California Council for the Humanities
California Stories Initiative
Years of Valor, Years of Hope
Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946
Tulare County Library
The Friends of the Tulare County Library
And the Tulare County Historical Society
Interviews in 2003-2004
Subjects covered in the interview:
Life in Tulare
JG: That’s right.
CD: In Tulare.
JG: That’s right.
CD: And it’s April -- gosh, is it tax day, April 15th. I got my taxes in already. Let’s see. And we’re doing the "Years of Valor, Years of Hope." And, Mr. Gong, why don’t we start out with a little bit of your background. Give me a little history about your parents and when you guys moved to the area.
JG: Oh, okay. I’m originally from San Francisco. And when I was around maybe 15, I guess, and my cousin owned a butcher shop in Visalia.
CD: What’s his name?
JG: Doug Low. And my father say, "You might go to work for Doug and learn a trade." So I went to school in Visalia and then worked after school and learned the trade. I spent around two years there.
CD: What year was that?
JG: ’38, ’39. And then I go back to San Francisco. And around ’42 my uncle and cousin, the three of us, and together we bought the Palace Market in Tulare in 1942.
CD: Really. This place right here?
JG: That’s right. But right downtown, the old Anderson building. Anderson building used to be -- downstairs there was a fire. He never repaired it, you know. We rented the downstairs. And then, as times go by the city condemned it, the building, a long time ago. And the city was real, real nice to us. "When you going to move, this building condemned about five, ten years ago."
So, that handed us to move to the corner of Inyo and West. That’s used to be a nursery over there. And we bought the nursery. And the lady retired. I tell you -- it’s around, oh, around two and a half acres, you know, those grounds. And we put our first Palace Market over there. It was maybe around 6500, you know. Seems like we do pretty good in the grocery business. So, actually we were meat men, you know. We come into grocery business; the grocery business is kind of new to us. But in time we learned the grocery business. And we were doing pretty good on the corner.
Then when the operation get a little bigger, then we need a warehouse. Then Mrs. Brown, that used to own the nursery, she say, okay, I’ll sell you another 50 feet for your warehouse. So Mrs. Brown, that nursery lady, we bought another 50 feet from him, you know. And we put a warehouse in and we operated it until 1960. Then -- well, wait; let’s go back a little way. We used to have three partners, you know. And during the time everybody wanted to grow, so we split the three partners. And I got the Tulare store and the other partner got a -- we got a lot of land from Monterey.
JG: Yeah. And we got another deal and the other one got a market in Castroville.
CD: In Castroville?
CD: Was that your uncle and your cousin?
CD: What was your uncle’s name?
JG: Well, he passed away already. Ng Poy is the one who got the Monterey property. And Don Lum got Castroville. And later on they merged and built a big store in Salinas. And somehow or other they had a picnic planned in Lake Tahoe. Sixty-three percent of the store went, the plane went down. It was terrible accident.
CD: Oh, they died in a plane accident?
JG: They all died. Sixty-three percent of the store.
JG: So, well, ah, well.
CD: Tell me how your business, how Palace Foods did during the war years?
JG: During the wartime, see, my uncle got drafted.
CD: And what was your uncle’s name again?
JG: Henry Gong. He got drafted. And nobody knew how to speak English. They didn’t have a partner who spoke English. And I was a sophomore in high school. And I got drafted in managing the meat market. So I inherited the business. It’s about 1944, I guess, somewhere around there.
CD: So, tell me what they do with someone who doesn’t speak English? They still draft him, he doesn’t get a deferment?
JG: Well, the one that got drafted could speak English. He used to manage the place. They drafted the one guy that speaks English. So, at least that started a -- no one speaks English -- that I inherited the business. And my father say, "Well, nobody hardly speak English, you better take over." So I quit school to take over and go with the business.
CD: And how was it?
CD: How was it?
JG: Well, We do pretty good. We start with just the meat business. We usually sell all out of small store. All the restaurants, they buy from us and we doing pretty good. And until we got into this grocery business in 1950, we moved out there, buy that nursery from Mrs. Brown.
CD: And how did that go? Was the business good then?
JG: Well, we open with a bang. It really surprised us. We opened it with -- really, everybody jumped on it. Because I guess, we got a lot of friends during the time -- well, we’d been Tulare since ’42, and ’43 and ’50 we got a lot of friends. So, we start out with a bang. Really doing good.
CD: What was it like in 1943 to have -- so it was mostly a store that sold meat? Did you have to deal with ration stamps and all that?
JG: Well, actually, those day that was a lot of work, the food stamps and stuff like that, you know. Food stamps you could deposit in the bank, just like money. You go to the slaughterhouse and buy the meat and then you got to give them credit for the slaughterhouse. Those things are a lot of work. But you get used to those things, you know. Day I got drafted --
CD: Oh, you got drafted?
