by Kathy Ang
Wednesday, November 30, 1938, 3:45pm, 51 degrees F.
Kenneth Ang (aka Ang Nguey Tone), the eldest son, with his mother and younger sister and brother, China,1938.
Board of Special Inquiry, Angel Island, California.
In the Matter of: Ang Nguey Tone, Son of a Son of a Native, arrived on the S.S. President Coolidge, November 9, 1938.
Present: Inspectors E.I. Sims, Chairman; R.I Davis; and M.L. Dutton. Interpreters Taft Fong and Lee Park Lin.
All eyes in the room descended upon me. Their stern looks reinforced the Inspector’s sobering introductory statement:
“Your right to enter the United States will be considered by this board. The burden is upon you to prove that you are not subject to exclusion under any provision of the Immigration laws and all evidence in your behalf must be submitted at this hearing.”
Those words weighed heavily on my heart. “The burden is upon me…To prove that I am not subject to exclusion...”
The time had arrived. I had prepared for this moment. My responses in this interrogation would determine my future and my family’s future. I must listen carefully, concentrate, and give my best answers. I am not subject to exclusion. I am the son of a son of a native. My father is Ang Moon Bue and my brother is Ang Nguey Lim. I am a student. I am ready.
The Inspectors stated the rules and regulations of the hearing and my identification was verified against the ship manifest:
There were only twenty-three questions on this first day regarding my identity and the hearing ended because it was closing time. The questioning would resume tomorrow.
As I left the interrogation room and exited the administration building, I breathed a sigh of relief. The sun was setting and the sky had a beautiful orange glow to it. I shivered as the bay breeze washed over me. Looking towards the west, I thought about my Mother and younger Sister and younger Brother who I had left in our village in Hoiping, near Canton, China, about 50 days ago. There was a war raging there, and the Japanese were bombing Canton and the Pearl River Delta. Father had died nine years ago in a boat accident, and Mother took charge of making decisions for the four of us. She courageously led us out of Canton to find refuge in our ancestral village in the countryside. Clansmen had arranged for me to come to America, and with Mother’s blessing, I cooperated with the plan. On October 21, 1938, the very day I boarded the S.S. President Coolidge in Hong Kong to come to America, Canton fell to the Japanese and the city was being burned to the ground. My deepest hope was that my beloved family would remain safe, and that I could fulfill my duty to support them, by entering the U.S. and earning money to send back to them. Mother had been preparing me for this test for many months, drilling and coaching me to learn all the details of my new identity as a paper son. My family was depending on me to pass the test. I must pass the test.
From the administration building, I was escorted back up the hill to the hospital where I had stayed since I arrived on the island three weeks ago. It was November 9th when we entered San Francisco Bay and all of us in steerage were transferred from the ship to a ferry and shuttled to the Immigration Station on Angel Island. Our belongings were stored in the baggage shed. Then we walked up the dock to the administration building where we lined up and stripped down for the medical exam by the public health inspectors. It was then that I was found to have malaria. I had been sick during the voyage across the Pacific with fever and chills. Sweat poured out, drenching my clothes. My head hurt. I had stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. My whole body ached. I knew people could die from malaria, so I was very grateful that the doctor and nurses at the Angel Island hospital provided me with medicine and food to bring health back to my bones. Everyone told me that I was fortunate to be in the hospital rather than in the barracks because the hospital had more spacious quarters and better food. Last week, we were even served a Thanksgiving Dinner that we ate with the medical staff. It was my first taste of turkey, and it was delicious.
I was placed in the ward for Chinese males only. Out of the 257 Chinese passengers on my ship applying for admission, there were forty-nine of us who ended up in the hospital. Of course, our common fear was getting deported due to our poor health. Seven of us in total had malaria. Other people were being treated for a variety of ailments: scabies, tonsillitis, hookworm, colitis, bronchitis, hordeolum (infection of the eyelid), chickenpox, measles, ascariasis (parasitic roundworm), impetigo, a fractured clavicle, a tooth extraction, infection of the face, a burn on the arm, breathing problems, and chilblains (tissue injury due to cold and humidity). It was actually surprising that there weren’t even more people sick given that most of us had been cooped up in steerage for nineteen days.
