Dong, Fay and Juanita Tape 1 of 2 5/1/00
By Kimberly Lancaster and Jennifer Mitchell
This is an oral history of the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta. The interview is being recorded with Mr. and Ms. Fay and Juanita Dong on May 1, 2000. The interviewers are Jennifer Mitchell and Kimberly Lancaster.
KL: Today is May 1, 2000, we are talking with Fay and Juanita Dong. I am Kimberly Lancaster and also here is
JM: Jennifer Mitchell
KL: We are interviewing for the Mississippi Delta Oral History Project. Will you start by telling us a little about your parents?
FD: Well my parents were immigrants. My father came first in the early 1910’s probably about 1916 or ’18, I think. My mother came in 1932 or ’29 something like that give or take a couple of years. I was born in ’34. I lived in Drew until ’61. That was through my years at Mississippi State and part of them at Ole Miss. That is the early part of it. When I went to school, we did not have any actually public school for us. We had three or four families together at a small makeshift school. You might say. That is the first that I remember. There used to be a librarian. She taught us what ever she knew. I stayed with this system through the first few grades. Then after that I went to the public schools. This was right at the time of World War II. I finished junior high and high school in Drew in ’53.
JM: Where did you mom and dad come from in China?
FD: Like where I have read and what people have told me that it was from the Plason area. That is where most of all the Asian or Chinese immigrants migrate from during that time. Almost all of them came from that one area. I could understand all of them. When you get out of that area, you can’t understand a lot what is going on.
JM: Different dialects?
FD: Yes, exactly.
KL: So you do speak Chinese?
FD: Actually I can get by.
KL: Did you learn to write it to?
FD: No, I never learned to write it. I can speak it pretty well. I could get by pretty good.
JM: Have you ever been back to China?
FD: On visits, yes we have. We have been to China three times through the years. Guchamisay twice, and then another tour to Shanghai.
JD: Fay’s ancestral home is still standing. We didn’t know how much longer it would be standing. We decided that we would take all the children back and let them go back to the roots. Let them look around, and see for themselves of what it was like. It is an interesting place.
JM: What was it like?
JD: A fishing village, wouldn’t you say Fay?
FD: It is a village right on the South China Sea. I guess the biggest occupation was fishing.
KL: Was your family fisherman?
FD: No, they were well I have been told that my grandfather was a teacher in some form of fashion. My father was educated as far as their education goes. My mother was not although she had a couple of years of schooling.
JM: When they came to the United States, did they come through Seattle or did they just come straight to the Delta? How did they make their way?
FD: I know that my mother came through Seattle because I have seen the papers. MY
father came over a couple of times. Gathered from hearing them talk and reading I think that some of them thought that it was a better way of life if you go further east from the West Coast. Some of them chose to stay there, and some of them chose to pick up and leave.
JM: Is that the way they came to Drew?
FD: Yes, I have been told that my father had a business around the areas of Clarksdale, Drew, and I can’t remember some of the small towns. I have been told that he even tried truck farming once.
JM: Were your parents married in China?
FD: Yes, they were. Actually the part of the family that I am in, was my father’s second family. I have a half-brother. He also lives in the Delta.
JM: Did your half-brother come with you?
FD: Well he was born in the states. He went to China when he was a child. He stayed there probably ten, twelve, or fifteen years. Then he came back. He went to school in Webb, MS. It is funny that he found his way back to Webb. Then he came to Drew with my father. He worked in the family grocery store of course. Then now he has his own family, somehow they ended up back in Webb.
JM: You and your brothers and sisters.
FD: I have two brothers. The older brother and then I have another brother between us too. He lives in Augusta, Georgia. He is a pharmacist like I am. We have three sisters. They all have teaching credentials. The sister next to me got married and then went back to school. She finished at Delta State. She taught one year just to say she taught. Then she worked in her husband’s family grocery store. Then my other two sisters are in San Francisco. They are teachers also. They both been out there since 1962 or ’63.
JM: You were all been born here in the states?
FD: That is correct.
JM: What sort of traditions or values sort of hand down to you?
FD: Well, first of all probably more than anything else is that they taught us the importance of the education, which we were hoping to pass on to our children. That was the big thing. They taught us to love and honor your parents and ancestors.
JM: How did you and your wife meet?
FD: Well, it was on a blind date. She is sister with Ed Joe’s wife, Annette. When I was freshman at Mississippi State one day we were traveling back to state together. It was my turn to take the family car. Of course we would take turns taking our car. He wanted stay late himself to see his girl. He said how about staying or going a little later today. I will get you a date with her sister. So that is how it ended up. Even though I had known her or of her for a few years.
JM: Did you go to the Lucky Eleven dances?
KL: Lucky Eleven dances?
FD: Of course.
JM: What were they like? What was all that about?
FD: Well it was a dance. It was parties that we all would try to get together. They were sponsored more than shorter spearhead the get together. We would have dances on Thanksgiving, holidays, and during the summer. The big event the big dance was after Christmas. It was between Christmas and New Year’s. You would dress kind of nice. It was semi-formal. That was something we always looked forward to having a good time.
JM: How big was the, how many people was there?
FD: Sometimes it would be over a hundred. We would have people from Arkansas, Tennessee, and New Orleans. There would be a few from Houston, TX.
KL: These parties were well known.
FD: People would come in from Savannah, Georgia. It was just a fun thing. It was not for any general purpose except to have fun.
JM: When you were growing up in Drew, what was growing up like for you and your brothers and sisters?
FD: Well, growing up for me, I have fun memories in my childhood days. I played with all of the neighbors’ kids in town in softball and baseball just like anyone else. I had some real good friends. Friendships that I cherished, and feel like they will never bring this well, they were my friends. School was there just like everything else. It was difficult like small town kids. You just hang around your friends. You run around in-groups and do things. We would get in trouble. Get to be mischievous.
