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Interview with Harold Kee




Harold Kee was born April 6, 1899, in a rural village in the Taishan District of Guangdong Province, China. He arrived in St. Paul in 1911 to join his father, a partner in Quong, Gin, Lung & Co., importers of Chinese silks, porcelains, and other goods. The business closed soon after Kee's arrival, and he and his father moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where the elder Kee operated a Chinese restaurant with a friend. In Omaha Kee attended public school, and after their return to Minnesota the next year he enrolled in the Lyndale Grade School in Minneapolis. He graduated from Central High School in that city in 1918 and attended the University of Minnesota. In 1915 his father returned to China to stay, and Kee became a partner in the New Canton and New China restaurants in St. Paul. He also served as interpreter for the U.S. Immigration Service from the 1920s to the 1960s. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Kee discusses the early Chinese community in St. Paul - the common practice in the largely male settlement of bringing young sons to Minnesota at the age of 11 or 12 to help with the family business - Kee's own experience as a boy arriving in St. Paul at age 12 - his education and business enterprises - and his work as translator for the U.S. Immigration Service. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: Because of Kee's early arrival in the state and residence in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, he is an excellent source of information on the early period of Chinese settlement in Minnesota. As an employee of the Immigration Service, he knew immigration law better than others in the early settlement, and he has been described as one who took care of the first generation" by helping them with problems concerning their own papers or those of relatives they wanted to bring to Minnesota. It should be noted





World Region



Harold Kee Narrator Sarah Mason Interviewer February 8, 1980 Saint Paul, Minnesota Sarah Mason Harold Kee Donna Kee - SM - HK - DK

SM: I’m talking to Harold Kee, and later to Donna Kee, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, February 8, 1980. This is an interview conducted under the auspices of the Minnesota Historical Society. The interviewer is Sarah Mason. Harold, would you want to begin by talking about your village, what you remember of it before you left your family there? Did you go to school there, too? HK: Yes. I went to school there for about a year and a half before I left. And I lived in a little village there with about eighty families and it’s called [phonetically it sounds like Tai Nee - sp?]. And it’s really a branch from a larger village. SM: Oh. HK: And it’s in [unclear] District of Guangdong Province, China. I would say it was about maybe a hundred miles east of Hong Kong. SM: Oh, I see. And what year did you leave your home? HK: I left to go out of Hong Kong in 1911. And I arrived here in Saint Paul in December 1911 and [chuckles] it was really cold! [Laughter] SM: Oh, what a shock! HK: [Chuckles] I’d never seen snow before in my life. SM: Oh. That must have been quite a shock for you. HK: Well, all I could hear was sled bells. [Chuckles] All the vehicles were horse-driven and had bells on. And it was just continuous bell ringing in the street. SM: They used sleighs down the streets? HK: Yes.


SM: Oh, that’s interesting. And your father had sent for you? Is that how you [unclear]? HK: Well, it really started, you might say, unintentionally. SM: [Chuckles] HK: I didn’t have any intention of coming over. And this really was the first Chinese letter I ever wrote in my life. And then it was suggested to me that I write a letter to my father in school. So I didn’t know what to say, and so I just said, “Well, I’d like to come over to where you are.” And when the letter . . . the answer I got back was that he took me up on it and said, “Well, I’ll get things going so you could come over.” So that’s how I started to come to this country. SM: Oh. Were you the oldest son? HK: No. I was not the oldest, but there were others and they . . . I have right now one younger sister and one brother living in Canton City. But when I came over here, my father was running this mercantile company called [unclear – sounds like Quam Chin Long - sp?] on . . . between Fifth and Sixth on Wabasha Street. SM: Oh. HK: And he also had interest in a restaurant across the street called the New Canton Café. SM: I see. HK: But the Quam Chin Long[sp?] closed up at the end of the year. And the next spring we went down to Omaha [Nebraska] for a couple of years. SM: Just yourself and your father? HK: Just my father and I went down there. And then he operated another café with a friend down there for a couple years. Then we gave that up and came back to Saint Paul. SM: What town in Omaha did you go to? Oh, excuse me . . . Omaha, right. [Chuckles] [Unclear] thinking a state, Oklahoma, and then . . . HK: Yes. SM: I see. And do you know the name of the restaurant there? HK: It was the Mandarin Café. SM: The Mandarin Café. And you just stayed there . . .? HK: Just a couple of years. Then we came back and my father stayed in Saint Paul, and [then] we moved to Minneapolis and started another restaurant, The New China, on Hennepin Avenue. 2