JG: Yeah. I got drafted ’43 or ’44, somewhere around there. And my cousin take over, two of them used to go to high school and quit school and they take over.
CD: When you went in, was it segregated?
CD: Was it segregated when you went in?
JG: No. Well, little bit.
JG: Oh, well, that’s no colored people in the same barracks. Well, you find Chinese there --
CD: Where would they put Chinese?
JG: Well, the Chinese fit right in. We don’t have no problem. We blend right in. But there’s not too many Chinese. One or two in barracks. But those days, there’s no colored. They got their own quartermaster, you know, their own quartermaster. And our battalion don’t have no coloreds.
CD: Because I met a Japanese man that was put with the blacks. Were most of the Asians put with the whites?
CD: Oh, you were with all the whites. So, it was black and then all whites and Asian and whatever?
JG: Those days really, really, really a problems under those days. You know, I remember we go down -- go up to Detroit and a bunch of us on three day pass, go up to Detroit. The train had Oklahoma porters. The Oklahoma porters had all the colored move, go back to the train. I say "What’s going on here?"
CD: What was it?
JG: In those days colored can be at the end part of the train, they got to be at the end of train. I didn’t know that. I said, "Hey, me Chinese," I don’t know. So I didn’t go back with the coloreds. I got past, I guess.
CD: Wow, you had no idea before you got there about that?
JG: Those days really different. Especially in Texas, you know.
CD: In Texas?
CD: What was that like?
JG: Well, when the colored people walk down the street and then you walk by a bunch of white soldiers and you got to get off the sidewalk.
JG: And that’s how it is. Go to the restroom, he don’t even go where the rest of us do. He goes to the back of the restroom.
CD: What’d you think about that? Were you shocked?
JG: I said, "What’s going on here? They get better stuff back there?" (Chuckle) I always laugh at that. That’s how it was those days.
CD: Yeah. How did your cousin do? So your cousin took over when you got drafted?
JG: They were doing pretty good. Yeah, they would do pretty good. They take out, oh, around two years, and then I was back in two years.
CD: Oh, you were back in two years. Explain to me a little bit -- it’s hard for me to think about these stamps. You went to go get the meat and then people bought it from you but used the stamps and then what did you do with the -- and you deposited the stamps in like money?
CD: That’s how it worked?
JG: That’s how it worked.
CD: Did you have any restraints on how much you could buy from the slaughterhouse?
JG: According to how many stamps you get. You can’t buy over your limit of stamps.
CD: How did they decide how much a store like yourself would get?
JG: Well, by,like, we deposited all the stamps. We got a ton. We write a lot of checks -- just like write a money check in stamps. Those days there’s a lot of work.
CD: It was a lot of work dealing with the stamps.
JG: Well, gas ration, you know, that was a lot of -- I guess we have to do - - well, it’s not too bad.
CD: Did you ever run out?
CD: What would you do?
JG: Well, you get used to it, you know. Everyday living, oh, well, what’s the big deal. It was everyday living.
CD: How big was the Chinese community in Tulare in the 1940’s?
JG: Oh, it was small.
CD: Oh, was it. Like, how small?
JG: I bet we got less than 50 people when I was here.
CD: Wow, that’s small. And how big was Visalia’s; do you know?
CD: How big was Visalia’s Chinese community?
JG: Visalia got bigger. They got what they call Chinatown.
CD: Yeah, right.
JG: They got a few hundred people in Visalia.
CD: So, did the two communities do a lot -- like, would the Chinese in Tulare go to Visalia a lot to the temple or to the --
JG: Well, those days -- well, we got Chinese food; the Rice Bowl is the only one here with Chinese Food. But we would get something else when you go to Visalia. They got three or four Chinese restaurants over there, see.
CD: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
JG: Pearl Harbor attacked, I was still selling meat.
CD: You were in the store working?
JG: Yeah. That’s December 23 or something like that.
CD: Ninth or -- I should know that. Eight or ninth.
JG: And I was not even the age for draft yet when that happened.
CD: And were you listening to the radio, I mean, what was the reaction?
JG: My uncle got drafted, you know, first thing. He got drafted. He’s a mechanic, that’s why they drafted him, see.
CD: Yeah. What was the reaction like at home that night around dinner?
CD: What was the reaction like at home, when you guys all went home that night around dinner, weren’t they talking about -- weren’t they talking about it? Your parents, would your parents -- oh, you weren’t with your parents?
JG: No. My parents lived in San Francisco.
JG: I was in Tulare.
CD: So, where did you live?
CD: Where did you live in Tulare?
JG: Well, we lived on the corner of Alpine and O. There used to be a house in there. We bought that house. That’s around maybe eight of us living in that house.
