Maggie Gee | Interview 1 | April 10, 2003

Oral History Center, UC Berkeley

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LI: It's April 9th, and this is Robin Li and Kathryn Stine and Leah McGarrigle, interviewing Maggie Gee. Do you know what the Chinese character means?

GEE: Yes--oh, I forgot what it means.

LI: But it's in Cantonese?

GEE: It's in Cantonese. Gee Mei Gue, that's my Chinese name.

LI: What does it mean?

GEE: Mei Gue. Mei is "pretty" something. I forget what is pretty. Everyone is Mei. Aren't you Mei-something?

LI: No, I'm Yue Bin. Yue, like "happiness." Doesn't sound as good in English.

Once again, we were talking about maybe just sort of starting in the beginning, talking about your grandparents, where they were from and how they ended up in California.

GEE: My grandparents were from Guangzhou area, which is Canton I guess, in those 1:00days. They came here because of the Taiping Revolution, I believe. They came because of economic reasons. They didn't come to work on the railroads. They were fishermen. It was very unusual at that particular time; it was probably the 1870s. They came as a couple. I don't know whether anyone has looked at it, but when we talked to Sandy Lydon, he said that there were some Chinese that came over in junks. [laughs] Well, there were quite a few, and not very many got 2:00here. We could never prove it, though. There were some that came over as families, because at that particular time it was just men that came. Then there was the Exclusion Act--women couldn't come. My grandmother was quite a bit younger than my grandfather when she came to this country. She had thirteen children. They landed in Monterey; well, they probably landed in San Francisco, then they went to Monterey. There was a fishing community down there, of Chinese.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you think they would have known before they came that that was their destination, Monterey?

GEE: I have no idea. I never got a chance to speak to them; my mother didn't talk about it. My mother was born in Monterey.

LI: Were the thirteen children all born here?


GEE: I believe all thirteen were born in this country, yes. Maybe there were more than thirteen, but the thirteen survived.

LI: Where was your mother in the birth order?

GEE: My mother was--I would think about the fifth one down. She was just one of the mouths to feed at that particular time.

LI: Do you know when she was born?

GEE: She was born 1895, I believe.

LI: Would she talk about growing up in Monterey?

GEE: No, she didn't talk. I picked it up. We used to go down to Monterey all the time to visit friends, but she never--well, by the time I became interested, she didn't talk very much about it and I didn't ask her, which was unfortunate. You 4:00know, as children you grow up and your parents are speaking, they're telling you things and you really don't listen very well. At least, I found myself not doing it. I regret it. I picked up most of the information just by being around my uncles and my aunts.

LI: The family kept in touch.

GEE: Oh yeah, the family kept in touch like most Chinese families, because at that particular time there was the isolation. There was a lot of discrimination, so the families were very close. All the brothers and sisters of my mother's generation were very close, as long as my grandmother was living, in particular when my grandmother was living.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you know what kind of house they moved to in Monterey? Where did they set up house?

GEE: Well, we had a reunion almost twenty years ago. They were down in Seventeen Mile Drive, where the Tennis and Beach Club is. We had it there, which was 5:00really great fun. They were squatters; the Chinese couldn't own property at that particular time. I'll just generalize and say Asians could not own property. I'm not quite sure whethersome people bought it in their children's name that were born in this country, but I'm not quite sure. Some people might have.

MCGARRIGLE: So squatters in the sense that they would into an existing home?

GEE: No, no. Squatters in a sense you build something on land that you don't own, I believe. I don't think there are any houses there. It's beautiful property that Del Monte finally developed, though, and became Seventeen Mile Drive.

LI: Did they work as fishermen in Monterey?


GEE: Yes, as fisherman for the Chinese in San Francisco. They dried fish, went out and got abalone and dried abalone; it was just part of the Chinese community. There was a big Chinese community there in Monterey, Watsonville, and Salinas. They were all either fishermen or they had grocery shops. Some farming, but not much farming, I don't think.

LI: Did your mother work with her parents?

GEE: I'm sure all of the children worked, whatever they did. In fact, they 7:00collected abalone shells, because they kept them and they polished them, and they sold them in stands. I don't have one of them. My sister had one and they're just beautiful. When I was a child when we went down to Monterey, we used to go and pick these abalones off of the beach--they were very small. Nowadays you have to wait until they're seven inches and you have to dive for them. We would just boil them on the beach. We would get a fire going and we'd eat these little abalones. They were absolutely delicious, I remember that. You could just pick them up on the rocks, like you would be able to get mussels, but no longer. At that time, most of the otters had gone and now we have otters that 8:00have come back, because they're an endangered species. And so I don't have to eat abalone anymore; the otters can have it. [laughs] They don't commercialize them here, because they're so few and the otters go after them.

LI: How did your mother come to leave Monterey?

GEE: The family moved up. My grandfather died, I believe. He was quite a bit older than my grandmother. So they moved up to San Francisco Chinatown. I just don't know exactly how this happened, but my father came as a merchant from Hong Kong. At that time, there was the Exclusion Act and so the only people that 9:00could come to this country were professionals or merchants or businessmen. So he came. He was an importer. He had a company in Hong Kong and so he set up a company here. He wanted to get married, so who did he go to? A marriage arranger, a marriage counselor, whatever you call 'em. So it was an arranged marriage.

LI: Had your mother registered, sort of, with the--

GEE: I don't know how that works, I really don't. Usually it's families that know each other. This was something that wasn't, though. He was someone who had a little means. He was a young man and looking for a wife. Whether he looked through many of them and chose my mother--it was an okay marriage.

MCGARRIGLE: How old was she when they married?

GEE: My mother, when she got married--if she was a '95, I would say she was 10:00twenty, at least. About 1915. Is that right?