SM: Oh, I see. You and who else? HK: Well, there was my cousin. SM: Your cousin and you started the . . .? HK: No, my father and my cousin. SM: Oh, [unclear]. HK: Yes. And then I went to school mostly in Minneapolis. SM: I see. How old were you by then? HK: Well, I was about . . . at that time I was about sixteen—fifteen, sixteen. SM: Oh. HK: And then I went to Central High School, where I graduated. SM: How did you manage to catch up on all that English and go to school? HK: [Chuckles] Well, English came rather easy to me. And I skipped a lot of grades because I had . . . like such things as mathematics and all that, I already had. SM: Oh, yes. HK: So after I caught on to the English a little, then I was able to skip a few grades. SM: Where did you start, at the bottom then? HK: Well, the first class I went to in school was down in Omaha. SM: Oh, I see. HK: It was kind of an international class. SM: Okay. HK: There was . . . we had a Jewish teacher and she was very good to us. And she was very interested in teaching us. It was about fourteen or fifteen students in the class. We had Chinese, we had Greek, we had Italian, and it was just a mixture. And each . . . we had to practically be taught each individually. SM: Oh, these were all children of immigrants then? 3

HK: Yes. SM: Oh, [unclear]. HK: And I went to that school for about six months. And then we moved. And when I started school again in the fall, I went to another school and I started in the third grade. SM: I see, in a regular public school? HK: In a regular public school. SM: How many Chinese were in that class? Was that just you? HK: It was three. SM: Three. HK: There was three Chinese in that class. SM: That’s pretty interesting. So then the next fall you went to third grade. HK: Yes. And then after I left, then we came back here to Saint Paul. I went to school for just a few months and then we moved to Minneapolis. I went to Lyndale Grade School in Minneapolis, and I graduated from there and went to Central High School. And then I graduated from there in 1918. SM: Ah ha. Well, Central High School has a lot of famous graduates. HK: [Chuckles] SM: 1918. So that was the end of World War I. HK: Yes. Yes. SM: Oh, and had your father gone back to China? HK: My father went back to China in 1915. SM: I see. HK: And he never came back to this country. SM: Your mother and brother and sister didn’t want to come? HK: No. No, they didn’t come here at all. And I went back in 1920 and saw them, and in 1930. 4

SM: Oh, I see. So you stayed here with your cousins then? HK: Yes. SM: [Unclear]. HK: Yes. Then I went into the restaurant business here. Then we moved . . . yes. Then I moved from Minneapolis to Saint Paul in 1918 after I graduated from high school. Then I went down to New Café, Little Canton Café, and then about 1924, 1923 or 1924, we opened the New China restaurant. SM: I see. Could you tell us just a little bit about what the Chinese community in Saint Paul was like in those days? About how many families and [unclear] and so on? HK: Well, it was . . . about three Chinese families here that I know of at that time. SM: This is in the 1920s? HK: In the 1920s, yes. SM: So only about three Chinese women then? HK: Yes. SM: And was there any kind of center where the Chinese got together either at the church or at the restaurants or . . .? HK: Well, no, not at that time. I know that some of them went to the Baptist church where they had a special class for the Chinese people. SM: I see. Were there any Chinese organizations then? Like the Merchant’s Association? HK: No, there was no organization of any kind. SM: I see. What about a little bit later, towards the end of the 1920s? Was there something called the Chinese National [unclear]? HK: Well, they called it the Chinese Benevolent Association. SM: Oh, and that was the association of merchants? HK: Yes. Yes. Yes, merchants or business . . . any business people. SM: I see. Were there quite a few single men working as laborers in the restaurants around that time? 5

