find work. Chinese workers were becoming more and more unwelcome.
But in the dry sagebrush hills of Eastern Oregon, in the small town of John Day,
a thriving Chinatown emerged. Thanks in large part to a doctor named Ing Hay.
He was an herbalist and acupuncturist who became known as “Doc” Hay. His
medical practice was located in a general store named the Kam Wah Chung.
Chapter Two of “Frontier Asians”—Doc Hay, Frontier Herbalist by Dmae Roberts.
YUNG: It was after the railroad, after the civil war was over, it’s the beginning
anti-Chinese sentiment, but also anti-Chinese violence and then anti-Chinese
BARLOW: But because Oregon was still a frontier Chinese labor was welcome....
MICNHEIMER: This is where Doc Hay would come and fix your herbs and
ED WAH: They carried this lady into the house because she couldn’t walk and
took ‘em back to the treatment room and worked on her for I think maybe an hour
and doggone if that lady didn't walk out of there.
NAR: THE STORY OF ING DOC HAY IS FULL OF MEDICAL MIRACLES. THIS
CHINESE HERBALIST WAS THE CLOSEST THING TO A DOCTOR ON THE
EASTERN OREGON FRONTIER.
VOICE: Doctor Sir, you have been recommended as a first class doctor and as
there is no doctor here that can do me any good. I would like to know what you
think about my case...
NAR: ING HAY WOULD THEN PRESCRIBE PACKETS OF HERBS AND
DICTATE INSTRUCTIONS FOR HIS BUSINESS PARTNER LUNG ON TO
WRITE IN ENGLISH.
SOUND: PRESCRIPTION READ IN CHINESE
NAR: IN 1882, TWO YOUNG IMMIGRANTS FROM CHINA CAME TO THE
DRY SAGE BRUSH HILLS OF EASTERN OREGON AT THE END OF THE
GOLD RUSH. ING HAY WAS A DOCTOR OF ACUPUNCTURE AND AN
HERBALIST. HIS FRIEND AND PARTNER, LUNG ON, WAS AN EDUCATED
BUSINESSMAN WITH A PENCHANT FOR WHEELING AND DEALING. FIVE
YEARS AFTER THEY ARRIVED, THEY BOUGHT A GENERAL STORE AND
BEGAN CURING PATIENTS NEAR AND FAR. THEIR STORY IS NOT WELL
KNOWN, BUT THE KAM WAH CHUNG BUILDING, WITH ITS DARK, SMOKED
STAINED INTERIOR AND DISTINCT ODOR OF HERBAL REMEDIES STILL
STANDS TODAY AS A MUSEUM.
MICNIHIMER ….We do know that opium smoking was done in the building.
…cos it was legal till 1909.
NAR: ING HAY CAME FROM THE GUANDONG PROVINCE OF CHINA
WHERE THE BRITISH OPIUM WARS AND REPEATED AGRICULTURAL
FAILURES CONTRIBUTED TO ANOTHER REBELLION DURING THE 1860'S
IN WHICH AS MANY AS 30 MILLION CHINESE DIED. MANY OF THOSE WHO
ESCAPED DEATH AND POVERTY CAME TO AMERICA DURING THE GOLD
BARLOW: You really have to go back to the events of the late Gold Rush…
NAR: JEFFREY BARLOW, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AT PACIFIC
BARLOW: Once gold was discovered then that began bringing in a great many
Chinese workers. There was a period in the 19th century, strange as it may
seem, when Chinese were actually the dominant ethnic group in both Idaho and
NAR: BUT AFTER THE CIVIL WAR AND THE ECONOMIC DEPRESSION
THAT FOLLWED, THERE WAS A STRONG ANTI-CHINESE SENTIMENT AND
ANTI-CHINESE LAWS THROUGHOUT THE WEST LEADING TO THE
PASSAGE OF THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT OF 1882. THE ACT WAS IN
EFFECT ‘TIL 1943 WHEN CHINA BECAME AN ALLY TO AMERICA DURING
WORLD WAR TWO.
NEWSPAPERS OF THE TIME DEPICTED CHINESE PEOPLE IN HIGHLY
NEGATIVE IMAGES. THEY WERE THE YELLOW PERIL, A THREAT TO
WHITE AMERICA AND THE LABOR UNIONS. THIS LED TO THE PASSING
OF MANY EXCLUSIONARY LAWS, BUT ONCE IMMIGRATION WAS ALMOST
STOPPED, SOME PEOPLE BEGAN TO SEE THE REMAINING CHINESE AS
AN ENDANGERED ASSET.
AN ARTICLE FROM THE GRANT COUNTY NEWS OF DECEMBER 1888:
VOICE: Stockmen say that since the Chinese Exclusion bill became a law,
Chinamen are scarce and therefore warn all parties not to kill Mongolians in their
employ or they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
BARLOW: Now the reason that they had all filtered down to John Day as a
community was that other communities had become very violent.