MCGARRIGLE: That would be right.

GEE: Did you get hold of the book by Xiao Jiu.

LI: I was reading her book, because there's one chapter which is based almost entirely on that article. I was reading in there about your mother losing her citizenship when she got married. Would she talk about that?

GEE: Oh, yes, but she didn't lose it until a few years later, in something called the Cable Act.

LI: Right, so it's 1922.

GEE: They were married for some time and then the Cable Act came and it was directed to really Asians. I'd have to look at the Cable Act. Is it specifically Asians?


LI: It's any American woman who marries someone ineligible for citizenship, which is pretty much just Asians. So even if a white woman married an Asian--

GEE: She'd lose her citizenship, yes. So my mother lost her citizenship. It really bothered her, as I remember, but she got it back. It was a big thing for that particular time. Where are you a citizen of, then, if you lose your citizenship? Are you a citizen of China? She had been to China I think, but that's about all.

LI: Had she gone back to visit?

GEE: She went back to visit. It had to be about 1920, because my sister wasn't 12:00born, just my brother. My sister was born in 1921.

MCGARRIGLE: So that was a long trip. Who went back, when they went back?

GEE: My mother and my father and my brother. I think she had a baby there, which she lost, in China at that particular time. There was one child which she lost.

MCGARRIGLE: That might have been a business trip, then.

GEE: Some trip. Business, I guess, because he was able to come back.

LI: Do you know if they ever considered moving back to China, after she lost her citizenship?

GEE: I don't think so. She really was an American, though, even though we lived in a Chinese community up till then. It must be after they came back that my father decided to move to Berkeley. They lived in San Francisco.


LI: Do you know why he decided to move to Berkeley?

GEE: Well, he wanted his children to grow up outside of Chinatown. He didn't speak English at all, but he commuted from Berkeley because we had such wonderful transportation here. I think I told you there was a train on Tenth Street, a train on Sixth Street, a train on Sacramento, a train on California, two on Shattuck Avenue. One went along Claremont to the Claremont Hotel. These are all trains to San Francisco. Pretty nice.

LI: Did they run across the Bay Bridge?

GEE: There was no Bay Bridge. There was a ferry. Where the toll gate is, that's where the ferry slip was. It was really wonderful. It took you about the same 14:00amount of time; faster, no traffic. It's a short distance. Have you ever taken the ferry to San Francisco? Well, do it. It's really a nice ride. You pick the ferry up at Jack London and it's only a half hour. What you do is you go along the channel, then you go under the Bay

Bridge. But in the channel is where all the container ships are and you see them loading them. It's really interesting. Then you come to the Bay Bridge; I think you get very close to Yerba Buena, I'm not sure. You go under the Bay Bridge, then you're at the Ferry Building. You park your car down at Twelfth Street, at the garage or on the street, then you take BART home if you don't want to stay. You can get off at Twelfth Street and you just walk to your car if you don't want to wait for the ferry, which runs probably every hour. You go over and have 15:00lunch, and then take BART back. It's more flexible.

LI: When you were a child, did Chinatown feel close, even if you weren't living there?

GEE: Yes, I think so. When I was a child, Chinatown was close, because all my relatives lived in San Francisco Chinatown. My uncle had moved to this side of the bay, lived in Oakland Chinatown. Everyone lived in Chinatown. There were so many restrictions of where you could live.

MCGARRIGLE: So Berkeley was kind of outside of that.

GEE: Well, what happened was in 1906 there was a big earthquake. People came over to this side of the bay and a lot of people in Chinatown came over. The Chinese had these little truck farms down below San Pablo, I guess.

LI: How did they get that land, do you know? Was it just sort of empty?


GEE: I have no idea because there was no ownership. Didn't I show you my little pamphlet Looking Back at Berkeley? [Looking Back at Berkeley: a Pictorial History of a Diverse City. Berkeley, 1984] I want to

show you what Chinese--I just picked these up from the basement recently, because someone had asked me so I brought a whole bunch of them up. This was Berkeley Chinese. It's actually there. I'll give you this. Let me see if I can see those. This talks about the Chinese in Berkeley. I love this picture. In Berkeley? There it is, this one. It's down here on Hearst Street and Shattuck, I 17:00think. It's just like the Farmer's Market.

MCGARRIGLE: Comes full circle.

GEE: [laughs] They'd bring up the vegetables in these, just like in China. You can have that.

LI: Are you sure?

GEE: I have so many copies of it. I still have a bunch of copies, that's why I had them in the basement and I said I gotta give 'em away.

LI: It's amazing. It looks just like Berkeley; the houses look the same, and the street.

GEE: Oh yeah, Berkeley hasn't changed. In this neighborhood everything burned in '23, but on your side, on the other side of campus, some of the same houses are still around.

MCGARRIGLE: What was your father's business at that point? Did it evolve?


GEE: My father imported foodstuff from China, rice, and I guess the usual foodstuff, and then he exported soap products back to China. From China, the foodstuff, just like you do today, more so. At that particular time, America wasn't a rice-eating community. There was still Texas; I guess maybe in the South people ate rice, but rice was not a big item.

LI: Did that make him an important member of the community?

GEE: Oh, he was a businessman in San Francisco, yes. We used to go over there, I remember, to his warehouse--it was on Clay Street and he had one of these elevators, one of those things that open up in the street, on the sidewalk. You 19:00put the stuff down there and the elevator goes down. I guess you store it inside the shop. Are they still around?

MCGARRIGLE: I see that, yes. In other cities, also. More Eastern cities, where they load. Big steel doors open up and this lift comes up and they download everything. You see that more in the East.

GEE: But you don't see that here anymore.