HK: Yes, they were . . . well, I would say that most of them were single men. SM: Mostly single men. HK: Yes. SM: These would be the ones who weren’t the owners so much as working . . . HK: Yes, they were mostly just the laborers. SM: Yes. Well, did most of the business owners have their families here? I guess [unclear]. HK: No. No, that’s . . . not very many of them had their families here until after the war, after the war in the 1940s. SM: I see. So most of these laborers then would either . . . if they were going to marry, they’d have to go back to China or stay and marry an American. HK: Yes. Yes. SM: What happened to most of them? Did they go back or stay here? HK: Well, most of them that were here already had families over in China. SM: Oh, I see. So they weren’t single in the sense that they weren’t married. HK: No. No, they weren’t single. SM: Oh, I see. So would they be able to save enough up on a laborer’s job to go back sometimes? HK: Yes, that’s what most of them [would] do. They’d save their money and then make a trip over there [after] maybe five or six years, something like that. But a lot of them would bring their . . . not their whole family over, they’d bring their children, especially a boy. SM: Yes. Would that usually be the oldest boy? HK: Well, usually, yes. Usually, it was the oldest. SM: But in your case, it was because you were the most interested, I suppose. [Chuckles] HK: [Chuckles] SM: Your brother never wanted to come here, is that right?


HK: No, he didn’t care to come. No. SM: Well, that’s interesting, it was a school assignment! [Chuckles] [Unclear]. HK: [Chuckles] SM: So in your village then, you had a large school in the village. HK: Yes, we had a village school and the teacher was from another village. SM: Oh, I see. Let’s see . . . so when you look back to the 1920s, was the Saint Paul Chinese group still pretty large as compared to Minneapolis? HK: No, I would say at that time they pretty much were about the same. SM: About the same. HK: Yes. SM: Well, maybe you could give us a little idea of some of the other businesses in Saint Paul that you remember about that time, or earlier when you came maybe. HK: Well, in the earlier years, they . . . practically all of them, the Chinese here were in the laundry business. SM: Ah ha. HK: There was a great many laundries here in Saint Paul, but there was only . . . oh, maybe about five, six restaurants, right downtown. There were none of them in the outlying district. SM: Oh, just downtown? HK: Just downtown. SM: Until about when, World War II? HK: Well, until . . . it was after the Second World War that they started spreading out. SM: I see. Yes. That really is a turning point. HK: Yes. SM: The World War II. So they were all right downtown then. HK: Yes.


SM: And they all knew each other well, I suppose. HK: Yes. SM: Were they rivals or were they cooperative or . . .? HK: Well, no, they weren’t . . . they weren’t really rivals. They were actually pretty friendly with each other. SM: I see. Well, this Benevolent Association, that wasn’t to solve problems between them [unclear]? HK: Well, yes, they did do that, but . . . because that is supposed to be kind of a national organization. SM: Oh, yes. HK: And usually when any question or dispute came up, rather than solve it here, [it would] probably be solved maybe down in Chicago, you know. SM: Oh, I didn’t know that. I see. So that’s the way that disputes would be taken care of. HK: Yes. SM: Through this Benevolent Association. HK: Yes. SM: And the big shots down in Chicago would . . . [Chuckles] HK: Yes, they would hear it and decide it. SM: Oh, that’s interesting. Can you think of any kinds of disputes of the people or ones that . . .? HK: Well, mostly it’s rather . . . personal more than anything else. SM: Oh, not matters of business then? HK: No, not so much in regards to business. SM: Oh. Well, what kind of thing? Or is it too personal to talk about? HK: Well, no. Not like . . . Well, what comes to my mind is like maybe two business partners got into a dispute over their business and how they were going to decide to split up the business or what they should do with it.


SM: Oh, I see. HK: It’s a question at that time that comes up. SM: Yes, I see. And so that would be solved by the Benevolent Association. HK: Yes. SM: You don’t know when that Benevolent Association started in Saint Paul, do you? HK: No, I don’t. That usually is . . . where that happened is like in San Francisco, Chicago, New York. And then maybe somebody will come here and say, “Well, why don’t some people here get interested and start that?” You know. SM: Oh, they would send someone to start it? HK: Yes. But they wouldn’t have the full authorities that they would have like in the large cities. SM: I see. I see. HK: So it’s more like a branch. SM: Oh, so the one here wasn’t as powerful as [unclear]. HK: No. No. SM: Oh. So would questions be more likely to be solved right locally then? HK: Well, yes, there’s a lot of questions. If it was agreeable to both parties, then this could be solved right here. SM: Oh, I see. So there were about one, two, three, four, five, six . . . about six restaurants in downtown Saint Paul then. HK: Yes. Yes, there was about that. Yes. SM: Did they do a good business? Did they make a profit? HK: Yes, they did. Yes, they did a good business. And I think those that didn’t last long was more of . . . internal disagreement with partners than because of lack of business. SM: Oh, I see. Well, were these mainly shoppers that came downtown that would come? HK: There were shoppers and there was people who would come down just to eat. SM: Yes. Well, that was a good place to have the restaurants then. 9

