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Before DONG Moon Yeu 曾文友
DONG Foon Kiu 曾浣裘 came to America around 1874. He left Kay Lok Village 其樂村 in Toisan 台山 to work and support the family in China. He became a farmer and purchased $200 worth of shares in the Dong Dried Fruit Plant 曾公司菓干廠 in Watsonville, California. He went back and forth between the two countries three times, the last time in 1915 when he returned to China and died in 1926. With his wife from the family of Cao 曹, he had two sons, DONG I. Sing 曾帝聖 (given name DONG York Wun曾毓雲) and DONG I. Ying 曾帝英 (given name DONG York Har 曾毓霞), and one daughter DONG Hoy Har 曾彩玉. All followed their father’s footsteps and came to the Americas.
I. Ying was the younger brother. His first wife from the family of Leung 梁 died giving birth to their son who also did not survive. His second wife YU Yook Tai 余玉娣 gave birth to two daughters followed by three sons. Born in 1917, DONG Moon Yeu 曾文友 became their first son. Number one and two sons came to the United States first. The daughters married and immigrated to America next with their husbands’ families. The third son never left China and passed away in Hong Kong.
In 1916, I. Ying went to Canada at age 37 on a merchant visa. He owned various stores and restaurants there and was able to travel back and forth four times. He did not return to Canada when he left in 1946 and died eight years later in Hong Kong.
I. Sing was about six years older. He married WONG Yuet Guai 黃月桂 and they had one son who died at age 18 from injuries. They then adopted a son, DONG Doo Yuen 曾子源, who never left Kay Lok Village and died in 1975. In 1908, I. Sing went to Mexico as a merchant. Within that year, he crossed the border to Tucson, Arizona.
In October 1908, a complaint was filed in Arizona that DONG I. Sing was “a Chinese person not lawfully entitled to be and remain in the United States.” He was put in the Pima County Jail. I. Sing argued that he was born on Jackson Street in San Francisco and that his birth certificate was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. A San Francisco woman named Cao, coincidentally with the same surname as I. Sing’s real mother, claimed to be his mother. Four months later, with the help of “witnesses,” a Certificate of Discharge was issued to I. Sing, stating that he had a lawful right to be in the country because he was a US citizen. He made his way to Watsonville, California to work as a farmer and also purchased $200 worth of shares in the Dong Dried Fruit Plant. He then settled in San Francisco.
On May 15, 1921, I. Sing sailed to China for the first time as a 42-year-old single, “native” American. After three years, he returned to America on the SS Siberia Maru. He claimed to have married, and that he and his wife had two sons and one daughter born in 1922, 1923, and 1924, respectively. He never returned to China after that and died in San Francisco at age 77.
DONG Moon Yeu Begins His Family
On October 17, 1938, I. Ying’s elder son DONG Moon Yeu married sixteen-year-old LEW Lin Ying 劉蓮瑛. After their wedding day, Moon Yeu changed his wife’s name to Zem Ping 艷萍 because it was inauspicious that her name Ying 瑛 was similar to and sounded like his father’s name Ying 英. Zem Ping came from Yuet Ming Village 月明村, in the township of Kwonghoi 廣海 in Toisan, and had three years of schooling.
A year later, their first son DONG Yick Fung 曾奕峰 was born. Moon Yeu broke two family practices with the birth of their son. First, he refused to have Yick Fung be the “son” of his father’s first wife who had died with her son of a miscarriage. If they followed this practice, Yick Fung would call his real parents “uncle” and “aunt.” Second, Moon Yeu refused to pierce his son’s left ear as it was done with him. The ear piercing was to ensure that Dong sons would survive and live a long life.
DONG Moon Yeu Becomes DONG Doo Yuen 曾子源
Yick Fung was barely one year old when Moon Yeu and second brother Yuen Fook 友福 became Uncle I. Sing’s unmarried paper sons. They were named DONG Doo Yuen 曾子源 (using I. Sing’s adopted son’s name) and DONG Jim Yuen 曾占源, respectively. They paid US$2,000 apiece to their uncle for their papers, and departed for the United States on board the SS President Pierce.