LI: In Chinatown, they have them. In the restaurants, behind the restaurants you'll see all this bok choy--

GEE: Is that right? [laughs] Going down there. It was practical. They had it on the sidewalk. I remember his on Clay Street. I think it was Clay Street, yeah, Commercial and about Kearny.

LI: Was your mother staying at home at this time?

GEE: She stayed at home. She had six children, so she stayed at home.


LI: You said her first child was born in 1920? That's when your older brother was born?

GEE: My brother was born in 1917 or '18. Eighteen, I think. No, it has to be 1917. I was born in '23 and he's six years older than me, so whatever that is. [laughs] That's 1917.

LI: The youngest was born--

GEE: The youngest in the family was born--probably '28.

MCGARRIGLE: She had six children in ten or eleven years.

GEE: Every two years, that's what you do. You have sex, you just get pregnant. [laughs]


MCGARRIGLE: Did she maintain contact with her mother and all the extended family?

GEE: Oh yes, yes. On her side, but my father died when I was quite young so that I really didn't know [his side of the family]. I just had a cousin that lived here and the rest were in Hong Kong, so I as a person, or none

of us in fact, had an opportunity to really know that side of the family. Part of it is communication. Today you would know. To go from China from here was a long ways.

LI: What year did your father pass away? When was that?

GEE: What was the Depression? '30, '31? Whenever the stock market crashed. He 22:00had a heart attack. That's because he had so much in the stock market. It's interesting. I think five percent was all you had to put down. People bought. Like a lot of Chinese, they gambled a lot. I think the stock market is gambling, somewhat. In those days, more so. Today we hope we're intelligent about it, sometimes we're not very intelligent. [laughs] But in those days, that's right. When the market crashed he had either a heart attack or stroke in the streets of San Francisco, came home and died shortly after that.

MCGARRIGLE: Was your mother then following up on his business?

GEE: Oh no, she didn't know anything about it, but my uncles had worked for him. They were very smart. We owned a house, then, and they were smart enough 23:00to--when the market crashes and the margin, you owe people a lot of money. But they quickly arranged it so the house was in my mother's name. It was hard to tell how you do this, so she wouldn't lose her house. Someone loses when the market crashes, besides you, but someone else loses, too. Usually you have to pay off your margin and everything you have goes to pay off your margin account.


LI: How did you parents come to buy a house in Berkeley, because of the restrictions?

GEE: It was down in the flats, down by Sacramento Street. There weren't any houses down there to begin with. Here's this little house with empty lots all around. It wasn't a big, established place. The only owner of the house was whether they built there or had it built, or whatever. I don't know.

MCGARRIGLE: What was that church on Acton Street that your mother had been active in? Isn't there a Chinese church--

GEE: Oh yes, my mother was very active in that Chinese church. In fact, she 25:00moved from one part of Acton Street to the other part, and the church was in between. Have you ever visited that church?

MCGARRIGLE: We gave a talk about oral history to them once. I remember you telling me that your mother had been active there.

GEE: Very active in that church, yeah. Do you remember the architect Roger Lee He was a fairly well-known local architect and he built that church. It's a nice church, yeah. This is not an interview about me, you know. This is background.

MCGARRIGLE: What was the denomination of that church?

GEE: The church was very interesting. Now, my little book here--It was founded by the Mason-MacDuffie Ladies of the First Congregational Church, so it was a Congregational Church. It was on Addison. Do you know where Gertie's is? It used to be Gertie's Restaurant. The church was there. They owned the property there. 26:00It was a house that was used as a church, but also it was a big house. It had a large room;

that was the downstairs. Maybe they took out some of the walls. The upstairs was housing for students: Chinese students had a hard time finding housing here when they were going to school, particularly the Chinese from China. There were some students from China, so they lived there. So it was more. I went to Chinese school there. It was more than a church, it was a Chinese community center. Most of the people in Berkeley, at least the Cantonese, went to that church. So you knew everyone in Berkeley at that particular time.

LI: You said you went to Chinese school there?

GEE: Went to Chinese school there. It was Chinese school after school there.

LI: When did you start going to Chinese school?


GEE: Oh, I don't remember. When I was young, we used to have a teacher come to our house. It was really for my brother--so I was quite young--it was for my brother to know Chinese. The girls got a little bit of Chinese. It was important because it was an insult, if your children didn't know Chinese; you were ashamed of it. There used to be a name--I forget what the word is, a very derogatory name for people who did not speak Chinese in the Chinese community. As I grew up, my mother was ashamed, a little bit. [laughs] Not really, though, but you know, people would always mention "Your children don't speak Chinese."

LI: Did she try? She tried to send you to Chinese school.

GEE: I went to Chinese school for a long time and hated it. [laughs] Because it 28:00was school after school. My regret was that I was not a better student. I went for a long time, I can't tell you how many years.

MCGARRIGLE: They spoke Chinese at home, because you said your father didn't speak English.

GEE: Well yes, but see, my father died when I was relatively young, and my mother spoke English. She might speak to us in Chinese, and you answer in English. It's typical with that generation, though. But with my generation, you didn't want to speak Chinese, because you wanted to integrate. Didn't want to eat with chopsticks, none of that. "Why are we having rice all the time?"

LI: Did you feel that separation from your home life and outside?


GEE: A little bit, because we were not living in Chinatown. See, if you were living in Chinatown then it's all the same, pretty much. My friends in school were not Chinese, here. But if I stop and think about it, most of them, their parents were immigrants. This was in the twenties and I remember there was this one family who are plumbers, Italian family in Berkeley. Nice kids. Plumbing was considered kind of a lowly profession, and of course it turns out that it's the Jacuzzi family. [laughs] You start out as a plumber-- everyone has to start someplace. They were smart plumbers.