KL: Was your family one of the only Chinese families in Drew?
FD: We had two families in Drew. It ended up being three families after. My cousins that would come up to Drew, but they were younger than me.
JM: Were they affiliated with you all stores or did they do something else?
FD: No, they did something else. They had a store of their own.
JD: That is how the Chinese did it. Your parents started. When they got a little bit. Some of the other family came over and they gave them a start. They helped them get a start. It is kind of. Well, I think that is the way that most of the Chinese.
FD: That is how most of them came to the Delta anyway.
JD: They would help. They would loan them. They would actually go buy the store. They would furnish it and go in and help them till they could see that they can make it own there own. Then they would pay them back when they could. That is part of the history is that as a group of people they were determined to help each other.
FD: A lot of times some of these people even back in the old country, as we would say in the village. They knew each other all ready. They tend to help each other. You might say they might end up in-groups from the same subdivisions. They are from the same streets that are helping each other.
JM: Did you grow up in?
JD: In Boyle, MS. I was born in Merigold. I lived there till I was about seven. There was a Chinese school there in Cleveland. We were not allowed to go the public schools. I went there till I was in the third grade. Then we moved to Boyle because it was one of the two towns or three towns at that time that did have a place for the Chinese to go to a public school. We moved there. There were what eight of us kids. Let’s see what do I need to tell you?
KL: I know that your sister, Annette, is the oldest. You are the second?
KL: What was that like being the oldest or next to the oldest of eight children? Did you have a lot of responsibility?
JD: Well we had a store. So it was the living quarters that were attached to the store. What it amounted to it was a block, it was a solid block. It was four storefronts. Two storefronts were the store. Then two storefronts were the bedroom, where our quarters were. We had five bedrooms and two baths back there. It was pretty comfortable. We had a buzzer. We were always a slave to that store. You mean you would have one or two people out in the store, if it got busy. They would hit that buzzer, and we knew we had to take off and go. We were raised actually. I think we all started making change. We used to have a little carpenter aprons.
ED: Carpenter aprons
JD: Aprons, because the little cotton choppers would come in. It would be a whole busload at a time. They would assign one of us kids to each island. You had the potato chips. You had to peanuts. You had the cokes. You collected. You made sure you collected what ever went out of your division. So we started doing that at a very early age. We all had our responsibilities just as Fay’s family. I think all of us were raised the same way. Certain people were supposed to sweep. You had to fill up the drink machines. You had to stack groceries. You had to do all the things. There was always a lot to do as far as helping with other kids of course because our youngest sister is sixteen years younger than me or eighteen years younger than Annette. She went to college the year she was born. It is spread out pretty much. I am sure Annette told you that our parents were born. Our mom was born in St. Louis. Dad was born in Merigold.
JM: This is something that I was really confused about. Your mama went back to China?
JD: I think the story. Mama is still living. She is eighty-four. She has had a couple of strokes. When I try to get her to tell me some things it is hard to get her to tell me some things, it is hard to get her to say very much about it. The way that I understand it is that she was born in St. Louis. Her parents sent her back to China to be educated. She stayed there from the time she was ten or twelve until she was eighteen. Then she came back over. Then she married Daddy at nineteen.
JM: At St. Louis, or by that time was?
JD: She married in Greenville. She had two brothers that lived in Greenville, MS.
JM: That was during the flood?
JD: Yes, she had a big church wedding, which was really unusual at that time. Elsie Blooms used to be a real exclusive shop there in Greenville. She bought her wedding dress there. We still had her shoes until we left Jackson. Everybody moved out. We meant to go back and get some of those things and we didn’t. They were married at First Baptist Church in Cleveland. They had a little mission there.
KL: At the Chinese Baptist Church?
JD: No this was at the First Baptist Church before that was built.
KL: Before that was built.
JD: That was in 1935, I guess.
JM: When did they build that Chinese school there?
JD: You know I don’t know. I know that it had been built for some time before I went there because it was a boarding school. When I went there the Chinese kids no longer boarded there. Just some of us went as day students. Some of them before then actually boarded there. I think some of my aunts and uncles may have gone there. That building I think is just about gone now. It actually had a dormitory.
KL: The first half of the day was spent teaching English and the second half was spent teaching Chinese?
JD: As far as the school was concerned. I don’t know if we were ever taught Chinese in the regular school. That was just during the summer. During the summer there was a Chinese preacher called Jay Con Chan. He was working on his Ph.D. at Southern. He would come back and would have what you would call Chinese school during the summer. It had nothing to do with the regular school. It wasn’t after school. It was during the summer. Are you disagreeing with me?
FD: I don’t know because I didn’t go.
JD: Well, the only Chinese school the only time we were taught anything Chinese was in the summer. When Bro. Chan would come back, and we would go over there like summer school there. He did teach us to read and write some Chinese. It was really, really. If you could, imagine having everybody from six years old to eighteen all in the same room and trying to teach them. We did not learn a whole lot.
FD: It probably (Tape not understandable).
JD: I don’t know. I don’t know.
FD: That is probably what.
JD: As far as Robert and Sang Jr. They may have gone to school there. He is talking about my cousins from Duncan, MS. My uncle Sing’s children, but now all their daughters went to Senatobia. They went to a boarding school. The older boys may have gone to the Cleveland Chinese School.
JM: There was a Chinese Boarding School in Senatobia?
JD: No, it was a regular.
FD: It was just an agricultural school. It was sort of like they have in Moorhead. It was half to go there.
JD: They sent all the girls went there. The boys were older. A couple of boys, I don’t know that far back.
JM: Going back to the store when you were children. Your sister was talking about how your mother and father and you father particularly was very protective. If there were a lot of rowdiness going on that they would get the girls back inside. Do you remember that?