I am back at my hospital bed now. Time to rest and prepare for tomorrow.
Thursday, December 1, 1938, 44 degrees F.
I awoke early. I took care to put on my white button-down shirt, my new wool suit and western shoes. Tying the tie was a challenge, but I finally got it. I wet my comb and straightened out the part on my left side. I thought to myself, “Mother would approve”.
I was escorted by security down the curved path from the hospital to the administration building once more, up the stairs on the left side through the Chinese entrance, and back to the interrogation room.
Today, it was the same three inspectors as yesterday, but a different interpreter, M.J. Lee (a Chinese woman), with interpreter Lee Park Lin observing. I had heard that different interpreters were used between sessions to make sure there was no collusion between the applicant and interpreter.
No time was wasted to continue where we left off yesterday.
Kenneth Ang (aka Ang Nguey Tone), 1938.
The questions came rapid-fire and went on for a very long time. They asked me about my paper family: details about my father Ang Moon Bue, my grandfather who was born in the United States, my mother, my brothers and sisters, my father’s brothers and sisters, and all their children, dates of birth, where they live. They asked about the village layout, my school, the arrangements inside the house and school, where each family member slept, who eats together, locations of ancestral gravesites, the ancestral hall, how the arrangements were made for me to come to America. It went on and on. They put photos of people in front of me and I had to identify them.
My mind was swimming with facts, and I just hoped I could keep all the details straight. I didn’t know whether the fever from the malaria affected my ability to think clearly, but I was determined to do my best.
There was a particular section of the questioning when I got nervous. They were probing me about the village.
“Q. Which way does the village face and where is the head?
A. Faces west and the head is north (changes) south (changes) north.”
I knew I was getting confused. The questioning continued.
“Q. How many rows of buildings in your village?
Q. How many houses in each row?
Q. When you face west is your right hand to the north or south?
A. South. (changes) North.
Q. Are you certain the head of your village is at the north?”
After one hundred seventy questions, I am dismissed.
The Inspector Chairman requests a change in interpreters. Interpreter H.K. Tang comes in to replace M.J. Lee; M.J. Lee stays to observe.
My paper father, Ang Moon Bue, was called and sworn in next. He had taken the 8:45 am ferry from Pier 5 in San Francisco this morning to get to the island. Similar questions were asked of him about his identity, where he lives now, his village in China, his wife, his family, his travel back and forth to China, how and why he arranged for me to join him in America. They are looking for consistency in our answers which would be proof of our father-son relationship. Towards the end of his questioning, Inspector Hemstreet replaces Inspector R.I. Davis. After one hundred and four questions, my paper father is dismissed.
Next, my paper brother, Ang Nguey Lim, is sworn in. He immigrated to the United States two years ago and works at the Spokane Charlie Laundry in Seattle. He travelled a long way to be a witness for me. Again, the interpreters are rotated; Ernest Tsang is brought in, replacing H.K. Tang. Time for only twelve questions and the hearing was stopped due to closing time.
It’s been a long day.
Friday, December 2, 1938, 42 degrees F.
This morning, questioning resumed with my paper brother. As expected, the interpreters are changed again. Today, the Interpreters are Lee Park Lin and Edwar Lee. My paper brother is asked a battery of similar questions about the family, the village, our school, ancestral gravesites, his immigration history, and he is asked to identify people in countless photos. The biggest challenge for brother Lim was the photos, including identifying a picture of me.
“Q. (Showing two photographs attached to alleged father’s affidavit) Whose photographs are these?
A. My father. (After considerable study of the other photograph on this affidavit for several minutes.) I don’t recognize the other picture.