NAR: JEFFREY BARLOW.
BARLOW: Oregon really was the last frontier. By this period the great cattle
drives were over, Texas is being settled, the Mexican-American War has been
fought out – other areas of the country are relatively settled, but Oregon was still
very wild. It had its own Western culture. We don’t speak of cowboys. Our
cowboys are buckaroos, and there was, in that part of Eastern Oregon, with the
gold rush, it was still an extremely violent area…
NAR: FROM 1880-1900, THERE WERE ABOUT 10,000 CHINESE RESIDENTS
IN OREGON. MOST WERE MINERS, THE REST WERE RANCH HANDS AND
BARLOW: But because Oregon was still a frontier, Chinese labor was welcome.
Labor unions in this period were sort of adopting the American ethnic flag – white
ethnicity as a means of building support. But the mayor simply locked these
people up. There was going to be no nonsense in Oregon of this kind of racial
violence. And that was because the area was an under-populated frontier, and
we were much more concerned about having the labor available than we were
taking a look at the color of the men and women who were doing it. On the
frontier, race is a lot less important than you might think. I think race is important
in the towns and cities than it is out on the countryside or on the ranches. What
we found was the main concern of the people in this area was really the answer
to one simple question: can you do your job? Can you be relied upon? Are you
a man or a woman who will stick? And the Chinese were. So this was the work
that they wound up doing, and in John Day they were welcome.
VOICE: KAM WAH CHUNG (IN CHINESE AND TRANSLATION)
NAR: THE KAM WAH CHUNG BUILDING WAS CLOSED DOWN IN 1955. THE
BUILDING, WITH MUCH OF ITS CONTENTS INTACT, WAS FORGOTTEN
FOR MORE THAN TWO DECADES. IN THE 1970S, JOHN DAY OFFICIALS,
TRYING TO BUY LAND NEARBY, DISCOVERED THAT THE CITY OWNED IT.
JEFFREY BARLOW AND CHRISTINE RICHARDSON WERE THE FIRST
SCHOLARS TO HELP PIECE TOGETHER THE PUZZLE OF ING “DOC” HAY’S
BARLOW: Doc Hay was so valuable to the community that he was protected.
So this is a man who, was to begin 19th century Chinese, which was not very tall,
not very heavy. But if you can imagine a small, slight Chinese man who never
really learned to speak English—Lung On had to interpret for him; his English
was broken at best, it wasn’t among his many talents—living in that violent
environment. Poor man I don’t really have no evidence that he was frightened. I
think he probably trusted in the spirits that he probably saw as protecting him in
the area. But I would have been frightened. Most of us would have been
frightened in that particular environment. And he lived in a building, in the Kam
Wah Chung after 1887, that had to serve as a kind of a fortification. Because
periodically, buckaroos would get liquored up and go down and decide they were
going to hoo-rah the Chinamen, so they would lock the shutters and stay.
SOUND OF WALKING AND DOOR OPENING
MICNIHIMER: Our front door, as you can see, was well locked, as well as a
wooden bolt in it. And the lock. It also was lined with metal and our whole
building is stone on the outside as well as the doors were metal – these are
NAR: A SMALL TWO-STORY HOUSE, THE KAM WAH CHUNG STANDS
DARK AND CLAUSTROPHOBIC. THE FLOOR BOARDS CREAK, AND THE
WALLS ARE BLACK FROM SMOKE. CAROLYN MICNIHIMER HAS BEEN
CURATOR OF THE KAM WAH CHUNG AND COMPANY MUSEUM FOR
ALMOST THIRTY YEARS.
MICNIHIMER: We do have one bullet-hole in the door. They say the Americans
would shoot up Chinatown once in a while on Saturday night and have a, not a
malicious time but have a scaring time for the Chinese.
HOST: Part Two of “Doc Hay – Frontier Herbalist” when we come back.
This segment of Crossing East is brought to you by the Portland Chinese
Classical Garden–a Ming Dynasty scholar’s garden in Portland, Oregon…
Actors featured in this segment of Frontier Asians were Andres Alcala, Sam A.
Mowry, Chung So and Jim Chan. This is PRI-Public Radio International.
MUSIC BREAK – ONE MINUTE
HOST: I’m George Takei and you’re listening to Crossing East.
Part Two of “Doc Hay—Frontier Herbalist”.