JD: I don’t recall a lot of rowdiness. I do know that we were in the store during the time that integration started. Probably what she is referring to is that there were times when there were some black/white issues. We were kind of in between. I think that we were perhaps that is what she is referring to. When he would see that something would not might go well, he would say well get on back in the house. I don’t really recall any true violence. There probably was. She is just two years older than me. Maybe she can remember more of that than I can.
KL: Did you feel like there was criticism or discrimination from others? She described it as being in the middle or in between. Did you feel the discrimination from both blacks and whites?
JD: I think the whites were divided into two groups, really. You had the people that were kind of the cut above the people that we think of as the ones being the Delta folks. They always welcomed us with open arms. They were more than gracious and good to us. Then there were rednecks, true rednecks, and some of those were not so wonderful. Some of them were not very kind. Some of them were wonderful. Then some of the others that was redneck as they could be. They were still awfully good friends and took care of us. There were several groups. Back in that day in time, prejudice was not just Chinese. I can remember when all Italians were Dagos. It was prejudice was with Catholics. I mean they were prejudice against everybody. We weren’t the only people that had the grunt. The society at that time was a very polarized cut and dry roots. It wasn’t like it is today.
JM: It is interesting there was like Mr. Joe was talking about how the Delta was sort of a melting pot. There was a lot of different people would come as immigrants and have stayed.
JD: That is right like the Jewish people. Matter of fact we have a tape of the Mississippi Jews. We haven’t found time to watch it yet, but someone sent it to us. They brought out some of those things. It was a place for a person could go if they worked hard. They could do a little of business. They could get a little hand up.
JM: What about African American communities? Did you feel a little discrimination or prejudice between the Chinese community and the black community?
JD: I think that the black community probably accepted us as merchants. They felt like we were better to them and kinder to them than a lot of people were. We treated them with more respect. I guess they saw us as something in between. During that time, this was the time that integration started. There were a lot of black and white issues back then. We were kind of on the cusp on the two worlds.
KL: I know that your parents probably came with the intent to go back to China or not?
FD: I don’t know. I can’t tell you for sure of that. I often hear about them talking about people wanting to come for sort of not an extended stay and to gather up enough money to go back and to live comfortable. I don’t remember hearing my parents that they wanted to go back. We stayed here.
JD: They may have come with that thought. They certainly didn’t entertain it very long.
FD: Especially after you have family here. You can see what a better life that they can have here and there future.
KL: I imagine having such a large Chinese community also probably helped.
FD: I probably would think it would be because it was sort of comfortable here. There were mingling and socializing. It was not so much, just parties that they would have. We had closer friends that gathered at times.
JD: The extended families on his side and on our side of the family on Sundays, my dad’s Aunt Sue and her family. Then Uncle Wing they would all come to Mom’s house. She would cook a big meal for them. His mother was the same way. Her extended family, her two brother’s family quite often came on weekends. The extended family was really, really important on both of our lives. Of course Fay’s mother you know lived with us, well, till she died. Our children got to know a lot more of the Chinese customs and things perhaps that most people don’t have that opportunity.
FD: Let me say this, I think they try to speak more than other kids there same age.
JD: The reason for this is Grandmother refused to learn English. She refused to speak English to them. So they had no choice. She made that point. She said that if I learn to speak English they would never learn any Chinese. That was very deliberate on her part. That is probably the reason why they know what little they know now. In order to communicate with her. She understood them. She just refused to answer them in English. (Tape cut off). She sounds just like grandma. (Tape cut off). The summers when we grew up, we had the Chinese young folks got together a lot and had dances and parties.
FD: Ed probably went over all of that.
JD: Ed probably went over a lot of that with you all.
JM: He just mentioned the Lucky Eleven. Was that the same group of people that held this summer parties that you all are talking about?
JD: Some of them, some of them were just groups of people that would just rent a place and have an old fashion jam session. It was a lot of fun.
JM: What kind of music?
JD: I guess what ever was popular at that time.
FD: Flatters, Jimmy Janes.
JD: The typical fifties.
FD: It is like what they play on the Oldies now. Of course this was in the fifties.
JM: Did you go to drive in movies too?
FD: We saw movies.
JD: Didn’t everybody in the fifties?
JM: I guess so.
JD: There was nothing else to do.
JM: That is what your sister was telling us. That you all would pile up in the cars and would go.
JD: Yeah there was nothing else to do.
KL: Did your family also live in the store, or?
FD: Yes, they had living quarters in the back. At one time we had a garage apartment. We had our living quarters and bedrooms over the garage. We spent so much time in the store.
KL: You had to be close by.
FD: You had to be close by.
JD: It was about the only way really that our folks could have made it and raised the family too. I think the living quarters varied a lot. Some of the people made it pretty comfortable.
FD: That was a way you could watch the family grow up and work at the same time.
JM: You can have both.
FD: You can watch the ones do their homework. You can go back and watch the front of the store.
JM: Did you maintain, some people that we talked to say that they opened up the stores at six o’clock and would stay open anywhere from ten o’clock at night to two o’clock at morning.
JD: Now we did to midnight. On the weekends we were open to midnight.
FD: There were people that would open up say five thirty in morning. Then they would close back up about eight or eight-thirty. They would sleep an hour and then they would open back up.
JD: That was to catch the people going out to the fields to work.
FD: It was usually would be lots of people. It was a line of stores that would open their stores to nine at night.
JD: The days were long.
JM: Did you all have, we are talking about the field workers. Did the Italians come to your grocery stores and Jewish people or was it dominantly white and black that came?
JD: Everybody came. We had the largest store in town. So we had just about everything in town.
JM: So you sold everything.
JD: We had everything from nails to oilcloth. We had twenty-five pounds sacks of flour. We had garden dust. We had anything you could name. We had wash tubs. We had scrub doors.