Note: Witness correctly identifies photographs of the following named persons in the respective file of each:
Ang Fong, Ang Wai, Ang Moon Ching, Ang Moon Bue, Ang Moon Goon, Ang See Yuen, Ang Moon Ock, Ang Moon Doo, Ang Moon Jin.
He fails to identify photographs of the following in the respective file of each: Ang Moon Foo, Ang Moon Kee, Ang Moon Chee.
Q. Have you anything further to state?
A. I want you to show me the photograph on the affidavit again. (Photograph again shown witness. He again studies it for several minutes.) That is my brother Ang Nguey Tone.
Q. What makes you think this is a photograph of Ang Nguey Tone?
A. (Witness again studies photograph). I just know he is my brother.
Q. If it is only about two years since you left China, why do you need to study a photograph so long to decide that the subject thereof is your blood brother?
A. Well, he is older now than when I left him.”
After forty-seven questions and many photo identifications, he is dismissed.
Finally, I am called back in for questioning. More photos for me to identify, and more questions.
“Q. Why do you suppose your alleged brother Ang Nguey Lim studied this photograph of yourself for several minutes before he would state that it was a photograph of you, and even then did not appear to be certain it was of you?
A. Maybe I have grown somewhat since he last saw me. That is the only way I can account for his not readily identifying my picture.
Q. Do you have anything further to state?
A. No. ”
After three days of interrogation, it is finally over. Now, I wait for the decision - to be admitted or deported.
I am cleared of malaria and released from the hospital, and I am admitted to the United States. I gather up my belongings, and board the Angel Island ferry to San Francisco along with other boys like me who have been released today. The ferry shoves off from the dock and the horn blows. There is excited chatter all around me. We feel free like the seagulls flying overhead. As the ferry rounds the western edge of the island, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge is glorious. Beyond the bridge, seven thousand miles away, is Mother, younger Sister and younger Brother. Tears well up from my heart. Thank you, Mother, for getting me this far. I lean into the wind and look towards San Francisco. A new journey is about to begin.
Postscript- Ken Ang aka Ang Nguey Tone would tell the story that when he finally arrived in San Francisco, he headed straight to Hi Wo Hong, an herb shop and Ong Clan gathering place at 718 Grant Ave, in San Francisco Chinatown. There, he met Ong Sen Shek, who was an herbalist and close cousin of his real father from his home district of Woo Lung, Hoiping. He ate his first meal at Eastern Bakery, right next door to the herb shop. He roomed upstairs at the Republic Hotel for one week, before moving on to Marysville, California, where a job as a dishwasher at his uncle’s restaurant, King Inn, awaited.
Ken worked hard to pay off his debt to his uncle, and earned enough to send money home to his mother regularly. He enrolled in the Marysville public schools, got a high school education, and obtained training through a correspondence course to become an authorized radiotrician and teletrician. He eventually opened his own shop, Ken’s Radio and TV. He married Mabel Lim and became the proud father of a son and daughter. In 1961, the FBI confronted Ken about his illegal status, and fortunately, in 1962, he was granted amnesty and legally admitted for permanent residence. He was reunited with his sister and brother when they immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960’s and 1980, respectively, but regretfully, did not get to see his mother again. In 1994, forty-six years after his arrival in the U.S., Ken Ang became an American citizen, with his two grandchildren as witnesses, ever grateful for the opportunities that opened up for him in the U.S. He lived a full life of 80 years.
* This story is based on personal conversations with Ken Ang aka Ang Nguey Tone, recollections and insights from family members, his twenty-two page Angel Island interrogation transcript, NARA document “Lists of Chinese Applying for Admission to the United States through the Port of San Francisco, CA, 1903-1947”- and historical texts on the Angel Island Immigration Station. Kathy Ang is the daughter-in-law of Ken Ang.
Place of Origin
Place of Settlement
Marysville, Ca, USA