TSO Mee Shew (1917 - 2006) - Strength and Resilience

TSO Mee Shew 曹美秀
April 15, 1935

My maternal grandmother TSO Mee Shew
曹美秀 was born in Shek Doi Village 石嘴村 in Taishan County, Guangdong, China, on November 7, 1917. She was the second daughter of Tso Wah Sun 曹華申 and Yow Shee 丘氏.

Her aunt arranged her engagement to CHIN Pak Yick in 1935, and they were married on August 29, 1936. Pak Yick had returned from America following the passing of his first wife and was already father to eleven children.

Gateway to Shek Doi Village, 2014
(credit: Douglas Lam)

On June 19, 1937, they traveled with Pak Yick's youngest son, William, to the U.S. aboard the SS President Coolidge. Meanwhile, Edward was sent to Shanghai to study. After arriving at the Port of San Franciso, Mee Shew was detain at Angel Island immigration station for a medical examination and to await the determination of her legal status to enter the United States.

On July 7, 1937, Pak Yick and Mee Shee attended a lengthy interview session before a board of special inquiry consisting of two inspectors, a clerk, and an interpreter at the Angel Island immigration station. At the end of the inquiry, the Chairman, R. W. Hanlon, made the following findings:

  1. The alleged husband accompanied the applicant to the United States and was admitted as a returning merchant.
  2. There were a few statements on which they lacked agreement but it is not believed that this factor would discredit the general favorable showing made. He believed that the evidence should be considered as reasonably establishing that the claimed relationship exists.

Chin Pak Yick & Tso Mee Shew in 1937

Hamlin moved that Mee Shew be admitted if and when cured of a hookworm infection that had been identified during her medical examination. The other inspector seconded the motion, and clerk concurred. After being detained on Angel Island for 23 days, Mee Shee obtain her medical release on July 12, 1937 and was admitted to the United States at 12:10 PM the same day.

Mee Shee and Pak Yick were reunited with his children, and they moved into their home at 326 7th Street in Oakland, California. Over the next eleven years she gave birth to two daughters then four sons (Mabel, Rose, Allen, Dennis, Fred, and Jimmy).

When Mee Shew arrived in the US, she could read only a little Chinese and could not write, but with Pak Yick’s help eventually could do both.

To Mee Shew’s credit, all of Pak Yick’s older children came to know and love her as their mother, not as a stepmother. During their 22 years of marriage, Mee Shew and Pak Yick faced many challenges. Jobs were scarce during the depression. They had to grow their own vegetables and raise chickens, ducks, squabs, and rabbits. News of the war with Japan and starvation in China were hard for all of them to hear. In 1943, Guangdong was experiencing famine. As the situation worsened, Chinese in America received news at that 600,000 people had died due to starvation in Szeyup, the "four counties" which included Mee Shew and Pak Yick's home villages.

During the 1940’s their financial situation gradually improved. In 1951, when Pak Yick became ill, the children got together and agreed that they would all chip in to help with expenses. On January 7, 1954, bad luck struck when Jimmy was hit by a car and died a few days later. Mee Shew was grief stricken, but eventually, concluded that there was nothing she could do to change what had happened.

Tso Mee Shew with the Chin Girls after Morris and Diane's Wedding in May 1950
L-R Else, Mrs. Bruce Chin (Elsie Siu), Rose, Edith, Mee Shew, Helene, Mabel,
Mrs. Morris Chin (Diane Quan) (missing Mary)        

Chin Pak Yick with the Chin Boys in May 1950
Seated L-R: Dennis, Fred, Pak Yick, Jimmy, and Allen
Standing L-R: Bruce's son Edward W., Morris, William, Edward K., Henry, and Bruce

At this time Mee Shew started to work at sewing factories starting at 30-40 cents a day and after a few years made about $11 a day. Through all of this time there were many happy times, marriages, and births of children and grandchildren. After Pak Yick’s death in 1958, she continued to work, and the family to grow and thrive.

TSO Mee Shew, September 1975

With Allen, Dennis, and Fred, Mee Shew purchased a house in neighboring Alameda, CA, and moved out of the 7th Street house in Oakland Chinatown. In her later years, Mee Shew spent time babysitting, attending family gatherings, traveling, and tending to her vegetable garden.

In 1981, she returned to China and was reunited with her brother’s family. On August 16, 1983, Mee Shew became a citizen of the United States of America and eventually helped her niece and nephew immmigrate from China. She enjoyed caring for and watching her children, 20 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and 3 great-great grandchildren.

Reflecting on her life, Mee Shew said, “Life is nothing but a dream. It’s difficult to remember everything. From an old Chinese adage… standing, leaning, thinking, one realizes how time has passed and how Autumn is already upon us. Like waves in the lake, how does one know what shape one’s life will take?”

Mee Shew died on January 9, 2006.

Mee Shew, Pak Yick, his first wife Lee Moon-Yee, and their children Harry, Hammond, Jimmy, Edith, and Elsie are buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, CA.

Family Tree:

2nd Great Grandparents: Tso Nguey Yee 曹魏伊
Moy Shee 梅氏
Great Grandparents: Tso Goon Nging 曹君盈
Wah Shee 華氏
Grandparents: Tso Bing Bew 曹秉表
I Shee 戴氏
Parents: Tso Wah Sun 曹華申
Yow Shee 丘氏

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