On September 21, 1940, the Dong brothers arrived at the Angel Island Immigration Station that had just suffered a big fire over a month ago. They stayed there long enough for “Doo Yuen” to remember that the station food was “better than what I had at home.” The two were subsequently transferred with other detainees to the 801 Silver Avenue facility in San Francisco. Paper father and sons passed three days of interrogation. However, “Doo Yuen” had to pay an extra US$300 under the table to a doctor at the Angel Island Immigration Hospital to confirm that he was one year older than “Jim Yuen,” when in actuality he was five years older. In two months, the brothers were issued Certificates of Identity and admitted as “sons of Native.”
“Doo Yuen” had twelve years of schooling in China and earned an accounting diploma in 1936. During his first few years in the United States, he learned to be a cook in Nevada and San Francisco. He eventually became 1st Cook and supervised four cooks at the Threlkeld Commissary Company in San Francisco, where I. Sing also worked.
DONG Doo Yuen Becomes Dong D. YUEN源曾子
The United States entered World War II less than two years after the two brothers arrived in San Francisco. In June 1942, “Doo Yuen” registered under the US Selective Service Proclamation as Doo Yuen DONG and was then classified as 1-A. By December, he was drafted into the US Army. Due to a common American mistake made with Chinese names, DONG Doo Yuen’s last name became YUEN and his given name became Dong with middle initial D. In military records, he was officially Private First Class “Dong D. YUEN.”
“Dong” went to Camp Meade for basic training. Because he was already a cook, “Dong” was assigned to undergo further training at the camp’s Bakers and Cooks School. He took courses on the military method of food preparation and baking. He was also an M1 rifle marksman and a bayonet expert.
Deployed in October 1944, “Dong” continued training for a month in the Cooks and Bakers School at the American School Center in England. He wrote a letter to his wife saying how bored he was and wished the war would end quickly.
“Dong” served in the 912th Field Artillery Battalion, 87th Infantry Division (“Golden Acorn”). It was under the Third US Army in France and Germany. He fought in major battles and campaigns that included the Lorraine Campaign, the Battle of the Bulge, the Rhineland Campaign, and the Central Europe Campaign. When “Dong” received his honorable discharge in October 1945, he had earned a campaign ribbon with two bronze stars, two overseas service bars, and a good conduct medal.
Doo Yuen and Zem Ping DONG Together in America
After the war ended, America passed Public Law 271 (aka War Brides Act) in December 1945 that allowed US citizens who served in WWII to bring their alien spouses to the United States as immigrants. “Doo Yuen” returned to Kay Lok Village in 1947 and “remarried” Zem Ping on January 2, 1948. Together in April, they sailed to America on board the SS General Gordon. A pregnant Zem Ping arrived as a war bride, the wife of a US citizen who was also a WWII veteran. Unfortunately, as “newlyweds,” the couple was forced to leave nine-year-old son Yick Fung behind for Zem Ping’s parents to take care in Kwonghoi.
Husband and wife started their frugal life in San Francisco Chinatown by working in restaurants and sewing factories, respectively. They gave birth to three more children: Lorraine 曾露凌, Hugh 曾奕勤, and Arthur 曾奕田.
Meanwhile, eldest son Yick Fung went to Hong Kong in 1955. In the beginning, he stayed with Third Uncle TSANG (aka DONG) Wen Yan 曾文良 and then moved to live with the wife and family of Second Uncle DONG “Jim Yuen,” all left behind in China when brothers “Doo Yuen” and “Jim Yuen” came to America in 1940.
DONG Doo Yuen Becomes Don Moon DONG
A window opened for the son in Hong Kong to come to America. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (aka McCarran-Walter Act) prioritized immigration for parents, spouses, and minor children of US citizens. This became known as the Family Reunification Program. In 1956, “Doo Yuen” applied for 16½-year-old Yick Fung to reunite in America, claiming that the son was born out of wedlock. However, during the petition process, the government discovered that “Doo Yuen” was a paper son, and that he and his wife entered the country with fraudulent documents. The couple was now subject to prosecution and deportation.
The year 1956 was also when Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ran their Confession Program that gave paper sons an opportunity to confess and reveal their true identities. After confessing, “Doo Yuen” used his military service to naturalize as a US citizen. This was possible under Section 329 of the McCarran-Walter Act that stipulated an alien could naturalize after serving for America in World War II. On November 21, 1956, “Doo Yuen” quickly naturalized and officially changed his name to Don Moon DONG. And, in order for Zem Ping to become “legal,” she and Don went to Vancouver, Canada in 1957 and returned to San Francisco in a couple of days. That re-entry to the country became her legal date of entry to the United States not as a war bride and spouse of a paper son US citizen, but as the spouse of a legal US citizen.
