I Owe My Life to Wong Kim Ark

By Kenneth Hong
May 30, 2023

The threads of history are woven together in unexpected ways. My family's story is inextricably linked to that of a man who fought for his rights as a U.S. citizen. A man whose name I had never heard of until a few years ago. I owe my very existence to that man named Wong Kim Ark.

Wong was born on Sacramento Street in San Francisco in 1870. My great-grandfather, HONG Yin Ming was born a few blocks away on Washington Street that same year.* We don't know whether or not they ever met, but they lived almost identical lives.

Identification Photo of Wong Kim Ark
 on 1904 Immigration Affidavit
(National Archives)
Identification Photo of Hong Yin Ming
 on 1899 Immigration Affidavit
(National Archives)

Official Map of San Francisco Chinatown 1885, with
Sacramento and Washington Streets Highlighted

Keep reading to learn more about the lives of Wong Kim Ark and Hong Yin Ming.

Remembering Fred Chin (1943 - 2022)

Fred CHIN Bo Hing 陳寶興 was born in Oakland, California, on August 17, 1943 to CHIN Pak Yick and TSO Mee Shew, the sixteenth of his father Pak Yick's seventeen children, and the fifth of Mee Shew's six. Fred passed away on Tuesday, December 27, 2022 at age 79 at his home in Danville, California where he lived with his partner Lee Chen.
Fred Chin and Lee Chen, December 23, 2022

Fred grew-up in the family's home on 7th Street in Oakland Chinatown. Although his family did not have a lot of money, their home was filled with a lot of love and the Chin’s all worked together to get through lean times. Throughout his school years, Fred enjoyed playing basketball, football, and many other sports.

Fred (Center) in 1945 
with siblings (L-R) Rose, Dennis, Mabel and Allen

Looking back, his brother Dennis recalls that Fred was a good student, getting all A’s and B’s, especially in Math and Science. Freddie wanted to take a Chemistry class, but it was full so he ended up having to take a laboratory tech class instead. After graduating from high school in 1961, Denny remembers the day that recruiters came knocking on their door to enlist him into the US Air Force.

The Hong Family: Recollections on Serving the Community

1951 San Francisco Civic Center Plaza - Paul, Larry, and Jack Hong
1955 San Francisco Richmond District
(L-R) Sister-in-law Marie Chu,
Mary, Lily, and Paul Hong

     My father, Jack, and his four siblings, Larry, Paul, Lily, and Mary came of age in the 1950's and 60's when it was common young men and women heeded their country's call. They felt a deep and abiding desire to serve their communities and country. They also grew-up at the tail end of segregation and exclusion in the United States when government jobs often provided some of the best (and often only) opportunities for hard-working, dedicated minorities to make a good middle-class life for themselves and their families.

     They were third-generation Chinese Americans, who were born in China and spent their early years there. After World War II they followed their father and grandfather's footsteps moving to the US in their teens, individually then in pairs. They spent most, if not all, of their careers serving their country, state, or local communities. They and their spouses served with distinction as teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, civil servants, and community leaders. All U.S. military service was completed with honorable discharges. Continue reading to learn more about their individual stories.

"Impressions of Doushan" Photography Contest

Doushan Township 斗山鎮 is one of the major market towns in Taishan County, Guangdong, China. My paternal grandparents, HONG Hock How and CHU Tui Goon, were from this area. My grandmother was from town itself, while my grandfather was born in Dong On village 東安村 just across the Doushan River 斗山河.

The city is surrounded by a vast area of fertile land, and boasts of a pleasant climate and beautify mountains and rivers. Known as the "No. 1 Overseas Chinese Hometown", Doushan is a tourist destination for the tens of thousands of overseas Chinese who hail from this area.

The Taishan Photographic Art Society recently published an exhibit of award winning photographs and videos of this area. Here are two of the photos showing Doushan and Dong On village:

Gold Collection Award:

A Bird's Eye View of Doushan Township by Xu Fangqun 徐方群

Award for Excellence:

[Heng River] Song of Earth and Wind + Doushan Heng River by Hu Sihong 胡思红

Doushan can be seen in the distance at C3 and D3. Dong On Village is at A3 next to the rice paddies inside graceful arc of the Doushan River. The area in the foreground is Yuet Wah 月華 and Heng Jiang Village 橫江村.

