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A Chinese Immigrant Remembers His Arrival in the United States

Huie Kin left his village in Guangdong Province and emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 14; in his 20s he entered a seminary and went on to become the first Chinese Christian minister in New York City. He wrote his memoirs in 1932, from which this excerpt is drawn.

On a clear, crisp September morning in 1868, or the seventh year of our Emperor Tongzhi, the mists lifted, and we sighted land for the first time since we left the shores of Kwangtung over sixty days before. To be actually at the “Golden Gate” of the land of our dreams! The feeling that welled up in us was indescribable. I wonder whether the ecstasy before the Pearly Gates of the Celestial City above could surpass what we felt at the moment we realized that we had reached our destination. We rolled up our bedding, packed our baskets, straightened our clothes, and waited. 

In those days there were no immigration laws or tedious examinations; people came and went freely. Somebody had brought to the pier large wagons for us. Out of the general babble, someone called out in our local dialect, and, like sheep recognizing the voice only, we blindly followed, and soon were piling into one of the waiting wagons. Everything was so strange and so exciting that my memory of the landing is just a big blur. The wagon made its way heavily over the cobblestones, turned some corners, ascended a steep climb, and stopped at a kind of clubhouse, where we spent the night. Later, I learned that people from various districts had their own benevolent societies, with headquarters in San Francisco’s Chinatown. As there were six of them, they were known as the “six Companies.” Newcomers were taken care of until relatives came to claim them and pay the bill. The next day our relatives from Oakland took us across the bay to the little Chinese settlement there, and kept us until we found work. 

In the sixties, San Francisco’s Chinatown was made up of stores catering to the Chinese only. There was only one store, situated at the corner of Sacramento and Dupont streets, which kept Chinese and Japanese curios for the American trade. Our people were all in their native costume, with queues down their backs, and kept their stores just as they would do in China, with the entire street front open and groceries and vegetables overflowing on the sidewalks. Forty thousand Chinese were then resident in the bay region, and so these stores did a flourishing business. . . . 

My first job was in a family as general help, earning $1.50 a week with board. There lingers still in my memory the vision of the ubiquitous apple sauce on the table, which I soon got so sick and tired of that I would have given anything for a Chinese meal. . . . One of the homely remedies we have in China for homesickness is to take along a bit of native earth, mix it with water, and drink it when one is in a strange land. I do not know what its therapeutic effect is on our internal workings, but at least it soothes one’s feelings. . . .

Source | Judy Yung, Gordon H. Chang, and Him Mark Lai, eds., Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 58-59.
Creator | Huie Kin
Item Type | Biography/Autobiography
Cite This document | Huie Kin, “A Chinese Immigrant Remembers His Arrival in the United States,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 21, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1609.

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