Filipino, Mexican Farmworkers Marry, Join 1965 Grape Strike in California

The PBS series Asian Americans highlights an unusual marriage in the mid-20th century: A Filipino man and Mexican woman who met in the fields as farmworkers tied the knot. More than a decade later, in 1965, along with their entire family, they joined the Delano Grape Strike.

Lorraine Agtang, daughter of the two, tells the story of her parents and family in Episode 4, Generation Rising, of Asian Americans:

I’m half Filipino, and half Mexican. My father met my mother working in the fields, and he didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t speak English, and so my father learned how to speak Spanish so that he could get to know her.

I was born in a labor camp a mile and a half from Delano. It was a two-bedroom barrack bunkhouse. We all slept together. There were seven of us, and then my mom and dad.

The bathroom was out back, which we shared with two other families, so, uh, you get to know your neighbors well.

Such a pairing was exceptional at the time among the community of Filipino men who served as farmworkers, as explained in the series:

Narrator: Very few Filipino women were able to immigrate to the US, and Filipino men were barred from marrying white women. As a result, an entire generation is forced to live out their lives as bachelors deprived of family.

But not Lorraine’s father.

Along with her parents and family, Lorraine also took part in the strike, which she recalls in the series:

Lorraine: I remember we were working, when my father says, “Come on, we’re leaving”.

I says, “We’re leaving? It’s ten o’clock in the morning.”

So we left.

And I remember leaving the field, and driving through the, seeing the strikers, the Filipinos.

A page about a collection of materials that Lorraine Agtang has left to the University of California – Davis offers more information about her and her parents:

Lorraine Agtang was born in a labor camp near Delano, California on 1952. Agtang is of Mexican and Filipino descent. Her mother, Lorenza Agtang, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. Her father, Platon Agtang, was a migrant worker from Cavite Province in the Philippines, who worked at the sugar fields in Hawaii, canneries in Alaska, and the farmworker circuits throughout Central California. Agtang’s exposure to farm labor activism occurred at an early age, as Agtang and her family left the fields of Chamorro Farms in support of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee during the 1965 Delano Grape Strike.

You can view a clip from the PBS series where Lorraine talks about leaving the fields with her family for the strike:

And, if you’re in the US, you can view the entire episode of Generation Rising from Asian Americans on the PBS site (available for free streaming until June 9, 2020):

Note: Featured photo, with a farmworker, is a screenshot from Generation Rising from Asian Americans on the PBS site.

Moksad Ali, Ella Blackman: 1895 Blasian Marriage in New Orleans, USA

While recently watching the new PBS series Asian Americans, which premiered earlier this month, I learned about a fascinating couple — an Indian immigrant to the US named Moksad Ali, who married an African American named Ella Blackman in 1895 in New Orleans, USA.

According to Vivek Bald, an associate professor of writing and digital media at MIT with an interest in the South Asian diaspora in the US, Moksad Ali represents one of the earliest migrations of South Asian immigrants to the East Coast — people who were mainly Muslim men who hailed from the Hooghly region north of Calcutta and worked as silk traders.

As Bald noted in the first episode in the series Asian Americans:

Vivek: The peddler network in some ways has gone under the radar because that group was so transient. The majority of men who were peddling would come during the summer months to New Jersey to the seaside resorts and then make their way south to winter tourist towns. Moksad Ali was one of the earliest to settle in New Orleans.

Moksad Ali and the other peddlers, in order to sell their goods, they played up their South Asian-ness, their Indian-ness. They played to the fantasies of the exotic East that the tourists who they were selling to expected.

At the end of the day, however, they were dark-skinned men in a deeply segregated society. And the places were they were able to live, build homes, marry and begin families were within African American communities.

In this case, Moksad Ali married Ella Blackman, as Bald described in his book Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America:

Moksad Ali settled in New Orleans around the same time as Jainal Abdeen and married a local African American woman, Ella Blackman. Ella’s family had come to New Orleans from other parts of the South in the years before and after the Civil War. Her father’s side came from Tennessee, her mother’s from Virginia. Moksad and Ella married in May 1895, when Ella was seven months pregnant with their first child, Monzure. On Monzure’s July 12 birth certificate, Moksad Ali listed his occupation as “silk merchant” and penned a clear but labored signature in Roman/English cursive letters.