VOICE: KAM WAH CHUNG (IN CHINESE AND TRANSLATION)
NAR: LUNG ON, DOC HAY’S BUSINESS PARTNER, WAS THE EDUCATED
BUSINESSMAN, AND OPERATED THE GENERAL STORE. HE SOLD
"BOOTLEG" WHISKEY DURING PROHIBITION AND THE FIRST CARS IN
EASTERN OREGON AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY. HE WAS ALSO AN
AVID GAMBLER AND SOLD OPIUM IN THE BACK ROOM TILL IT BECAME
MICNIHIMER: They did cook on the wood stove. Doc Hay, when he first started
using his medicines, he cooked your herbs up for you and gave you the liquid
and then he started giving you the herbs and you did the cooking at home.
NAR: THERE’S STILL A STRONG HERBAL SMELL IN THE KAM WAH
CHUNG. ING HAY, A MASTER OF CHINESE MEDICINE, WAS SOUGHT OUT
BY PEOPLE ON THE FRONTIER WHERE THERE WERE NO HOSPITAL
FACILITIES OR QUALIFIED DOCTORS. HE WOULD OFTEN TAKE PATIENTS
WHEN WESTERN MEDICINE HAD FAILED. DOC HAY OFFERED HOPE TO
VOICE: There is a tumor on the left side of my neck. I would be so glad if you
would reduce that as the doctors are wanting to cut it out and I have such a
dread of the knife.
BARLOW: He was a pulse doctor He would not pick up anything with his right
hand at all – he used his left hand. His right hand was his diagnosis hand so that
he would lay those fingers on your wrist and other pulses to read the internal
state of your body.
VOICE: Doctor Sir, I will tell you how I am and then if you can cure me I will
come out there or you can send me medicine through the mail.
BARLOW: They would prescribe by mail. There are many letters from people
who had been in the area and had moved out, or had heard of Doc Hay in one
way or another, and they would write in, explain. Sometimes we think Lung On
wrote back and would ask a few more questions and then Doc Hay sent herbs.
Many of their recipes are take out, if you will. A little sack with Lung On’s careful
handwriting, telling you how to put these recipes together on your own stove.
MAN: READING PRESCRIPTION IN CHINESE
NAR: AMONG THE ARTIFACTS FROM THE KAM WAH CHUNG ARE PAGES
AND PAGES OF PRESCRIPTIONS WRITTEN IN CHINESE.
MAN: READING PRESCRIPTION IN CHINESE
SOUND: DOOR OPENING
MICNIHIMER: This is where Doc Hay would come and fix your herbs and
medicines. He had 500 different Chinese herbs on the shelf. We do know what
250 of the 500 are used for, most of them would be in a form of a tea. You would
get so many and boil it up and get your tea and then drink your tea according to
his directions. Or you might have gotten some kind of animal parts – deer horns,
turtle shell might have been ground <grinding noise> up into powder and put in
your medicine. And some of them, the tins are square tins. They made the tins
out of different things. (fades out)
ED WAH: I understand there was prejudice or just some problems with the
medical profession. They didn’t like his practicing medicine and they tried to shut
him down, but there were enough resident supporters that they knocked it down
every time they brought it to court, and they never were able to get anything with
NAR: ED WAH, THE GRAND NEPHEW OF ING DOC HAY MOVED TO JOHN
DAY OREGON IN 1942 WHEN HE WAS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
ED WAH: When we arrived, of course, he was blind and he had just lost his
business partner, Lung On and dad being a relative felt obligated to go there and
take care of him. And knowing some herbs from China, he very quickly took up
the practice that Doc Hay had there and with Doc Hay’s expertise and his
knowledge in reading Chinese, he read all the herbal books and so he gradually
took over Doc Hay’s practice. And we took care of Doc Hay for several years
there while he lived in John Day. But my remembrance of Doc Hay was although
he was blind, he knew everybody that came in. He would recognize their voice
and just “Ah, yes!” he just identified the people just immediately.
NAR: HIS PARENTS SLEPT IN THE KITCHEN. HE AND HIS BROTHER TOOK
THE BUNK BEDS THAT ONCE WERE RESERVED FOR OPIUM SMOKING.
ED WAH: Every time we’d sit down for dinner, instead of having a tablecloth we’d
just spread some newspaper, and that was the tablecloth. And then he’d have
his pot of tea there, always, of course, when people came in they were offered a
cup of tea and sit and visit a while.
NAR: SOMETIMES PEOPLE WOULD COME TO BUY GROCERIES.
SOMETIMES TO PRAY AT THE BUDDHIST SHRINES ING HAY HAD BUILT
BUT USUALLY, IT WAS THE DOCTOR THEY WANTED TO SEE.
ED WAH: He was the source of last resort. And oftentimes they were pleasantly
surprised with cures. One winter afternoon a party came in from Burns, Oregon.
They carried this lady into the house because she couldn’t walk and took them
back to the treatment room and worked for I think maybe about an hour and
doggone if this lady didn’t walk out of there. And I was so impressed with that I
went whoa, what’d he do? It was a complication of the flu or something like that
that affected her nervous system. That kind of results, immediate results, is hard
to find anywhere else.
