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

Interviewee: Morey Low

 

Date of Interview: 11 March 2004

Tape Number 75

 

Interviewer: Catherine Doe

 

Place of interview: Mr. Low’s home

Places where Mr. Low lived during 1941 to 1946: Visalia, China

Subjects covered in the interview: Tulare County economy, Chinatown, school years in Visalia, Chinese community in Visalia, Visalia Airport during the war, Madam Chang Kai Shek Visit.

 


CD: This is Catherine Doe and we’re sitting in the house of Morey

Low. Mr. Low, can you say your name and spell it.

ML: Morey Low, M-o-r-e-y, L-o-w.

CD: Okay. We’re just going to start with -- tell me a little bit about your background, where you were born, where your parents were born.

ML: My parents were born in Canton, China . Back in the country, that’s quite a ways back, yeah.

CD: Yeah, that’s a province, right?

ML: That’s right, uh-huh.

CD: And then so what brought them here?

ML: Better life for their family. That’s why they brought them here.

CD: Where did they first land?

ML: I think they landed first in San Francisco. From there on I believe he went to Stockton. And he came over as a -- doing laundry. And after that he got to Stockton he learned how to cut meat and became a meat cutter. 

CD: Oh. Your dad came over alone?

ML: Yes, he did, he came alone. I think he had his grandfather up there in San Francisco. I think he kind of went a little bit in the gold fields, too, at that time.

CD: Did he?

ML: Yeah, right. I remember him talking a little bit about that. From there on, like I said, he went to Stockton, then to Fresno where he learned how to be a meat cutter.

CD: And how did he end up in Tulare County? Or was that you --

ML: Then he came to Visalia and opened up a little market.

CD: Oh, which one?

ML: Used to be the National Market on Bridge Street. And there used to be the California Hotel on top and there was an auto parts store on the corner of Main and Bridge.

(There is more about the California "hotel" on pages 25-26 of this interview.-ed.)

CD: And what’s there now?

ML: It’s a vacant lot now.

CD: Oh, they tore down the California --

ML: They tore the hotel, they tore down -- all that part of -- I think it’s just a parking lot right now. Razzari’s probably got it or something like that.

CD: Yeah. What happened to the California Hotel?

ML: I really don’t know. I moved away and that’s about the only thing I know about that.

CD: Oh, okay. So, he was -- settled in Tulare County and he had the -- what was it called, the National Store? 

ML: Yes. National Market.

CD: National Market. Yeah. And then, when were you born?

ML: Nineteen thirty-one. I think I was born where that Bank of America building is right now off of Center Street.

CD: Did you ever tell them that?

ML: No. (Lots of laughter)

CD: Oh, gosh.  And so you were born in 1931 right downtown. And so your family business was the National --

ML: There was a house there before, and they tore that down and then my dad had that market and I think he rented that building from Doctor Lipson at that time.

CD: Oh, okay.

ML: I think he rented another -- across the alley he had a smoke house and he ran some buildings for some employees that he had.

CD: So, he rented it, he didn’t own the building?

ML: No, he didn’t own that building.

CD: Right. Was that area considered Chinatown?

ML: Yes.

CD: That was Chinatown right there?

ML: Well, Chinatown is on Center Street, but we were right next to Center Street, right across the alley from there.

CD: Oh, okay. So, you were born and then what schools did you go to?

ML: I went to the Carrie Barnett School. It’s not there anymore now.

CD: Oh, the Clara -- what was it called again?

ML: Carrie Barnett. Right next to it used to be the Webster School. From there I went to the Sierra Vista Junior High. In fact, I was very lucky you know at that time I ran for class president and I made it.

CD: Oh, you were class president of what year? Seventh or eighth?

ML: Oh, gosh. Seventh grade.

CD: Oh, that’s cute. And how big was Chinatown then?

ML: Chinatown was just that block from Santa Fe to Bridge Street. That was it. Both sides.

CD: Right. And what was there? I mean, why did they call it Chinatown?

ML: Well, there’s lot of Chinese lived there. You have all the Chinese restaurants. They had some Japanese there, too, at the same time.

CD: And are some of those Chinese restaurants still there?

ML: Yeah, the Hong Kong is still there. The corner of Bridge and Center used to be the Chinese Pagoda.

CD: Like a restaurant or a Pagoda?

ML: Restaurant, which is that steak house there right now.

CD: Oh, okay.

ML: See, I think they excavated that and they found a lot of artifacts.

CD: Oh, really. You know what happened to them?

ML: Well, I’ll tell you, my dad used to tell me "don’t go down into the cellar down there." ‘Cause he rented the first floor of one of the buildings there. And my belief at that time was that there was an opium den down there. Cause I snuck down there one time.

CD: What did you see?

ML: I saw a lot of guys in there in their rooms just smoking away.

(A dim room with different cubicles with bunk beds in them)

CD: Really.

ML: Yeah, I smelled it. It was a kind of sweet smell. I got out of there. That was it. I never went back in there.

CD: Right. And you think that is why your dad told you not to go down there?

ML: Yes. I think so. I guess the old Chinese used to have gambling in there. I remember I used to go in there when I was a kid.  I used to play Pai Gow and all --

CD: Uh-huh.

ML: And I was just watching them and seeing them; I just never got interested in the gambling.

CD: Right. And they excavated that same site?

ML: That’s when they put the -- what is it, the --

CD: Steakhouse?

ML: Steakhouse right now. First they had to get a foundation.

CD: Right. So they had to dig around there. Interesting. You think they found pipes or something.

ML: I don’t know. They said they found a lot of interesting glasses, things like that, yeah.

CD: Interesting glasses is funny. I had an interview with a Japanese fellow and he lived there, too. He lived in Chinatown

ML: There used to be a Japanese fellow Sumida.

CD: Yes.

ML: Is that who you said --

CD: Yeah, his family lived there.

ML: Yes, his family lived there. I knew the family.

CD: I think he’s older than you though, right? He’s about ten years older.

ML: Yeah, I think, something like that. What was his name, do you remember?

CD: Sumida. He had a brother.