In the series Asian Americans, Vivek Bald also builds on the story of Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman by speaking with the descendents of the couple, including in this exchange:

Robin (Descendant): I can recall my grandmother telling me a story about when they were small that her and her dad and mother went to New York on the train. The kids and the father was all allowed to sit up in the front of the train, but my grandmother had to sit in the back and she said, well, it wasn’t that she looked black. It was the fact that they knew she was black.

I said, well that’s odd because some of the kids’ skin complexion is darker than my grandmother’s. So, I thought that was really weird, but…

Vivek: Moksad was darker than your grandmother.

Robin: Right.

Watch a portion of the Moksad Ali-Ella Blackman story in this clip from the PBS series Asian Americans:

Or, view the entire segment on Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman in the first episode of Asian Americans (video only available to viewers in the US):

What do you think about the story of Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman?

Giant Man Zhan Shicai (Chang Woo Gow) and Catherine Santley

If Yao Ming had lived in Qing Dynasty China, perhaps his astonishing height might have landed him a role in a circus or onstage.

Photo credit: By ralph repo – Chang The Chinese Giant [c1870] Attribution Unk [RESTORED], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33422368
That was the life of Zhan Shicai, better known among Western audiences as Chang Woo Gow, whose towering stature (he reportedly stood over 8 feet tall) propelled him into such a career in the 1800s, including a stint in P.T. Barnum’s famous circus freak show that toured the US.

Born in Qing-era China in the 1840s, Chang Woo Gow made his first appearance abroad in London in 1865 at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, together Kin Foo, his onstage wife, and the dwarf Chung Mow. An article published on Nov 9, 1893 in the London Times described what Chang Woo Gow’s performances were like in that era:

Amidst a hushed room Chang would arise to the tinkles of bells and a piano playing a Polka. He slowly descended to greet his audience, and to gasps of amazement at his great height, he would gently shake hands with those nearest the front. With excitedly playing music he would “chin chin” to his audience and then, with a great flourish of gongs he would majestically regain his throne – and the exhibition would be finished.

The admission fees to this spectacle of Victorian human curiosity were up to three shillings. Chang’s employers disgracefully refused him permission to walk about town with the shameful excuse that this lowered his value as an “exhibit”. This he found untenable, and longed for a quieter life.

Indeed, as Chang Woo Gow, who went on to tour Europe, the US and Australia as “Chang the Chinese Giant”, lived an existence which the Dorset Magazine characterized as “tawdry”:

Even though Barnum paid him the handsome sum of $500-a-month to dress up in Mandarin robes or the war-mongering finery of a Mongolian warrior, Chang almost certainly wished that it didn’t have to be that way.

He was fluent in six languages, gentle, intelligent, well-mannered and quiet by nature with no natural affinity for the brash showmanship of the circus world.

Still, traveling the globe allowed Chang Woo Gow to meet Catherine Santley, who enchanted him during his visit to Australia. They married in a church in Sydney and went on to have two children, Edwin and Ernest.

The couple eventually moved to a villa they dubbed “Moyuen” in Bournemouth, England, at a time when Chang Woo Gow suffered from tuberculosis. He opened a teahouse and store selling Chinese imports there. But surely he harbored deep affection for his wife Catherine, as the report in the London times stated that in 1893 “he died of a broken heart, at the age of 52, just four months after his wife’s death.”

You can also learn more about Zhan Shicai/Chang Woo Gow and Catherine Santley at his Wikipedia page and this page maintained by the Chinese Museum in Australia.

What do you think of Zhan Shicai/Chang Woo Gow and Catherine Santley?

Photo credit: By ralph repo – Chang The Chinese Giant [c1870] Attribution Unk [RESTORED], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33422368

Velma Demerson, Arrested for Having Chinese Boyfriend in Canada

Loving a Chinese man and expecting his child shouldn’t be a crime. But white Canadian Velma Demerson got arrested in Canada in May 1939 because she was pregnant at 18 with the child of her fiancee Harry Yip.

Authorities took her in under the Female Refugees Act of 1897, where women could go to jail and become institutionalized for “incorrigible” behavior, including promiscuity and pregnancy outside marriage. As Vancouver Observer reported:

Demerson was sentenced to ten months at Ontario’s infamous Mercer Reformatory for Women. There, she said attending physicians performed eugenics testing on her and her unborn child, tests Demerson believes cost the health of her son and sent her down a path of despair and tragedy.