MCGARRIGLE: The schools were integrated then and the neighborhoods--

GEE: Oh yeah, the schools were really integrated. There were black kids; Walter Gordon lived down the street from me. Walter Gordon is a black man who was early, he was a lawyer, he played football. This was before civil rights, so he could only live in a certain place and he couldn't go places, stay in hotels and things like that. He was appointed by Earl Warren to the head of the probation board. I'm not quite sure exactly what it was. Then later on he was appointed by Eisenhower to be the Governor of the Virgin Islands. But he was black, and at that time they still could not do a lot of things. It took civil rights, and you 31:00still couldn't do a lot of things. But the community was pretty well integrated. We had quite a few blacks in Berkeley, and the reason why we had them was because it was the end of the railroad line and so the blacks worked as Pullmans on the trains. That's where Dellums comes from. I'm not sure that Dellums' uncle or his father was a Pullman porter. So they all had jobs and they all had houses, they had children like anyone else. They were middle-class. It was before the onset of the war that brought in lots of people from elsewheres. Berkeley was integrated, in that sense.

LI: Even at that time, in the 1920s.


GEE: In the 1920s, yes. There were blacks, whites living in the neighborhood, quite a few Japanese, and some Chinese. More Japanese in my neighborhood than Chinese.

LI: Was your mother friends with all?

GEE: My mother was pretty much friends with everyone. Yeah, because your children, I think that's part of it, in the neighborhood. She spoke English pretty well, spoke Chinese very well, so that was good.

MCGARRIGLE: Did she always cook Chinese at home, or did she adopt some other foods?

GEE: It was either, sometimes Chinese and sometimes not. Okay, my mother--

LI: How did her life change after her husband died?

GEE: She had some money for a while. You own a house, that really made a 33:00difference. Today it does, too. She owned a house, it was in the depths of the Depression. She was in her thirties, if you kind of stop and think about it. She should have sent us all out to the orphanage or some place like that. [laughs] But she didn't. She didn't work for a long time; then she took in sewing. I remember she had this big sewing machine, so she'd sew during the middle of the night. A lot of Chinese did that. They'd go to the sewing factory in Chinatown and they did it by piece. She did that; then she went out and she did housework for a while. She was a terrible housekeeper; I don't know how she ever did any housework. Then the war came on, and that made a lot of difference. She had a real job. But we never lacked for money. There was not a lot of money around or 34:00anything like that, for anything we wanted, but we always had a automobile. I mean, I just don't know how it all worked. She learned to drive, by the way, when my father died in the early '30s. We had a '28 Studebaker, then my mother started buying Buicks, I remember, so there was a little money coming in.

LI: Do you think you were getting support still from your uncles?

GEE: She might have. That I don't know. She might have, because we had one uncle who wasn't married and he always came around. He was sort of the father figure around, one of her brothers. I don't know

whether he was older or younger. He was about the same age that she was. One thing I'll always remember, he was a hunter and he'd go hunting for deer. It 35:00really kind of amazes me now. Every year it seems like he shot a deer, before the days of Bambi. [laughs] And we'd have this deer hanging in the garage. Well, you have to hang meat for a while, and I can always remember that. I'm not big on deer meat, never was. I've never been big on deer or meat or anything, but I do remember that. That's very unusual for a Chinese man to go hunting. Now, who he went with, I have no idea. I just remember there was this deer hanging in the garage. One didn't have a freezer then, so we had a lot of meat.


LI: Would your mother maybe cure it?

GEE: Well, any meat is hung for weeks. You'd think it'd rot, wouldn't you? [laughs] But that's aging.

MCGARRIGLE: You had an icebox?

GEE: We had an icebox then, though. So what do you do with all this meat? I guess a lot of people got a piece of it. He slaughtered it all alone. I think my uncle skinned it. Yuck. [laughs] Now that I stop and think about it--

MCGARRIGLE: Sounds like she was very independent, in that she learned to drive--

GEE: Which was pretty unusual; that's right. She has these six kids? [laughs] Oh, my goodness. She learned to drive, she had a car; she never taught us to drive, none of us, and she was very smart. We knew exactly

why it was, because she didn't want us to be asking for the car, so she kept the 37:00car to herself. Smart. So we all had to learn how to drive on our own.

MCGARRIGLE: Were there messages that she imparted to you and the other sisters and your brother, from her experience about independence or about becoming self-sufficient?

GEE: I think so. She really knew how to do things. As I grew older, I became aware that she knew how to change the lights--I mean, these are small things that we can do, but the light socket, she could fix, do a little plumbing; she could do simple things that a lot of women can't do, particularly of that generation. You had to. If you own a house, as you know, you don't have anyone to take care of all the little things. You learned how to do them yourself. My sister said she was really smart. See, I didn't have that sense. When you're a 38:00child, you're so wrapped in yourself. You have to kind of look behind. My sister not so long ago, when I was asking her, says, "You know, your mother really was very smart." Too bad she didn't have the opportunity for education.

LI: Did you get a sense that she had other aspirations? Would she talk about things that she would have liked to have done?

GEE: No, she really didn't talk a lot, no. Not to me. She always had a meal on the table. We always sat down and ate. What the conversation was about, you know, with all these kids around [laughs]--it's not very good at different ages. Although, you know, when you have your two kids, you know how it is when you sit down to eat, how chaotic it is. If you have six of 'em, well--[laughs] at all 39:00different ages. The older ones are telling you to knock it off a little bit.

MCGARRIGLE: Was there a kind of method she had for discipline that you remember, that she would do?