ML: Yeah, it’s Roy. And I see them once in a while. Real nice people.

CD: And he went to a Japanese school. Did they have a similar thing for the Chinese? Did you guys have a Chinese school?

ML: Yes, we did. My folks used to have some lady take us, I think her name was Mrs. Cook, and she took us to Hanford. There used to be a Chinese school over there. So I went to school there about at least three or four years, you know.

CD: Was it just on the weekends, though?

ML: No, weekdays. After the English school they would haul us over there.

CD: I see. How come they just didn’t set one up in Visalia?

ML: Wasn’t enough people. There’s a lot of Chinese in Hanford, too. So they just condensed it, made one school out of it.

CD: So, how many Chinese do you think were in Visalia at that time in the ‘40s?

ML: Well, there’s the Gong family, ourselves, the Chan family, the Chans were pretty good-sized family, and I believe that’s --

CD: So, you’re just talking about five or six families?

ML: Yeah.

CD: So, they’d haul you. What about Hanford, how big was Hanford?

ML: Hanford had quite a few, too. Cause we had uncles and aunts over there, too. Actually, I think they had more in Hanford than in Visalia.

CD: Do you think it was like a hundred people?

ML: Oh, I don’t think there were --

CD: -- that many?

ML: Not that many. There were quite a few.

CD: What about church? Did you guys have a temple?

ML: That was the school; it was part of a church, too, at the same time.

CD: Okay.

ML: In fact, the building is still there.

CD: Oh, is it?

ML: That’s right.

CD: Is it downtown?

ML: Yeah, the older part of town. It’s where that Chinese restaurant and --

CD: Yeah, Hanford is a cute little community.

ML: You’ll see that kind of church-like building over there.

CD: And that’s where the school was?

ML: Yes, that’s right.

CD: So, what did they teach you?

ML: Oh, Chinese, you know, counting --

CD: How to write?

ML: Write, yes. And I forgot a lot of it --

CD: Yeah. So your dad and your mother, they spoke Chinese and wrote Chinese and all that?

ML: Yes, uh-huh.

CD: And they wanted you guys to learn it, too?

ML: Well, right. Well, that’s what we learned was Chinese before we learned English.

CD: At home?

ML: At home and that is the only thing they would speak to us.

CD: Yeah.

ML: And which I’m glad they did.

CD: Yeah.

ML: Because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to speak some of the Chinese that I do.

CD: Yeah. Did you ever go back to China ?

ML: Yes. My dad took me back in 1949, after the war with Japan . And I stayed there about a year and went to school there about a year.

CD: Well, it’s good you knew some Chinese, then.

ML: Yeah. I learned some. When we went over there we were kids. I was still in high school then. And I went there just to play basketball, sports. I was kind of interested in sports. But I learned some, you know, I learned the customs.

CD: You went there you mostly were doing sports?

ML: No, I didn’t. My dad sent us over there to get us married, actually.

CD: And did you?

ML: Yeah.

CD: So, you met your wife over there?

ML: No, I divorced her after I got back.

CD: Oh, I see.

ML: I just wasn’t -- we were from different worlds.

CD: Oh, born in America totally.

ML: It’s a different world. Just one of the sad things in life, you know.

CD: Yeah. Well, it’s hard. I’ve seen that, I’ve seen that in the valley. The parents are born one country and the kids are born here.

ML: And they all want the younger generation to go back there and then that way he’ll go back to China , see.

CD: Oh, did he ultimately want that? Did he ultimately want the family to go back to China ?

ML: Yeah, that’s what they wanted. That’s why they wanted us to go back there and get married, you know. A lot of them -- a lot of the friends that I went back, they stay married. But I just -- I guess I was just one of the different ones.

CD: Yeah. But did they stay in China or --

ML: No. They came back.

CD: Yeah. That’s why your dad came over here in the first place. It’s funny they wanted you to go back.

ML: Well, they want you to visit the old country. So, you’ll see it once, which is good because in education you see how those people live, how hard they work, compared to the opportunity you have over here.

CD: Yeah, makes you appreciate this.

ML: So you appreciate that a lot more, yeah.

CD: Wasn’t that a bad time in China , 1949, to be going back?

ML: Well, just after the war with Japan .

CD: So, it wasn’t that bad?

ML: It wasn’t that bad. Then the Communists came so we left just before the Communists came.

CD: Cause wasn’t that in 1949.

ML: Yeah, right, 1949. So we left about then.

CD: Oh, okay. ‘Cause you could have gotten stuck there.

ML: We had -- I had a friend named Tom Gong that got stuck there.

CD: Did he ever get out?

ML: Oh, he finally got out. It took him least over ten years before he got out.

CD: Ten years.

ML: That’s right. He was stuck there.

CD: Is he related to the Gong family you knew?

ML: Yes. Right.

CD: Wow, that’s scary.

ML: In fact, we went back together in the boat, you know, in the boat. I think it was The President Roosevelt or something like that. So, we all went back to China together. Their dad went back with my dad and we all --

CD: Did you all go find wives?

ML: Yeah, well, they did. My brother and I, you know, he was actually more ready than I was. I was just --

CD: How old were you?

ML: Oh, my goodness, I was just about 17.

CD: Oh, no. That’s too young.

ML: I knew that.

CD: And your brother, how old was he?

ML: He was 18, 18 ½. He was over a year older than I was. But he was kind of more ready. He moved around more circles than I did. I was kind of a little quiet.

CD: So, did he get married?

ML: Yeah, he got married too. He got married first.

CD: And then he came back?

ML: They came back. After a while they got divorced, too. It just didn’t quite work out, you know.

CD: That would be hard to be married to someone born in China versus someone born in the United States .

ML: Well, see, most of these, some of the women were born over here, too.

CD: Oh, they were going back too, to look for husbands?

ML: They were doing the same thing. Their dad did the same thing.

CD: Why didn’t they just hook up everybody here?

ML: Well, it’s hard. They figured if you hooked up here you would never go back to China . But they wanted us to have some life in China . That way you’ll go back.

CD: Yeah, because their family would all be there.

ML: Right.