HK: Yes. SM: How did they disappear? Besides the ones that were personal disputes. You mentioned something about . . . HK: Well, a lot of . . . now, in the late years, there was the question of getting the kind of help you need. SM: Oh. HK: There was a shortage of cooks, especially. SM: Would this be after World War II? HK: Well, even before, before World War II. SM: I see. Because of immigration restrictions? HK: Well, partly because of that. And partly now, like these younger ones, they go to school, they learn a different trade, and they branch on going to different industries. SM: Yes. So the second generation didn’t want to continue . . . HK: Yes. SM: I see. Well, you married sometime in here, right? HK: Yes. SM: How did you meet your wife? HK: [Chuckles] Well, she came to work for me in the restaurant and we got acquainted. SM: I see. Did she come from out of town then? HK: Yes, she came from the northern part of the state. Deep River. SM: What was her ethnic background? HK: Well . . . [chuckles] SM: Maybe we should see if she’ll tell it! [Chuckles] HK: [Speaking to his wife, Donna] Maybe you should tell that. Go ahead.


SM: This would be a good place to add it in. DK: Okay. My sister and I came down in 1944, January, to . . . we planned to go into defense work. Before that, I’d been teaching school. And in the middle of the year I decided I had to get out of that town. [Chuckles] Or we did. We really felt we needed a new beginning. SM: Yes. DK: So we came down, but we frittered away the money we’d saved. And we decided, well, before going into defense work, we’d better get a job at a restaurant where we could eat and earn some money. So I started at one downtown and my sister started working at the New Canton for Harold. SM: I see. HK: And she worked there for several months and . . . or about seven months, I would say. And then I decided, well, it didn’t look too bad. I’d better start there, too. So we’d work together. SM: Oh, I see. That was nice. DK: It was nice. Yes, it was. SM: Where did you stay? DK: We . . . for a while we had various . . . we didn’t have an apartment, we lived in a room, because we had our meals at the restaurant. SM: Oh, yes. DK: So we just shared a room. We moved around some, various places. And then when she left and got married, then Harold felt that I shouldn’t walk home by myself. SM: Hmmm. DK: So he started giving me a ride home. [Chuckles] SM: Oh, I see. DK: Very considerate of him. [Chuckles] And actually, our first date was the day that the war ended. SM: Oh, that was a real celebration then. DK: Yes. SM: 1945. 11

DK: Right. SM: Oh. DK: That was our first real date. And we went with some friends up to the lake, to a cottage, which we later bought and still own. SM: Oh, how nice. Oh, really! DK: We still go up there, yes. SM: What lake was that? DK: It’s Stuart Lake in Central Minnesota near . . . well, it’s near Fergus Falls and Alexandria and the Ottertail Lake District. SM: Oh, that must be very beautiful. DK: Very nice up there, yes. SM: I see. Well, that’s an interesting sidelight to this total history of the . . . because there were a number of intermarriages, I understand. DK: Yes. Yes, there were. SM: Let’s see . . . Do you want to talk a little bit about a later period in the Chinese community in Minnesota? What happened during the Depression? Oh, you went back in 1930, didn’t you? HK: Well, I was just there for a visit, just a month or two there. SM: Did the Depression have anything to do with your going? HK: No, no, no. Being in the restaurant during the time of the Depression, I didn’t really feel it as much as other people. SM: I see. Restaurant business went on. HK: Yes. You know, I’ve been . . . and when you don’t have to go out and buy food every day [chuckles] for yourself, you don’t notice such thing as a Depression so much. SM: Yes. So the restaurant owners got along relatively well. HK: Yes, I think from personal experience, I think the restaurant owners hardly felt the Depression.


