A Son Remembers His Immigrant Parents' Struggles in America

In this interview, Thomas Chinn (1909-1997) recalls his parents' experiences as Chinese immigrants in white-dominated American society. Chinn was founder, publisher, and editor of the Chinese Digest, the first English-language weekly newspaper for Chinese-Americans in the United States, and later the Chinese News. He was also the primary founder of the Chinese Historical Society of America.

Q: Did he get along well with the Caucasians, with all of his neighbors?

A: Very much so, because he also decided that as long as he was going to live and raise his family here and his future was going to be in this country, he would try to learn English. To a certain extent he succeeded, because out in the logging camp there were no other Chinese who were employed as loggers, so there were Caucasians that he was associated with. While he didn't learn the best language possible, he learned enough English to get by.

Q: Did your mother learn English?

A: No, she was always busy. After my oldest sister was born in China, all the other six of her children were born in Oregon. She was busy raising one, then another, then a third, and so forth, and she never had a chance to associate with other inhabitants of the town, where she might be socially acceptable to a white family. Of course, this would be almost impossible, because an interpreter would be needed. So she pretty much kept to herself and raised her family in the only way she knew how, and that is in the Chinese fashion. That is, teaching them to take care of themselves, cleaning them up, and eventually, as required, sending them to school. The children were the ones who learned English and were able to communicate in going to the stores to buy food for my mother between sessions when my father came home.

Source | Ruth Teiser/Thomas W. Chinn, "A Historian's Reflections on Chinese-American Life in San Francisco, 1919-1991: Oral History transcript/Thomas Chinn" Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1993, from Calisphere, http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=hb5779n97v&query=&brand=calisphere.
Interviewer | Ruth Teiser
Interviewee | Thomas W. Chinn
Rights | Used by permission of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | “A Son Remembers His Immigrant Parents' Struggles in America,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 1, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/991.