CD: Yeah. So, I don’t know. Reading the history of China , it’s hard to go back and get back here. Getting back to Tulare County, so, let’s see. So, how old were you when the war started?

ML: Nineteen thirty-one, the war started in forty-one --

CD: Yes, you were about ten.

ML: Ten years old.

CD: Do you remember when Pearl Harbor was bombed, where you were at?

ML: Oh, yes, right.

CD: What were you doing?

ML: I was inside the house. We just lived right behind the store, so we were there. I remember my dad said, " Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor."

CD: What did everybody say?

ML: They said, you know, they were just kind of shocked in a way.

CD: Were you shocked that they would do that?

ML: In a way. But we were still young. So we didn’t think too much of it, you know. But then, pretty soon a lot of the Sumidas and Otanis -- cause my dad used to sell meat to those people, he had a meat market there. And so all of a sudden -- the kids that went to high school that were Japanese kids, they had to leave, you know, they had to sell all their goods and all. We just kind of felt bad. You know, that’s war, I guess. You know, we just were kind of young so we didn’t quite understand. But we didn’t like it. But there was nothing we could do about it. And I think the United States learned a lesson from that. You know, those Japanese people went over there and fought the war. They didn’t go to Japan’s side, the Pacific side and fight, but they went to the other side, the Allies. And then they were just as good citizens as we are, you know.

And I remember one time we were going to Fresno or San Francisco. My dad was driving this little van and we was driving by where the Holiday Inn is, or at least that’s the airport out there, see. And they had these black widow planes and we were just driving through -- ooh, the airplanes -- we were just kids and Highway Patrol, a policeman stopped my dad. They thought we were spies. Watching all this stuff.

CD: Spies for Japan ?

ML: For Japan , you know. It kind of scared us, you know.

CD: I bet.

ML: And finally my dad explained to him and everything else, so he let us go, you know. At the same time you can’t blame them. It was just their job. They had to make sure everything’s okay.

CD: What’s the black widow?

ML: A night fighter airplane.

CD: What was it doing in Visalia?

ML: I don’t know. They were just stationed there, you know. In case --

CD: Really.

ML: They had all these bunkers and all the planes were inside. It was like a U-shaped mound. I remember all those.

CD: What did the bunker look like?

ML: The bunker is just like a U-shaped mound and then they park the plane inside of it. Instead of a hangar they put it in these bunkers.

CD: With no cover?

ML: No cover.

CD: Just a bunker?

ML: Yeah. They might have had nets over the top. I don’t remember. We couldn’t see, you know. But I saw the bunkers, you know.

CD: So, you guys went into take a peak?

ML: No, we didn’t take a peak. We just drove by it.

CD: Right.

ML: We just drove by it. We just kind of slowed down just to look at it, you know.

CD: Was that at the Visalia airport or were you --

ML: Yes, That’s Visalia airport.

CD: Oh, cause they have the different fields, Sequoia Field and Rankin.

ML: No, not the Sequoia Field. 198. That’s where the Holiday Inn is right now.

CD: What do you mean by the United States learned a lesson?

ML: Well, I think they learned a lesson when they put all the Japanese in these concentration -- not concentration -- camps, you know. In Arizona --

CD: They call them concentration camps.

ML: Yeah, concentration camp and that’s what I meant by that.

CD: But they shouldn’t have done it?

ML: I don’t think they should have done it.

CD: Little -- over the reactionary --

ML: I think so. I think they realized that themselves. I think in these years now they realized they shouldn’t have done it. That’s in the past. You can’t live in the past.

CD: One of the Presidents apologized, I think, you know, fifty years too late. So you were at home when Pearl Harbor was bombed. What was it like? You were at Sierra Vista at that time?

ML: Yes, Sierra Vista.

CD: What was it like when you went to school the next day?

ML: Well, we got teased. They thought that we were Japanese. They couldn’t tell the difference ‘cause we all kind of look alike anyway. So, we had to kind of laugh at it. We didn’t like it. But, I said, no, we’re Chinese, we’re not Japanese.

CD: But, how would they know? A lot of kids nowadays wouldn’t know the difference.

ML: No, they wouldn’t know the difference. You have to kind of tell them, you know.

CD: Big country; little country. What would you do about it?

ML: Nothing. We just -- some of it teases, you know, things like that. But we just kind of let it go. Because my dad said, "Hey, don’t get involved in anything, just keep quiet; just walk away from it." So, that’s what he told us. We almost look alike and things like that.

CD: So, after that happened, did your family have like a little family meeting and say, "Okay, this is what’s going to happen?" Did they keep you informed?

ML: Well, they just told us to be careful out there. That’s what they said. You know, cause we’re not Japanese, we’re Chinese. And you know, just -- unfortunately that happens -- that’s what happened to us.

CD: Do you remember the day the Japanese got onto the train and left?

ML: Oh, yes. When they got onto the train, some of the Japanese that we knew in Chinatown, they came over there and gave us and sold a lot of their stuff to my mom and dad, like oranges and things like that, you know. They had one of those that was a big stand. And lot of things that they gave to us. I guess they were good friends of my parents. We just hated to see them leave.

CD: Did you guys keep in touch, did you write and stuff?

ML: No, ‘cause we were too young at that time.

CD: I mean your parents. Did your parents write back --

ML: They were just friends. I don’t think they did.

CD: Yeah.

ML: I think once they got out of the concentration camp they came back, some of them came back to Visalia. We just resumed relationships.

CD: Right.  So, overall how did your family feel about the United States getting involved in the war?

ML: Well, there was nothing they could do about it. They just, hey, that’s the sign of the times or whatever you want to call it. There’s nothing you can do about it.

CD: Do you think they expected it and they were hoping they wouldn’t, that the United States wouldn’t get involved?

ML: Well, you mean the Japanese and the --?

CD: Your family, like your parents. Do you think they were hoping the United States wouldn’t get involved in the war?

ML: Well, they couldn’t help it, they bombed Pearl Harbor. It’s just like 9/11, the same thing. There’s no difference, you know. So, they didn’t like it. It’s just -- what else can they do? They’re in this country, they have to go with it, you know. I remember all the rations, everything else we went through.