SM: Oh. What about the laundry men? Was it worse for them? HK: Well, the laundry men, they felt it more, yes. SM: I see. Well, a few people have told me that the Chinese population in the 1920s . . . at about the end of the 1920s, 1928, reached its peak—I mean its pre-World War II peak—and then went down quite sharply during the Depression. Were you [unclear]? HK: Well, I . . . well, I don’t know about that, because I . . . SM: You didn’t count them up. [Chuckles] HK: No. I really didn’t count and mix with that many of them to find out, you know. SM: Sure. It might have been more Minneapolis. HK: Yes. Yes. But I imagine, though, that they felt the Depression just like everybody else did. SM: Sure. I’m sure. So you came back within a year or two then? HK: Yes. SM: Did you, by that time . . .? HK: Well, the last trip I made over there in 1930 . . . SM: Yes. HK: My folks wanted me to stay. SM: Oh. HK: So I said, “Alright, I’ll see what I can do.” So I went in the business over there and opened an automobile agency in Hong Kong. SM: Oh, you did? Oh. HK: But we were there about a year, and then I saw this Japanese invasion of Manchuria coming on. And things didn’t look too good to me, so I came back. And then I said, “Well, I don’t know about going back now, the way things look.” SM: Oh, yes. HK: So then we closed the company up and that was the end of it. SM: Yes. And then you came back here. 13

HK: Yes, and I didn’t go back there. SM: I see. That was in 1931 , 1932. HK: Yes. About 1931, I think. SM: And then when you came back here, did you go back to the New Canton? HK: I was at the New China. SM: Oh, New China, yes. HK: Yes. SM: And you were with some others then, running that? HK: Yes, I was with my cousins, Harry Ling and . . . SM: Oh, Harry Ling was your relative? HK: Yes. SM: Well, I think I . . . some people are telling me, too, the Chinese raised a lot of money here during the war with Japan. Sent a lot of money back for the war and . . . HK: Yes. Yes, they did. They raised quite a bit of money and sent back over there. But, you know, that didn’t last long. SM: No. HK: Because that . . . it wasn’t getting to where it . . . they wanted it to go. SM: Oh, I see. HK: So that kind of dropped off then. SM: Oh, I see. HK: Then of course, when the war started, that had to stop altogether. SM: Oh yes, there was no way to send it back to them. HK: Yes. SM: I see. So then after World War II there were a lot of changes in the Chinese community. 14

HK: Yes, then after the war, the immigration laws were relaxed and the younger ones started bringing their family over here. SM: Oh, I see. So the population grew quite rapidly then. HK: Yes, that’s when the population grew fast. SM: And some brought war brides, or whatever they call that . . . HK: [Chuckles] SM: Because they went and married . . . or they must have been Chinese who were servicemen, right? HK: Yes. Yes. Yes. SM: Servicemen’s wives. HK: Yes. SM: I see. Was that quite a sizeable group or just a few couples? HK: No . . . Personally, I know or heard of a lot of these people that brought their family over after the war because it was easier for them to do it than before. SM: Yes. DK: Because they could become citizens. SM: Oh, yes. HK: Yes, well, of course, your naturalization law changed, and that made a great deal of difference. SM: Yes. And so some Chinese who were servicemen married wives and brought them back. HK: Yes. SM: Or did they go to China after they got back? HK: Some of them. Some of them, yes. SM: [Unclear]. I see. Would that be like twenty-five women or many more, do you guess, that came under the new laws?


HK: Oh. Well, I think that . . . well, within ten years, you might say, your population here in the Twin Cities more than doubled. SM: Oh, really? HK: Yes. SM: Oh. I would think that would bring a lot of tensions and . . . HK: Well, then they started forming these Chinese clubs and associations, and they now have schools to teach the younger children Chinese. SM: Yes. Language school. HK: Language. SM: There weren’t any in the old days then? HK: No, there was none in the old days. No. SM: I see. Well, was this . . . after the war they weren’t all Southern Chinese either, were they? HK: Well, no. Now there’s a great many students, especially, who came here from Northern China. SM: Yes. Did the students mix much with the immigrant community? HK: Well, not too much, because of the language difficulty. SM: Oh, yes. Yes. What about the second generation at the U [University of Minnesota]? Did they mix with Chinese [unclear]? HK: Now the second generation at the U, they pretty much mix together. They’ve got a Chinese student association over there that’s separate from the Chinese association. SM: Oh, yes. It’s a campus community. HK: Yes, they are. They are a separate group. SM: Sure. HK: But they join together on a lot of doings. SM: Oh, they do join together? HK: Yes. 16

