American Studies Ages Project

By Evan Miller

These letters, written by a woman of Chinese heritage in the late 1800’s - early 1900’s are not vignettes of a person’s life, but more the important things that happened to and shaped her during the first 33 years of their life.


Dear Cousins in Hong Kong,

My parents moved to San Francisco in America after the typhoon in 1870. They said that they moved over, because they believed that they could create a new life in the Americas. That’s when they had me. I didn’t know that there was any difference between where my parents grew up and here in America, but I just recently learned that where they are from they don’t have white English speakers, and that we left other family members behind. I know that they never write to you guys, so I just wanted to keep in touch so that we don’t ever forget each other. Even though we live so far apart, I’m sure that we can be great friends. I really wish that I could see you though. My daddy says that soon most people like us will be kept from coming over, because of something called the “Chinese Exclusion Act”. He says that he doesn’t like the feeling of being cut off from his countrymen, and he believes that work is going to slow down. It sounds boring, but it might mean that I won’t ever get to see you all. I really want to be able to meet you one day. If you come over, you can be a part of our business. I’ve already learned how to fold and wash clothes, so I’m helping mommy out with her laundress work.


Love, Dai-yu Li


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Dear Cousins in Hong Kong,

I’m glad that we’ve been able to keep correspondence for the past 7 years, and I truly feel connected with my family in both China and America, however, I do truly wish that you had made an effort to make it over to America, because the shop my uncle and father run has superb business from both the English speakers and other Chinese. Even though most of the other shops don’t regularly get English speaking customers, we do because my father has a reputation of being able to speak some English, and whenever I have free time I help in the shop translating for the customers. The work is never ending though, and having an extra hand or two around would definitely alleviate some of the pressure. Enough about everyday occurrences though, William McKinley, the president over here is having us go to war against SPAIN of all countries. I’ve read the papers lately, and everyone is getting worked up about saving the Cubans, but why should we? Why do we care? I certainly hope that this kind of frenzy doesn’t happen in any way to you guys in China. Also, there are rumors that Hawaii is going to be annexed with the United States. The world outside of our city seems to have gone mad.


Stay safe, Dai-yu Li


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Dear Cousins in Hong Kong,

I hope everyone is okay over there. We heard of a rebellion in Peking, and I wanted to be the first one to send correspondence to you. I hope that it hasn’t spread to where you are. People are beginning to coin it as the “boxer rebellion” over here, but I can’t take such a detached stance, especially after I saw this photo. Because of this incident, I also fear that the open door policy that was finally established will be neutralized. I hope that’s not the case, because I was hoping that it would make relations friendlier, and allow for us to finally meet. Here in San Francisco, business is still flowing strong, but the world doesn’t seem to have settled down since three years ago. Los Angeles, another big city in the area feels like it shot up overnight. Ever since the discovery of even more gold in the region, there has been a large influx of new people coming over to this side of the country. The railroad ending in Los Angeles is how it’s all possible. The gold rush up near the territory of Alaska is beginning to be dubbed the “Klondike Gold Rush” as well. I’ve always wanted to visit the East, but I’ve always been so busy over here.


Love, Dai-yu Li


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Dear Cousins in Hong Kong,


I don’t know if it made news in China, but in San Francisco, there was a huge earthquake, with a devastating fire that followed. Our side of town was absolutely destroyed, but my father’s business is still left standing. The ground under the house was solid rock, and it didn’t shift enough to make the foundation unsafe. We managed to keep the fire off of our house by moving the rubble far enough away. Because our house was the only one left standing, we managed to get our neighbors to help, in return for allowing them to use our house as a refuge. That damn Ruef though is trying to kick us and the others of Chinese origin out of their homes. Eugene Schmitz, Ruef's puppet, isn’t standing up for us either. The political machine that Ruef’s created is still going strong, and I’m almost convinced that he is going to hold the whole city under his thumb, if he doesn’t already. I have heard though, that the immoral conducts of many of the citizens are starting to be questioned, and I hope that Ruef isn’t exempt from that. Sorry to dump my complaints on you all, but that’s just how life is here right now.


Love, Dai-yu Li


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Dear Ai Li,

Congratulations on being accepted into the University of California! I’m so happy that I’ll finally be able to see you! I’ll be waiting on the other side of Angel Island for you, and we’ll get you a hearty meal back at the shop. The shop is still in pretty good condition, and it is doing well; however, I hear that there is going to be a new income tax imposed on us by the federal government around October. It better not hurt our business. My mother and I are running the shop now that my father’s gone, and I can understand why he was worn down so much. He loved his shop though, so I’m not just going to let it fall into ruin. This brings my thoughts to another topic: the women's rights in America. I have always been very adamant about women’s suffrage, but my mother doesn’t seem to care about it. Even though she was drawn in by the idea of freedom and new business prospects in this country, she doesn’t seem interested at all in politics, or being given the right to vote, claiming she is too busy to worry about politics. I’m hoping that when you make it over here I can make you feel at home, and that we can talk face to face about what your plans are.


Love, Dai-yu Li


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