CD: Yea. So how did your business deal with rationing? Did you actually get the stamps?

ML: Yeah, we had the stamps.

CD: What kind of store was it?

ML: It was just a meat market. Little small groceries. My dad bought meat from this meat place, in fact, it’s by Ben Maddox, there used to be a meat place (slaughterhouse).

CD: Oh. What was it called, do you remember?

ML: OH, gosh I don’t remember what they called that one.  And my dad would go over there and buy meat there. And he’d have his truck and he’d haul it back and he’d cut it all up and everything else and sell it.

CD: Yeah. But the customers would have to have stamps to buy it. Would he have to have stamps to buy it from the guy on Ben Maddox?

ML: Yes, he had to give stamps, you know.

CD: Oh, he would have to get --

ML: I think he had to get the stamps to go to Ben Maddox. I think he did, you know. Cause I was still young.

CD: I know you were young, yeah. My dad was exactly your age.  Russell Doe. I think he went to Sierra Vista, too.

ML: He did. Russell Doe.

CD: Yeah. He was in the band or something. So, your dad had the store. And how did the rationing affect your business?

ML: Well, if people had stamps you could sell to them, you know.

CD: Right. But would you run out?

ML: What? No, we always had plenty.

CD: Oh, good.

ML: We always had plenty. We could always go back to the slaughterhouse and get some, you know.

CD: Do you think that’s because we live in an agricultural area? I mean some areas must have been running out of meat. I thought meat was kind of a shortage.

ML: Yeah, it was in short. But we never had any problems.

CD: Oh, well, that’s good.

ML: We never had any problem, you know. Just enough -- I guess they look at the size of your store and how much you’re selling so they just allotted so much cause I remember gasoline was allotted, too. You had to have stamps and everything.

CD: What would your family do about that? Wouldn’t you need more?

ML: Oh, gas, we didn’t go anywhere in those days. So, we knew a black fellow had a Richfield station over there. So we just kind of, you know, traded. So we always had gas but we didn’t need that much. And he didn’t eat that much meat so we just kind of, you know, trade off every so often.

CD: So, you’d give him meat and he’d give you gas?

ML: Yeah, right.

CD: I think it’d be a little extra. I mean, people were saying they didn’t have enough gas to get out to the Goshen bus station.

ML: Yeah.

CD: That’s not that far.

ML: We didn’t go anywhere, I mean, in those days. In those days cars were slower. You go to San Francisco it’d take you six hours or more. And I remember him taking us up there.

CD: So, it would take six hours?

ML: Six hours and more. Now I can get up there in three and a half, four hours. Six hours or more in those days.

CD: What was the road that you guys would take?

ML: Well, we take --

CD: The 99?

ML: I think it was the 99. And then shoot -- and go on up that ways through Oakland and so forth.

CD: So the business and the gas, you don’t remember -- a lot of the shortages didn’t affect your business?

ML: No, not really. We always had enough, you know. I remember in those days, too, maybe forty-one, Pepsi Cola five cents. They had that song, you know.

CD: And what about family, around dinnertime, do you remember being a kid; do you remember the rationing affecting the family at all?

ML: No, because we always had enough meat. And Chinese don’t eat that much meat anyway. So we had a lot of rice. So, we got raised with rice and we always had salt fish. And my mom made a lot of stuff, you know. Salt eggs, things like that. So we always had things like that.

CD: Where did the fish come from?

ML: This is dried fish. So, they usually, when they go to San Francisco they would go pick up some and bring it home, see. But they didn’t have any, you know, oriental markets here.

CD: So during that time of gas rationing you guys never went up to San Francisco?

ML: Not too often.

CD: But did you?

ML: Yeah. I remember going up. I don’t if it was between that period or not.

CD: Between 1941 and 1946?

ML: Wait a minute. I remember when Madam Chiang Kai-Shek came to San Francisco during the war.

CD: Really. What year was that?

ML: Oh, my goodness, don’t ask me what year it was, you know. My dad took the whole family up there. And boy, that Chinatown was just so packed with people. All the Chinese people went up there and donated the money to them, you know.

CD: For what?

ML: For the war against Japan .

CD: I always forget China was in a war against Japan , too.

ML: I remember that trip we took. I was standing in Chinatown. I think it was Stockton or something like that. She was there.

CD: Did you see her?

ML: No. Just too little. And then you get so many people. We were just like little ants running around.

CD: Right. And did you know who she was?

ML: Oh, yeah. We all knew Chiang Kai-Shek back in China , you know.

CD: That’s exciting. That’s a lot of gas, though, to get up there.

ML: Yeah, to get up there, right. Those cars, cars can’t go very fast anyway, use that much gas anyway.

CD: I know people just really complained about not even, they couldn’t even get to Hanford and all that. When the war started, did that affect your Chinese school, going to Hanford and going to Chinese school or did everything just go on the same?

ML: What? It’s let’s see now. It’s ’41-’46, yeah. We went there. Just everything just about the same, there wasn’t too much difference for us.

CD: Business as usual?

ML: Yeah.

CD: And people understood that you were Chinese?

ML: Yes. Sometimes when we got to the school they would get on us a little bit. "You Jap" and things like that. We didn’t like that, you know. They didn’t call us Chinks or things like that. But, you know, we just have to overlook those things. That’s what our family teaches us, you know.

CD: Right.

ML: We just say, "Don’t even pay attention to them, just keep going, that’s it."

CD: That was good advice.

ML: So, that’s all we did to survive, that’s all.

CD: Right.

ML: Sometimes they’ll beat you up.

CD: Did they?

ML: Oh, they didn’t. You know, they would want to if you mouth off to them or talk to them. Like the young kids today, they mouth off. That’s why they’re always in a fight.

CD: They shoot nowadays.

ML: I know. In those days, we didn’t get involved.

CD: Fistfights look pretty innocuous now.

ML: When I ran for President of the Sierra Vista, I could feel that they didn’t like me being the president through the principals and some of the teachers, because I was the first oriental that became president of Sierra Vista. But I could feel it.