FD: It was more or less they were a general store.
JD: It was very much a general store.
FD: We sold of course you probably don’t know it. We called them kneepads. When they pick cotton with them because they pick cotton on their knees.
JD: Did you all ever see kneepads?
JM: Yes sir.
FD: When they picked cotton they would walk on their knees all day long. We sold those things.
JD: Yeah, we had a lot of the stuff that they show in these Cracker Barrels. Really it was really pretty much like that. It was very little that we didn’t have.
JM: Did you serve meals?
JD: No, but we would do, no but we would do things like lunchmeat and things like that. Sometimes they would come in, and say they want. We used to have a, some of the people who owned the plantations would come in and say hey, I need twenty-five bologna sandwiches. So they would want us to go on and fix the sandwiches so that they can hand them out. We would do things like that.
KL: How did the store change, or the merchandise change after mechanization took over? Did you have to change? Did the store adjust?
JD: You mean how did the store adjust. We modernized in that we started to have the carts and made it self service. As far as scanning and things we were out of that business by the time that it got to all of that.
FD: Most of them were out of the business before they did that.
KL: I mean the mechanization of farming.
FD: Farmer, labor.
KL: When the machines and the cotton gins.
FD: Well by that time.
JD: They had food stamps. They had more money to spend than they would pick with working.
FD: They had food stamps. Like I said by that time some of the older merchants that were here earlier started to modernize the store a little bit. It is not so much as a service thing, but a self-service thing. You just pick you own groceries and things like that. At that time most of the people were called day labor. They worked in the field for so many dollars a per day instead of going. They would operate a tractor for so many dollars a day. Right after probably in the early fifties and late forties Chinese started to doing the process of changing their stores over to self service.
JM: Was there, this is kind of, seasonal workers like Mexican workers? Did they come through?
FD: There were.
JM: Would you say the same families came through in different seasons?
FD: I don’t actually remember having the same like seeing them this summer and having them next summer.
JD: I don’t think so because those children went to school. I can’t ever remember ever seeing those same kids come back the next year. They did make them come to school. Some of them did go to school. They were not the same kids. I never thought about it much. I don’t remember ever seeing the same kid come back another year.
KL: Another diversion, who in your family most influenced you and your extended family?
FD: I don’t know, I guess my mother probably. Can you think of anything?
JD: I think Fay’s father died when he was very, very young. I would probably have to say your uncle, Uncle Sing was probably was kind of a father figure to you because his dad died when his youngest sister was a baby. I think he was closer to you all than some of the others in you all family and the rest of them.
FD: I know that he was probably one of the real (Tape was not able to understand).
JD: There were so much of our immediate family, that there were so many of us. I can’t think of any of the extended family that was really closer than the others. I was going to call my Aunt Sue because she is the last one in my dad’s family that is living to try to find out when my grandpa and grandma came over. I didn’t get around to doing it. I meant to do it today. I just didn’t get around to doing it.
JM: What is her name, Sue?
JD: Sue, She now spells her name. She changed the spelling of her name, Yen in Tuttwiler, MS. I meant to do that to call and see when they came. I think they were some of the first Chinese in the delta.
KL: Do you ever hear your parents talk about the late eighteen hundreds in the Delta? Did they know any Chinese people who had come in the late 1800s?
JD: I think that my grandparents would have probably come in the early 1900s. I don’t think that these would be that far back.
KL: The reason that I ask is because, Edward Joe, they were talking about the earliest Chinese that he had heard of in the Delta had come in to work on the farms but it did not work out. I was just wandering if you remembered any?
FD: No, there I think my brother-in-law who is now deceased my have had some of his family come over a lot earlier because I think they are the third generation there in that one town. That is Moorhead, MS. Matter of fact you might check with John Paul.
JM: That is your brother?
FD: No, John Paul lives in Moorhead.
JD: John Paul Quon, you would probably have some knowledge of that.
FD: As I remember hearing my brother-in-law talking about it. His grandfather was in Moorhead, MS, and that was a long time ago. They probably still came real early.
JD: Did Annette remember anything about Grandpa Gong?
JM: She didn’t say a whole lot. I think she said that they came in the early nineteen hundreds. (Tape cut off).
JD: And in college, of course there was no college assistance. Everybody either got a scholarship or they paid for it. College was good to us.
JM: Did you also go to Ole Miss?
JD: Yes, I had a scholarship for one year to Delta State. That is one reason that I went there. Then I went to Ole Miss and finished there.
KL: What was it like at Delta State?
JD: Delta State had about five hundred students back then. They had curfews. They had vandijur dorm rooms. We did all those things back then that were real simpleratay, but everybody did it back then. It was real strict curfews especially for freshman.
JM: Did they have curfews for men or just for the women or both?
JD: I don’t know about the guys. Did you have curfews?
FD: Well, you know at Mississippi State we didn’t have a curfew. We should have had one.
JD: You probably would be better off if you did. We did have some teachers that really took special interest. There were some very kind and good people.
FD: Do you want to speak on Delta State?
JD: No, I am thinking of teachers in genera like Ms. Han King. She was something special. She kind of adopted the family. The kitchen was behind the store. It was between the living quarters and the store. She would pop her head in there and come in. She would pop down there and have dinner with us or what ever was there. We had several teachers like that. They just had a missionary type attachment to the family.
KL: Do you think a lot of it was to motivation was to be a missionary?
JD: No, not missionary in the religious part, a missionary in the way of being helpful (Tape cut off).
FD: There are always some people in the small towns that take a special interest in some of the children.
JM: With the churches and the school, were there families in the Delta or white families in the Delta that Chinese families would grow up close to through collaboration with the churches and schools?
