HomeChinese AmericanOp Ed: The Zhang Clan's 5 generations of the American dream

Op Ed: The Zhang Clan’s 5 generations of the American dream

By Raymond Douglas Chong, AsAmNews Staff Writer

The American Dream

We are all Americans, within our minds, within our souls, within our hearts. We are the dreamers, for a better tomorrow, in our America.

In 1931, James Truslow Adams, an American historian, wrote these insightful words:

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.

The Zhang Clan Odyssey

The poor villagers of Imperial China searched for golden riches at Gum Saan (Gold Mountain) in America, their promised land.

Across the Pacific Ocean, in the face of poverty and warfare, the men of Zhang clan, my forefathers, left Yung Lew Gong (Village of Dragon Hill) in the Kwangtung province of Imperial China.

172 years ago, through 7 generations, the Zhang clan odyssey have flourished and persevered on Gold Mountain. My forefathers came in five waves, as sojourners, pioneers, and adventurers, aboard swift clippers and steamers from the Far East, in pursuit of the American Dream. They arrived at the First City of Golden Gate – San Francisco, in the virgin American West. From the bustling port, over leafy valleys, teeming rivers, crystal lakes, and rugged mountains, they toiled in struggles, sorrows, and sacrifices, with their bloods, sweats, and tears.

By Zhang Xiaolan

My forefathers, through five generations, were:

  • Generation I – Cheun Saan Jeung, Our California Gold Rush Miner. He panned the goldfield along Sacramento River by the Sierra Nevada in California (1849-1855).   
  • Generation II – Bein Yiu Chung, Our Iron Road laborer. With Army of Canton of Central Pacific Railroad, he built the First Transcontinental Railroad,  from California to Utah (1865-1869).
  • Generation III – Hoy Lun Chung, Our Gambling and Opium Merchant. He was an entrepreneur in gambling and opium trades at Boston Chinatown (1892-1926).
  • Generation IV – Moi Chung, Our Chop Suey House Owner. He worked at Chong Sing Company in San Francisco Chinatown, a seller of Chinese dry goods and food products (1912-1917). He owned Imperial Restaurant, a Chop Suey house, in Cambridge Central Square (1923-1936).
  • Generation V – Gim Suey Chong, Our Chinese Nightclub Partner. After his service with United States Navy during World War II (1943-1945), he was a junior partner at Kubla Khan Theater Restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown (1946-1950), during the Golden Age of the Chinese Nightclubs. He was a waiter at the legendary Far East Cafe in Little Tokyo of Los Angeles (1950-1974), with its iconic CHOP SUEY neon sign.
By Zhang Xiaolan

Systemic Racism

America is viewed as the Greatest Country in the World. Americans have unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness-promises made in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

New Americans immigrated as strangers from different shores. But in 1790, Congress recognized citizenship only for White people.

My forefathers were caught between two worlds, America and China. Amidst the Sinophobia, they endured racial slurs: Celestials!, Heathens!, Chinamen!. They faced ugly harassment, discrimination and massacres under shadow of the Yellow Peril. They were unfortunate scapegoats for American economic and epidemic ills. But they still persisted in the American Dream.

To protect racial purity, Congress explicitly excluded the Chinese from American society:

  • Page Act of 1875 – barred Chinese women to immigrate since they were deemed prostitutes.
  • Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 – prohibited immigration of Chinese laborers, except merchants, and denied citizenship.
  • Magnuson Act of 1943 – repealed Chinese Exclusion Act, but only allowed a tiny annual quota of 105 Chinese immigrants.

Congress limited immigration and denied citizenship only to the Chinese. The California state legislature banned Chinese to testify in court, to marry Whites, and to own land.  In the mines, fields, and towns in the America West, they were hated and expelled by White communities. They were segregated into scanty Chinatowns.

Beyond the Chinese, people of color in America sadly suffered systemic racism. Indigenous native Americans were massacred across America and were relocated in isolated reservations at wastelands. Africans were enslaved in plantations and were lynched during the Jim Crow era (1870-1965). Hispanics were discriminated in barrios and farms and were deported en masse. The Nikkei community were imprisoned at concentration camps, during World War II (1942-1946) with no civil rights.  

My forefathers never shared their racist encounters, in terror and horror, with me. Undaunted by the cruel circumstances, they still fervently believed in the American Dream, with impassioned hopes and dreams for their loved ones, in the promised land. America was their utopia, paradise and heaven with opportunities, freedom, and diversities.

For 172 years, my forefathers have experienced the evil heartbreak of systemic racism. The Chinese have suffered the ugly heartache of taunts, pains and fears. Now, with their follow Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the Chinese Americans now contend with a dark scourge of anti-Asian hate.

By Zhang Xiaolan

Poem

THE ZHANG CLAN ODYSSEY

A sweeping eon ago
Five generations of my Zhang forefathers
The sons of Yung Lew Gong – Village of Dragon Hill
Near mystical Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea mountain
From tranquil Hoyping
At land of rice and fish
Sail aboard swift clippers and steamers.

From the far eastern shore
At Port of Fragrant Harbor
Across the pacific sea
To the golden shore
At First City of Golden Gate
Of Gum Saan – Gold Mountain.

In its sublime majesty
From bustling port
Over teeming rivers
Over crystal lakes
Over leafy valleys
Over rugged mountains
Of the promised land.

As intrepid sojourners, pioneers and adventurers
In quest of golden riches
Of their American Dreams
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
For opportunities, freedoms, and diversities
At a raw wilderness.

Within a lonesome angst
Of a barren bachelor society
Without lovesome women and children
With their struggles, sorrows and sacrifices
In bloods, sweats and tears
Of excluded Chinatowns.

The California Gold Rush miner
The Iron Road laborer
The gambling and opium merchant
The Chop Suey house owner
The Chinese nightclub partner
Midst their Golden Ages.

Now, for the sons of Yung Lew Gong
We heed your cries
When your hearts sing dreams
From your stony tombs.

For we proudly endure
As our integrity
As our destiny
As our journey.

The American Dream
The Zhang Clan Odyssey
On Gold Mountain.

© 2021 Raymond Douglas Chong (Zhang Weiming)

Close

For me, Generation VI, Our Civil Engineer, and Kenji Kaio Chong, my son, Generation VII, Our Filmmaker, we honor the sons of Yung Lew Gong, our forefathers. We truly recognize their bittersweet lives of treks, traces and tears, on Gold Mountain.

Now, we heed their cries, from their stony tombs in America and in China, when their hearts sing the dreams. We, as Americans, will continue our American Dream with pride, faith and truth, for them.

With our integrity, with our destiny, with our journey, we are THE AMERICAN DREAM – Zhang Clan Odyssey on Gold Mountain.

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