SOUND OF WALKING
MICNIHIMER: This was Doc Hay's bedroom. Actually it was under this bed that
they found the $23,000 worth of uncashed checks. And it was under that bed, of
course all those checks were found.
BARLOW: Part of the income was Doc Hay for sure. I think in a sense their
social network and protection was Doc Hay, because Hay was so valuable on the
frontier as a doctor that nobody was going to permit anyone from outside to come
in and shoot their China doctor full of holes – he was too valuable a guy. So for
Lung On being next to Doc Hay meant that he was safe. On the other hand, for
Doc Hay, Lung On meant here is a man who can communicate, who can write,
who can communicate with China where the herbs came from. Who knows how
to invest money, who knows how to manipulate social organization of both the
Chinese and the Americans and they were simply a wonderful partnership.
THELMA: I remember I was scared to death of the Chinese people because I'd
never been around them…
NAR: THELMA KITE WAS FOUR YEARS OLD WHEN HER MOM TOOK HER
TO ING HAY FOR AN EAR INFECTION.
THELMA: The doctor would give me candy to try to get me over, but I'd hide
behind my mother's skirt and reach around to take the candy because I was, like
I say I was scared. But, I remember being teased by relatives about the Chinese
doctor giving me kisses, which was the candy kisses.
NAR: ING HAY AND LUNG ON NEVER WENT BACK TO CHINA. THE
EXCLUSION ACT OF 1882 CREATED A SOCIETY OF CHINESE BACHELORS
WHO COULD NEITHER BRING THEIR WIVES HERE NOR GO HOME TO
THEIR WIVES WITHOUT RISKING DEPORTATION.
ING HAY AND LUNG ON SETTLED INTO THEIR AMERICAN LIFE ON THE
IN 1887 THE CHINATOWN IN JOHN DAY WAS A THRIVING, INDEPENDENT
COMMUNITY OF 1000. BY 1940 FEWER THAN 20 RESIDENTS OF CHINESE
DESCENT LIVED IN JOHN DAY. ED WAH AND HIS FAMILY STAYED WITH
ING HAY TILL HE COULD NO LONGER WALK.
ED WAH: And he loved his cigars. And he had a big soft chair in the front room
there and he’d sit there and smoke his cigar and fall asleep. Unfortunately he fell
and broke his hip and that was his downfall. We had to bring him into Portland
then and put him into a rest home where they could take care of him, because it
was too much for Dad and Mom to take care of. And I think he lived there for
two, three years and then he just decided there’s nothing to live for, so then he
NAR: ING (DOC) HAY DIED IN 1952. HE AND LUNG ON WERE SO
RESPECTED AS COMMUNITY MEMBERS, THEY ARE THE ONLY FRONTIER
CHINESE IN GRANT COUNTY, OREGON WITH ACTUAL MARKERS ON
SOUND: WALKING AND OUTDOOR AMBIENCE FADES IN
MICNIHIMER: We’re here at Rest Lawn Cemetery. And actually it’s in the city
limits. I feel like Doc Hay and Lung On are old friends. Lung On died in 1940.
He was born in 1863. Then Doc Hay died in 1952 and he was born in 1862…
NAR: CAROLYN MICNIHIMER PERSONALLY SAW TO IT THAT THE
GRAVES WERE RESTORED. THEIR TOMBSTONES STAND BESIDE THE
GRAVES OF ED WAH’S PARENTS.
MICNIHIMER: As far as I know this is the only two recognized, or four recognized
graves, Chinese, in Grant County. There are eight unmarked graves here with
no record of them and part of it is when I talk to people about them they think the
fact that there is no record of a name or anything perhaps they were Chinese.
MUSIC: OPERA SINGING FADES UP AND UNDER
NAR: THE FRONTIER IS LINED WITH THE UNMARKED GRAVES OF
CHINESE WHO HELPED TO MINE GOLD OR BUILD RAILROADS. THE KAM
WAH CHUNG AND THE STORY OF ING HAY AND LUNG ON STANDS AS
ONE OF THE RARE TESTAMENTS TO THE CONTRIBUTION CHINESE
IMMIGRANTS MADE TO EARLY FRONTIER LIFE.
MUSIC: OPERA SINGING ENDS
BARLOW: The important lesson then is to see these people as individuals. Now
we can see their lives as tragic. There are times when I think of Lung On and
Doc Hay sitting in that dark Kam Wah Chung building, kerosene lighting, until
well into the 1940s. We can see them as sort of the isolated, dying remnants of
Chinese culture, if we wish, and that’s sad. But on the other hand, we have to
see their lives against the options that were available to them in China and also
in terms of the images that they created for themselves. They became, Ing Hay
and Lung On. Who were they when they were home alone talking to each other?
