Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

Life in America

by Linda Gong

Like many Chinese immigrants, Tom L. Gong arrived at Angel Island in 1936 as a “paper son.”  He came as Kong Leung Quong, a 14 year old boy, but he was actually 16 years old.  After a long life of work, he settled in Watsonville with his wife Edna, raised a family, and became a community leader actively involved in the Fah Yuen Association and the Sam Yick Association.


My dad, Tom L. Gong, came from China in 1936, on the President Hoover as a “paper son” with the name of Kong Leung Quong.  Dad always talked about ending up in Napa with relatives and being enrolled in elementary school and being placed in kindergarten.  The school didn’t know what to do with a fourteen year old who did not know the English language.  He was eventually moved to 3rd grade.  Dad survived school a couple of more years, and left to join the work force.  It was a good thing, as back in China preparations had been made for his arranged marriage to Edna Ow.  She arrived in January of 1940 and they were officially married at the Santa Cruz Courthouse in 1943.  Dad’s “paper son” age was 14 when he arrived to the U.S., but his birth age was 16.  In 1957 he legally changed his “paper name” to his birth name Tom Leong Gong.  The fact that his “paper son” was two years younger became and unlucky situation later in life when he had to work 2 additional years in order to get his social security benefits!  

The both of them ended up being chicken farmers in Santa Cruz and then eventually in Watsonville where they resided until their death.  A first daughter was born a year later and she died due to pneumonia.  They were able to later have 4 additional children, 2 boys and 2 girls.  After a couple of years of raising chicken and selling eggs, Dad joined a partnership of friends to open a meat market in downtown Watsonville.  It became a full service grocery store name Star Market and they eventually opened an additional store in Salinas.  

Dad’s hobby was fishing.  It was a good way to relax and also have some fresh fish on the dinner table.  He had several favorite lakes, but one he frequented often, especially during his retirement was Pinto Lake in Watsonville.  It was only about 10 minutes from the house and he spent most of the day there only going home to have lunch and bring mom to the lake fishing if the fish were biting.  He was known as the “Unofficial Mayor of Pinto Lake” because he not only fished there, but he kept an eye on things and also taught many, many young people how to fish.  Whenever they needed some help or assistance with their pole or bait, they knew they could count on Tommy to help them out.

Dad was actively involved with the Fah Yuen Association and Sam Yick Association in San Francisco acting as President at one time and then later treasurer.  He also was involved with the Chinese Community Group in Watsonville and representing them one year by being honored to ride a float for the Watsonville Fourth of July Parade.  He especially enjoyed helping Chinese newcomers get settled in the area by helping them find housing, enrolling their children in school and helping them information for them to find a job or open their own businesses.  Dad loved to have the family over for dinner or BBQ’s.  He loved to have his house bustling and crowded with family.  He especially enjoyed his great grand children during the last year of his life.  Dad died in July of 2004.

Memories from Linda Gong, youngest daughter of Tom L. Gong.

Place of Origin
Guangzhou, China

Place of Settlement
Watsonville, CA

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