My mother, Susan Lim Wong, was born in Oakland, CA. My grandfather was already living in Oakland and he was trying to bring his wife and son (my grandmother and uncle) over to the U.S. My grandmother was pregnant at the time. However,during several immigration interviews at Angel Island, my grandmother and grandfather did not give the same stories about an incident; therefore, the interviewers felt my grandfather was lying about these people being his family. As a result, deportation instructions were given to my grandmother and uncle. My grandmother gave birth to my mother before they were deported to China.
My grandfather returned to China with his family. During WWII, my grandfather and uncle were kidnapped by the Japanese. My grandfather escaped, but my uncle did not. When the Communists invaded China in 1949, my grandfather wanted a better life for my mother. Since she had U.S. citizenship, he sent her to live with his old friend, Robert Head, and his wife in Gilroy, CA, in 1951. My mother’s ship passage was paid for my strangers who also lived in Gilroy. My mother was the family’s nanny for a year to repay the passage. A story was written about my mother in the San Jose Mercury News a few months after she arrived in the United States.
After one year of being a nanny to a family of five, she was able to live with Mr. and Mrs. Head, and attend high school when she was in her early 20′s. She graduated and went to work in Gilroy. My mother embraced the American culture. She married a Chinese American in 1959 and moved to Oakland. She then had a daughter in the early 60′s.
I have always been intrigued by my mother’s immigration story. I researched her passage to the U.S. at the National Archives in San Bruno. I was able to find the notes from the interviews and also photos my grandparents submitted of the family to prepare for the immigration process. Also in the files was my mother’s passport picture when she was a few months old. When presented the picture for the first time, my mother thought the picture was of my daughter, but it was of her — my mother and my daughter’s baby pictures were a spitting image of each other.