(Original Title: Oakland's Chinese Pioneers: A Forgotten Generation).
The story of Chinese America is complex and multifaceted. One significant segment is the adaptability and survival of the immigrants and descendants of the so-called Pearl River Delta Chinese, those who founded many Chinatowns in the United States in the mid-1800s. First-person accounts of the earliest immigrants are practically nonexistent. It is now impossible to capture their stories. But capturing the stories of their descendants is possible, especially descendants of first-generation U.S.-born children who grew up in or near a Chinatown in the 1910s and 1920s.
My oral history project, "Reclaimed Stories: Chinatown, Oakland, California," attempts to capture a piece of the first-generation's story. That generation represents an important link between the Exclusion Era and the post-World War II generations, some of whom grew up at a time when legal segregation against ethnic Chinese in the United States had ended.
Art Tom's mother, Emma Hoo Tom, was a pioneer. She and Clara Lee were the first two Chinese American women to register to vote in the United States. Both women were from Oakland's Chinatown. They made history in 1911, when California women were given the right to vote by the California Legislature. That was nine years before other American women were given the right to vote. Emma Hoo Tom's son, Art, opened the first Chinese-owned gasoline station in Oakland's Chinatown. In 1935, he became the first Chinese American...