CD: So that was during the war years.

ML: Yeah, I could feel it. After that I just stayed out of it. I didn’t want to get involved any more.

CD: Really. So the student body elected you.

ML: That’s right.

CD: You were more popular with the student body and you felt the resistance with the teachers?

ML: Yes, that’s right. That’s what I felt. Yeah, I could just feel it.

CD: Well, they didn’t grow up with you.

ML: Right.

CD: You know, they’re old school, the teachers and the principal.

And how long do you think that took to calm down the name-calling and the tension, how long after the war?

ML: After the war they still did some after the war, you know, go back to camp or things like that. I remember those things. But it might have taken just two or three years or something.

CD: Took a couple of years?

ML: Couple of years. After that the Japanese started coming back they would pick on them I remember that. So we kind of stuck up for them.

CD: Oh, you did.

ML: Oh, yeah. I say, hey, look, it’s over with, you know just kind of leave it be. That’s where I got to know all the Japanese people. Like Doctor Isota.

CD: I don't know him.

ML: He was here during the war.

CD: He might have been interviewed. I was only supposed to do five. But then I’ve ended up doing about ten.

ML: Because he and I become best friends. We went to high school.

CD: Once you were in high school, was the war over?

ML: Let’s see now. No, I think the war was over in ’41.

CD: No, ’45.

ML: yeah. It was over.

CD: It was over. So you were in high school in ’46. And so --

ML: We got called names, too, but you know, we just kind of let it go, you know.

CD: So after that you never wanted to, you never ran for student body office again?

ML: No, I just kind of stayed away from there, any politics.

CD: That’s too bad.

ML: I know. When I see people like that, hey, I just kind of shy me away.

CD: Oh, well, politics. You’re not missing anything.

ML: I just didn’t enjoy that. At least one thing I say, my peers voted me in; it wasn’t them (the teachers). That’s what I have to look back to.

CD: Right.

ML: But then I knew all the kids they you know and everything else.

CD: Yeah, the teachers can be very out of touch.

ML: They were a little bit out of touch, yeah, that’s what I felt anyway.

CD: So once you got to high school, did everything pretty much return back to normal, were there dances and all the men were back in sports and --

ML: Yeah. It just kind of went right back to normal.

CD: So, the sports program --

ML: It was okay. I played sports quite a bit.

CD: What did you play?

ML: I played basketball, football. I was a little tiny guy.

CD: What year did you play? Did you play as a freshman?

ML: No. I was too small. I played when I was a junior and a senior. I went back to China for a year and came back and finished school over here. Cause we were the last class at Visalia Union High School.

CD: Oh, really. And then it turned to Redwood?

ML: Yeah, then -- yeah, then they went to where Mt. Whitney is, Visalia Union High School went over there.  When I left, it became Mt. Whitney and then pretty soon they opened this school back up and it became Redwood.

CD: Oh, I didn’t realize that was the chain of events. Cause I’ve heard the yearbooks are over at Mt. Whitney, which wouldn’t make any sense to me because Redwood was Visalia High.

ML: What happened was, I think what they did, they made Visalia High a junior high school, see, and then transferred sophomore, juniors and seniors to Mt. Whitney over there.  Eventually the town got bigger and then they opened it back up again to be a high school.

CD: So then Mt. Whitney was the high school and Visalia High didn’t exist as a high school anymore, it was a junior high.

ML: No, that’s right.

CD: So, that’s why. I always thought that was funny, I thought, why didn’t they just keep the yearbooks at Redwood? So, Redwood was a junior high for a while. So, you were the last graduating class of Visalia High. Did you know it?

ML: Yes.

CD: And what was the graduation like?

ML: Oh, it was great, you know. Same, just like any graduation.

CD: Yeah. Oh, that’s neat. So, my dad was about your age, about 11 -- ten, 11, 12. And one of his little friends would deliver milk to the brothels. Do you remember that?

ML: Oh, yeah, that was right above our meat market.

CD: What hotel was that?

ML: California Hotel. And we were kids, you know. And we and everybody kind of knew that. The high school kids knew and everything else. So we had a staircase going up on Bridge Street and then they had another one coming down on Main Street. So as kids we’d go up there. We’d run up the stairs, knock on her door, and ran back down the other side. So, we were kind of you know, being mean, you know.

CD: Right.

ML: So we kind of laugh about it today.

CD: What do you mean "her," there was just one?

ML: That’s all we knew. I don’t know if you want me to mention her name.

CD: Oh, sure.

ML: Her name was Toy. That’s all we knew.

CD: Toy, her name was Toy.

ML: And the kids in high school, they’d know that too. They said -- so, it was kind of funny.

CD: Oh, gosh. Well, I think there were three or four brothels.

ML: That’s the only one we knew ‘cause it was above us.

CD: Right, right. How funny.

ML: I know it’s funny.

CD: Cause Visalia was such a rowdy town, so much more than now. Now there’s lots of churches, very few bars. There were a lot of bars and brothels and yeah, it’s different. So what would kids do for fun during the war. You guys couldn’t drive around. What would you guys do?

ML: Let’s see, during the war years, let me think. I know I was going to high school. I don’t know if that was after or not. I couldn’t remember. We didn’t do much actually, to tell you the truth. We kind of kept to ourselves a little bit, you know, ‘cause our dad would keep us busy ‘cause I learned how to cut meat then when I was just a little kid.

CD: Would you help in the store?

ML: Oh, yeah. I was cutting meat when I was a little teenager growing up.

CD: So pretty much what would you do after school?

ML: After school, we’d come back and help our dad work because he needed some help. He had some Chinese help there but then eventually that time they all left and got stores of their own or went to work for somebody else. So we just kind of helped him out. We just learned, my brothers and I, we just learned how to cut meat.

CD: Were you the only butcher around?

ML: No. There was a Gongs Market. There used to be a Fairway over there, too. And there was a Chans Market. So there were about four Chinese stores in town.

CD: And how were all your customers? Like after Pearl Harbor, did your customers say anything to you?

ML: No. They knew they getting meat from us and everything. They were happy. We knew them by name and everything else. They always came, you know.