CD: What high school did you go to?
JG: I went to San Francisco, Galileo. Then come in, I was going to go Union, I think around two weeks or something. Then my cousin got drafted. So I didn’t go to Union.
CD: Wow. So you only went to Union High School for two weeks?
JG: Probably two weeks.
CD: Wow. So did you guys -- how big was the Japanese community here, do you know?
JG: We used to have friends, the Ichinaga's. Used to have a café in Tulare.
They buy meat from us all the time. And
they went to camp. And actually, they didn’t stay in the camp, they got
drafted. I know those two boys that used
to run the restaurant, they got drafted, you know. They went in Army. He was involved in
CD: And do you remember the curfew?
CD: Do you remember the curfew?
JG: Used to be curfew?
CD: That they had -- all the Japanese-Americans had --
JG: I don’t know -- they -- Tulare, it don't have that many Japanese. There’s the Ichinagas, but that’s about only family that I know of.
CD: So it was small?
JG: Yeah, real small. I don’t think we make anything of that about it. Nobody saying anything about it. Well, it’s not too long but those two boys got drafted anyway. So, we didn’t have time to think of all those odds and ends, you know.
CD: What did Tulare think of having that camp, though, right there on the Tulare Campgrounds?
CD: What did Tulare -- what was the reaction of having that internment camp right on the camp, the --
JG: Oh, you mean the --
CD: The fairgrounds.
JG: -- the fairgrounds. Well, we don’t know anybody over there.
CD: Oh, you didn’t know anybody?
JG: No, we don’t know anybody over there. And they didn’t cause any trouble, so they seemed like pretty peaceful.
CD: I spoke to another -- oh, you probably know him, Jerry Low.
CD: Do you know Jerry Low, Mr. Low? I think that was his name. Anyway, he said his family -- Madame Chiang Kai-Shek came to visit to San Francisco during the ‘40s. Do you remember that?
JG: I -- that -- those days I not too much
involved in politics. I know Chiang
Kai-Shek was the President of China. That’s about all. I come over and
I come over to the
CD: Oh, you moved over here when you were eight?
JG: Yeah. I Americanized long before those times.
You know Sun Yat-sen, you know, the Father of China?
CD: Uh-huh, Sun Yat-sen.
JG: Yeah. We’ve got a character wrote by him and signed by him in the culture center.
CD: In Tulare?
JG: No, Visalia.
CD: Oh, in Visalia. Oh, the Chinese Cultural Center. How’d they get that?
JG: It was given to us by the old man in Chinatown in San Francisco. And that’s something, too. That’s a couple of hundred years old.
CD: So, he gave it to someone in San Francisco and that person in San Francisco gave --
JG: Well, actually he told me hundred thousand to the association, he said association use the money but what this association can use cannot use. A culture center can use it for decoration. And he gave it to us.
CD: I had no idea. Is it displayed?
JG: No, it’s up high, that high. He draw two figure and sign his name on and that’s when -- then that year he come in San Francisco.
CD: Did Sun Yat-sen -- no. He came to San Francisco? No. The man who had the -- Sun Yat-sen didn’t come to San Francisco, did he?
JG: I don’t know. I thought he did ‘cause he give it to this guy. And I don’t know the whole story about it, how he had it. But he said, "This was given me by Sun Yat-sen when he was young," you know.
CD: Oh, he got it when he was young?
CD: Wow, that’s interesting. I’ll have to look at that. So, tell me how your homecoming was when you got done with being in the war? How was your homecoming?
JG: Well, I don’t have any trouble. I come home and run the same business. Then we got separate, three partner got separated. And I operate that thing for few years, and then we go open that in 1950 on the corner.
CD: So, when you came back, did you think business had gotten better? Or were things kind of depressed?
JG: Well, those days you can’t mention too much about the business because when you have meat you got business. You know, those days, that takes rations, you know. If you got meat, you got a business. It’s controlled by the stamps and some stuff there, you know.
CD: Did you need to use stamps to buy your own meat?
JG: Oh, yeah.
CD: You couldn’t just bring home meat yourself extra?
JG: Well, you bring it home yourself, I mean, you depleted your stock. But everybody got rations. We put the rations together, and then we eat that meat out of the store.
CD: So the eight of you would kind of pool your stamps together?
CD: Oh, that makes sense. Yeah. So, where were you when the
CD: Where were you when the
JG: Atomic bomb?
JG: I think I was in San Pedro.
CD: San Pedro?
JG: San Pedro getting ready to go over invade
JG: It is really -- lot of people get the tears
coming into their eyes because we supposed to be invading
You know, Government spent a lot of money on us. Before we shipped out, everything new. From shoes, underwear all the guns. We spent two weeks in Fort Ord to see how our rifle was and then go back to San Pedro and go off.
