Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Chinese Immigrant Story: Voyage to America


One Chinese American Experience 


Before Fred took the boat from China nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, he had already learned things that people in Brazos County didn't know back then--like fancy fighting with his feet and hands that could break bones or even kill with one blow, and new ways to cook rice other than boiling it and burying it under chicken gravy.


Voyage To America: A Chinese Immigrant Story

When I was a little girl, a Chinese immigrant's grownup granddaughter, who was a neighbor, described her grandfather to me and showed me a picture of him while recalling details he'd meticulously told her about his life. 


Later, at home, in my personal journal, I wrote what she said and documented how the story made me feel as I was growing up during the Civil Rights Movement with my part-Comanche grandmother under Jim Crow laws. Although our heritage was different, I felt a certain kinship to the African American granddaughter of a Chinese immigrant grandfather. 

And years later, I included this article in my syndicated column and my memoir, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, about life with my part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement.

The American West was a mystery to me when I was a child until I met my neighbor. I had the impression that Chinese immigrants were only in California building railroads. That is certainly not the whole story as I was to learn. Even though I grew up on the historic boundaries of the American frontier, I had little idea that there had also been a Chinese American West, and it not been for Chinese immigrants and other immigrants as well, there may not have been an American West.

Chinese American Immigrant in the Mississippi Delta
I have kept notes from childhood throughout my adult life in personal journals, note books, slivers of paper, backs of used envelopes, napkins and even matchbooks. Personal journals have been an integral part of my writing career. In fact, I have taught journaling and published books of elementary school student writing and artwork, discovering a wealth of talent and imagination. I instruct them to write their observations and feelings as I did in my newspaper column and my book. You don't need a fancy journal, but it good to have a permanent place to keep notes, rather than have them scattered in desk drawers and shoe boxes. 

Today, of course, along with most everyone else who is a professional writer or not, I use laptops, net books and computer tablets, depending on where I happen to be. However, a simple old-fashioned paper journal or Big Chief Tablet will also do the trick, if you are really serious about keeping a journal. I have turned my notes into valuable chronicles of unknown historical treasures such as my article, African American, Native American and cowboy heritage, as well as the immigrant story: Voyage to America

In a very creative environment today, an electronic journal seems to be a must for most people. Personally, I use them all--computer tablets, net books, note books, laptops and personal audio recorders. I'm sure my mother, being an electronic gadget grabber that she was, would have sprung for one of these new electronic journals for herself, if not for me, although she might have let me use her tablet. My mother kept many different types of journals in regular note books, each labeled according to its content. Some were daily observations and ideas. Other journals, were devoted to her original songs and music compositions. Still others were drawings, art and recipes.


Because of my mother, we had television, automatic record changer and air conditioning before anyone else on our street, not because we were wealthy. We were not! During the era of Jim Crow laws, no one in our neighborhood had a high paying job. However, my mother's priorities included staying current with developing technology, which she read about in the books and periodical subscriptions.

Take down your memories, observations, thoughts and feelings in a journal and, remember, no one has to see it until you want to share your writing or not.


This memory and journal notes of the Chinese immigrant story remained an entry in my personal journal until I became a syndicated columnist many years later for Knight-Ridder and Hearst newspapers in the 1990s and was assigned columns recalling life in the 1950s and '60s before and during the Civil Rights Movement. As I grew as a columnist, journalist and writer, publishers and editors became interested in my published work and Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s (Texas A&M University Press) was born from a selection of my published collection of articles.`Young readers in Long Beach, California, middle schools read my stories, conducted lively discussions and made drawings to depict their interpretation of the stories' meanings and associated customs. Here is one of the articles, Voyage to America.



Tea Ceremony Set Chasen Whisk
Tea Ceremony Set
with Chasen Whisk #C3A509
I knew Fred well through stories I heard his granddaughter tell in the 1950s when I was a little girl. She said that her grandfather called himself Fred because the people in his new home could not seem to pronounce his old name. Once in America, Fred traveled to Texas when it was still the frontier, married a slave woman, and raised a brown-skinned family that would have gone unnoticed in our community if not for Fred's distinctive eyes. I knew people in Robertson County with eyes like Fred's, but their grandfather was from Japan. 