SM: So they do get together quite a bit. DK: They send out invitations to all the Chinese people to attend their functions. SM: Oh. Oh, that’s quite a [unclear]. DK: We always get an invitation. SM: I see, to the Chinese student things going on. That’s pretty nice. Well, did you take part—or both of you take part—in some of the Chinese organizations? HK: We haven’t [unclear] them, but.. DK: Not much. SM: Yes. Well, did you feel part of the Chinese community? DK: Oh, yes. SM: [Unclear] both? DK: Oh yes, both ways. [Chuckles] HK: Yes. DK: Actually, there’s quite a huge congregation in Lauderdale. SM: Oh, yes. DK: The Chinese church over there. SM: Yes. HK: Yes, that Chinese church, they preach in Chinese; in Cantonese, and Mandarin, and English. All three languages. DK: Simultaneously, it seems. SM: Oh, isn’t that something. DK: Interpreted. SM: Is it largely people around the university or do they come from all over? HK: No. No, they come from all over. 17

SM: Ah. I see. Have you ever belonged to that? HK: Well, we were there several times. We don’t belong to it. DK: We visited. HK: But we’ve been there. SM: It seemed like a nice minister. I talked to him. DK: Very nice. SM: Yes. HK: Oh, you talked to Joe? SM: Yes. Yes, and I did talk to one person who is, I think, a leader. But she isn’t . . . a Tina Wu. DK: Yes. SM: But I would like to go over sometime, to the service. I think that would be more interesting still. HK: Yes. DK: Yes, very interesting. SM: And see how it works. Well, now, it’s still . . . it’s changing a great deal again since the late 1960s, isn’t it, with many people coming from [unclear] and [unclear]? HK: Well, it’s grown. The population has grown larger. But I don’t think that they are as close together as they were. SM: Oh, yes. That would be natural, I think. HK: Yes. SM: How do mean? It was smaller, so everybody knew everyone? HK: Yes. Yes. SM: I guess that’s pretty typical of immigrant communities. HK: Yes, I think so.


SM: Once they start to grow, [unclear]. HK: Yes. DK: Right. SM: Warring factions and [unclear]. Well, I see so many young couples now starting up restaurants in these little towns all over. HK: Yes. SM: Are they doing okay? Are they making it? HK: Well, I think most of them are. SM: Some do, and most do, I’m sure. HK: Yes. SM: Yes. I see. Well . . . HK: I know even out West, and I was . . . [Chuckles] SM: Where was that? HK: In Niles, California, that’s where our daughter is. SM: Oh, yes. HK: It’s a little . . . small town there. They’re supposed to be [unclear] Fremont. DK: Suburban feel. HK: Yes, it’s just a suburb. And it’s just the one street then, it’s all old buildings. It used to be kind of a mining town, or what was it? Yes. And here is this grocery store in there and it’s operated by one Chinese family. SM: Oh, really. HK: And they have been there a long time. [Chuckles] SM: Oh, their parents were here and . . .? HK: I don’t know, but she says they’ve been there a long time. And we thought that was kind of strange, you know, because, well, most of them . . . about, I would say, one third . . . one quarter, anyway, of the business there is antique shops. [Chuckles] 19

SM: Oh. Ah ha. But the Chinese business wasn’t an antique shop, was it? HK: No. He was in the grocery store business. SM: He was in the grocery business. Oh. Well, how would you compare the Chinese community here and where it’s really big like in California, in San Francisco? Are there different problems there? HK: Well, they are . . . out there, I would say, they are more close to their native customs that we are here. SM: Oh, sure. HK: Yes. They observe like more of the holidays and so forth, more so than here. SM: Yes, because they do have geographical concentration. HK: Yes. SM: But there’s quite a bit here, too. Isn’t there a New Year’s and . . .? HK: Well, there is, yes. Mostly individuals mostly, though. SM: Oh, not as a community? HK: Not as a whole community so much. DK: Family groups. HK: Yes, family groups. SM: I see. So when they are at New Year’s they invite their own family and friends? HK: Yes. DK: And friends, yes. SM: But there isn’t a big . . . is there a parade or dragon dance or anything? HK: No. DK: Not that I know of, no. SM: I see.