Imprisonment over “loving the wrong person” is outrageous enough, but Canada didn’t stop there with its punishment. As the CBC reported in an interview with Karin Lee, who is working on a documentary about Demerson called “Incorrigible”:

As soon as she got out of jail, she immediately married Harry and they tried to raise their son.

But [the child] was affected by some of the medications that she was given … so he had very extreme eczema, very severe eczema.

And the social worker just came by and just said, “You know, you’re just a child. There’s no possible way that you can raise this kid.”

So they took the kid away, and that was the beginning of a long struggle of trying to have her son in her possession [so] that she could raise [him].

Additionally, Velma Demerson’s marriage to Yip cost her Canadian citizenship due to an old law still on the books, stating women who wed foreign men would assume their husband’s citizenship. (The US also had a similar law that cost American women their citizenship when they married foreigners.) She only discovered this when applying for a passport in 1948. And when she followed the advice to seek Chinese citizenship instead, the Chinese embassy refused her application, which left Demerson stateless.

(That lasted for more than 60 years — yes, you read that right — until she finally had her Canadian citizenship restored in 2004.)

But because she had plans to move to Hong Kong, she went to British Columbia and managed to secure a passport under her maiden name. If authorities ever found out, it would have meant five years in prison for her, a risk that worried her every time she left Canada on her maiden name passport.

But in Hong Kong, where she went with her son, the hardship continued, as reported by the Vancouver Observer:

Demerson’s marriage fell apart under the strain of her pariah status, and unable to make ends meet in Hong Kong, she sent her son home to his father in Canada without her. Upon return a year after, she discovered her son had been placed into state care. She was never allowed to raise him. The two never reconciled. He drowned at the age of 26.

She went on to remarry and have another family, but everything she suffered because of her love for Harry Yip still weighed upon her. So after turning 60, she researched her situation and eventually decided to seek justice through the legal system, filing a lawsuit against the Ontario government, demanding an apology and $11 million in compensation. She received an apology in 2003 and later an undisclosed sum of money out of court.

Additionally, Velma Demerson went on to help other women imprisoned under the Female Refugees Act of 1897 get justice as well.

It’s heartbreaking to imagine that all of this happened to Demerson just because she loved a Chinese man and was having his baby.

How did the two meet? According to the filmmaker Karin Lee, Harry Yip caught Demerson’s eye when she was patronizing a Chinese cafe:

She was with her mother and a couple of other friends and they went to this Chinese café, and she thought he was a very cute waiter. So she kept dropping her silver to get his attention.

And finally he did pick it up and then he asked her for a date, and everybody was, like, happy about that. And then they went on some dates and she said that he was the most polite person and respectful person that she had ever met and just fell in love with him because he was such a decent guy — and good looking.

Just imagine what a beautiful life they might have had together, were it not for that fateful arrest.

Velma Demerson passed away in May 2019 at the age of 98. But Karin Lee hopes to share her story and struggle with wider audiences through a documentary about Demerson called “Incorrigible”, for which she’s currently seeking funding in an Indiegogo Campaign.

You can also learn more about this story through the interview with Karin Lee on CBC (Remembering Velma Demerson — the woman jailed in Toronto for living with her Chinese fiancé), a story about Demerson at the Vancouver Observer (Lost Canadian Velma Demerson’s tragic story of love and loss), and Velma Demerson’s page on Wikipedia.

What do you think of what happened to Velma Demerson?

Untung Surapati: From Forbidden Romance to Rebellion in Colonial Indonesia

A forbidden love affair between an enslaved man in colonial Indonesia and a young Dutch woman marked the beginning of a life of anti-imperial rebellion, propelling him into Indonesian history as a powerful national hero known as Untung Surapati.

Untung Surapati, born in 1660, most likely in Bali, was sold during his childhood as a slave to the Dutch military officer Deler Mur, who happened to have a daughter, Suzanne. Stories claim Surapati and Suzanne grew close through association and, eventually, fell into some kind of romantic attachment. But they happened to live in Batavia of the Dutch East Indies, which would enact one of the first anti-miscegenation laws (prohibiting marriage between Europeans and enslaved locals). Whether or not Surapati and Suzanne actually married depends on your source (and many draw upon the rich folklore and legends swirling about Surapati and his legacy). Still, any such relationship, official or not, would have violated Dutch authority.