GEE: No, I think we were all kind of disciplined. You had to, in a sense, in order to have a calm household. No prima donnas. They were too difficult.

MCGARRIGLE: Because she's at that time the mother and the father figure.

GEE: I know, and she did the laundry and just everything. There were no dryers. [laughs] Now that I stop and think about it, there must have been big clotheslines outside. Everyone must have pitched in, had to pitch in a little bit.

LI: When she started working, doing housework outside the home, would those 40:00other siblings take care of the younger ones?

GEE: I think the older ones took care of the younger ones. Simpler times, you know. You probably could leave the house and not be too concerned about someone getting hurt or someone coming by. We lived in a stable neighborhood. No one's going anyplace, and there's no television or radio. You go out in the streets and play, or you play in the local lots and everyone sort of look after each other. In fact, we lived very close to San Pablo Park.

MCGARRIGLE: Did she distinguish, like your father had, between the sons and the daughters? Your father got the Chinese tutor for your brother to learn Chinese, and then you learned--

GEE: I think that it was important. I don't think my mother, so much though, but 41:00I think when my father was alive the boys had to be--well, I have one brother at the top and one at the bottom, so the one at the top, a lot of attention was put on him. That was important. The girls are all right too, but it was important that he do well.

LI: How did your mother transition from housework to defense work?

GEE: You know, it's really surprising, though. I wish I knew. She realized, I 42:00guess, that there was need, and she started very early, I think when the war first started, to apply for a job out in the shipyards. It was a real job. I think that was the important thing. It was a real job and you did something for the war effort. Some one else must have told her, but she might have found out all by herself, because I don't think any of her friends went out to work in the shipyards. Maybe there was a group of younger generations, but I don't remember, though. Someone might have said, you know, there's good jobs out in the shipyards and you could do something for the war effort and make good money. She really enjoyed that. My sister was telling us. I guess I wasn't at home at that 43:00particular time, but she really enjoyed getting up in the morning, going to work, and feeling as if she were doing something and being out there with other people.

STINE: Do you think that was a large part of why she, aside from wanting to have a real job, was that a big part, the doing your part? Do you think that patriotism had anything to do with helping in the war effort?

GEE: I think it was a combination of all. I think that during World War II, almost everyone wanted to do something for the war effort. There was a tremendous amount of patriotism. Since it was an Asian

country that we were fighting, I think it made a lot of difference. It could 44:00have been the Chinese. It couldn't have been, but people felt that since the Japanese and Chinese look alike, it could have been the Chinese that attacked Pearl Harbor. I mean, there was no chance, of course, but you felt as if you wanted to do something.

LI: Do you think being Chinese made you want to demonstrate your patriotism even more?

GEE: I think so, yeah. Even though the Chinese and Japanese did not get along at that particular time, because the Japanese had invaded China.

LI: Do you think your mother felt conflicted, because she had lost her citizenship earlier?

GEE: She might have felt that this is one way of proving it, too. She did. You could work in the shipyards and not be a citizen. You could join the Army and 45:00not be a citizen and get your citizenship, too.

MCGARRIGLE: You said last time when we were visiting, that some of her Chinese friends looked down on her decision to go to work.

GEE: I think so. Some of her women friends, because those were things you didn't do, but I don't think too many. It's just more gossip. [laughs] They did. It wasn't a closed society, but the families all knew each other quite well. In Berkeley, there were quite a few Chinese families there. I don't think anyone of her generation--my mother was one of the older people working in the shipyards, I believe. Women, that is,


working in the shipyards. She was in her forties. That's not very old today, is it? She was forty-five, at least.

MCGARRIGLE: She had already had adult children.

GEE: Yeah, she already had adult children. She was an old lady, then. Your life expectancy then probably was sixty or something like that, sixty-five.

LI: Do you remember her making friends at work?

GEE: I think she did, but I didn't know any of them. She liked it, though. She really liked it.

LI: What was she doing?

GEE: She was a burner. And so, what is a burner? I didn't know the difference between a burner and a welder. A burner has a torch, too. It's like light 47:00welding or cleaning up the welds and things like that. The welders did stuff in ships, and the burner--I suspect the burner works with the welder. I don't know, but I suspect that.

LI: Was she trained on the job?

GEE: Oh yes, they trained you on the job, so that you could come with nothing and learn. She was a fast learner in things of that sort. She was good with her hands. I never saw her change a tire, but she probably changed a tire. [laughs] I don't know who's going to change it for you.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you remember when Kaiser first came in and they got that contract to build all those shipyards, and how that transformed the area?


GEE: Oh, yes. Well, with my mother, it was the first time. They had this wonderful health plan, the beginning of whatever you call an HMO nowadays. I do remember them, somewhat, Kaiser coming in. They had been around for a while. Benevolent, somewhat, I guess you'd call that. They'd take care of their workers. The workers did get hurt on the job, so they started an infirmary or something like that that just grew into something bigger. My mother had such a low number. She was so proud of it, that she had this low number as a member of Kaiser, as being one of the first. Just like the co-op. Do you remember the co-op?


GEE: I had a number of 17,500 and something. My mother had 1044. And the co-op, 49:00that was a store that we had here. It's now Andronico's. It's all the new Andronico's.

LI: Is that where she shopped?

GEE: That's where we shopped. Berkeley. The Finns started here in Berkeley, the co-op. It really worked very well and everyone belonged. Your mother must have belonged.

MCGARRIGLE: My father did.

GEE: Your father did. A good liberal community, you pay into it a little bit. They over-expanded, and then they sort of bellied-up, because they didn't stick to food. They should have stuck to food. They started a little banking, which is fine. Credit unions are fine. But then they wanted to do a lot of social things, so it became a bookstore, lost lots of money on that. Lost money here, lost 50:00money there, so they folded up.