CD: So, you guys were prepared to invade?
JG: That was just rumor.
CD: Oh, it was just a rumor?
JG: Yes, rumor. 96th, of course, come up on Northern end. That’s what area what I think. But who knows.
CD: So, they didn’t tell you "We’re going to
JG: Oh, yeah.
CD: They did tell you?
JG: They going to invade
CD: Oh, you didn’t know where in
CD: So you guys were prepared to invade and then you heard it over the radio or they announced it?
JG: They lock all the rifles; lock all the rifles up. They say, "That war’s over." So, God, everybody, "What did they say?" And they repeated that war is over. God, the people just -- the tears come out of their eyes.
CD: So, the first announcement, it was hard for them to believe?
JG: Well, first thing that the service - - go to hell was the top deck. So we are pretty lucky bunch.
CD: Why do you think they locked up all the rifles?
JG: Well, so you don’t kill each other.
CD: That’s awful.
JG: Some of the awful things, you know, you do when you get excited. But that’s one of the precautions. They lock all the rifles up. And then no accident happens.
CD: So now, fifty years later, how do you feel
JG: It saved a lot people, saved a lot of our people. Because, you know, those Japanese, they don’t give up really easy, you know.
CD: That’s the truth.
JG: When you go to their homeland, they’re really going to fight.
CD: You must have been scared? Were you scared?
JG: Everybody was scared. God, we know we going to invade
CD: Good timing for you.
JG: Really good timing for -- oh, got six ships -- the whole 96th Infantry.
CD: So, what did they do, just turn around and go back to San Pedro?
CD: Where did the ships go?
JG: We go to Yokihama.
CD: Oh, you went on to
JG: Went into
CD: So you went on to
CD: What did you do in Yokihama?
JG: Well, we are assigned to warehouse supposed to belong to that Japanese troop, you know, where all the ammunition and blankets and food were. Actually, the supply depot, our company assigned to the supply depot. And we didn’t have any trouble. The village people real nice.
CD: So, when did you come home; what year was it?
JG: Well, when the 96th demobilized, I didn’t have enough credit.
CD: You didn’t?
JG: No, I didn’t, when our division got home. So I got transferred to the Air Corps.
CD: What’s that?
JG: 50th Air Force. I transferred to 50th Air Force.
CD: So, what did they do with you there? Did you learn how to fly?
JG: No. I spent two weeks on photography.
JG: Which I don’t know nothing about. You know what they say, "That’s all right, you carry all the cameras." So I carry the cameras two weeks.
CD: You carried the equipment around?
JG: Yeah. And after two weeks, the kitchen needs somebody. He say, "Gong, you own a grocery store." I says, "Oh, yeah." "You going to be a cook." So he sent me to the kitchen.
CD: Did you know how to cook very well?
CD: Did you know how to cook very well?
JG: You know what they do?
JG: "Here’s the book."
CD: Oh, no. (Chuckle)
JG: Follow direction, they say follow direction, here’s the book. You got the cookbook.
CD: So, how long did you do that?
JG: Oh, I do that, oh, God, almost -- well, from a cook then I finally be a baker.
CD: Oh, you baked stuff.
JG: Yeah, pastry.
CD: That’s kind of hard.
JG: So I don’t know nothing about doing. Give you a book, show you.
CD: So, what year did you come home?
JG: I come home around ’46, I think.
CD: And were they still rationing, did you still have to deal with the stamps?
CD: In 1946, did you still have to deal with the stamps?
JG: I don’t remember -- ’46. Well, I think they still use stamps but they’re not that strict those days. The war is over, you know.
CD: Right. And when you got here, was everybody happy the war was over?
CD: Or was it life as normal?
JG: Well, we are happy. And actually, when the village we stationary, we didn’t have any people against us, you know.
CD: I know you didn’t speak Japanese, but do you think they were happy that it was over?
JG: They had nice gentle people. And we still carry the rifle and stuff to go to town, you know.
CD: But in Tulare -- so you came back to Tulare and was life back to normal? Was it life as usual or were people still in the war mode?
JG: Well, when I come back, meat short.
CD: Oh, there was a shortage of meat?
JG: Yeah, shortage.
CD: Here, with all the cows? How’d that happen?
JG: I don’t know. They said Army got the first crack on the meat, all the meat. All the slaughterhouse got to stock the Army first, then civilians. Well, it’s not too bad. We get by.
CD: How long did you guys have to deal with the stamps after you got home?
JG: Well, I think a year or so all the stamps disappeared.
CD: Were you happy?
JG: Well, I sure am happy. That eliminated a lot of work.
CD: Where were your parents during all this? Did you get to see them much?
JG: My parents -- my father is head cook of Chop Suey House in San Francisco.