According to Identity in Asian Literature, which summarizes the historical facts of Surapati’s life, “Gathering a band of loyal followers, Surapati subsequently fled to the mountainous tract of West Java.” Some versions of Surapati’s past give a more dramatic take on the consequences of the illegal tryst — that Surapati landed in jail where, like another Spartacus, he would come to ignite a slave revolt, leading his fellow men out of prison in noble opposition to the Dutch colonists.

Regardless, Surapati would go on to continue his rebellion against the Dutch East Indies, with notable success, as described in Identity in Asian Literature:

With his band he proceeded first to Cirebon and then to Kartasura where he was welcomed by the Sushunan of Mataram and granted a village near the raton. In 1686 Dutch troops under Commander Tack, were dispatched to Kartasura in order to intimidate Sushunan and to arrest Surapati. They were, however, defeated and Tack was killed, after which Surapati moved on to East Java where he founded a kingdom at Pasuruhan. Repeated Dutch attempts to oust him were to no avail. He ruled more or less undisturbed until 1705. … A gauge to the threat posed by Surapati comes from the fact that when the Dutch forces were finally victorious [against Surapati and his sons] they desecrated his grave, burned his remains, and scattered the ashes.

It’s no wonder that Indonesia has extolled Untung Surapati as a shining example in history.

You can learn more about Untung Surapati (including his brief ties with Suzanne) through the books Identity in Asian Literature and Surapati: Man and Legend, or explore additional narratives of Untung Surapati in this paper and through this short story.

P.S.: If you’re interested in posts like this, peruse the AMWF History archives for more, including stories of Australian women who pushed for Indonesian independence alongside their Indonesian husbands.

Did Writer Pearl Buck and Poet Xu Zhimo Have a Love Affair?

Xu Zhimo distinguished himself in literary history as one of the most esteemed romantic Chinese poets. But despite his devotion to the written word, Xu proved unfaithful when it came to marital relations — and his dalliances may have even extended to one notable literary figure from the West: Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck.

That’s what Peter Conn, an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues in his book Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography:

Lossing was unfaithful to Pearl; she said that he “had his women,” both before and during his marriage to Pearl. Pearl believed that his assorted “silly secret episodes” repudiated “all the mutual fine loyalty of feeling and understanding that makes a marriage real.”

Perhaps in retaliation, Pearl took a lover, an extraordinary Chinese poet named Hsu Chih-mo (Xu Zhimo). The affair probably began in Shanghai and continued intermittently until Hsu’s death in a plane crash in November, 1931. The evidence suggests that Pearl had been faithful to Lossing throughout the decade of their marriage. She met Hsu at a time of intense personal need, and apparently found a brief joy that was canceled by the tragedy of his death. ….

There was never any question of marriage between Pearl and Hsu. Both were married, and, despite the fantasies of Letter from Peking, neither of them would actually have married across racial lines.

Conn further writes that their relationship inspired Buck to commemorate it in her novel Letter from Peking.

However, British literary biographer Hilary Spurling disagrees about the existence of such a romantic intrigue in her 2010 work Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth:

…[it] seems unlikely if only because he was one of the stars of his literary generation, while she was at best an onlooker on the sidelines, having published no more than a handful of pieces in mission publications and American magazines. None of his biographers have found a shred of evidence for this affair, and the only Chinese witness who knew them both…categorically denied the possibility that Pearl had been Xu’s lover. …

No one in Pearl’s circle at the time in China, not even her husband, knew anything of this putative affair, apart from a vague assertion made fifty years later by Lillieth Bates that she had heard gossip linking their two names.

Spurling also goes on to quote Pearl Buck’s late-life companion Theodore Harris (a man who supposedly first posited the idea that Buck’s awe for Xu Zhimo was more than just a fanciful notion), calling his testimony “highly ambivalent”:

“It is the privilege of a writer to grasp a situation as it stands and complete it in her own mind,” he wrote of Pearl’s relationship with Xu. “It could have happened. How much actually did is not for us to know.”

And we may never know, unless someone happens to unearth a lost journal or letter that offers more convincing evidence that the two were lovers.

For those of you wondering what a tryst between Pearl Buck and Xu Zhimo might have looked like, you can read Anchee Min’s Pearl of China, which includes a fictionalized version of their supposed love affair, or pick up a copy of Pearl Buck’s Letter from Peking.

What do you think? Do you believe Pearl Buck and Xu Zhimo were once lovers?