MCGARRIGLE: It was a real institution in Berkeley.

GEE: Maybe it lived its life. Sometimes things live their lives. It was a wonderful institution.

LI: When did it start?

GEE: When did it start, when did it end? I can't remember.

LI: But your mother shopped there when you were a kid.

GEE: Oh, yeah. But the co-ops, I'll tell you where they are, Andronico's bought all the co-ops. Someone else did first, but the co-op was where the University Andronico's is, and this one here, Shattuck, and then

there was one on the other side. Oh, I know, it's one on Telegraph and Ashby. It's a Whole Foods. They're all big stores, and those were the three big co-ops here. Big stores.

MCGARRIGLE: Would you conjecture what her politics were, your mother, at that time?


GEE: Oh, I think my mother's politics were inclined to be on the liberal side. Pretty much so.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you think she would have been actively following national politics or voting in elections?

GEE: I don't know. That's hard to say at that particular time. There was a group of Caucasian women and Chinese women that worked together for these Chinese orphanages. There was two of them; one for girls and one for boys. She worked with the Baptist Church to raise money for them, and the church actually did. They had these little church socials where ladies would make things and sell 52:00them. One of the homes for the girls is one of the dormitories for Mills College now. If you go out to Mills College and look at one of the dormitories, it has a little Chinese effect in it. It has these little curlicue things, the building. I think it has a tile roof. Out here in El Cerrito there is a private school called Windrush. Do you know it at all?

LI: Is this the boys' orphanage?

GEE: Yes.

LI: I remember hearing about this. My grandfather taught there.

GEE: Oh, he did? It's very close to the El Cerrito BART station. It has architecture, little curlicues on it. You can see it looks a little Chinese. 53:00Your grandfather taught there? Is that right?

LI: Yes, when he first came here he taught Chinese at the orphanage.

GEE: He taught Chinese there. It was a boys' orphanage, yeah. We used to go out there, Chung Mei Home, to look at all those good-looking boys. [laughs]

MCGARRIGLE: Go out there with your mother, you mean?

GEE: Oh, yes. Because we were raising money for them and bringing them things. It was up 'till high school. There were a lot of children that were not all Chinese. Not a lot. A few, because the families didn't want them.

MCGARRIGLE: So she had the six kids, even if some of you were out of the house, she still had kids at home, and she had full-time work and she did community work.

GEE: Oh, she did a lot of community work. I don't know how she found the time. It's because she had a car. You know, it really makes a difference, because she could run around. She never was home.

LI: So when was this that she was working with the orphanage and the church, in this philanthropy?

GEE: To me, it seemed like all her life. Probably more so during the war and then after the war. I don't think in the '30s; I don't know.


MCGARRIGLE: Those Kaiser medical benefits, were those lifetime? Did they give those to their employees for lifetime?

GEE: No, you always had to belong and pay.

MCGARRIGLE: So when she stopped working in the shipyards?

GEE: Oh, she just kept it.

MCGARRIGLE: She kept it, but she paid her premium?

GEE: Oh yeah, she paid her own premium.

MCGARRIGLE: Did she have Kaiser the rest of her life, then?

GEE: Kaiser the rest of life, yeah. It's really amazing, though. In a sense, Kaiser was good. When you're young, you don't need it.

MCGARRIGLE: It was meaningful, though.

GEE: I think it gives you that security, a little security blanket that you have.

MCGARRIGLE: Did any of the people that worked in the shipyards have retirement?

STINE: Not that I know of. Not in the beginning.

GEE: What did they have?

MCGARRIGLE: No retirement for the shipyards.

GEE: Oh, I don't think so, no. Just Social Security, and that was never 55:00considered retirement money. That was just to help you with your retirement.

STINE: This is tape two with Maggie Gee. I had a question.

GEE: A question? I'll see if I can answer it.

STINE: To go back with the Kaiser healthcare, I was wondering about the physical properties of the job that your mom was doing, burning. Did she ever get injured on the job?

GEE: No, she never got injured on the job. Nothing major, no. She probably might have gotten burned or something like that, but nothing major.

STINE: Did she ever have to use her healthcare while she was there?

GEE: That I don't know. I don't know whether she did or not. I'm assuming that they probably checked on you, gave you a physical occasionally, but I don't know.


STINE: And then beyond that, it sounds like it was a very tiring job, that it involved so much physical labor and such physical effort. Did she talk about that?

GEE: She came home quite tired, but I always have to say that I wasn't home very much. But my sister said that there was always dinner, whether she fixed it ahead of time. She did the shopping, and there was always dinner. There were no fast-food places at that particular time. I find it pretty remarkable; if one has to do things, one does them. She had a very busy schedule. They worked long hours. At the shipyard, she started at the graveyard shift. That's when they 57:00first train you, and then you get a better shift, which is the evening shift, the early evening shift. It's the one where you leave at midnight, where you're on from about four o'clock. Actually, it works out well in a sense, if you have a family, because you can do many things during the day and then you can go to work. Then you can sleep from one o'clock to whatever time, ten o'clock. So that worked out. It worked out quite well. They had good public transportation out to the shipyards. As you know, or maybe you don't know, that there was this train. The trains came from the East; I think they were New York elevated trains. They 58:00ran along the existing tracks that we had from Oakland to Richmond. A lot of people didn't have automobiles then.

LI: Were they brought in just for the defense workers? They brought them when the factory was there?

