Works Progress Administration is a federal program employing artists, scholars, and construction workers, to build public parks, infrastructures, and historical sites across Arizona State. I was recently hired to work at the federal program under Professor Ow’s Oral History Project. The project involves researching small Chinese Immigrant community located in Arizona. I conducted an interview with Wei Chi Poon, a fifty two year old Chinese woman who migrated to the United States in 1902 at the age of sixteen years. She described her life in China as a lifetime of suffering and struggles due to prejudice, discrimination, and injustices mainly against the Chinese women. She asserted that the Chinese women faced multiple obstacles as they strived to grow and develop socially and economically.
Life in China
Wei Chi Poon was born in a Chinese province of Canton along Si-Kaing River in 1886 as the third born after two elder brothers. She was born in a tribe known as Lee. She asserted that the Chinese tribes were allowed to intermarry although men preferred marrying from other villages and tribes. Thus, her mother belonging to the Sings tribe was brought to her father‘s house in the Lee tribe and tasked with wife duties, including bearing children, cooking, and cleaning. She described the province as a village comprising more male than female members while narrating her life in China having resided in the country for sixteen years until 1902. She emphasized that women and children were neither counted nor regarded as members of the village. She therefore remembers her village as a male chauvinist community. She also regarded her childhood as lacking hope and future as her parents restricted her movements by locking her in the house. More so, she never interacted with her father whom she only saw in the evening during dinner.
Decision to Migrate to the United States
Wei Chi Poon described the family house as a structure made of bricks. It comprised a living room and two extra private rooms mainly occupied by male members of the family, including her grandfather and two brothers. In 1896, she turned ten years old. Her father demanded she provides manual labor in their small farm after school together with her brothers. At that early age, she was expected to carry water to water plants from mountains located several miles away. She was also tasked with helping her brothers take harvests from the fields to the market located kilometers away from home. Her father paid government tax for utilizing the small piece of land from the harvests. He was also expected to reward tribe elders after harvests. The rewards were to seek blessings from the elderly honorable men aged above sixty years old endowed with respect for leading the community. Three years later in 1899, her father started reaping very little yields from the farm. Eventually, he was unable to pay school fees resulting in her and the two brothers dropping out.
She asserts that school had helped them to read and write while exposing them to civilization and other cultures. As a result, she asked her two brothers to request their parents to migrate to the United States. She could not be involved in the request as it was culturally wrong as a child and female to make decisions affecting the family. For two years, her father was reluctant to migrate. However, farm yields continued to diminish challenging the family’s survival in the country. In March 1902, her father eventually agreed and the family migrated to California in the United States. She therefore migrated from China at the age of sixteen years.
Life in California
The new life in California was however still challenging. Her father and mother lacked educational qualifications to gain employment further threatening family survival in a foreign nation. In May 1902, her father was employed as a manual laborer in a mine site improving the family’s economic condition. However, the finances were still insufficient for Wei Chi Poon and her brothers to enroll back to school until 1904. Between 1902 and 1904, her brothers were employed as part-time librarians. These positions were still retained after enrolling back to school.
Wei Chi Poon states that life in California was different from China. For example, she was able to associate with her neighbors and play various outdoor games, including tag, shinny, and even football. She therefore went through cultural change in California as she was neither prohibited nor constrained to be involved in various social activities. More so, the father allowed her mother to gain employment in 1910 as a caterer. The family, however, continued to face language and communication barrier as they hardly spoke in English. As a result, her father enrolled them in a community based program teaching English until 1911. Her mother and father also enrolled in school to compliment their work experiences and qualifications in 1912. In 1915, her father was promoted to be the supervisor.
Decision to Move to Arizona and the Daily Life
Her father completed and gained a college certificate in strategic management in 1917. In 1919, he was promoted as a director in the expanding mining company. The promotion package involved a transfer to Arizona. Although it was challenging to move to a new community, the family settled to Arizona in December 1920. Wei Chi Poon described life in Arizona as comfortable. First, her family members could speak and understand English. Her parents were employed enabling them to provide the family with basic and luxury necessities. Consequently, Wei Chi Poon and her brothers were enrolled in various colleges while working part-time in various economic sectors. Her first born brother worked as a driver while the second was employed as counselor in the local health care facility.
During her fourth year in college at the age of thirty six in 1922, she applied for a loan to open a Chinese laundry shop and requested her mother to join and help run the business. She asserted the decision was mainly culturally based as she still believed cleaning and organizing were a woman’s duties. The shop was opened in 1923. For the first six initial months, the business did not do well as she mainly concentrated in school while her mother lacked the basic skills to run it. She, therefore, sought her brothers’ help in stabilizing the business until 1925 when they commenced their separate career paths. After the business was able to break even in July 1925, she encouraged her mother to save at least five dollars per week. In 1926 October, the savings increased to five dollars. In 1930, the family decided that the laundry shop had to cater for domestic needs. Her first and second born brothers gained employment as a car dealer and nurse respectively. Conversely, her father and brothers decided to combine their economic efforts in buying a family house in a better neighborhood within Arizona. After three years in 1933, they were able to purchase a five bedroom house in Arizona.
In conclusion, Wei Chi Poon asserts the family has not been able to travel back to China. However, it is able to support other members of the family back in China, including her elderly grandfather, uncles, and aunties. She also affirms that the family continues to adopt the American cultural lifestyle. This includes eating ground hogs as they prefer eating the Chinese rats and celebrating various holidays, including New Years day. They wish to travel back to China and encourage others to avoid discriminating against the American culture. The discriminations are mainly based on myths and stereotypes, such as America is infested with demons and fails to believe in marriages. They hinder the Chinese people from migrating to the country with better socioeconomic opportunities. Thus, Wei Chi Poon believes migrating to the United States improved the family’s survival.