Photo credits: 

Xu Zhimo: By Unknown – http://www.dg163.cn/Files/File/2009-9/14/I7JF4K7G5E203339F8.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17163608

Pearl Buck: By Arnold Genthe – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a12720. This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=422006

A Trip Backwards: How People Thought of Interracial Marriages With Asian Men in the Past

People often say that to understand the present, you have to look at the past. That’s why I started my AMWF History series, to examine interracial relationships between Asian men and non-Asian women in earlier times.

So today, I’m revisiting some rather telling quotes from posts I’ve featured for AMWF History, in an effort to raise awareness about how people have talked about Asian men in interracial relationships years ago.

As I compiled this post, I found it disconcerting (but not surprising) that a number of the opinions described below still endure, including in dark corners of the internet. A lot of people still believe interracial love is wrong.

This list of quotes is by no means comprehensive. So please, sound off in the comments with your examples too — let’s continue the conversation together.


From the San Francisco Chronicle, 7 April 1883 (per Frederickbee.com) (featured in my post Sarah Burke and Wong Suey Wong, Arrested in 1883 USA (For Love)):

Sarah Burke, who has unalterably set her mind upon a disgusting marriage with a Chinese laundryman, acknowledged that she had passed a dismally and frigidly cold night in prison on Friday.

From the LA Herald piece “Married to Chinamen – White Women Who Accept Mongolian Husbands” (featured in my post 4 Stinging 1890s Quotes on White Women Who Loved Chinese Men):

The average American cannot understand how any human being, however inured by custom, can live in an average Chinatown. That white women should live there by deliberate choice seems to him monstrous, horrible.

She is but twenty-two years of age, remarkably beautiful and possessed of a voice that…would be a fortune. Yet three years ago, she met and loved a Chinaman.

It is also well known that not one Chinaman in a hundred comes to these shores without leaving behind a wife in China; so by the laws of China, the white wife is not a wife…

They have had six children, of whom five are living – bright, intelligent half breeds. And Mrs. Watson (her husband took that name when baptized) is still handsome and pleasant spoken.

From Culture Victoria (featured in my post Mei Quong Tart, A Chinese Gentleman and Leader in Victorian Australia):

Quong asked Margaret’s father, George Scarlett, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Even though he was a friend of Quong’s, George refused. Quong Tart and Margaret waited until the day after her twenty-first birthday, on 30 August 1886, and married anyway. Quong was then thirty-six. The appearance of grandchildren eventually reconciled Margaret’s parents to their daughter’s marriage.

From Lisa See’s book On Gold Mountain (featured in my post Letticie “Ticie” Pruett and Fong See from Lisa See’s “On Gold Mountain”):

Letticie wrote her brothers of her marriage, and received a terse letter back, in which her family disowned her. How could she marry a Chinese? It was disgusting, they wrote, and she was no longer their sister. She knew she would never see or hear from any of them ever again.

From Moviemaker.com (featured in the post Cinematographer James Wong Howe and Author Sanora Babb):

Aunt Sanora told me that on one particular occasion when they were going out to dine at a Chinese restaurant, a woman had taken the time to follow them to the entrance of the establishment. As she harassed the two of them for being together, Aunt Sanora took the woman’s hat and tossed it in the gutter. Aunt Sanora remembers this woman chasing the hat down the sewer drain exclaiming, “My $100 hat!” When the miscegenation laws were repealed, it took them three days to find a judge who would marry them. When they finally did, the judge remarked, “She looks old enough. If she wants to marry a chink, that’s her business.”

From the Australian Maritime Museum (featured in the post Australian Women Who Married Indonesian Men, Supported Indonesian Independence in 1940s):

Lotte fell in love with Anton Maramis, a Manadonese petty officer, and married him with her family’s support, although she battled much antagonism from the broader Australian public she encountered. Many other young Australian women faced strong opposition from families and friends to the decisions they made to marry their Indonesian fiancés and return with them to their homes once Independence had been declared.

From the South China Morning Post (featured in the post Liverpool’s Lost Chinese Sailors, and the Families Left Behind in the UK)

Married or not, they earned a reputation in ultra-conservative post-war England as being “loose women” and, in another archive, Charles Foley found that government officials dismissed those married to or cohabiting with a Chinese partner as “the prostitute class”.

What quotes have you come across about how people in the past thought of interracial relationships with Asian men?