FD: Well there were a lot of different cases. They would it was something you could say a drive or project. People would donate to the cause, not as far as being helpful, they didn’t know how too ordinary to speak petition in the language. So, it didn’t help in any sort. They would be a sponsor in something like that. People would donate to the school paper. Get on the page and get circulation and things like that and buying an ad.
KL: Tell us a little bit about your children?
FD: I’ll let you take that. She enjoys telling about that.
JD: Like you don’t. We have three kids. The oldest is Randall. He is thirty-five. He was a very good student. He is a Tramline Scholar. He finished in State. Then he got his law degree at the University of Virginia. He is in private practice. My second son is Christopher. He is a National Merit. He finished at State and went to the University of Virginia Law School too. He is an Air Force Jag working in Baltimore with N. S. A. now. The youngest one is a daughter. She is twenty-eight. She has a degree in philosophy and English. Then she went back and got a master’s in accounting. She works for Hoff Anderson. She is a consultant. She travels a lot.
JM: It sounds like your youngest daughter takes after your youngest of your siblings a little bit because doesn’t she teach rhetoric in Hong Kong?
JD: Oh the youngest daughter was a National Merit too. Yes, she teaches in Hong Kong. So Annette brought you up to date on the siblings on what they all do.
JD: I think that was part of the heritage that you were expected and we were always told. We didn’t worry a lot about getting or people discriminating against us. We were always just told you just need to be twenty or twenty-five percent better than anybody else to get to the same place. That was a given. It wasn’t something that we dwelled on. It wasn’t something that we groaned about. We just knew that we needed to be twenty percent better. So that was just a go. We just did it. I think it was something. I know my parents, our parents, emphasized it a lot. You just got to remember you have a handicap. You are just going to have to over come it.
FD: I know that just about all of the Chinese adults back then just put a lot on school and education. It was just everything, and probably I would venture to say that the whole bunch and the gatherings. How we would have a parties and things. All the people that probably was ninety-nine percent was college graduates and doing there own thing.
JD: I think it was really the whole thing. I guess you can say it was part of the culture that you would have to leave each generation had to get better. That was your charge. That is what Dad used to say you owe me. You owe me to be better than I was. My grandchildren will be better than you are.
KL: Do you think the younger generation feels that pressure as much?
JD: Pressure to achieve, you mean?
JM: To continue to better off than before?
JD: I think we pretty much have the attitude and told them that they had enough that were given enough intelligence to be anything that they wanted to be. We were limited only by what they would do. I don’t think they are. What would you say Fay?
FD: Well. . .
JD: I think as far as the education they were as driven.
FD: I think sometimes they feel like they are sort of a little pressure.
JD: I think so. I think they do. I think they feel the pressure.
FD: Of course, first thing that crossed my mind when I talked to them when they were going to school was how are your grades come out. That was the first thing that I asked. I think the grades were just about the key to everything. Along with religion developed that. Of course you will be outgoing and you get along with people. There was a lot of smart people in the world. (Tape was not able to understand). We put a lot of store in it education. We are proud of them all. They know it. (Tape cut off). They have left Mississippi. They are gone. In fact probably Ed was one of the first one to stay. The rest of them were engineers and the state of Mississippi really how many people can hire engineers. So naturally these people are going out and work for Block E and big oil companies and big industry. We don’t have enough jobs for higher educated engineer or anything. Of course it is a more of a business atmosphere than scientific and technology. We are not a technical state. So like I said most people have left and gone to other places. I have nieces and nephews that were educated at Ole Miss, and they are gone to Texas and Dallas and other places.
KL: Houston has a large community of Chinese.
JD: A lot of them from Cleveland too. A lot of Mississippi Delta Chinese are there.
FD: In fact, I just came back from Houston a couple of weeks ago. Oh, Willie is out there. He has a big. They have a big family. They are highly educated. They came from the Mississippi Delta. The oldest daughter, but mostly all from Mississippi anyway.
JD: Well, yeah because there weren’t any opportunities for fields that they went into.
FD: Most of the are educated, but all of them are in manage, chemistry, physics.
JM: Do you think that was sort of a mapped out thing? When people went into these different fields do they do that thinking that they might be able to get jobs outside of Mississippi, or was it just something that just sort of happened?
JD: I don’t think it was conscious effort to leave Mississippi. I don’t think that was the point.
FD: The interest lies in there.
JD: I think that when you say you are in the fifties. I can only speak for the time that we grew up and you were a minority, and jobs might be hard to get. Then certainly the liberal arts and the more technical fields would preclude a lot of other people. So there opportunities would be greater there. Now all three of our kids did double arts. We cringed at that. What if you can’t make a living you know? That kind of bothered us. She said that is fine. She knows that I might have to support you for the rest of your life. I think with the fluid set in the times goes on, I think the liberal arts come in to play. During our generation certainly it was a technical. Everyone went to the technical fields. Our kids cringed and they say those are technical jobs. Yuck.
FD: Those are bunch of nerds.
JD: These are the richest nerds you know. Why don’t you go into the computer science. There was a safety. They can do some things that not everybody could do.
FD: Well I believe that is. I believe that is more Chinese pond, which they go into a technical things.
JM: Mississippi has very good programs like that through the colleges.
JD: They do.
FD: Mississippi State does a real good job.
JM: We have kind of talked about it very generally. How is your experience in the Delta right now different from that of your parents? It is kind of a way question.
FD: Well you talk about my childhood.
JM: Well how old were you when you left? Was it right out of college you left the Delta?
JM: Okay that might be a terrible question.
JD: We have been gone a long time.
FD: You might can talk to Raymond about that because Raymond is a lot longer. He everyday life is probably not much different from anybody else’s.
KL: He used to wake up awfully earlier to get to the morning show.
FD: Yeah, he is a character.
JM: I don’t catch the morning show.
FD: Well I haven’t see it myself. Though we poke at him a little bit about it.
KL: So you do stay in touch with your friends in the Delta that are still there?