After a ten-year separation, Yick Fung arrived in San Francisco on Pan American Airlines as the son of an American citizen. However, Yick Fung had to go through a five-year wait period to naturalize because when he entered the United States, he was eighteen years old and no longer a minor. He naturalized in 1963 and officially changed his name to Alex Ekfung DONG.
The Families of Don Moon and Zem Ping Dong
Don and Zem Ping never forgot the rest of their DONG (aka TSANG) and LEW (aka LAU) families who were left behind in China. From the late 1940s through the 1970s, while raising their own family in America, they sent regular remittances to support their families in China and Hong Kong. This was a difficult time for them when so many letters came from abroad constantly asking for more money.
Zem Ping was the first and only person in her LEW/LAU family to come to the United States. She eventually naturalized in 1964 and petitioned over the years, one by one, for her parents and three brothers to immigrate with their families.
Wen Yan was the youngest and only Dong brother still left behind in Hong Kong. Don was devastated when news arrived in 1962 that the brother died before he could find a way to sponsor him to the United States. He then tried to petition and sponsor Wen Yan’s son and two daughters as “orphans” to live with his family in America. This fell through because the mother was still alive and did not want to be separated from her children. She later married TSANG Lam 曾耀松.
TSANG Lam and his brother TSANG You Ming 曾耀明 were the sons of I. Sing’s adopted son, DONG Doo Yuen. In 1972, Don and his aunt DONG Hoy Har with husband Wing CHIN 陳孟煜 cosponsored the two brothers to come to America. They came under a refugee act that allowed Chinese Americans to sponsor refugee relatives to the United States with special non-quota immigrant visas.
In 1940, Don came to America as DONG Doo Yuen, the paper son of I. Sing. Now, thirty-two years later, Don cosponsored I. Sing’s two real grandsons to America. Consequently, the Tsang brothers’ immigration also made it possible for the Hong Kong family of Don’s deceased brother to come to the United States. With the exception of one family, this Dong branch from Kay Lok Village was now settled in the United States.
Don passed away in 1988 at age 77 and Zem Ping in 2013 at age 91. In addition to enabling their extended families in China and Hong Kong to come to America, they single-handedly built a family of their own in San Francisco Chinatown. Despite their meager wages and the huge sacrifices involved with caring for multiple families across the Pacific Ocean, they managed to own two houses and a car, and supported their four children’s education and careers. Alex became an engineer, Lorraine an Asian American Studies professor, Hugh a musician and owner of a sound studio, and Arthur a filmmaker. Their children gave Don and Zem Ping five grandchildren: Ronald Dong 曾博貫, Janice Dong Morimoto 曾家瑤, Elan D. Hom 譚羽亮, Laureen D. Hom 譚洛蓮, and Reed Dong-Gee 曾朱朝. Zem Ping survived to see the birth of five great-grandchildren: Michael 曾錦龍 and Christopher 曾錦權 Dong, and Nathan 森本正華, Aaron 森本杰華, and Emma Morimoto 森本愛華.
Lorraine Dong is Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and President of Square and Circle Club (July 2021). She has already written an oral history narrative about her mother for her brother Arthur Dong’s Oscar® nominated documentary, Sewing Woman (1982). Doing research for this “曾Family” history for AIISF’s “Immigrant Voices” fulfills a long-standing resolve to fill some of the gaps in her parents’ life story. Everyone knows the father as a happy-go-lucky person. It is not until now that Lorraine finally realizes the depth of the many challenges that affected his life, and how well he hid all this behind his everyday smile and laughter. Don M. Dong was and will forever remain a great father and a man devoted to family.
This “Immigrant Voices” story is from a Square and Circle Club service project that aims to share stories of its members’ families with the community. Square and Circle Club was founded in 1924 in San Francisco Chinatown by seven young women to aid flood and famine victims in China. Since that compassionate beginning and to this day, the Club has continued its tradition of supporting and caring for the needs of the community. It is the oldest Chinese/Asian American women’s service organization in the nation. (squareandcircleclub.org)
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