Lun Chee Moy was born in a small village in the Pearl River region of China in 1931. She was the youngest of four children and the third daughter. Her father had wanted another son. In his disappointment, he instructed his wife to put the newborn up for adoption. Lun Chee’s two older sisters hid the baby until their father changed his mind about keeping her.
Like many children in the Pearl River region, Lun Chee grew up with her father mostly absent. He lived in Chicago, working in a laundry and sending money home to his family in China. He made enough money to build three houses in their village for his extended family. Life was mostly good for Lun Chee until Japan invaded in 1937. Lun Chee often fled Japanese soldiers, hid in barns, and went to bed hungry. When she was 10, her father died suddenly in Chicago. Lun Chee’s 22-year-old brother Hok Ling became the head of the family.
A few years later, Lun Chee fell in love with a young man named Pang Fook Chin from a nearby village. Pang Fook was not rich, but he was kind, ambitious, and good looking. He also loved Lun Chee very much. Lun Chee’s family wanted her to marry someone else, but in 1948 she married Pang Fook. She was 17, and he was 21.
The late 1940s were turbulent years in China. A civil war started when World War II ended. In 1949, the Communist Party won the war. Mao Zedong became the Communist Party chairman and the leader of the country, which was renamed the People’s Republic of China.
The rise of the Communists caused problems for Lun Chee’s family. The Moys and Chins were landowners. The Communist Party wanted to redistribute all private property. Pang Fook and Lun Chee fled to British-controlled Hong Kong. Pang Fook went first. Lun Chee followed with their young son, Chek. When she was stopped at the border, she claimed to need immediate medical attention that was only available in Hong Kong. The guards believed her because she was pregnant with her second child.
Hong Kong was full of refugees like the Chins. It was hard to find work and a permanent home there, so they made a difficult decision. Pang Fook went to the United States to work with his younger brother and father in New York. Lun Chee and their two children stayed behind in Hong Kong. Lun Chee and Pang Fook were apart for nine years. Global politics and anti- Chinese and Communist sentiments in America made it difficult for them to reunite.
Many of Hong Kong’s refugees hoped to immigrate to America. The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong was overwhelmed with applications. Even though the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, many American officials still distrusted Chinese applicants. They believed anyone could be a Communist spy. Women claiming to be the wives of U.S. citizens were considered especially untrustworthy. This unfair attitude reflected old stereotypes about the distrustful nature of Chinese women. For all these reasons, screening procedures were especially strict. Applicants needed blood tests, witness testimonies, and photographs. Before Pang Fook left for the United States, he and Lun Chee posed for a wedding portrait. She wore a long white dress and a veil. They already had two children at the time, but they thought the bride-and-groom picture might help their case. They also posed with their children and Pang Fook’s younger brother. That photo was the last family portrait for many years.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had a huge impact on Linda’s life.
Lun Chee was not alone during her years in Hong Kong. Many family members and friends from her village were also refugees. She spent her days taking care of her children, mailing packages to New York, and waiting for responses from Pang Fook. The two exchanged photographs, letters, and gifts. Through photographs, Pang Fook watched his children grow up. In his small New York bedroom, Pang Fook took a photograph of himself and a photograph of Lun Chee, and pasted them together. He kept the images with him as a reminder of why his work was important.
In May 1960, Lun Chee and her children bid their family farewell at the Hong Kong airport and flew to New York at last. They reunited with Pang Fook and lived in the back of his laundry business. In America, Lun Chee changed her name to Linda. Her daughter Shuet Fong became Mabel. Lun Chee had two more daughters, Lily and Amy, in 1961 and 1962.
Pang Fook’s business was one of the most successful laundries in the Bronx. He and Linda both put in long hours and hired other workers. They bought a house with a garden and a yard in the Bronx. Linda learned English and became a U.S. citizen.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had a huge impact on Linda’s life. She was able to sponsor relatives as immigrants and bring her family to the United States. Both of her sisters, a nephew, and her 75-year-old mother came to New York. Her brother also came and started a Chinatown restaurant. After years of separation, the Moys and the Chins were finally together. Linda and Pang Fook welcomed many people into their home. Some lived there temporarily while starting life in a new country. Others came to practice their English and learn about American culture.
In the 1970s, the laundry business began to change. The economy slowed. People bought more clothes that they could wash at home. Linda took on sewing work for small factories to supplement the family’s income. Linda’s skill with a sewing machine and with the English language propelled her into better jobs. Her personality helped, too. She was outgoing, optimistic, and independent. She became the foreperson of her plant in New York City’s Chinatown. She then earned work with larger design firms in the famous Manhattan Garment District. By the time she retired in 1999, she proudly worked on samples for major clothing companies like Banana Republic and the Gap.
When Pang Fook died in 1988, Linda had a full-time job and her children had careers of their own. She decided to sell the laundry to a Chinese man who kept it going for several more years before closing it. In 1989, she visited China and met old friends in Hong Kong for the first time in 30 years. It was bittersweet because Pang Fook never had the chance to return.
Linda died on Christmas Day in 2006. She left behind her children, grandchildren, and one great-grandchild on the way. Just four years earlier, she met her sisters for what would be their last lunch together. Linda thanked them for saving her from being adopted. She said, “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.” The sisters reminded Linda that they needed to thank her too. She had sponsored their immigrations applications. “Otherwise,” they said, “we wouldn’t be here either.”
- Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882: A federal law passed and signed in 1882 that prohibited immigration of almost all Chinese people. It was repealed in 1943.
- communism: A political system in which all goods and items of value are collectively owned and distributed to citizens equally.
- Communist Party: A political party that seeks to achieve the social and economic goals of communism.
- Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965: A federal law passed and signed in 1965 that abolished many racial restrictions on immigration that were put in place in the 1920s. The Act significantly changed the racial diversity of immigrants entering the United States.
- Mao Zedong: Chairman of the Communist Party of China and leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1976.
- People’s Republic of China: The Communist nation now occupying mainland China. The People’s Republic was proclaimed by Mao Zedong in 1949 after the Chinese civil war.
- sponsor: A person who supports another person’s application for something. In the case of immigration, many immigrants are required to have an American citizen sponsor their application to enter the country.
- It was common in Chinese families for male heads of household to travel to America first and send money home. How do you think this tradition shaped Linda’s life and personality?
- What world events directly shaped Linda’s life? How did she respond to them? Why do you think she was able to survive so many life changes?
- How did Linda adapt to life in America? What steps did she take to make New York feel like home?
- How did the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 shape Linda’s life and the lives of her family members?