JD: We just got a little bit of family. Not too many friends are still there.
FD: Talking about Chinese friends?
KL: Well anybody, friends and family.
FD: I only got a cousin in Greenville.
JD: And my brother.
FD: And my brother in Webb. We are pretty much see them. We sure do.
KL: Now Raymond’s father and
FD: My mother are brother and sisters.
KL: There are a lot of connections.
FD: Yes, just like Juanita was saying at Christmas time when we were younger. We all gathered together. It was nothing like home. It was twenty-three or twenty-five people, and we would be eating the whole time.
KL: Did you go to your uncle’s restaurant? When did he start that restaurant?
FD: He started that restaurant in ’69 in Greenville. He took over an old Burger King, or something like that. From there, this is his third building now. The families third building now.
KL: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered? It seems like they have covered the bases.
JD: Did we cover weddings?
KL: Yeah that really was, do tell?
FD: Weddings were the happenings in the Delta. It would be nothing like. Our wedding was probably a small wedding. We only had an estimated guess about five hundred. It was a small one. Her brother had a wedding. I think they had eight hundred and something. Some of them have everybody would get invited. They would be at the V. F. W. hut or the American Legion.
JD: That was before the days of Chinese restaurants. They volunteered in each family to come in a spend a weekend preparing the feast. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work. It was a dreadful amount of work. They fix you know I think nine course for about five hundred people.
JM: What were the courses?
FD: Well traditional Chinese wedding banquet. It depends on the family. They have a tradition. My family is in the (Tape cut off).
Tape 2 of 2
KL: This is tape 2 of 2. I am Kimberly Lancaster and Jennifer Mitchell is also here. We are interviewing Fay and Juanita Dong for the Mississippi Delta Oral History Project. We were talking about the different courses for a wedding banquet.
FD: Wedding, like I said my family slant toward the seafood of the pole. Then we tried to have some delicacies that we thought were delicacies. According to our customs and traditions you might say village in a little country.
JM: What were some of those delicacies?
FD: Well we would have like seafood. We would have lobster and shrimp. We would have. I know you have heard of people having bird’s nest soup.
KL: Bird’s nest soup?
FD: You haven’t heard of that.
KL: Well I have heard of that, but what is in that?
FD: Well I will not dwell upon that.
JM: Uh oh.
FD: It is supposed to be a delicacy. It is very expensive. I guess some of us older people would know what it is all about. Some of the younger people don’t eat it anymore.
KL: Now I have heard of this, I don’t know if this. Partially developed eggs like chicken embryos are that what it is made of?
FD: No, I don’t know anything about that though.
KL: I don’t know where I have heard that. So you want tell us what is in the bird’s nest soup?
FD: It is more or less gathering from a bird’s nest. It is really I guess. I am not sure about it myself really. I have been told when I gather. It is part of what the bird you might say.
FD: Yeah that is what I am trying to say. That is what I have been told. Then they have a thing of vegetables like stuff mushrooms. Then they would have oysters and stuff like that. The wedding is a real big thing. Like I said there is nothing having over five hundred people. Ours was one of the small ones probably. It attracted people from three or four states.
JM: Would people from the white and black communities come, or was it primarily Chinese people?
JD: It was primarily Chinese, but quite a few whites would come.
FD: If they were real close we consider real close friends we probably would have schoolteachers and stuff. The mayor of Boyle would come.
JD: Predominantly Chinese
KL: He talked about the specific food the fishing village? Was your family from a different area? Did you have a?
JD: I think they were in the same kind of area but not as close to the seacoast.
KL: Did the food reflect it?
JD: Well the food that they prepared for our wedding was not typical what the other families would prepared for their weddings. Would you say that is fair?
JD: For example, they had a gold fish, which is considered a delicacy. I didn’t think that was a delicacy. I couldn’t understand why anybody wanted to serve a gold fish at my wedding. So there were difference in. They had a dish called kelgore, which is uncured bacon that is cooked three different ways. It is deep fat fried. Then it is braized.
FD: Then steamed.
JD: Then steamed, and it has all different kinds of herbs and annies on it. I really wasn’t too keen on that either. It is just differences in what their perception of what was wonderful was necessary to what I thought was wonderful at the time we got married to tell you the truth. I thought. I would have rather just had duck.
JM: Were these part of the nine courses?
JD: I think different families think different things are special. His Uncle Sing that was the one that was more of a father image took a great deal of pride in making that menu because it was not like everybody else has duck. Everybody else has this and that. We are going to have something that no one else has done. We are going to do something special. It was really a labor of love. They did a lot of work on it. It was special.
KL: The men were very involved in putting.
JD: The men did it.
FD: They all did.
JD: They did it. They did all the work.
KL: They did.
JD: What would happen is the women would take over the business, and the men would. This was a happening for them. It was a big social thing. They sort of a house raising in the old times. They all got together and they all pitched in. Everybody had their own special things. They did it. It was just a lot of fun.
JM: Have you been able to participate in a lot of weddings that way?
FD: You mean cook? No not me. Me help cook? No we don’t have those anymore. We all know that there is a Chinese restaurant close by, and they go there. Sometimes they are so loud that the gathering is not as much. Of course there are fewer people now too. There are not as many Chinese families anymore. So if the restaurant can accommodate them, they will have one at the restaurant. As far as the old weddings that we used to go to, I just don’t know if they have any of those anymore. If they do, we don’t get invited to any of them. We are social outcast.
JD: We are passed that point.
KL: Did you learn to cook?
FD: No not really, but I.
JD: He is determined that he want learn to cook. He doesn’t know how to turn on washing machine either. He is determined that he doesn’t want to learn. It is a social thing that he was raised by his mother.
FD: I can always tell them how to cook, and what looks good on them.
KL: You know how to give orders.
