From their table at the Golden Horse Restaurant in Portland’s Chinatown, Mary Leong, a youthful 90 year old, and Fred Wong, equally spry at 87, can glance in any direction and the memories come back to them. Over a lunch of rice porridge and beef chow fun, they banter about the neighborhood. With wry humor and wistful moments, they recall lives shared by their families across the arc of time, a mosaic of memories and anecdotal history of Portland’s Old Town Chinatown.
Their deep roots in Oregon, the Leong and Wong families provide a link between the arrival of the first Chinese in the 1850s, and the second wave in the 1940s, when federal laws banning most Chinese immigration were finally repealed.
Wong’s maternal grandfather arrived from China just before the twentieth century, cooking for logging crews in remote camps. His father, a merchant, arrived in the early 1900s. Leong’s lineage in Oregon reaches back six generations. One great uncle had a clothing store at 2nd Ave. and Oak Street in Portland, while several other uncles were hop farmers in the Canby area.
The story of Chinese in Oregon reaches far back, with chapters of immigration, alienation, discrimination, acceptance, commerce and perseverance in the American West. However fragmented the record of their early American experience was, the Chinese came and became accidental, but essential, pioneers of the West.