HK: Sometimes . . . SM: Sometimes there is a dragon dance, I know of. HK: Sometimes these organizations, like the . . . the [unclear] and [unclear] and the [unclear], and these organizations, they have an annual banquet on New Year’s. SM: Oh. Oh, I see. Yes. And it’s mainly the members then there, families? HK: Yes, for their members. Well, members and friends, too, I guess. DK: Yes, they invite guests, too. HK: Yes. SM: Okay. Well, how you look at your whole life beginning in your village and then . . . HK: [Chuckles] SM: I mean you’re such a changed . . . [chuckles] Do you have any sort of comment on that? HK: Well, it’s . . . SM: Would have ever dreamed of this when you were a little boy? HK: Well, I . . . no, I didn’t. But when I look back, and when I . . . especially when I went back over there and saw some of these people that are my age and, you might say, in my age group, and the life they have had and what’s happened to them, I can only thank the Lord for my life. SM: It’s certainly quite different. HK: Yes. SM: How do you think Minnesota is for Asian people? Is it pretty [unclear]? HK: Well, I think that the majority of them who have been here and didn’t care to remain, it’s . . . mostly object to the winter. SM: Yes. [Chuckles] I’d think so. HK: That’s about the only objection that I know of that . . . SM: That is the most common one, I think. HK: Yes. Because of the fact that it is . . . really, it’s severe compared to the climate they’re used to. 21

SM: Oh, it’s just the opposite. HK: Yes. SM: I mean, it’s like a tropical kind of climate. How did you get used to the winter? [Chuckles] HK: Well, I never did [chuckles] never did mind! SM: Oh. It never bothered you? HK: Never bothered me. SM: Maybe because you were a little boy when you came. HK: Yes, I suppose. I think that made a difference. When you come here when you’re young and are used to it. SM: Yes, that would make a difference. HK: Yes. SM: [Unclear]. Well, how do you look at this, Donna? Marrying a Chinese and becoming a part of that community. And I suppose your children are part of both Norwegian and Chinese. DK: It seems strange, you know. But at the time we were married, it was different. SM: Yes. It was much different then. DK: Much different. There was a feeling of . . . maybe not being quite so accepted, you know, by the Chinese. SM: Oh, yes. DK: And your husband not quite so accepted by others, you know. And yet, we didn’t have any real, real problem except probably one. [Chuckles] And that wasn’t too bad. But . . . SM: But over time you felt [unclear]. DK: Over time, we felt . . . as you get to know people, you see. That . . . evaporates. And you’re accepted. SM: That makes all the difference. DK: Yes. And it’s truly been a wonderful life, really. We really have a good marriage, two great kids, and . . . 22

SM: Well, it’s really nice you can be in both cultures. DK: Yes, it is. SM: Very rich for your children. Yes. DK: Yes, it is, it really is. And our parents came to live with us. They lived with . . . my mother lived with us for nine years. SM: She did? That’s wonderful. DK: And our dad lived with us for five, and then he died. SM: I see. So it’s worked out very well. DK: Very well. Very well. They certainly loved Harold! [Chuckles] SM: Well, why not? [Chuckles] DK: Right. That’s right. SM: Well, is there anything we should have talked about that we haven’t? DK: Well, while you were asking Harold questions, I thought of lots of things that I was trying to make motions of what he should say. Now I’ve forgot them, so . . . HK: [Chuckles] SM: Oh, think! [Chuckles] DK: There were things that I thought of that he could have brought up. SM: I’m going to turn this off and we can.... [Brief recording interruption] DK: One thing that his dad did that showed such good sense, I thought, was when Harold first came here, he used to be down at the restaurant all the time. And he’d work around there and he made a fortune just in tips doing little odd jobs. SM: Oh. DK: But his dad saw that this was not the way to go, because he felt that Harold would never learn the language.


SM: Oh, yes. DK: So he put him in a family where the mother didn’t speak Chinese, only spoke English. And he wouldn’t let Harold come down to the restaurant more than once a week. SM: Oh . . . DK: So that he would learn the language. That’s one of the reasons that he picked the language up so fast. Out of necessity, you see. SM: I see. I mean he speaks with no accent, I notice. DK: Oh, yes. He’s . . . he has an accent, but it’s . . . SM: That is just amazing. Well, it’s really very mild. DK: And another thing he neglected to mention is that he did go to the university for a couple of years. SM: Oh, that would make a big difference. DK: And he quit because of the Depression. He saw graduates driving a cab, and he thought, well, I’d better get into something where I can make some money and not . . . So he dropped out of school. That was one of the things that I thought of. [Chuckles] Another thing was that he stayed with this family, and then the mother died in the flu epidemic in 1918. SM: Oh. DK: And she had two children. And Harold took those children, when he was only eighteen years old, and brought them to a family and helped support them as they grew up. SM: Oh. How wonderful. DK: And I thought that was something he could have mentioned. SM: So he cared for the children then? DK: Yes. This Eddie that he talked about taking up north. SM: Oh, yes. Well, this was a family that were part . . .? DK: Part Chinese, right. SM: Part Chinese, yes.


