By Helen Lee (Chin) Weinberg
My Father, Jung Lim Lee (Chin) 10/01/13 – 01/24/59
My father immigrated to America in 1932 as a young man from a small village, Toy San, in South China near Canton. He left behind all his family, and his young wife, his 1 yr old son and a son not yet born. I am the middle daughter born in America in 1950, a result of my mother and father re-uniting 16 years after they said good-bye to each other in China. My father toiled and struggled, as do all brave immigrants coming to a strange land with little money and unable to speak the language. With the help of relatives he carved a life, managing to save enough to buy his own business, a laundry store in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium. He came to the “Gold Mountain”, unaware of the hardships he would face, but armed with the bravado and optimism of youth. He worked long hours, living in tight quarters, eating just enough, managing frugally, in order to send money home for the family. His dream was to return to China, build a big house for the family and live a comfortable life in his homeland. Once the harsh Exclusionary Act was repealed in 1943, and because his revered mother had already passed away in China, he felt no great obligation to return, and decided to buy papers to bring his wife and sons to America … I feel great sorrow that America, the country that I love, MY country, would not permit Chinese wives to join their husbands, yet would compel my father to serve military duty, for which he could have lost his life.
Five years after the repeal of the Exclusionary Act, finally, in 1948 my mother and their younger son Danny, at 16 years old, arrived in California after a month’s arduous journey in the belly of the ship across rough seas. Then they faced fearful interrogations. Failure to pass the questioning would mean immediate deportation back to China. Then, a joyful, and I’m sure, tentative, reunion of man and wife after 16 years of letter-writing; and for my father, he is proud to meet his son, a young man. Next dad took them on the long train ride across the USA to their new home, the small back room of his laundry store in the Bronx. My parents had dreams of bringing their older son, age 17, to America, and spent many years and hard earned money trying to do so, by paying lawyers who said the papers were not correct, had to be re-submitted, more delay, more money, more delay, more money, “the papers are lost”, so unfortunately, they were not successful in bringing him over. Ah, but that is another story.
I don’t remember much about my father, sadly. He was in poor health for several years and he died when I was only 8 years old. I think of him as a tall, lanky, hard working man, friendly and well respected in his modest business. We three little daughters, born in America, would vie to sit on his lap at the end of the work day. We would try to stay up late to go to the coffee shop with him down the block from our laundry store. His big warm hand would cup my tiny one, and I would have to skip to keep up with his stride as we walked what seemed like a very long way to the coffee shop. I gleefully sat on the soda fountain high stool while I ate my ice cream, and dad would enjoy his coffee, his cigarette and he would chat with the regulars. He was a kindly man, a very good soul, the stuff of legends in my short 8 years that I shared with him. I never lose sight of his small but so unique part in the complex fabric of America citizenry.