CD: Yeah. That was good. Whatever happened to the store?

ML: My dad took us back to China and he saw his family was getting bigger, you know.  So, he decided, well, he’s got to get a bigger store to support the family and everybody else. So, he went to Los Banos so we all moved to Los Banos in 1950.

CD: Oh.

ML: So we opened a store over there.

CD: So you graduated from high school here and then you went to Los Banos?

ML: Right.

CD: And you guys opened up a store there?

ML: Yeah, bigger store.

CD: A bigger -- just a butcher store.

ML: No, with groceries.

CD: Wow. And how was that?

ML: That was good, very good. We became the best -- the biggest market in Los Banos.

CD: And is it still there?

ML: No.

CD: What happened?

ML: We opened up, all the brothers kind of -- some of them went into pharmacy and, you know, and things like that.

CD: How many were there of you?

ML: There was, let’s see, there was John, myself, there was Henry, there was Herb, and there was Jenny, my sister.

CD: And you guys all kind of went -- nobody took over the business?

ML: Well, I did for a while. And then my brother did. And then we just kind of didn’t get along. So it kind of built itself up, you know. Everybody wanted to go their own ways.

CD: Right. And so you ended coming back?

ML: Then I ended up with a market in Merced and I ended up with that one in Los Banos over there. Then the union picketed me for nine years, you know.

CD: Really.

ML: Oh, yeah, just because I didn’t want to join their union, and hey, I figured, "Hey, I fought the wars. It’s a free country, hey, you don’t tell me what to do. If my employees don’t want to work for me, if they don’t think I’m paying them fair wages, I don’t have a ball and chain to tie them down, they can go somewhere else." But in the meantime, when they were picketing us, they started picketing all the "Chinese Market" people, you know.  That’s when the Chinese got together and joined another (union). And that eliminated the retail clerks union and the meat union because Safeway moved out of Los Banos. They moved out of a lot of towns in the valley because the Chinese took over and they didn’t like that because we had our own union and our prices were lower.

(They picketed Young’s market first, then State Market in Coalinga, and then National Market in Los Banos, which was my market.)

CD: Right. But you made the Chinese union?

ML: Well, yes, it just formed another union on its own.

CD: So that’s a union.

ML: Oh, yeah.

CD: So they couldn’t have any reason to picket?

ML: No, no. Besides that, they didn’t pick on the Chinese in the valley. So we actually in a way knocked off the union in this valley.  But they combined with the meat union to form their own. They just went after Safeway and all the other stores.  They just left us alone.

CD: And so then what happened?

ML: What?

CD: You still have your store?

ML: No. I got out of it. They tried to kill me twice.

``  (They knocked on my door and no one opened the door, and the cops found acid on the ground next to the front door. Then, they unscrewed all the lugs on all four tires of my car when I was in Merced.)

CD: Ooh. The union?

ML: That’s right. I can’t prove it but I know --

CD: Right, yeah.

ML: You know how they’re very discreet. They tried to rob me twice, broke into my store, tried to take my -- rob my safe, I had a good safe. Things like that, you know. And then I say, "Hey, that’s it, that’s enough."

CD: Really.

ML: Yeah, and I got out of it.

CD: Wow, those unions --

ML: A lot of people don’t understand it but they think, oh, it’s great, it’s great.

CD: Well, if there wasn’t so much corruption it would be, actually.

ML: So I just say, hey, that’s past, I don’t want to -- you know, I just can’t go back into it.

CD: So what brought you back here to Visalia?

ML: I got out of the grocery business and I went into the toy business.

CD: Oh, the toy business.

ML: That’s right.

CD: Oh, just like that brothel lady.

(Lots of laughter)

ML: No, not that way.

CD: That’s such a cute name. So, did any of your family get drafted?

ML: I joined the service myself.

CD: But the war was over by then.

ML: Yeah, I went to the Korean War.

CD: What arm of the service?

ML: The Army.

CD: Oh, you went into the Army. What about your older brother?

ML: My older brother, he got drafted. He was -- he went to Texas, you know, he was over there. And then the other one was in the ROTC. And one of them, he got exempt, you know, he didn’t go in at all. But I think it’s good experience for all the young kids going in cause I think that’s when I grew up. I believe myself that this country should let, at least have these kids go in there for a year or two so they really realize what’s going on, how much they can appreciate this county instead of just letting them run around loose and do what they want. That’s my opinion, okay.

CD: And so you went to the Army. Were you sent anywhere?

ML: Yes, I was sent over to Korea to begin with. I got lucky. When I went to Japan , they needed some clerk typists. Good thing I took typing and everything else in high school because I was a good typist. And everybody said raise your hand, they said, "Raise your hand if you can type." I did, and I was just a kid still. And so all of a sudden these other guys I went to boot camp with, they went to Korea on the front line because I went over there as a rifleman, you know. And then all of a sudden they need a clerk typist, so I raised my hand and wrote down my name, everything else, how many words I type. I got stuck behind.

CD: Which is good.

ML: Well, yeah. Then after that they shipped me to Korea . And I was in the 8th Army Headquarters with the Quartermaster Corp because I could type, you know. So, I was lucky.

CD: Right. You didn’t get sent to the front lines. Did you ever find out what happened to the rest of your group?

ML: Some of them I know got killed. I don’t know about the rest, but I know some got killed.

CD: Right. Was everything integrated then? The Army. Were all the blacks and whites and Asians and everybody together?

ML: They’re all together, but then they just --they still have that resentment of the blacks and things like that. The Orientals, we fit in a little bit better. So they didn’t bother us too much. But I noticed a guy -- I met some colonel there, he was a colonel in the Army. He and I talked; he was my officer in charge and he kind of took a liking to me because he knew I’d get the job done. And you could see the resentment he had, you know.

CD: Really.

ML: He would get bypassed for promotion, things like that. He kind of mentioned something to me.

CD: Resentment he had -- was he Asian?

ML: No, he was black.

CD: Oh, he was black. He got passed over because he was black.

ML: He was a colonel already. These are the things that they feel they get passed up, you know.