FD: Right and advice
JD: Anybody that can live with his mother for sixty years you can’t expect them to do any better.
JM: Something that people haven’t really talked about at all are funerals and also births. How are those?
JD: Well we just had my dad’s funeral in January. That is kind of fresh on my mind. I think funerals there are several things at a Chinese funeral that are a little bit different. One of those is that after the funeral as they leave after the burial. A coin when they leave and a piece of candy and a coin, and the idea is that to take away the bitter and that you will be richer for having known this person. The symbolism there is great. We have a meal afterwards.
FD: I don’t think that is unusual hun. It is our heritage.
JD: Well it is unusual not as customary. I didn’t say it is unusual.
JM: Do people cook like they would at the weddings?
JD: Well we actually we go to a restaurant. It would be a simpler meal. It would not be as elaborate. It would be a good meal.
JM: Where is he buried?
JD: Here in Jackson. So you want to do the babies?
FD: Well babies, they just give a party. The grandparents usually give a party for a new born. That is about the extent of it.
JD: After the baby is a month old.
JM: Okay, it is sort of an entrance into the community, or is it just so they are celebrating the birth?
FD: I don’t know.
JD: I don’t know. They call it and refer to it as the Red Egg and Ginger Party. I can remember when our children were born. Grandmother took an egg and rolled it on their heads. She actually rolled it on their heads. I have never seen that before. I don’t know what that is supposed to do. She literally did. She actually took the boiled egg and just rolled it on their heads.
FD: That is one of the old traditions. Other than that most of the time we just have a party. They will have the red eggs on the table. Then they will have some ginger and sugar cookies. That is what we would be eating on.
JM: Tell me about this red egg. I don’t know about it.
FD: It is just like an Easter egg.
JD: Easter egg that are dyed.
FD: Red, all in the same color.
JD: They dye them all red. Red is a celebration color.
FD: It is always supposed to be a happy color. White and red are. One other thing that people had is the sweet potato cooked in soy sauce. It taste would be sweet and vinegary at the same time.
JD: Then of course the whiskey soup. They served whiskey soup. It was chicken that was cooked with whiskey with black mushrooms and peanuts and livie stamens.
FD: Some it is supposed to be symbolic, but we don’t know the meaning.
JD: Some of it is supposed to be therapeutic they thought. The mother would help them to purify the blood and make her. It said something about the blood vessels. I of course if you get enough alcohol in you it will open up the blood vessels. It is literally whiskey soup. It is chicken broth and the live stamens. Some black well it is really not an mushroom, it is really an hard mushroom kind of a fungus.
KL: Is that they called wood ears?
JD: Wood ears, right that is what we use and peanuts. It is really tasty.
FD: What you call. . .(Tape was not able to understand).
JD: That is a traditional thing. The mother would when she would come home from the hospital or whatever they had these whiskey soup. Of course she stays on that for a while she will feel pretty good.
JM: How did you get the Live stamens and things like that for the soup? You couldn’t buy them at the grocery store. Did they come to your store?
JD: We would order them from Chinatown, San Francisco is where we used to order ours from.
FD: Now you probably can go to some Asian stores and buy them in Memphis.
JD: You can buy them anywhere now.
FD: They probably have them here probably.
JM: Are there any Asian store in Jackson?
FD: There are a couple of them.
JD: There is one in Ridgeland. You can get all of that stuff now.
FD: All kind of weird stuff in there.
KL: Food seems to be used as medicine?
KL: Did your grandparents, what did they think of western medicine? I know eastern medicine is more herbal. Did you have any experiences with that or hear about that?
FD: Yeah I have heard about it. I can’t think of it right now. It is some things that you know that as far ginseng I have always heard of that. Other than that, but other than that that is about it.
JD: Grandmother used to when she thought the kids looked kind of scrawny. She would cut up beef, and she would put it in this podule and put it in a big pot of water. Then extract all those meat juices, and make them drink it. Of course you know.
FD: With all those juices.
JD: Yeah she would make this concentrated meat broth. They did things like that, which came from the old country. They did have some herbs and things that they would put in there. I think one of your cousins, Jot Ming, at one time sold herbs in the old country.
FD: He did.
JD: He had an herb story and knew about all that sort of thing.
FD: But that is another thing. What have we not covered?
JD: How did we meet Fay?
FD: I have already told them my story. I have already told them my story.
JD: Did you tell them too that we are going to go see our family?
FD: We are going to, our blind date, I think we saw this movie, Three Colors of the Fountain. We are going to Italy this month. It is going to happen to fall on our anniversary, our thirty-ninth anniversary.
JM: You all are going to start making me cry.
FD: How about that?
JD: Our 39th anniversary that makes a good story.
FD: We are going to see Rome.
JD: We are going to see that Tribe Fountain.
JM: That is wonderful.
JD: I kind of nice though.
FD: Years ago, well they couldn’t go anywhere really as far as my parents going anywhere and a lot of other folks too go on vacations. They didn’t have time for vacations and things like that. Their minds were set on trying to accumulate some money. Now all of us younger generation we got some capital and we use some of it.
JD: You know I don’t think that is just true of us just the Chinese. I think that is true of the generation. I think that the generation of our parents. They were all hard working. They were from the generation that had seen the depression. They had seen war.
FD: That is true.
JD: So that generation was a rebuilding that feel good foundations we have today. Our group has been more fluent. We really didn’t have a real want, not true want maybe some desire but not want. I think this whole generation is that way.
JM: How do you think that, how did World War II affect your experience?
