The Heavy Weight of a Trip to the National Archives

by Kenneth Hong
July 16, 2023

As I wind my way up Interstate 280, I take in the golden hills of California and glimpses of the Bay through the cool fog of an ordinary San Francisco summer morning. Exiting the highway, I drive by the rows of regimented white tombstones of the Golden Gate National Cemetery and up to the gray concrete bunker that is the National Archives. The usual feelings of anticipation build, a mixture of excitement and dread--excitement that I might find something new and dread that I end up with empty folders.

Entrance to the National Archives in San Bruno, CA
July 3, 2023

The Angel Island Files: Mysteries Solved and Found

By Kenneth Hong
July 16, 2023

Over the last 4th of July week, I spent a day and a half at the U.S. National Archives in San Bruno, CA, where many of the Chinese Exclusion Era immigration files from the Angel Island Immigration Station are kept. The archivist had located the files for my maternal grandfather (Chin Pak Yick), his father (Chin Gay Bin), his wives (Lee Moon Yee and Tso Mee Shew), and his famous first cousin (Chin Lain).

Lee Moon Yee, 1918
An "entirely respectable Chinese woman"
    Chin Pak Yick, 1918
"Well-dressed in American Clothes"

I had previously written about all five of these relatives. All but my grandmother Tse Mee Shew had died long before I was born, and in the case of my great-grandfather, Lee Moon Yee, and Chin Lain, before my mother was born. When I asked her or other relatives, "What do you know about your grandfather, father, or his first wife?" I would get only vague recollections about their father, and nothing about the other two.