CD: That’s famous, right? The Chop Suey is the Chop Suey Restaurant in Chinatown?
JG: Well, it pretty -- pretty --
JG: Pretty well-known. And he work there quite a number of years. He’s the head chef over there, see. So everybody asks, your father is chef, how come you in the meat business?
CD: That’s true. How come?
JG: I don’t know. Well, I went and did the work for my cousin in Visalia ’38, ’39. So I learned the meat business. And I went up in San Francisco/Oakland; my cousin had a meat department. And those guys don’t know how to bone meat. They don’t do things like we do here in the Valley. We do a lot of hamburgers and sausage and stuff like this. That means you pulling a lot of cows. And they don’t do that over there.
CD: What’d they do?
JG: Well, everything is already boned, you know. And the meat, they supposed to only cut the meat down and sell the dog food, for dog food. Dog meat, you know. And he get some money out of them.
CD: So, when you were running the butcher business, what was the most popular cuts of meat at that time?
JG: Round steak. Oh, round steak is still pretty popular.
CD: Still popular.
JG: Especially in the community like us. We’re older working trade, you know. Round steak is popular with us.
CD: So, the eight people that you lived with, was it eight men?
CD: The eight people that you lived with in that house, were they all guys, were they all men?
JG: Some of them. Two of them go to school, grammar school, you know, and the rest of them, they work for the meat.
CD: In the ‘40s, what did you guys do for fun?
CD: What did you guys do for fun?
JG: There’s no fun in those days.
CD: I knew you were going to say that.
JG: Used to be, you know, oh, we got up around 6:30 in the morning. Around 7:30 we’d go to work. Work around the clock. By the time we go home, it was around nine or ten o’clock. Around the clock. And that’s how life was those days, you know. We work for 13 hours, 14 hours, think nothing of it, you know. But we close Sunday those days.
CD: So, you worked like that on Saturday, too?
JG: Yeah. Sunday we close. Visalia and Tulare used to be -- we close.
CD: What would you do Sunday?
JG: Well, we go to show. We got three theaters in Tulare -- Del Rey, State and Tulare Theater. Oh, Sunday, boy, you can’t get in, that’s how crowded that theater is.
CD: What were the most popular movies then?
JG: Cowboy pictures. Those days.
CD: Do you remember the newsreels beforehand?
CD: Were they effective or what were they like?
JG: Well, they are pretty nice. When they come in you could see it, big loud noise the newsreel coming in and then they tell story and news and stuff like that. It’s pretty good those days.
CD: Did the group that you lived with, did you guys do stuff to support the war effort, like buy war bonds? Did you ever buy war bonds?
JG: Oh, yeah. Every time we got a hundred dollar we bought.
CD: Is that how much they were?
CD: How much were each bond? Each bond costs how much?
JG: I think seventy-five dollars.
JG: I think it’s seventy-five dollars.
CD: Did you have a victory garden?
JG: No, no victory garden. Don’t have time.
CD: I know. My gosh, that’s a lot of work. Wow.
JG: There’s a lot of victory gardens. Our neighbors got, you know. Used to be you don’t sell vegetables. All our customers bring -- "you want tomato, we bring you tomato."
CD: Oh, they would bring you vegetables to your store?
JG: We got a lot of customers bring me in tomatoes and lettuce and stuff like that.
CD: Would they ever bring the vegetables in instead of the food stamps and say, "Here’s some vegetables, can I have some meat?" Would they ever do that if they ran out of meat?
JG: No, I don’t know because we don’t sell vegetable in those days.
CD: But, I mean for you, say, here can I give you these and you can give me some meat, you know, kind of like barter.
JG: Well, about a small percentage of that is done. There’s always somebody that go with that line.
CD: Or party, have a party?
JG: Yeah, that’s right. But very small because I think country as a whole, we do pretty good, you know.
CD: What do you mean?
JG: You know, hey, a lot of everybody got black markets and stuff like that. In this country we got control, you know. We do pretty good.
CD: Oh, about the control.
CD: Did you ever see much of black market?
CD: Did you see much of a black market as a result of the stamps?
JG: Well, we didn’t go into that, of course, on our stamps. The black market, they don’t’ give you stamp, you know.
CD: What did they give you, what was it like?
JG: Give you money, that’s all. Then you’d lose your stamps, then you be out of business.
CD: So you didn’t see -- there wasn’t much black market going on?
CD: Not even for the gas, when people ran out of gas?
JG: I don’t think so, either. But there always a few, you know. I don’t know but we didn’t have any trouble in Tulare.
CD: That’s good, because there’s usually always somebody. Overall, how would you say that World War II affected your family?
JG: Oh, well I got married ’43.
CD: Oh, 1943?
CD: How old were you?