JD: Well my dad was there. He was actually at Tokyo Bay when they surrendered. He was out there after he had five kids, which was kind of. His sixth kid was born, and he was a year old before dad got to see him. Mom had the store, was pregnant and with five kids. It did affect us. It was a hard time. Our Aunt Sue was living with us then, and then mama had hired a housekeeper to help with the kids. We called her Ms. Bertha. She kind of took good care of us. All of my uncles were in the service. My cousins and everybody in the world was in World War II. Everybody we knew that was at that age and really the war was to the point where they took people older than what you would think going today. I said like my dad had five kids and one on the way. They were taking everybody. The war did have an impact. After the war dad at that time, still had two single brothers and a sister. Since his daddy told him take care of them, he felt that it was his job to take care of him. So when he came out of the service, he took his allotment money and opened a store in Boyle. That is pretty much it. He left the family business in Merigold for the three sisters and brothers. He felt that they needed to get a start.
JM: How about you were you affected by the War?
FD: No, we had no one in the service. I had an uncle to serve. He did not get to go overseas though. No we didn’t have anybody to serve.
JM: Mr. Joe had said that War World II that happened after War World II, he kind of felt like since people had been to other places. They have seen other things that when they came their attitudes had changed toward Chinese, Italians, and Jewish community.
JD: I think that is true.
JD: Especially in a little town, you just can not even get the prejudice even against Catholic. It was hard for anyone in your generation how it was. Yeah, I think that is very true.
KL: How about the Civil Rights Movement? Do you remember? Were you affected by that?
FD: Which way are you talking about?
KL: In any way.
JD: We were at Ole Miss when James Meredith. We were in Vet Village. The helicopters kept sweeping over. I was working in the drug store there. They were throwing tear gas around and all sorts of things. We went through the Jennifer-James Meredith incidence.
FD: How do you mean when were we affected from it?
KL: Well did you feel any affects? I don’t know like, she remembers being in the middle.
JM: Relating to the Chinese heritage perhaps?
FD: I don’t think it affected us.
JD: Us than what we observed.
FD: Observed, that was all.
JD: We were physically there, I don’t know if it had anything do with the Chinese heritage at all. We happened to be in the middle of it.
JM: What were the village that your were talking about?
JD: Vet Village.
FD: It is where all, it is just a section where the married people live.
JD: Apartments, they called it Vet Village back then because that is where you know.
FD: Originally when it was started the veterans that came back from the war they had their wives and they lived out there. They were the married bunch. That is where the married people live.
JM: Were you involved in the Greek system?
FD: We were not. My two sons were. In fact, Randall got to be a vice-president of the super council. Did he get president of the?
JD: I don’t know he was chosen one of the most outstanding Sigma Nus in the nation though. We did get. I think there is an order on one hundred or something like that.
FD: (Tape was not able to understand). I forgot that.
FD: I think they participated more. They had more of that Greek stuff when they went. We would make fun. Of course a lot of other people back then were mentioned that. Caucasians were also. That frat boy behind there or something like that you know. Frat boy is in love.
JM: Just like today.
FD: That is right. When it comes to election time on campus to make man on campus, usually it would be an attractive boy. Anything else we need to touch on?
JM: Is there anything else that comes to you all’s mind that you would like to share with us?
JD: I think the Delta was a good place to grow up. I have fond memories of it. It is a mighty good place.
FD: Yeah we grew up in the hay days in the Delta. When we all the big planters. We had those big farms there.
JD: Before the days of drugs on every corner. That is so much of that there now. It is just not. I know Boyle is completely dried up. There is not just no way to make a living there.
KL: This may be an unanswerable question. What do you think contributed that to the Delta the change in the Delta?
FD: Well they refused to first of all refused to try something else other than farming. When farming went mechanized and everything they were too far behind to the bring industry in. It was too late, the people that are own all the big farms did not want industry in that area. Money was ran for them. They wanted this kind of work and that is it.
JD: They wanted cheap labor.
FD: It was too late after that. Other places that would have been glad to have them you know.
JD: Then too I think the welfare stayed. You know manual labor pays very little. So when you got to the point where the welfare system over the people even though some states say it is not generous. When you look at what they had with out it, they were still living better. So many of the poor people lived better with the welfare than working. So there were welfare state that. You got second and third generation welfare now. It is a vicious cycle, and how do you break that cycle. It would be very difficult because of it becomes culture. It is a mentality. It is sort of entitlement. It is very difficult to undo. The funny thing about is that is what the old folks said when they started all of that. It was sort of a no brainier. They said if you are going to give them food stamps and subsidize them substances, that is better than they are doing now. When do you think they are ever going to go to work? The old folks it was really a no brainier. It has taken America a whole fifty years to figure it out.
FD: You can’t undo it.
JD: Well they have undone some more than I would ever thought they would get undone. We did create a welfare state in the Delta. I think that is very true. When Mississippi food stamps are just. It is not going to go to work around here. Hungry is a powerful incentive.
KL: What do you think the future generations?
JD: Of Chinese Americans?
KL: Yes, or specifically the Delta.
JD: I don’t see any Chinese returning to the Delta. There is just no way.
FD: There is no future there for anybody really.
JD: That is just not for Asians. Right now unless they turn around and do something.
JM: You know a lot of black people whose families that migrated north are coming back to the Delta. You just don’t see that at all for the Chinese at some point?
FD: I don’t think so. Well unless they.
JD: I don’t think this state is progressive enough to do the things that they have got to do to attract high skilled industries. That is what it would take to get some high tech or some certainly skilled industry rather than manufacturing. That is all we see and low skill at that coming back. So I don’t see that.
JM: If that was the case, and we were getting more advanced technologies in the Delta, do you think people would want to come back?
FD: Well, I think they want come back for just for the money.
JD: When you say come back, you got to remember our generation is the one that left. We are in our sixties. So it that is moved to
JM: There is nothing to come back to.
JD: That is right. Then our children never knew it. So I don’t see it as being a drop. It is sort of a move thing unless it just happens. They happen to have a special job that works out. (Tape cut off).
END OF DOCUMENT