I really don’t know. I see them as men who came out of a terribly difficult
environment into another equally challenging environment and totally mastered it.
And for me it’s hard to see them as anything other than incredibly successful. In
a quiet way, kind of heroes. Not the kind of stand up and shoot it out heroism,
but heroism that comes to learn a foreign culture and a language and adapt to
foreign ways. I don’t see them as victims at all.
SOUND: TWO MEN TALKING AND LAUGHING IN CANTONESE
HOST: The story of “Doc Hay—Frontier Herbalist” by Dmae Roberts. Special
thanks to the Kam Wah Chung and Company museum and the Oregon Parks
Trust. This story was produced with funding by the Oregon Council for the
Humanities and the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
MUSIC FADES OUT
HOST: There were few Chinese women among the early wave of Chinese
immigrants to this country. Chinese women were discouraged from joining their
men in America by cultural restrictions against women traveling abroad by the,
lack of traveling funds and jobs for them in America, and by US immigration
policies. The Page Act of 1875, which sought to stop the trafficking of Chinese
prostitutes, placed harsh restrictions on any woman entering the country, and the
Chinese Exclusion Act specifically barred the immigration of Chinese laborers,
and by implication, their wives. The laws and the lonely situation of Chinese men
became a reason for underground organizations to import Chinese women as
What little we know about these women comes from the records of Protestant
Mission homes set up to rescue and house Chinese prostitutes and abused slave
girls. Some of the women themselves wrote letters to family. We begin with the
story of Wong Ah So.
Chapter Three. “Frontier Women”
WONG AH SO: I was born in Guangdong Province, my father was sometimes a
sailor and sometimes he worked on the docks, for we were very poor. I was 19
when this man came to see my mother and said that in America there was a
good deal of gold. Even if I just peeled potatoes there, he told my mother I would
earn seven or eight dollars a day. I thought that I was his wife, and was very
grateful when he was taking me to such a grand, free country, where everyone
was rich and happy.
JUDY YUNG: When I talk about the immigration of Chinese women in the 19th
century, most women stayed behind in China to take care of the families and
their husbands couldn’t afford to bring them here, but there was one group of
women that dominated and that were brought here for their labor. And this would
be Chinese women who were brought here to work as prostitutes.
WONG AH SO: When we first landed in San Francisco we lived in a hotel in
Chinatown, a nice place, but one day, after I had been there for about two weeks,
a woman came to see me. She told me that I was not really Huey Yow’s wife,
but that she had asked him to buy her a slave, that I belonged to her.
JUDY YUNG: They were women who had been sold by their poor families in
China. Sometimes were misled into thinking they were coming to marry
someone or be put to work at some respectable job.
WONG AH SO: February 7, 1924: To My Honorable Mother, Greetings: I hope
you are well and so my heart will be at peace. Your daughter has come to
America. Your daughter’s condition is very tragic, even when she is sick, she
must practice prostitution. Daughter is not angry with you. It seems to be just
JUDY YUNG: They had these contracts that they signed with their thumbprints,
that say that they are going to work four years as a prostitute for this person who
owned them. And it also said that if they became sick, or they couldn’t perform,
they would have to extend their contracts.
WONG AH SO: Since I have not done evil to others, why should others do evil to
me? At home, a daughter should be obedient to her parents; after marriage to
her husband; after the death of her husband, to her son. These are the three
JUDY YUNG: For Chinese men, not only were there not Chinese women here,
but they also had laws that forbid interracial marriage between Chinese and
whites. It creates a situation where there are criminal Tongs, secret societies,
set up where they could bring these girls to who had been sold by their parents to
the United States and women were literary sold into prostitution.
WONG AH SO: I was in that life for seven months, and then I was released. It
was at a party given by the Tong men, where slave girls are invited. Suddenly I
saw a friend of my father’s come in, a man who had seen me less than a year
ago. Although I was all dressed up so grand he recognized me, and the first
chance he had, he came and asked me, “Are you not so and so’s daughter?” So
I told him all.
JUDY YUNG: The missionaries made it a point to publicize all the good work.
And this was their way of saying that they were trying to help eradicate
prostitution and they would give very detailed accounts of these rescue raids they
did with the help of law officers.
WONG AH SO: About ten days after the party and the interview with this man I
was rescued and taken to the mission. I am learning English and to weave, and I
am going to send money to my mother when I can. I can’t help but cry, but it is
going to be better.
JUDY YUNG: Some of the women tried to run away with the help of men who
befriended them or who loved them. The only other way and some of the women
did this, was to commit suicide rather than continue to work and endure these
conditions as a sex slave.