Zeng Laishun - The first Chinese to enroll at an American College

From the Hong 曾 Family's American Diaspora Files:

ZENG Laishun 曾來順 was the first Chinese to attend an American college. Laishun attended Bloomfield Academy, a boy's boarding school in New Jersey for three years. He then enrolled at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York in 1846. The women from the First Presbyterian Church in Utica, NY, were Laishun's sole source of support and refused to extend his funding beyond their initial two-year agreement. In May 1848, Laishun left New York and set sail for Hong Kong.

According to historian Edward J.M. Rhoads, “he was a pioneer in Western studies, an early and lifelong convert to Christianity, one of the first Chinese in the United States, a leading second-echelon figure in China’s self-strengthening movement, and, during his CEM [Chinese Educational Mission] days in the United States, a diplomatic representative of the Qing government as well as an explicator of things Chinese to the American public.”

The pioneering achievements of Zeng Laishun, America's first Chinese college student, have often been overshadowed by Yung Wing 容閎 (November 17, 1928 - April 21, 1912), who followed Laishun's footsteps by four years and is forever remembered as the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university, Yale College in 1854.

Zeng Laisun late in his career. From the Smithsonian Institution, United States National Museum,
Department of Anthropology, Division of Ethnology.

The Smithsonian misidentifies this photo as “Portrait of Li Hung Chang, Viceroy of Chilhli in Costume with Fur Cost n.d.” Researchers have asserted that the photo is of Zeng Laisun and not the Viceroy. Moreover, the photo is signed “Tseng Laisun” (which is the way Zeng spelled his name in his later years). The Smithsonian has declined to correct its catalog.

Asian American History is American History

Why I started this blog?

In 2001, I started researching my family's roots in the US and China, trying to uncover the stories of my ancestors. The post below is my first attempt to connect my family's story directly to the broader history of the United States. It focuses on how American laws and institutions have shaped the lives of my forbearers and continue to shape the lives of my family today. It's content was excerpted from the October 21, 2021, panel discussion on "Asian Perspectives on Race & Equity" presented to the public in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships, Pennsylvania.

This is the history that I wish I had learned growing up, and that my children and all of our children should learn. It is only by learning about all aspects of our history that we can create a better future together.

You can read the transcript that follows or watch the 13 minute video on YouTube.

[The following transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.]

Zack ZENG Zhe - A September 11th Fallen Hero

From the Hong 曾 Family's American Diaspora Files:

On September 11, 2001, Zack ZENG Zhe 曾喆 was working at the Bank of New York at One Wall Street near the World Trade Center. When his building was evacuated, Zack could have gone home like the rest of his colleagues. Instead the 29-year-old gathered all the first aid and medical supplies he could find and told his friends and colleagues he was heading to the disaster scene to assist.

While attended the University of Rochester college Zack had worked as EMT with the Brighton Volunteer Ambulance. So, on 9/11, Zack was doing what he was trained to do.

Chin Bok Lain (1869-1938) - Unofficial Mayor SF Chinatown

View from a Hang Far Low Restaurant balcony above Grant Street look toward
the corner of Sacramento Street and St. Mary's Cathedral on the left (Lee Rashall)
"Down the Street of Bazaars in San Francisco's Chinatown on July 31[, 1938], more than 1,300 mourners followed the body of Chin Lain to its last resting place. Son of Cantonese immigrants, the late Chin Lain lived to become a millionaire merchant, philanthropist and unofficial mayor of the greatest Chinese colony in the Western Hemisphere. Because the Chin family embraces the ranks of Chen and Chan, "relatives" of Chin Lain stretched in grieving files for six blocks behind the flower-filled phaeton which bore his picture at the procession's head (below). Observers said his funeral was the biggest, most dignified, Chinatown had ever staged." -- Life Magazine, August 15, 1938, page 14
Phaeton bearing portrait of Chin Lain (Lee Rashall)