CD: Cause it was segregated during the war?

ML: A little bit during the war. But you know, you have to live through that.

CD: Yeah, must be hard. So, you didn’t know anybody who went over and fought in World War II, none of your family went?

ML: When World War II --

CD: Uh-huh.

ML: Yeah, my uncle did.

CD: Oh, really.

ML: And then I had another uncle that went there to the front lines. I think he was in one of the islands over there.

CD: Oh, really.

ML: Oh, yeah. He was telling me some of his war stories.

CD: Where was he from?

ML: He’s already passed away, you know. He was from China and then, you know, he became a citizen here.

CD: Was he from Tulare County?

ML: Yeah.

CD: What’s his name?

ML: Oh, gosh, let me think a minute. Oh, oh --

CD: Sorry, making things so hard.

ML: Oh, gosh, I can’t even think of his name right now, you know. I know there used to be the tea garden, a guy named Kai, you know, in fact his father, he went to the war over there, too. He was at the Chinese tea garden.

CD: The Chinese tea garden right now?

ML: Yeah, right now, yeah. That’s his son in there right now. I know he went too. But I can’t think of my uncle’s name, one of my uncles, you know, but he was up there.  And gosh, it was brutal up there. Just some of the things, I don’t even want to talk about that.

CD: Yeah, I know, war stories, yeah. Did he help out with the business or did he have his own business?

ML: Well, he helped my dad. When he got out of the Army he, you know, he -- when he first got out. After that he came to work for my dad.

CD: And then he struck out on his own, got his own business?

ML: Most of the Chinese, they do that, yeah.

CD: So, did your family do anything to support the war effort like, do you remember buying bonds or --

ML: Yeah, oh, yeah, they bought bonds.  And they helped Chiang Kai-Shek, you know, supported them up there, you know.

CD: Yes, I guess that would be.  Yeah.

ML: So, they did that.

CD: Do you remember very many people growing victory gardens?

ML: Yes, in fact we had one in our backyard.

CD: Oh, you did.

ML: Oh, yeah. We had chickens there. And all that.

CD: And what would you grow?

ML: Oh, we grew the Chinese vegetables. All the Chinese -- bok choy, squashes, things like that. We had melons growing back there. My mom used to grow a victory garden back there.

CD: Do you remember very much about any kind of black market during the rationing? Cause usually when you have rationing --

ML: Oh, there is some, there is some.

CD: What do you remember about it?

ML: Oh, well, hey, you don’t have stamps, just sell it.

CD: Oh, I see, just sell it anyway.

ML: The people they need it, you know. That’s the way it goes, you know.

CD: Right. So Chiang Kai-Shek was fighting against the Japanese at that time. Is that the same leader that went to Taiwan ?

ML: That’s right.

CD: That’s the party there.

ML: That’s the party there. After the Communists took over, he --

CD: He went over to Taiwan .

ML;  He went to Taiwan , yeah.

CD: Yeah. So when Madam Chiang Kai-Shek came to the United States that was a big event?

ML: That was a big event. A very big event. Chinatown was just packed with people. I can still remember that. I mean, it was packed.

CD: Do you think like --

ML: The streets, you couldn’t even take a car and go down the street, you know, there was just people there. All the Chinese community from all over just came. It was just packed. I can still remember that.

CD: Where did you guys stay that night?

ML: We had relatives up there in San Francisco at that time. They had a market on Richmond Street.

CD: That must have been exciting. So where were you when the United States dropped the first A-bomb?

ML: I think I was at the store at that time.

CD: Did you guys have the radio on or what?

ML: No. We didn’t have the radio. We just heard about it.

CD: What was the reaction?

ML: The reaction, hey, the war’s over. That’s it, you know, it’s over. Cause you realize, hey, once they kill that many people at one shot they can go into Tokyo and do the same thing and it’s over.

CD: But it wasn’t over. Japan didn’t surrender. What -- did your family -- do you remember the talk about that? The reaction.

ML: Let’s see. Let me think. This is right after the atomic bomb, right?

CD: Yeah, we bombed Hiroshima and then Japan didn’t surrender.

ML: Right. They didn’t surrender at that time. But they knew eventually they would.

CD: Oh, so you just thought eventually --

ML: With a big bomb like that there’s no way -- nobody can take that.

CD: Yeah. Looking back on it I cannot believe they wouldn’t surrender after Hiroshima. It just makes you --

ML: We feel it won’t be too far away.

CD: yeah. So the feeling was generally happy?

ML: Right. Cause the war was over there won’t be any more rationing, there won’t be all that, you know, all the other stuff.

CD: And how soon did Japan pull out of China ? Did they before? I mean, after the A-bomb, did that pretty -- did they just start pulling out?

ML: To tell you the truth, I don’t remember when they pulled out. It wasn’t too much longer after all that. They surrendered I think everything else went, right or wrong with what’s happening, you know.

CD: Right. So, the Chinese community would have had two things to celebrate. You mentioned the United States would have been out of the war and Japan would have been pulling out of China ?

ML: Yeah. After that Communists took over.

CD: I know. It didn’t work.

ML:   China ’s always been in a war all its life, you know. With the warlords and everything else, it makes no difference.

CD: I know. It’s too bad.

ML: I know it.

CD: Oh, well. Good thing you’re here. Oh, gosh. Let’s see. So over all, how would you say that World War II affected Tulare County?

ML: Well, I think after that everybody got back to normal, living and everything else. And everybody just wanted to make a living for their family ‘cause all the families are getting bigger and larger and everything else so they just put their nose to the grindstone and just worked, that’s it, you know, they tried to build something.

CD: Do you think things got better?

ML: Oh, I think so. After that because you didn’t have the rationing, you didn’t have anything else, you weren’t tied down to all this other stuff with the war, you know.

CD: What was your car like? I mean, you couldn’t buy a new car?

ML: No, gosh, it was an old car. It’s just like -- what was it, those gangster day cars. That’s what you had, you know. I remember the van we had, I think it was a Studebaker or something like that, you know.

CD: And how did you keep it repaired? Could your dad repair it or --?

