By Diana Jeong
In preparation for the Malden Mass. Memories Road Show, scheduled for May 2, Neighborhood View is publishing stories by Malden residents about their personal history. Do you have a story to share? Email your story pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My mother passed away recently, and as I was sorting through her things, I came across a war bond that my father had purchased in support of the Flying Tiger Battalion. This was a volunteer military operation fighting against the Japanese invasion prior to the U.S. involvement in the Pacific theater during World War II. The war bonds were issued to finance that effort.
The face value of the bond was $50 but that amount translated into 2018 dollars would equal about $850. That’s a lot of money in any day and age. As far as I can tell, my father never took steps to redeem his bond. He purchased that bond prior to marrying my mother, but it started me thinking about him, now gone 44 years, and about the type of person he was.
My father, Dun Shai Jeong, was born in San Francisco in 1882. Yes, he was a natural-born American citizen. But because of his Chinese heritage, he was not allowed to attend public schools. Instead, he learned to read and write in English through a Christian church school. Also because of his Chinese heritage, he was often not accepted as “natural born,” always having to prove that he legally belonged in the United States.
Still my father persisted, and eventually moved to New York City to learn the restaurant business. He went there by himself and met another young man who would become his lifelong friend, my “Uncle” Eddie. In 1941, he relocated, again by himself, to Malden, although he still maintained strong ties with the people he had met in New York. My father had found a business opportunity here, taking ownership of a Chinese restaurant on Pleasant Street, then named “The Good Earth.” Looking back, it seems to me how brave my father was to travel all alone far from home and in inhospitable circumstances. But then, this was the type of journey most Chinese men of his time had to take to support themselves and their families.
My father renamed it the Jade Restaurant and expanded the restaurant to double its original size. My father hired several local Caucasian women to be his wait staff. For the kitchen staff, he hired several Chinese men, including a couple of relatives. These men had families in China but lived bachelor type lives in the U.S. (My father lived in a rooming house on Waverly Street.)
On their days off, the men would socialize in Boston’s Chinatown, often gambling. I recall one story of an older man who worked in my father’s kitchen who lost all his money gambling. He had no money for car fare back to Malden, so he had to walk back very late at night. Boston’s Chinatown did serve as a focal point for social activities.
In Chinatown, there were several family associations which were like mutual aid societies formed among immigrants with similar surnames or places of origins. Because of the discriminatory practices Chinese immigrants were subjected to, these family associations offered social and financial assistance to their members. My father donated to his family association, however, he did not socialize with them to any significant degree. He was on good terms with some of the vendors in Chinatown, especially those who owned grocery stores. He was also on good terms with the owners of Malden’s Chinese laundries, the only other businesses that the Chinese were involved with.
The owners of the laundries were all men with families back in China. Usually, they made living arrangements in the back of their laundry. There were eight Chinese laundries listed in the 1931 directory of Chinese commercial businesses, and I personally know that he was on friendly terms with at least four of them. One of these laundrymen eventually closed his business and came to work for my father as a kitchen helper.
My father’s restaurant was very successful, and through his business, he got to know many of Malden’s community and political leaders. He was also on friendly terms with many of the members of the Malden Police Department. He always donated to their causes; but, in return, they were always helpful to him. He was a member of the Massachusetts and National Restaurant Associations as well as the Malden Chamber of Commerce. If friends or family needed a job or a helping hand, he was always there to help out. I am not surprised that he gave so generously toward that war bond. I believe it was his kind hearted, generous nature that allowed him to give and to give without condition.
Several years later, with some financial security and a steady income, my father decided to marry. He met my mother through mutual acquaintance in Hong Kong, and they were married in 1951. My father was considerably older than my mother, but that was not unusual for men of his generation given the exclusionary laws that were prevalent at the time. As such, he needed to work with his local congressman, Angier Goodwin, to help secure the necessary documents so his wife could legally immigrate to the United Sates where they could begin a family.
My father also helped two of his kitchen staff to bring their families to the U.S. after very long periods of separation. Actually, it was only during the late 1940s-early 1950’s that some Chinese families were able to be reunified. While we were very few in number, I as well as some of my Chinese classmates in the Malden Public Schools were born in the U.S. The others immigrated as small children.
Alas, the restaurant was destroyed in a fire in 1959, and my father never returned to the restaurant business again, as several opportunities fell through. I know my father loved to cook and loved the restaurant business. I realize now how hard it must have been to not be able to go back to what he loved doing.
In doing some research for this article, I came to realize that my father’s life was filled with adversities, hostilities, and even loneliness. But I never once heard him complain. Instead, he focused on the kindnesses and was always will to give back. He passed away when I was perhaps too young to recognize his contributions to his community. But I know these things now and am better off for it.
Diana Jeong, a lifelong resident of Malden, is retired from a management position with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and now participates in a variety of volunteer activities within the Malden community.