JG: I was 17 years old. And we have a daughter, Genevieve (Cheu), before I go in the service.
CD: How old was your wife?
JG: Two year younger than I.
CD: No kidding. Where’d you meet her?
JG: Well, I met Mary Fan at her godfather’s restaurant in San Francisco. I used to wash dishes and wait on table over there. And after school, you know. And that’s how I meet her.
CD: And did she move down to Visalia with you or down to Tulare with you?
JG: Yeah. Well, boy, you ought to see her. When a San Francisco girl coming to Tulare, you know, she got no place to go.
CD: What did she think of Tulare?
JG: First thing she -- the weather really get her.
CD: Oh, the weather.
JG: Those days, no air conditioning, you know. The blow fanning. You know what she does?
JG: She goes in the icebox. She says, "I can take anything but this weather."
CD: Did she work, too?
JG: She work waiting on customers over the counter.
CD: Oh, she worked in the butcher store, too? So she worked from 7:30 to 9 every night, too?
JG: No. She got a little girl to take care of. Take care of the little girl. She usually worked a busy time when -- five, five-thirty, when everybody buy food, then she come and help a couple of hours.
CD: So, how do you think with World War II, did it affect your family? How was it like having a family with a little girl at that time?
JG: Hey, I didn’t feel any difference.
CD: It sounds like business was good. Was the business ever affected adversely by --
JG: Yeah, yeah. Well, actually the business is controlled by the food stamps, you know. You can’t get too much business, you can’t get less business because you got food stamps, you know. So, kind of hard to make the profit even. You don’t make a lot of money, no way to make more money, actually the government kept us in business.
CD: Maybe. So once the stamps, the ration stamps were over, did business go way up or did it stay the same?
JG: It really did, it jump a little bit.
CD: Did it jump?
JG: Yeah. Because you know the portion maybe made it bigger. To get customers, you know. Used to be they don’t care. They got so much to sell, you know. Now you got to work for the customer make a little bigger portion to get customer. It just like anything else.
CD: When you came home and you had your family, was it hard -- when did you and your wife and your kids finally have your own house?
JG: Oh, gees, we bought a house in -- I think in ’47.
CD: Oh, that soon.
JG: Yeah, ’47.
CD: What was the housing market like? I heard housing was hard to come by.
JG: No, we bought that one bedroom house, twenty-five hundred dollars.
JG: Twenty-five hundred dollars. We spent another thousand, put another bedroom in. And we raised five kids in that two-bedroom house. Those were Genevieve (Cheu), Geralyne (Canfil) then (Gong-Taylor), Steven Gong, Terri (Larson), Geary Gong. Then the youngest child, Andrew Gong, was born in 1961.
CD: For how long did that last?
JG: Oh, until oh, maybe ’58, ’59, then we build another house.
CD: Usually need another room when you get teenagers. They don’t like sharing.
JG: Well, the GI loan, see, that’s why -- how come our people got another house, got a GI loan.
CD: Oh, that’s good. So you took advantage of that. That’s a good deal.
JG: Yeah. In those days, got a four-bedroom house, I think $17,000 it cost. It was $17,000, $18,000, somewhere around there. So we go to the government and borrow the money.
CD: How did your wife and daughter do during the war when you were gone?
JG: Well, my wife went back and lived with her aunt in San Francisco.
CD: Oh, she went back to San Francisco?
CD: She was probably happier?
JG: Yeah. Well, two years then she come back down. Be shy two years.
CD: Right. So, how do you think World War II affected Tulare as a community? Do you think it was beneficial or not beneficial?
JG: I don’t think it made any difference.
CD: You don’t think it made a difference?
JG: Because, you know, the cotton machine make a lot of difference in Tulare.
CD: The what?
JG: Cotton machine.
JG: Yeah. Used to be hand picked. When the cotton machine come in. Used to be Tulare, Saturday you go down on Main Street, you talk to somebody because a lot of people walking on the street. You don’t see people walking down the street now.
CD: It’s true. Visalia downtown is a little bit more vibrant. But yeah, you don’t see -- Tulare you don’t see anybody walking downtown.
JG: Used to be walking people.
CD: Yeah, they’d be out and about.
CD: So you think the cotton machine had more to do with Tulare than the war?
JG: Yeah. I think the cotton machine kill the traffic because they never before picking, people moving and the weekend, boy, it is people loaded --
CD: People what?
JG: People come in the city.
CD: Yeah, 'cause now, there’s -- are there any theaters in Tulare now?
JG: Yeah, we got -- no, we don’t have any.
CD: There’s none. They went from three -- so the population has actually decreased a lot.
JG: Actually, the population did increase. We’re now -- we got more population than we ever had because used to be Tulare -- when I move in Tulare two hundred some odd people more than Visalia.