WONG AH SO: As in the building of a house, there are 12 beams and you do not
know which will be the strongest. So in a family you cannot judge which will be
the most dependable one. A son is a human being, and so is a daughter. At
home, everybody looks down upon a daughter. How is it now? When I was at
home, Mother, you looked down upon me as a daughter. Since Daughter came
to California, by right she should forsake you. But, in thinking it over, the greatest
virtue in life is reverence to parents, so I am keeping a filial heart.
MUSIC FADES UNDER
HOST: In a moment, we’ll hear the story of Polly Bemis, a Chinese woman in the
rural west… In Part One of Frontier Women you heard Judy Yung, author of
“Unbound Voices” with Elaine Low as Wong Ah So… this is Crossing East…
This segment of Crossing East is brought to you by the Portland Chinese
Classical Garden–A cultural heritage destination at Portland Chinese
You’re listening to PRI-Public Radio International.
MUSIC BREAK – ONE MINUTE
HOST: I’m George Takei… and this is Crossing East …Frontier Asians.
Most Chinese men in the American West lived as bachelors unable to bring their
wives and families due to exclusionary laws against Asian immigration. Some
Chinese women were brought to the country and forced to work as indentured
prostitutes. Living and working under horrible and brutal conditions, many did not
outlive the four years of service specified in their contracts. But some escaped
and made better lives for themselves on the frontier.
Part Two of Frontier Women… Polly Bemis.
JUDY YUNG: Polly Bemis was sold for two bags of seed to bandits by her family
during a time of famine and she was brought here and auctioned off in San
RUTHANNE MCCUNN: “Thousand Pieces of Gold” tells the story of Polly Bemis,
starting from when she was Lalu Nathoy, born in northern China. And sold by her
family to bandits and then brought to America and auctioned off as a slave, taken
up to the mining camps of Idaho, winning her freedom through a poker game and
then ending up with her husband on the River of No Return.
POLLY BEMIS: Through a grey haze of cigar smoke, she looked down at the
men crowded into the saloon. Bearded demon miners in faded flannel shirts and
worn corduroy pants stuffed into heavy, mud caked boots. Smooth-faced
Chinese in traditional blue cotton jackets and pants or full-sleeved, long-tailed
Chinese shirts hanging out over course demon trousers. They were all the
same. Hungry. Like the coyotes she heard howling in the night. And she was
RUTHANNE MCCUNN: Warrens, Idaho at that time was a mining camp. There
were probably a dozen white women to a thousand white men. And another
thousand Chinese men. And Lalu was the only Chinese woman. She was
brought to Warrens for quote, unquote, the world’s oldest profession, but she
was saved from it by Charlie Bemis. I think she and Charlie had a very loving
relationship. In 1890 Charlie was shot and it shattered his cheekbone. And Polly
took her crochet hook and fished out the fragments.
POLLY BEMIS: She worked silently. The crochet hook sank deeper and deeper,
but she could not find the bullet. Bits of flesh and splintered bone gleamed
whitely on cotton swabs blackened with powder and blood. She packed it with a
poultice of herbs and fresh cloths…“Polly’s here,” she soothed. “You okay.” She
cradled him in her arms. He quieted. Dusk deepened into night.
RUTHANNE MCCUNN: After she married, she and Charlie moved to the Salmon
River. People were drawn by her warm hospitality, she was a great cook. You
know, we know that she came to consider that “home.”
SOUND OF BIRDS, THRESHING
POLLY BEMIS: In addition to fruits and vegetables, she grew her own wheat and
ground her own flour to make bread. The single cow and the hens provided all
their dairy needs and she rendered her own grease and made soap from the
occasional bear Charlie shot. During the spring, summer, and fall, there were
only the occasional prospectors and adventurers Charlie ferried across the river.
But in the winter, when the river froze over with huge chunks of ice, ranchers and
old friends from Warrens would come.
POLLY BEMIS: They would stay up all night, getting caught up on news, retelling
old stories, playing poker, eating, and drinking whiskey made from her own rye
and hops. Then Charlie would bring out his fiddle, and there would be singing
and sometimes dancing, and for days, their snug, two-storied log cabin would
fairly shake from all the laughter and foot stomping.
RUTHANNE MCCUNN: She and Charlie actually found a cougar cub and she
treated it like a family cat and she nailed a tin plate on the table so that the
cougar could eat when they ate. Visitors were terrified of the cougar and she
was the only person who could handle it. There are a lot of strong women, but
she actually survived without being bitter, and with her sense of compassion
JUDY YUNG: These women were in some ways the lifeline for supporting their
families because they were sold so that their families can survive and they sent
money home if they could. They have made a contribution to their families and
to their communities and to this country that you know, most people would not be
willing to acknowledge.