Yung Wing, China’s 1st Overseas Graduate, Finds Love, Tragedy in US

Yung Wing (1828-1912) stands out in history as the pioneering overseas Chinese student, the first from China to graduate from an American university (Yale, class of 1854). He also went on to champion higher education for his fellow Chinese compatriots by establishing the Chinese Educational Mission, which helped send other Chinese students to US schools (including Yale) for a period of time. And countless students, scholars and lifelong learners have benefited from his generous donation of over 1,200 books to Yale, which formed the heart of its celebrated East Asian library.

But Yung Wing’s life also stands as a tragic example of how Chinese exclusion brought about needless suffering — and in his case, the death of his beloved wife, a European American woman.

Yung Wing, who had become a naturalized US citizen in 1852, married Mary Kellogg, from the town of Avon, Connecticut. In a 1875 photo from their wedding day, Mary looks graceful in a long, flowing white gown adorned with garlands of flowers, just like any beautiful bride. (In his memoir, Yung Wing states that, much like the Chinese Educational Mission, it was one of his daydreams while at college to marry an American woman.)

Yung Wing and Mary Kellogg went on to have two sons together: Morrison Brown Yung and Bartlett Golden Yung. Yung said of them in his memoir My Life in China and America:

They are most faithful, thoughtful and affectionate sons, and I am proud of their manly and earnest Christian characters. My gratitude to God for blessing me with two such sons will forever rise to heaven, an endless incense.

By Fred Hsu – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22760947

Unfortunately, their marriage took place amid growing the anti-Chinese sentiment gripping the US — as Yung Wing described it in his memoir, “The race prejudice against the Chinese was so rampant and rank….” The era culminated in one of the most discriminatory laws ever enacted in America: the Chinese Exclusion Act, which passed in 1882.

As Ben Ralton writes in a piece for HuffPost:

…the Chinese Exclusion Act [was] overtly designed to impact and even destroy the existing Chinese American community. Yung’s citizenship was stripped, and when he traveled back to China to continue his work as a diplomat, he was denied readmission into the United States under the law’s bigoted pretenses. In a painfully blunt letter relying this decision to diplomat Charles Denby, Secretary of State John Sherman admitted that the exclusion “would on its face seem unjust and without warrant. … Nevertheless, … the department does not feel that it can properly recognize him as a citizen of the United States.”

This denial of Yung’s citizenship, and indeed of the fundamental truths of his half-century of inspiring and influential American life and work, profoundly affected his family and final decades of life. Deeply traumatized by their extended separation and by fears for Yung’s life, Mary passed away, leaving Morrison and Bartlett to be fostered out to family friends in New England.

Mary’s death came in 1886, which meant their entire marriage lasted only a scant 11 years. She would never live to see other indignities visited upon her husband, as TK Chu noted in the work 150 Years of Chinese Students in America:

[Yung Wing’s] life at old age was lonely (his children were working in China) and at times humiliating. He was asked to leave a boarding house when fellow boarders refused to share a dining table with him. After that he found his last residence at 284 Sergeant Street, Hartford; he entered his second floor quarters through a side entrance.

To learn more about Yung Wing and his extraordinary life, you can read his memoir My Life in China and America.

Liverpool’s Lost Chinese Sailors, and the Families Left Behind in the UK (AMWF History)

Liverpool, England, is home to one of those shameful, forgotten chapters in history — when the UK suddenly deported Chinese sailors, who had bravely served during World War II, devastating they families they left behind.

In the early 1940s, the British Merchant Navy recruited some 20,000 Chinese sailors to assist in the war efforts. And of them, an estimated 300 had relationships with British women (either through marriage or cohabitation). As the SCMP reported:

Many of the women who set up home with Chinese mari­ners and started families did not formally marry, either because, like Grace, they were under 21 years old and couldn’t get parental consent or because, in the 1940s, when women married foreign nationals they surrendered their British citizenship and assumed the nationality of their husbands.

Married or not, they earned a reputation in ultra-conservative post-war England as being “loose women” and, in another archive, Charles Foley found that government officials dismissed those married to or cohabiting with a Chinese partner as “the prostitute class”.

“I was very angry when I read that,” Foley says. “They obviously hadn’t met my mother.”

While Britain had initially welcomed the Chinese sailors, things changed after they had a strike to fight for higher wages in 1942, as reported by the BBC:

These men were in demand and so they won, but were considered to be “troublemakers” from then on, according to shipping firm Alfred Holt’s documents at the Ocean Archive.