CD: Really. Two hundred people more than Visalia?
JG: Yeah. People from Visalia come over here in Tulare, go out and eat.
CD: And when did that change?
JG: Well, that changed -- well, when the people don’t want, you know, nightclubs go there.
CD: They don’t want nightclubs here?
JG: They don’t want nightclubs in Tulare.
CD: Tulare has kind of a wild past, though.
JG: Used to be. But they don’t want it. In Visalia, Hyde give the land to the city for county seat.
CD: For the county seat. How did Visalia get the county seat, then?
JG: Well, Mr. Hyde give the whole land to the county.
CD: Mr. who?
JG: Hyde. Used to be Hyde Ranch. Hyde Ranch and Dairy, you know.
CD: Did you know him?
JG: I know him because the houseboy -- I used to be friends with Visalia houseboy Chinese and work for Mr. Hyde. I come down help the houseboy, he a good friend of mine. Go to Hyde ranch and clean the swimming pool.
CD: Really. Where was it?
JG: Yeah. That’s a long time ago. And I know Mr. Hyde.
CD: What was he like?
JG: He’s nice person.
CD: What was their pool like? What was a pool like back then?
JG: Well, actually, it don’t have no all fancy kind of big, big cement. And we got to wash it every week.
CD: Oh, just so it doesn’t turn green.
JG: Yeah, scrub it down every week.
CD: That’s a lot of work, wow. Gosh, how many people had swimming pools back then?
JG: Not too many. Well, Hyde Ranch got a -- they give the land to the golf course, they give the land to the city -- I mean to the county. And he owned all those land over there.
CD: And he wanted the county seat to be -- was he a Visalia family?
CD: Where was the family house?
JG: Family house used to be in the golf course.
CD: Oh, it did?
CD: The Hyde family used to live on the golf course and they left it to the city?
JG: No, no. Before, they got the Hyde ranch, the golf course was in back of them. And I guess they give those lands to the golf course. Used to be a nine-hole course, you know.
CD: Now, it’s eighteen, isn’t it?
CD: What’d they do, buy the rest of the land?
JG: I don’t know whether they buy it or they donated, I really don’t know. Because I know Hyde owned all those land over there. They donate the land to the county seat. That’s why Tulare, we kind of fell behind because everybody moved to Visalia.
CD: Yeah, because now people from Tulare go to Visalia to shop. But when you first moved here, people from Visalia would come to Tulare?
CD: Wow, things change.
JG: Well, that’s around -- ’42, that’s around 7,800 people in Tulare.
CD: Around 7,000 in Tulare?
JG: We got 200 more than Visalia used to.
CD: So when did you think the change happened, about what years do you think Tulare took a second seat to Visalia?
JG: Well, the county seat really make Visalia the county seat.
CD: I don’t even know when that happened. When did Visalia become the county seat?
JG: Oh, God, I --
CD: I thought it was before the war. Wasn’t before the war?
JG: No, I don’t think so. It’s a long time.
CD: That would be interesting. So over all, about World War II, how do you think it affected the -- oh, I already talked about that. Is there anything that you haven’t talked about today, about World War II, how it affected your family or how it affected Tulare County?
JG: I don’t know what to say. 'Cause, you know, during the wartime everybody just buckled up and when they don’t have any, you do without it. Because that’s how we used to do. No gas, okay, then not go no place. They got stamps for gas, you know. No gas, you don’t go no place.
CD: Yeah, but what about business. If you ran out of gas, how would you go to the slaughterhouse to get your meat?
JG: Well, before the gas ration, they give you a form to fill how many miles you go and then they issue you your stamps --
CD: So, they gave you enough to run your business?
JG: Well, we not really hurting. We don’t have no luxury to go to San Francisco once in a while. You can’t do that, you know. You don’t have no gas.
CD: Would you have had enough gas to get to San Francisco?
JG: Well, maybe like Chinese New Years, then you save the gas, you save your gas for the trip. See how many gallons you get, you save all that. You don’t save, you can’t go, and that’s all.
CD: Did you go ever?
JG: Well, we usually make it to San Francisco New Years. We just pinched.
CD: Well, if all eight of you getting those gas stamps, would you pool them together?
JG: No, no. Not eight of us, you get how many automobiles you got.
CD: Did you have your own car?
JG: We didn’t have our own car until ’47, I think, ’47, ’48.
CD: How would you get to the butcher store?
CD: How would you get to your store?
JG: How many butcher?
CD: How would you get there?
JG: Well, you usually walk. We lived down a street block from -- that’s not bad. That’s not a big deal.
CD: Hard to imagine today. No car, oh my gosh, panic time.
Oh gosh. One last question. Do you think in Tulare -- Tulare seemed to be a pretty tolerant community. Did you ever see any racism?