DK: Yes. The father was Chinese. The father had asthma very bad, and I guess probably wasn’t extremely ambitious. And then when his wife died, I think he went back to China, didn’t he? HK: Yes. SM: Oh, but the children stayed here? DK: The children stayed, yes. SM: Yes. Okay. DK: Yes. Harold . . . SM: Looked out for them. DK: Yes. SM: I see. Well, that was wise, if your father thought you were going to stay here, probably. DK: Right, yes. SM: The language is key. [Chuckles] DK: Yes. Right. SM: To success, I guess. DK: And then another thing that he did that I thought was really good, too, his dad bought him a car when he went back to China. He was just fifteen, sixteen years old, something like that. SM: A car in China? DK: No, here. SM: Oh, here. DK: Here. SM: Oh, when the father went back to China? DK: When the father went back. SM: Ah. DK: And then Harold was wise enough to go and get a job as a mechanic so he could learn all about cars. 25

SM: Ah. Yes. DK: So these are . . . I think these are just interesting things that he did. I don’t know. SM: Yes, he’s so modest. He doesn’t mention all of this. DK: Yes, he doesn’t mention all these goodies. [Chuckles] SM: Yes. DK: And then another thing, he has really interpreted for the Immigration Bureau for almost fifty years. SM: Yes, we should have gotten into that. Fifty years? DK: Yes. I think it is fifty years, isn’t it? HK: Yes. SM: Oh, from what year was that? HK: Well, it started in Minneapolis. It was about 1920. SM: In the 1920s. Oh, so this was in addition to other work. DK: Yes. Yes. SM: Oh. DK: And for a while there it was . . . HK: Just a part time . . . DK: For a while there it was quite a bit to do. And then he . . . he really has looked after the welfare, especially, of the older generation of Chinese people. SM: Oh, yes. DK: They called all hours of the day and night [chuckles] all those first years when we were married, to ask his advice and for help. SM: Oh. [Chuckles] Well, he wasn’t working for the immigration service then, was he? DK: Yes. Yes.


SM: Oh, he was since then. DK: Yes. SM: Oh, so they thought he would know about the ins and outs of the papers and rules? DK: Yes, right. Sure. Yes. SM: Oh, I see. Well, that’s very important to know. DK: Yes, I thought so. SM: Because they would just depend on you. DK: Very much so. Now, of course, that . . . not anymore, because in the later years, the young people, you know, are educated and well able to do it, although he still occasionally does interpret, but not like that. SM: So…. [Recording interruption] SM: …went up to about the 1960s? DK: The 1970s. SM: The 1970s. HK: When did Ben retire? DK: About 1969, I think. SM: So this was because you did know both languages then. HK: [Chuckles] Yes. SM: Yes. Did they seek you out? Or how did you start to do that? HK: Well, I used to . . . when I first knew this inspector in Minneapolis. And of course he thought I could interpret for him, so he asked me to come over there and interpret a couple cases for him. SM: Oh, I see. HK: And after that, then he kept calling me. Whenever he needed me, he’d call on me to come over. 27

SM: Yes. It wasn’t easy to find that many . . . HK: Yes. So ever since that time, why, I have been doing that. SM: I see. So you read Chinese, too, then? HK: Well, I don’t read too much Chinese because, like I said, I only had about a year and a half of education in Chinese school. SM: Oh, yes. That’s right. But I guess it was more important [unclear]. HK: But then, in these cases, it’s very seldom there’s ever any document that you had to read. SM: The English is what you needed to read. HK: Yes. SM: Well, what were you studying at the University? HK: Well, I was going to pick up electrical engineering. SM: Oh. Yes. So no wonder you’re going to [unclear] your house! [Laughter] I see. Well, do you think Americans [unclear]? You only got to about the first grade . . . HK: [Chuckles]