After the war, British authorities moved swiftly to force the Chinese sailors out of the country. The BBC noted that a UK Home Office document from October 1945 cast the sailors as “an undesirable element in Liverpool” due to an alleged “1,000 convictions for opium smoking” in recent years. However, as per the BBC:

…Belchem says that was an unfair analysis. “There were one or two with criminal records, but the government used this minority to stigmatise the whole Chinese population.”

“If you look at the way most people see it, they would be absolutely model migrants. They were respectful, well-behaved, believed in education, weren’t violent, looked after their wives, looked after their children.”

Adds the website Half and Half:

This statement by the Home Office directly conflicts with report after report, letter after letter from the Liverpool and Birkenhead Chief Constables. Going back to the early years of the century they repeatedly praise the law-abiding nature of the Chinese.

Nevertheless, the reality didn’t matter to Britain. The country also didn’t care about the loved ones left behind, either as the BBC reported:

…during a series of police swoops on the Liverpool dock area, deportation orders were served on the Chinese sailors.

“He just went out to the shop, and my mum was waiting for him to come home, and he never came,” Linda Davis said of her father.

And as the SCMP noted:

Officials argued that no Chinese seaman married to a British-born woman had been forcibly repatriated – the legal situation was complicated and the government did not want to appear to be splitting up families – but Charles Foley has seen evidence that this was not true. At least one married man, with three children, was “rounded up” and deported.

And for the unmarried fathers who were sent home, some did not have time to say goodbye.

It’s heartbreaking to imagine what these families had to go through. Some of the children of Liverpool’s lost Chinese sailors have spent much of their lives searching for their fathers — see the BBC story Looking for my Shanghai father.

To learn about the whole dark episode, you can also visit the website Half and Half, where you can also help the families by contacting them with any information about these lost Chinese.

Additionally, an article originally written by China Daily and reprinted by the Telegraph includes two stories from Chinese ripped away from their lives in the UK.

What do you think about Liverpool’s lost Chinese sailors?

Nobel Prize Winner Roger Yonchien Tsien and Wendy Globe (AMWF History)

Since the Nobel committee introduced this year’s prize winners in early October, it’s the perfect time to salute Nobel laureates in AMWF history.

Today, I’d like to spotlight the late American biochemist Roger Yonchien Tsien, who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 (along with two other scientists) for his brilliant work in with the green fluorescent protein:

Combining his deep skills in chemistry and biology, Tsien found ways to make GFP glow more brightly and consistently; then he created a full palette of fluorescent proteins that scientists could use to track different cellular processes at the same time.

His remarkable scientific career took him to some of the most celebrated institutions in the world (Harvard, Cambridge University, University of California – Berkeley) before ultimately settling in as a professor at University of California at San Diego. And in particular, Tsien’s time as a post-doctoral research fellow in Cambridge University expanded his knowledge – and his love life:

…Tim [Tsien’s collaborator] and his wife Norma invited me to their Christmas party in 1976, where I first met their sister-in-law, Wendy. Soon I was spending every weekend visiting Wendy at her house in North London. When Tim and Norma found out several months later, they were quite astonished at the effectiveness of their entirely unintentional matchmaking. Wendy (Figures 3–4) is still the love of my life.

There’s something delightfully touching about a scientist who weaves his wife into a Nobel autobiography, in figures no less. 😉

Additionally, his autobiography offers some fascinating tidbits about himself and his past. For example, he wasn’t really named after his older brother’s childhood playmate, as he had originally thought:

Much later, perhaps when I was in college, I quizzed Dick about this mysterious namesake. Dick confessed that he actually named me after Roy Rogers, the famous cowboy actor.

Also, he described himself as “mystified” over his first prize win at the Westinghouse Talent Search, now the Intel Science Talent Search, which ultimately led to an additional unexpected benefit, beyond the $10,000 scholarship:

One of the most satisfying compliments I received was that the developer who had not wanted to sell a house to Mom and Dad in 1960 now used my photo in one of their advertisements as evidence of the quality of the local school system.

Tsien passed away in 2016 in Eugene, Oregon at 64 years of age, while on a bike trail. His wife called him “the adventurer, the pathfinder, the free and soaring spirit” and said, “He will not be forgotten.”

What do you think of Roger Yonchien Tsien and Wendy Globe?

Photo credit: By Prolineserver (talk) – Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5398582