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Sam Shu Huey was born on August 7, 1913 in Enping, China, into a privileged life. He was the 61st generation descendant of the Great General Cen Peng of the Eastern Han Dynasty and the 24th generation of the Sam (Cen) family that settled in Guangdong Province. He was told that his grandfather, Sam Nuan Da was the richest man in the county, a landowner and a rice, silkworm and peanut oil merchant, with three wives, eleven sons, and three daughters. Our father recalled of his early childhood, “We had servants. I had a wet nurse. I wasn’t allowed to walk. I was carried most of the time as this was the custom for only sons like me.” He shared the story of his grandfather getting kidnapped in Macao. “He dared his captors to kill him saying that he had eleven sons and they will avenge his death. They released him.”
Our grandfather, Sam Hoi Sang, was the ninth son. In China, he was a high school teacher and merchant before traveling to America in 1915 with $1,000 gold and the intention to visit for one year. He stayed for seven years, working as a Chinese school teacher and a produce market salesman, while investing in restaurants and stores in California. In 1923, he returned to China to take his son back with him to America. So at the age of 10, Sam Shu Huey’s life changed forever. He said goodbye to his mother and sister and boarded the SS President Wilson for a three week journey to America. In later years, our father told us “at that time I didn’t know any better. I just said to my mother, I’ll be back. To me it was just a trip. Then I was stuck here. Now it’s more than 60 years later and I never got to see my mother again.”
On November 12, 1923, he and his father arrived at Angel Island but they were immediately separated. His father was quickly released due to his merchant status, but Sam Shu Huey was detained for two months, forced to live in barracks with adult strangers. He was a young boy who did not speak English and did not understand what was happening. Immigration officials neglected to reverse his surname and given name, so from then on, his first name was Sam and last name was Huey. Finding himself with hundreds of other detainees was lonely and bewildering. “It was terrible, but there were people there for years, months. It was like a prison.”
Our father never spoke again about the months he spent on Angel Island, but after he passed away we obtained his immigration records from the National Archives. There are unexplained discrepancies between the records and his stories. Even though he came here legitimately as a merchant’s son, it seems they still had to have prepared answers to be safe. Sam Huey and his father were interrogated separately and asked 100 questions, including “what are the names, ages, and whereabouts of your mother’s brothers and sisters?”, “how tall were the walls surrounding your property?”, “where did the servant girl come from and where does she sleep?”, “what is the name and distance of the nearest market, what kind of road leads to that market, do you cross any bridges or rivers going there?”
On January 14, 1924, Sam Huey was finally admitted to the U.S. Over the years, he and his father moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Chicago, back to San Francisco, then to Cleveland and eventually to New York. While in school, he took “Herbert” as his middle name because it meant “glory of the army”. He attended Stuyvesant High School, then City College of New York where he earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering. In 1942, he became a U.S. citizen when he joined the Army. After Officers Training School, he was sent to Yale University Army Language School to learn Mandarin. During World War II, he was stationed in Kunming, China, where he served as Instructor in Artillery Gunnery and as Liaison Officer with the Chinese Army. He returned to the U.S. to study military government and was sent to Korea as Civil Affairs Officer during occupation until 1946. In 1950, Sam Herbert Huey was recalled to active duty as Chief of Interrogation in the Korean War. He received a Korean Presidential Citation Award and was honorably discharged in 1952 as Major.
In 1948, his father decided to return to China. “He didn’t get a re-entry visa. He went home. So when the Communists took over and destroyed everything, I wanted him to come back, but there was no way of getting back here. Besides, he didn’t want to. He had too much pride, too much conviction.” Our father sent money to China to support his father for the remainder of his life. Sam Hoi Sang passed away in 1965.
In 1945, Sam Herbert Huey married Merrie Lee in New Haven, Connecticut. They settled on Long Island, in New Hyde Park, New York and raised four children. He worked for 35 years as a civil engineer specializing in reinforced concrete and structural steel design for industrial plants and oil refineries. He was known as Herb to his friends. He enjoyed family vacations, his bowling league, poker club, gardening, reading, coin and stamp collecting.
His Angel Island experience inspired his passion for social justice and pride in his Chinese heritage. He became a leader and active supporter of the Organization of Chinese Americans-Long Island Chapter and the Chinese Center on Long Island for many years. His volunteer work has encouraged his children to become involved in the Asian American community. He died in 1990 at home at age 76. His legacy and life’s stories will live on through his grandchildren, Bryan Jung, Allison Jung, Skyler Chin and Devin Chin.
By Jacqueline Huey, Carolyn Huey Jung, Stephen Sam Huey & Cynthia Huey Chin
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