GEE: When did they build these trains? They brought them in, actually. I don't think there were any existing trains going on those tracks when the war began. If there were, there were a few trains that went on it. They were brought in so that they could be used as commuter trains, to go to work. At that particular time, I was just trying to think--yes, we were getting rid of all our trains and streetcars here, because California, everyone wants to have their own automobile. So I think there were no longer trains that went to San Francisco. 59:00Of course, there weren't very many trains because the ferries had already left by then. There was the bridge that was built about 1937, '38. There were trains that went over the bridge from East Bay to San Francisco, but from Berkeley there was just the F Train. I believe that was the only train, the one that ran on Shattuck Avenue that went over the bridge. There weren't all these from all over town.

MCGARRIGLE: Did she go to that, what's now a restaurant, the depot at the base of University? About Fifth Street, is that where she caught the train?

GEE: No, the train was on Sixth Street, I believe, Sixth or Seventh Street. I'm not sure, but for some reason I thought it was a little further. I didn't think 60:00it was way down there.

MCGARRIGLE: There's that building--

GEE: I know, that's the old S.P. train station.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you remember when that was?

GEE: Santa Fe train station--no, the Santa Fe is where the Montessori school is now. It was the S.P. train station. Yeah, it was a Chinese restaurant, then it was a fancier Chinese restaurant called Xandau or something like that. It went out of business.

MCGARRIGLE: Did Richmond seem a very far ways away at that time?

GEE: Yes. Richmond seemed like quite a ways off. It was a different type of community. It was a small community, I believe. They had twenty-odd thousand people, then it went up to a hundred thousand. It was a blue-collar community. Standard Oil was one of the big employers there. The Ford Plant was there. Then 61:00there was the Pullman Company where the Pullman cars were built, I believe. Not quite sure, but they were refurbished there. I remember the Pullman cars, though. I don't remember the Ford, but I remember Standard Oil. I mean, we all know of Standard Oil. They're still there. It was a blue-collar town. It had one section where Point Richmond is--there is a very nice section when you go through the tunnel to Point Richmond, where all the houses are along the water. Have you ever seen them? They're very nice houses along there. A lot of Italians built there, as I remember, because it reminded them of the Riviera. If you've 62:00been to any of the houses, some of the houses go down to the water. They're very nice. All of a sudden you come through the tunnel and all these lovely houses, down on the right-hand side. In a way, it was not considered a desirable place to live because of the odor--that's the one thing I remember. There was a lot of odor, sort of gaseous odors of some sort. Wasn't really unpleasant, but you were aware of it. It was a thriving little community. Mostly Caucasians lived there, until the shipyards came. I was going to say it was a redneck community, but I won't say it. [laughs]


MCGARRIGLE: Do you think she would have ever gone there before she took the job? Would there have been a reason for her to visit?

GEE: There were reasons to go there, oh yes. There was a big swimming pool. Well, we couldn't swim in the swimming pool, though. There was a whaling station there at Richmond. There was a ferry that left from there to go to where the bridge is. There was a nice ferry that went over to Marin County. So there were all sorts of positive things. My mother got in her car and we went over to the other side of the bay.

MCGARRIGLE: The prohibition was against any non-whites swimming in the pool, or was it specifically targeted at one group or another?

GEE: Well, you know there was a prohibition for a long time for non-whites swimming in pools. But I can't remember when that was sort of lifted, though. It's a big pool there, a big Plunge there. It's been there a long time. I 64:00suspect non-whites couldn't swim there. That meant really Asians, at that particular time, because I knew that was at Neptune Beach over in Alameda County.

MCGARRIGLE: Did she talk at all to you or her other children about discrimination?

GEE: No, she did not. I can't remember her talking about it. It's not vivid in my mind. Actually, I think in Berkeley her white friends, these would be the church ladies. They're there to help you, in a sense, because they feel that 65:00they want to do something for the Asian community. There was a great group called the Wah Mei Club, in which there were the Caucasian women and the Chinese ladies. They just took on projects and got to know each other pretty well. The Caucasian ladies were, I would say, upper-

middle class ladies. Their husbands were professional people. Like any church group, you're looking for a project and so they sort of adopted the Chinese church. The women remained friends for a long time.

When I was working at the laboratory I came across a young man and he said to me, "You know, my grandmother knew your mother." It was someone I knew. I said, 66:00how? He said, "There's an old real estate company called Forbes in Berkeley." His grandmother was Mrs. Forbes, and they owned this real estate company. They remained friends for a long time. After he told me, I called Mrs. Forbes up and we talked at great length. She remembered my mother quite well. My mother had died by then, so that was kind of nice. Any more questions, ladies?

STINE: Thinking about Richmond, you had the perception that it was a little more redneck-y and out of the way, maybe?


GEE: When I say that, it's that there is more discrimination. I always use San Leandro as a better community, in a sense. They were a blue-collar city and they really, up until recent times, it was very difficult for anyone besides the Caucasian people to even move into San Leandro. They just wanted to keep it a white community. They were threatened by the blacks moving in from Oakland and also the Asians, too.

Actually, when you see it, groups do take over. You look at Fremont; I remember seeing Fremont. It's really a melting pot of all of the various ethnic groups, 68:00because one moves in, everyone else moves there. Fremont is a melting pot. I mean, it has lots of Chinese, Taiwanese, lots of Afghans, lots of Hindus, lots of everything. So if you wanted to keep yourself a white community--and small--in those days, then you just not allow anyone to move in, except the whites. If you feel threatened, your job threatened--if you're a blue-collar worker, any new immigrant is willing to take your job for much less and they work harder, too. So there's always that kind of threat. The shipyards just made a change, because everyone came in at one time and there was such a shortage of 69:00help that people just moved in. I bet if I looked at Standard Oil, who was on their working roll in the '30s, I bet they were probably mostly white. Very few Hispanics, or

Mexicans, they would be; I guess that's what you called them at that particular time. Or Asians. But then on the other hand, there were fewer of our so-called minority groups, ethnic groups, at that particular time, too. It's not one thing that causes the other; there's many factors.