ML: No, he didn’t repair it. He had this garage guy next to the Buick place that had it repaired and I think he had this black guy that had a Richfield station right by it, he did a lot of work.

CD: How big was the black community here at that time?

ML: Not too big. I think there was only about two or three families that were here.

CD: Cause it’s still small.

ML: It’s still small. This town didn’t like blacks. I have to be honest about that.

CD: Yeah, it seems that way.

ML: Tulare accepted them more than Visalia did. So we as Chinese were kind of fortunate. But we stayed out of the problems. They didn’t bother us.

CD: How soon after the war were people able to buy a new car?

ML: Oh, gosh, really I wasn’t the owner of a car so I wouldn’t know. But I knew my dad got a new Buick.

CD: That must have been a big deal?

ML: First time they came out with a dynaflow.

CD: What’s that?

ML: Well, it’s an automatic transmission, it’s called dynaflow. So, you know, we had a car.

CD: Wasn’t that a big deal?

ML: Oh, it was a big deal. He wouldn’t let us drive it too much. He had a van, you know, a little van to carry his meats in.

CD: Right.

ML: So we had two cars after a while.

CD: But his was the new car.

ML: We got to drive it once in a while; we snuck it out once in a while.

CD: And do you think things went for the better after the war, do you think the war was better for Tulare County that it happened?

ML: Well, I think, you know, that prosperity kind of came on after that, you know, because everybody, I think, prospered after the war with Japan .

CD: Did your family business do better after the war? Or did it stay about the same?

ML: I think it got a little bit better, you know. And of course there was no rationing so it had to be better.

CD: Right, because you can buy more.

ML: Everybody started working and the economy started picking up and everything else. So you’ve got to be better. If you didn’t, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

CD: Yeah.

ML: Of course, inflation came with that, too. But it’s not as bad as today, the inflation today. Look at the gas price now. It’s bad.

CD: I think the gas companies are working it, though.

ML: Oh, you think so. Everybody think it, you’re not the only one.

CD: What about housing? A lot of people complained there was just no housing. Where did you live when you were eighteen?

ML: We lived right next door to the store.

CD: Oh, okay.

ML: Even when we moved to Los Banos, you know, we did the same. We build the quarters in the back. So, we house our employees and we house ourselves.

CD: Stay right by the store. So it was never an issue?

ML: Of course, it made us work longer, too.

CD: Exactly. Smart.

ML: The job was never done yet.

CD: Well, I guess -- did you have anything that you wanted to add about how World War II affected Tulare County or your family’s life here during those years?

ML: Well, I think after the war with Japan , I think the family life, everybody got back to normal.  And I think there was a little bit more prosperity, because people --things that you never had before, all of a sudden you had more new things coming out. And people started working and they started making a little money and it just snowballed, that’s all. I think everybody prospered by it.

CD: I forgot to ask you about the floods. Do you remember the floods in ‘42?

ML: Oh, yeah.

CD: What part of town did it affect?

ML: Well, see, there used to be a lumber yard near here.

CD: Oh, the creek went underneath?

ML: Yeah, underneath. See, and we used to go by the lumberyard over there. We used to play in that creek over there. We used to swing, playing like Tarzan. We used to play war in the tunnel, underneath the town.

CD: Would you go under the town?

ML: Oh, yeah, we went under it.

CD: Didn’t anybody ever drown?

ML: No, cause there’s no water in it, see. We’d go in there and play war. But when a flood comes, there’s water.

CD: Right.

ML: And so I remember the flood coming down the alley, see.

CD: Which alley?

ML: It’s still there. Right between that steakhouse where our market was at that time. And I remember water was coming there. We had to put sandbags against our door so it wouldn’t come inside.

CD: Was that successful?

ML: Yeah, oh, yeah, it kept it out there. Just coming down the alley. And then during the daytime, I remember, I used to run down Main Street and Bridge and, hey, just jump in the water and play around.

CD: How deep was it?

ML: Oh, it wasn’t that deep. It’d just go -- you know, subsiding at that time a little bit.

CD: Right.

ML: So water didn’t have anywhere to go ‘cause the Mill Creek was carrying it.

CD: Was it going north to south or east to west? Which way was the water going?

ML: The water --

CD: How would it flow?

ML: Gosh, I think it was going west, I think.

CD: So, it wasn’t flowing down Main Street, it would flow --

ML: It would just sit there after a while and then just keeps coming cause it’s coming from that Mill Creek from the mountains. It’s got to go west.

CD: Right. So it was flowing west.

ML: It just kept going and eventually, you know, when it stops, there’s always water on Main Street ‘cause it couldn’t go anywhere else.

CD: And do you remember all the businesses closing?

ML: Oh, yeah.

CD: Would they flood?

ML: Well, the streets were flooded. I remember the streets were flooded.

CD: And would the businesses get ruined or would they be able to sandbag?

ML: Well, I don’t know about the rest of them. I knew we were able to sandbag. We were okay.

CD: Were you higher?

ML: I don’t know if that was higher or not. But we know it was going through. We didn’t know how high it was going to get. But the water was just going, flowing through the town. I can remember looking out in the alley there and seeing it just keep coming. Just going through, you know, ‘cause Mill Creek overflows.

CD: Was it very strong?

ML: Not really. We didn’t walk out there ‘cause we were scared of water anyways. We didn’t swim. So we just kind of watched it. ‘Cause my dad had an office and bedroom upstairs, you could look down the alley and just see the water going through. We used to go up there and look out the window.

CD: Right.  It seemed to have happened like ’42, ’43.

ML: Somewhere then.

CD: It happened straight years in a row.

ML: Yeah.

CD: It didn’t happen any more because the dam.

ML: They finally got that dam up there. That took care of it.

CD: Yeah, no more flooding.

Is there anything that you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?

ML: Not that I know.

CD: Anything about school or the war?

ML: No, ‘cause I think we covered just about everything that I can even think of.

CD: Okay. Well, thank you very much.

ML: Okay.

Catherine Doe/Transcribed by CP/Ed. By JW 10/4/04

(Ed: Words in italics were added during a phone conversation with Morey Low on October 4.)