Kyoto Green Tea -  Sweet Green  Tea Financier  (French Butter Cake)  and Matcha Tea -
Kyoto Green Tea -
Sweet Green
Tea Financier
(French Butter Cake)
and Matcha Tea -
Fred's granddaughter's stories squeezed me under the ship's main floor and into dark, damp, flat quarters where the ceiling was too low to sit up.,Rocking and swaying from side to side, my imaginary ship made me queasy, while imaginary companions threw up on each other. Inside her stories, my own lungs labored as the air in the hole became thick with body odor and heavy with human excrement. I felt myself growing faint from the lack of something fresh to breath. 

Fred's granddaughter said the vessel ran short of food and drinking water. Before long, everyone who wasn't starving or dying of thirst was ill. Infections caused by unsanitary conditions, and by bites and stings from the ships animals and insects claimed the youngest first, then the elders. My knees weakened as I thought of that little Chinese boy watching the decayed bodies of his family being thrown over the side of a ship in the middle of the night. When he reached the shores of freedom, Fred was herded with hundreds of other into detention centers, concentration camps, plantations, factories and other similar places of servitude. When I heard my grandmother calling me home for dinner, I stood up feeling guilty for my own good fortune, and walked the short distance to the safety of a home filled with people who took care of me.


As I was writing my book, I realized the Chinese story was not too different from my own, except that our African ancestry was mixed with Comanche ancestry. 


The Chinese-American Immigrants in old west
The Chinese-American West
Read more about the Chinese on the American Western Frontier read: Exploring the Chinese-American West.That's the wonderful by product of writing--we learn how much we share and how similar we are as human beings.

This book, Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers by John Jung, although not the same as my story of Chinese immigrants. 

Even if you do not have the desire to write a book, you may want to document your own ideas and feelings about life as you see it. I found that writing about my personal experiences gave me a great deal of hope and was gratifying in many unexpected ways. I have continued my writing experience in this blog: Sunny Nash - Race Relations in America.

Holidays Around the World:  Celebrate Chinese New Year:  With Fireworks,  Dragons, and Lanterns
Holidays Around the World:
Celebrate Chinese New Year:
With Fireworks,
Dragons, and Lanterns
Children have never had so many reasons to learn how Chinese people everywhere ring in the new and ring out the old. As China takes its new place on the global stage, understanding Chinese culture and values becomes ever more essential to our next generation. For two joyous weeks red is all around. The color represents luck and happiness. Children receive money wrapped in red paper, and friends and loved ones exchange poems written on red paper. The Chinese New Year is also an opportunity to remember ancestors, and to wish peace and happiness to friends and family. The holiday ends with the Festival of Lanterns, as many large communities stage the famous Dragon Dance. Fireworks, parades, lanterns, presents, and feasts: these are some of the joys experienced by all who observe Chinese New Year.

Celebrate Chinese New Year is the latest, timely addition to National Geographic’s popular Holidays Around the World series. With 25 colorful images and a simple, educational text, the book is a lively invitation to revel in this child-friendly, national and international holiday. Carolyn Otto brings the historical and cultural aspects of the Chinese New Year into focus, and young readers experience the full flavor of an event celebrated by over a billion people in China, and countless others worldwide. National Geographic supports K-12 educators with ELA Common Core Resources. 

Rosa Parks Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson & Rosa Parks
I hope you will take a look at other posts in my blog likeRosa Parks: Black Womanhood, Rape & Lynching  about civil rights advocate and women's rights champion, Rosa McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) who helped all people, including the Chinese, to gain rights during the era of Jim Crow laws in the United States after the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  

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    Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s  Sunny Nash

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Sunny Nash author of bigmama didn't shop at woolworth's
Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash is an author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations. She writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking. Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press), about life with her part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement.

Sunny Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations. Nash's book is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide for black studies at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life--from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women's issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today's post-racism.

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