CD: Like what?
JG: You know, when I first come in Tulare, there’s a barbershop called Office Barbershop. I went in there to try to get a haircut. I sit there and that barber call everybody up except me. Pretty soon you really be retreating the line and you go out.
CD: So, then what did you do? Did you find a barber who would --?
JG: Oh, yeah. I got a friend of mine, he buy meat from us all the time, John Savoyan...
CD: John who?
JG: John Savoyan. And he buy meat from us all the time. I asked him, "Hey, John, will you cut Chinaman’s hair?" He’s Armenian, you know. Well, he said, "The Chinaman got money, cut your hair." He’s a comedian. And I go to him all the time.
CD: So was that often or was that rare?
JG: Well, in Tulare, sometime it’s not often. But those places, you know, like go Tulare Hotel, you try to get something to eat, they won’t serve you.
CD: Really. What about the blacks?
CD: What about the blacks?
JG: I don't know problems with blacks. But I try to go eat. And I sell them meat, too.
CD: Oh, my gosh, how rude.
JG: I say, "What the Hell’s the matter with you?"
CD: What’d they say?
JG: I said, "I sell you the meat and you won’t sell" "Well, you come on back kitchen, I’ll serve you." Well, there’s always a little bit, you know. Then, you know that barber who refused to serve me?
JG: I went fishing with him. And I got a friend, Matt MacDonald used to be over there. And he’s a good friend of the barber’s. He introduced me. I say, "I know him." I say, "This SOB won’t cut my hair. He say, "Don’t say I won’t cut your hair. I be out of business." (Chuckle) So, yeah, you could see those things. That’s all right.
CD: It must have been hard to adjust, though, from San Francisco with such a diverse community to Tulare? Was it a hard adjustment for you?
JG: Not too much. I live in Visalia a couple years.
CD: Oh, you did. What years?
JG: ’38, ’39.
CD: Oh, right. When you were learning the meat business with Mr. Low. Yeah. Did you see much of a difference between living in Visalia and living in Tulare?
JG: Not too much difference. Used to ride the bike to go to school.
CD: Did you go to school in Visalia?
JG: Yeah. Seven and eight.
CD: What school did you go to?
JG: Well, the first one, go to Sierra Vista.
CD: No kidding.
JG: That’s when they open Sierra Vista. Well, we the first one --
CD: And how was it?
JG: It’s all right. First days no grass you know, open it. It’s a new school. And we fill up that school.
CD: How big was your class?
JG: Oh, around 40 some odd students. Real nice.
CD: And the teachers, was it good, did you feel like you got a good education there?
JG: Oh, yeah. I really got a nice good education in Visalia.
CD: There was a Japanese school in Visalia. Was there any kind of thing like a Chinese school?
JG: No. We got Chinese school in Hanford.
CD: Did you ever see it?
CD: Well, that’s interesting. Did you have anything that you’d like to add about the years of 1940s in Tulare or Visalia?
JG: Nothing bad. I got a good life over here.
CD: Yeah, I notice you’re still here.
JG: Yeah. I really blessed with a beautiful place to come and we raised our family over here. All our kids, our grandkids going --
CD: Where are the grandkids?
JG: One, Eric is in Fresno State. One graduate, Jason Cheu, is working for a subsidiary of Bank of America San Francisco. And one granddaughter, Amy Larson, studying marine biology (Environmental Science). Get a doctorate degree, got now a year to go. Derek Cheu lives in New York City and works on Walls Street. Adrianne Canfil works for a software company in the Bay area. Erin Taylor works for a bank in the Bay area. Sara Gong is a senior in High School. Ryan Larson is in the Air Force. Brittany Gong is in the eighth grade. Jordan Gong is in the fifth grade.
CD: Where is Amy getting her Doctorate?
JG: San Diego.
CD: Oh, San Diego, that’s a good school for that. Didn’t your wife ever kind of ask you to move back to San Francisco?
CD: She wanted to stay here, too?
JG: Well, actually, right now when she come to San Francisco, after three, four days, she say, "Let’s go home."
JG: You know, environment change, you know, "Can’t stand this place San Francisco --- fast, fast, fast. Let’s go home." Three to four days, that’s all she can stand. It’s life change.
CD: Crowded. Well, thank you very much for your participation.
JG: Hey, I be glad to give. I didn’t give too much.
CD: Oh, no, it’s interesting.
JG: Well, we have a good life in Tulare.
CD: Yeah, that’s what a lot of people say. It’s a good life, able to make a good business. Okay, well, thank you very much.
Catherine Doe/Transcribed by C Paggi/Edited by J Wood
Editor’s note: Names and comments in italics were added during a phone interview with Jerry Gong’s son, Steve, on January 18, 2005.