OUTDOOR AMBIENCE UP
POLLY BEMIS: Bird song woke Polly. She had arrived too late the night before
to see anything more than deep shadows and starlight, but the warm embrace of
the canyon walls and the welcoming roar of the Salmon had told her she was
HOST: “Frontier Women” by Sara Caswell Kolbet. Part two included Judy Yung,
author of “Unbound Voices”… Ruthanne Lum McCunn and excerpts from her
book about Polly Bemis, “A Thousand Pieces of Gold”, with Chisao Hata reading
the story of Polly Bemis.
MUSIC FADES OUT
SOUNDS OF BIRDS AND TRAFFIC
HAROLD TAMANO: I'm Harold Tamano, we're standing behind my house, we're
looking at my field which is 100 acres, along the Sacramento river north of west
HOST: Asians have farmed in California for more than one hundred years. The
Chinese worked in the fields as well as mining gold and building railroads. And
when the first wave of anti-Asian sentiments expelled the Chinese, Japanese
immigrants took up their places in the fields. They eventually found opportunities
to work for themselves, buying up small plots of land to establish family farms.
But, Internment, the forced removal of Japanese and Japanese Americans to
camps during World War Two, separated many families from their land. Only
some of those properties like that of Harold Tamano’s family survived until their
Our final Chapter of Crossing East… “Farming Roots.
SOUND OF WALKING. OUTDOOR AMBIENCE
HAROLD TAMANO: My father Kioshi Tamano was farming before me,
grandfather before him. My father worked as a laborer and then started his own
farm. I am sure they must have had just a bare subsistence level initially, but in
the 60's and 70's he did fairly well, by the time he was doing fairly well was when
I came along and kind of got into the business.
SOUND OF TRACTOR
HOST: Tamano’s grandfather immigrated to the west coast in the early 1900’s
and used his farming background to become part of the growing agricultural
WAYNE MAEDA: The West Coast essentially was an agricultural economy
which is different from the East Coast, which was industrializing. And so that's
where the opportunities were for the Japanese.
HOST: Wayne Maeda is senior lecturer in ethnic studies
At Sacramento State.
WAYNE MAEDA: And essentially they came to the right country at the right time.
The Chinese had established agriculture in California, Japanese filled the cheap
labor slot, railroads had been built, refrigeration cars, so those are all the things
that allowed Japanese to get into farming and stay in farming. So they began to
devise a number of ways, leasing land, sharecropping, and then ultimately they
were able to save money to begin to purchase small plots of land. 20-25-30
HOST: The small size of their farms dictated the types of crops that could be
profitable says Professor Isao Fujimoto of University of California-Davis.
ISAO FUJIMOTO: And so the selection of crops like corn or wheat is completely
out. But if you had three or four acres of strawberries, or even a half acre of
flower growing in a green house, that increases your opportunity for income. So
that has a lot to do with the kind of intense concentration, but also the selective
kind of attention to thinking about what the good market is.
SOUND OF TRACTOR RUNNING
HAROLD TAMANO: Like my grandfather brought over a little more attention to
detail. Not trying to farm so much as taking care of what he grew.
TRACTOR COMES TO A STOP
WAYNE MAEDA: As they were coming in to replace the Chinese laborers they
became the model minority. It was argued that they brought families and that
they worked hard, and they weren’t like the Chinese. And that sentiment lasted a
very short time, and the people in California began to argue that if the trend
continues, Japan and the Japanese will take over California. So you had any
number of discriminatory kinds of things, Alien Land Act of 1913. Another one in
1920—they were declared ineligible for citizenship. So they were coming into
America that had just gotten rid of the Chinese, so they took on the sentiment of
the anti Asiatic feelings in California.
HOST: Later, Filipino, Punjabi, Korean and Mexican laborers began to take over
from the Japanese, just as the Japanese had taken over from the Chinese
decades before. It’s a recurring pattern in California agriculture.
HARRY YOKOYAMA: I'm Harry Masaru Yokoyama, 88 years old. And I am a
former vegetable farmer, and my specialty was raising green onions and spinach.
My folks were strawberry growers and then they changed to vegetables. Then I
took up the occupation. At that time, my father was weak, he was a small man,
he was getting sickly so finally my high school education was broken up because
I had to go home and help. I sort of got interested in farming at the time. I didn’t
have much money. My father never gave me a penny. But he always used to
tell us, you got to buy land, you got to buy land.
HOST: Isao Fujimoto.
ISAO FUJIMOTO: It was very difficult to get money, you need money to do
anything. So the Japanese started their own what we call rotating credit
associations, this is called Tanamoshi in Japanese. Many immigrants don't have
collateral. They don't have land, they don't have anything to put up, so the main
collateral they used was personal honor. Honor is very valuable, because if you
renege you would be ostracized by the group. This is another strategy to use if
you are putting up with discrimination.