STINE: Do you remember actually seeing the Bay Area change? This large population explosion that was centered in Richmond because of the shipyards, so do you have 70:00any kind of personal recollection of feeling all these people moving in?

GEE: Oh, I think so. Things just seemed a little more crowded, that's all. You became aware of it in the stores. I didn't live in Richmond. I'm sure Richmond was really impacted. I saw a little bit of it when I was out at Treasure Island. I saw a little bit in Vallejo. That was a quiet, sleepy town once upon a time. When the war started, it took on a lot of workers. Not like Richmond did, because they were launching a Liberty ship a day. But it did have more people there. They say it was sort of a dying town, and then it became very vibrant 71:00because of the new people coming in. So I would compare it with Richmond somewhat, and I would say Richmond was just that much more. I'm just trying to think--did I go out Richmond very much? Well, I remember all those houses going up. That's the one thing I do remember. We didn't have much gasoline, but we had a little bit. We did, or maybe I did with my friends--at that time, I was much older then--we went over to Marin County. There were just a lot of things buzzing in Richmond with all these new houses. They must have been put up in a very short time. I do remember that there were jokes made about the shortage of 72:00housing. If you had a room and you had a bed, you could rent it out to three different people. One shift could sleep, and then another person could sleep the next shift, and another person. You did not have to change the sheets, I remember. The housing really was short. I'm sure that you've read about it. It's well documented. But houses went up very fast then. The war only lasted less than five years, and people came in, had to house 'em, feed 'em, then some of them moved out.


LI: Were you a teenager at this point?

GEE: No, I had really left home. I went into the war myself. I went out to work. Like any young person, you're really involved in yourself, more so, trying to figure out what you're doing.

MCGARRIGLE: After the war, did your mother find different employment, or was that the end of her working?

GEE: No, my mother went to work in the post office after the war. I think she must have retired from the post office. I don't know how long she worked in the post office, but then she ended up helping {Homer Lee} who had this florist. 74:00They had a very nice article about Homer in the Sunday supplement: "From Rags to Riches." But he still lived the same. I called him after I saw it in the paper and I spoke to his son. I said, is Homer coming down to cook lunch for you? And he said, "Yes, he's not here yet." [laughs]

LI: I was thinking about the influx of workers in Richmond. Was it exciting, as a young person, to have all these new people here?

GEE: I think so. I think it was. People have to find things to do, entertainment, so there was just a lot of people around. Which there wasn't, though. What do you do at nighttime, after working all day? If you're young, you go to the movies or you look for something to do. There was a certain amount of 75:00excitement. How much overflowed into Berkeley, that I just can't remember. But Richmond had a lot of things going at that time.

LI: Would you go to restaurants or bars in Richmond? Would you go out, there?

GEE: I used to go to bars, sort of. [laughs]

MCGARRIGLE: The whole music scene there; did you go to any places where there was live music? There was a whole developing scene in Richmond.

GEE: I think so. I used to like music. I wouldn't go out now to listen to music, unless it's the symphony or the opera, something like that. But just to hang out in bars, I don't. I used to; I think I was dating someone at that time and we'd 76:00go down and see what the action was, follow it. There was nothing going on here, go find some other place.

LI: The people who were coming to Richmond, they were from--

GEE: From the South. There were a lot of blacks, but they were from every part.

LI: Did it feel really--

GEE: I don't have a vision of it. I know a varied lot of blacks came in, and there had to be people from elsewheres. I think if I lived there, then I would have become much more aware of it, who had come to town. But they were just more people around.


STINE: You didn't live in Richmond, but in a way that gives you a perspective from not being part of that community and knowing what the general perception of Richmond was, once all these big changes had occurred there. I was wondering how your friends or your colleagues would talk about it in a different way than maybe before the war. If it became some place that you wanted to go to, more? Or if it became some place that you--

GEE: Wanted to stay away from? Richmond was not on the horizon when I was growing up, except for the Chinese home there and some of the people. The Chinese Boys home, Chung Mei Home, was there and we used to go out there quite a bit. That's really El Cerrito, right on the edge of Richmond. The boys did go to 78:00Richmond High School. No, I don't think that Richmond was a place I would go to, to seek out entertainment at that particular time. It was close, though. San Francisco was a place you go to seek out entertainment, but sometimes it's difficult to get to San Francisco.

MCGARRIGLE: I was just thinking about what you said about Standard Oil and I remembered there's a neighborhood in El Cerrito, close to Richmond, that had beautiful homes like you see around the Claremont Hotel. They were all owned by the Standard Oil executives. Large-scale, what would now be very, very expensive homes in the hills there.

GEE: Richmond, in the hill area, there's some very large homes up on the top. I 79:00think there are several Maybecks up there. I haven't seen them, but they say where the Maybecks and the Julia Morgans are. I think there are one or two there. There are just very large homes, because of the Standard Oil.

MCGARRIGLE: So the children of those executives were in public schools with the children of the shipyard workers who came in. It must have been interesting.

GEE: You've hit it on the head, in the sense that on the West coast, we don't have private schools. There's so very few private schools, so the children probably did go to public school. Otherwise, you have to be shipping them all the way to Berkeley. The private schools in Berkeley were really small. What's the one that was on Benvenue?

MCGARRIGLE: The Academy?


GEE: California Preparatory School on College {CPS} was small there was another one called Brentley, just a house on Benvenue Street. That's the nice part about the West Coast: it's very liberal in that, because we don't have private schools. We do in San Francisco. There's some in San Francisco.

[end of interview]