WAYNE MAEDA: I think for many of the farms who were able to survive the
depression, I think they were on the verge of um, doing quite well. I think had the
Japanese farmers not been interned, they would have profited uh, from WWII,
like many of them did well in World War Two, growing beans and other things for
HOST: Professor Maeda is talking about Executive Order 9-0-6-6, which was
issued by Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the Japanese bombing of Pearl
Harbor. It unjustly ordered the removal of all Japanese Americans from the West
Coast and their detainment in ten concentration camps in desolate areas of the
United States for the duration of World War Two.
ISAO FUJIMOTO: There’s a shortage of labor, of farm labor, everywhere. And
many places were letting kids out of high school early and all. And so I
remember in Hart Mountain camp, all the young people were called to harvest
sugar beets, and so this is how my grandfather, my aunt, they were able to leave
camp on temporary leave. They had to come back to the concentration camp,
but they were allowed to go out for two to three months to help out farms in
Idaho, Montana and so on.
HARRY YOKOYAMA: We were doing real good, but then the war came and we
had to shut down. And my father, one of the Portuguese land owners there, said
that in his pasture why don’t you build a warehouse and keep your stuff there
instead of selling it, so that’s what we did. But when we came back from camp
everything was stolen. So some heavy equipment we were able to salvage. So I
bought a tractor for 500 dollars. And as we went along we kept adding the
equipment. It was a slow start, but I got started.
HOST: Established farmers who returned to their land often had to start over
from scratch. Harold Tamano’s father had only begun farming in the 1930’s, so
his losses weren’t large. After the war he became successful. Harold Tamano.
HAROLD TAMANO: Basically after I took over, I had to change the way that we
did everything. When you expand it costs you a lot more, and you think your
going to make more. And initially you do, it should work out that way. It’s just like
I said, the whole industry really changed. Unless you again, had to be a
specialty item and if you could hit on it at the right time and get enough volume
from it then you’re doing okay. Otherwise you just had to expand with the times,
and that was too much effort, too much risk.
TAMANO WALKS OUTSIDE
HAROLD TAMANO: Almost everything I’ve got is for sale. Laughs, Don’t know
what I’m going to do with some of this equipment, old tractors, siphons….
ISAO FUJIMOTO: I would say a great proportion of people are no longer in
farming. There is a tremendous number of people, Japanese American third
generation who are in different kind of professional work, and so there has been
a big shift inter-generationally. Of those who stayed in farming though, a major
kind of shift I see is that the economy has had a big role in terms of weeding
people out. So the people who survive now have to get big.
HAROLD TAMANO: My one regret, if you wanna, my biggest regret is that this is,
I’m the third generation. There won’t be any more, there is no opportunity to be
anymore. I think for a lot of Issei’s farming was the only opportunity given to
them. To me, it’s almost like farming is like part of our heritage as Japanese
HOST: Today, yet another wave of Asian immigrants takes its place in the fields
of California. Isao Fujimoto.
ISAO FUJIMOTO: Many Japanese have left farming, and yet people are still
producing strawberries on a small scale as an example, and who is doing the
work? It’s the refugees from Southeast Asia. There must be at least 800
families from Laos, either Hmong or Laotians, who are doing the farming, and the
farming is really two to five acre strawberry farms.
SOUND OF BIRDS AND TRAFFIC COME IN AGAIN
HOST: First generation farmers like Harry Yokoyama wait for a good offer on
their idle farmland.
HARRY YOKOYAMA: The houses are right up to there now. That's going to be
valuable. So I'm old so you know whatever the kids decide to do it’s up to them.
Yeah, they get everything, so anyway, that’s the story of my life.
HOST: “Farming Roots” by Rainjita Yang Geesler.
HOST: We came in many waves…across oceans, across lands…
We labored in the gold mines…
…blasting railroad tunnels…
…making rich the soil of dry land…
We came always in search of the dream…
This is Crossing East…our stories, our history, our America…I’m George Takei…
Crossing East is produced with funding by the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Spirit Mountain
Community Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts and individual donors of
Music was provided by the Cantonese Folk Music Society of San Francisco.
Our theme music by Shasta Taiko from their CD Spirit Drum.
Our lead scholar is Judy Yung Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the
University of California, Santa Cruz.
The Managing Editor is Catherine Stifter, The Associate Producer is Sara
Caswell Kolbet. The Crossing East Engineer is Clark Salisbury with technical
assistance by Michael Johnson. The marketing and outreach director is Ping
The Executive Producer is Dmae Roberts.
To find out more about Crossing East and this program…go to CrossingEast.org.
Support for Crossing East comes from this station and Public Radio International
stations and is made possible in part by the PRI Series Fund whose contributors
include the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur