Becketwood Cooperative
An Active, Independent 55+ Community of Owners in Minneapolis

Who are We? – History of an Immigrant Family

Who Are We? Series:  Becketwood Members are part of a diverse range of families and communities. In this ongoing series, we will get a deeper look into the lives of the Members who are willing to share their personal stories and experiences. 

This episode by Lily Ng, Becketwood Member


I have two biracial grandsons.

According to the Census Bureau, they are both 50% Asian and 50% White Caucasian.

By DNA analyses and through extrapolation of their ancestors’ ethnicities:

Dylan is 48% Chinese, 24 % Ashkenazi Jewish, 15% French/German, 11% British/ Irish, 2.1% Chinese Dai, 1% Polish/East European

Kai is 44% Chinese, 25% Norwegian/Swedish, 12.5% Prussian/Hungarian, 12.5 % English/ French, 4.7% Chinese Dai.

How diverse can one be?!


Dylan is 14th generation US citizen (traced to the year 1620) on his father’s side, and second generation born in the US on his mother’s (my daughter’s) side.

Kai is 5th generation US citizen on his father’s side and second generation born in the US on his mother’s (my daughter’s) side.

If not for all the Chinese Exclusion Acts passed by the US Federal and State governments*, Dylan and Kai would have been documented 6th generation US citizens on their mothers’ side. Why the discrepancy? The story of our family must start with the story of my husband Daniel’s family, going back to before 1875, his great-grandfather.

On January 15, 1909, a fifteen-year-old boy, Woo Gook Wing, arrived at New York via the steamer S.S. Manchuria. After a long risky journey from China, he was sent to the immigration detention center on Ellis Island to await interrogation. Gook Wing was applying to be admitted to the US as the minor son of a native-born American citizen. His father, Woo Bing Lum, was born in San Francisco in 1875. In 1881 Bing Lum was sent back to Hoi Ping to be raised by his paternal family. He got married when he was 17 and fathered five sons. Gook Wing was his eldest son. In December 1902, Bing Lum returned to the US and began to apply for admission of his older sons.

By 1909, many federal and state exclusion acts for barring the Chinese from entering the US and from naturalization as citizens were in effect. (See note below*)

Gook Wing’s expressed reason for requesting to be admitted as the minor son of a native-born citizen was to go to English school. On February 1, 1909, 17 days after he was detained at Ellis Island and at San Francisco Immigrant Detention Center, he was finally given a hearing, at which he, his father, several family friends gave sworn testimonials of details of his family, his house (Where is your house in the village? How many windows are in your house?), his village (How many houses are there in your village? How far away is the marketplace?). The purpose was to find discrepancies among the different testimonials so that admission could be barred. It must have been a terrifying time for the 15-year-old boy, who spoke no English and was detained all by himself.

On February 16, 1909 Gook Wing was finally given admission to land in San Francisco to join his father.

Gook Wing tried to go to school but even native-born Chinese children were denied admission into the San Francisco public schools. And his father needed help in the restaurant that he worked in. Eventually, Gook Wing became a waiter and learned to become a cook in the Chinese restaurant.

In March 29, 1918 during World War I, Gook Wing volunteered to join the US Army and served until June 1919 when the war ended.

As the son of a native-born US citizen, he could, with permission, travel back to visit China for short periods of time. If he failed to return within two years, he would be barred from entry forever. Eventually, Gook Wing married Tang Kam Tai in Hoi Ping, China. In April 1914, his oldest child, a daughter, Woo Lin Hai, was born. When Gook Wing returned to the US in May 1914, Kam Tai and Lin Hai remained in China. (Remember, the 1875 Page Act? *)

Woo Gook Wing & Tang Kam Tai (This photo taken in 1968 at the wedding of Daniel & Lily Ng)


Meanwhile, exclusion of the Asians continued and expanded:

1917 The Immigration Act of 1917 created an Asiatic barred zone.

1924 The Johnson-Reed Act excluded Asian immigrants altogether and instituted a quota system for visas issued based on national origins that privileged Northern Europeans. China was given a quota of 105 visas per year.

In China, Woo Lin Hai grew up and married Ng (Wong) Fook Wah.

Fook Wah had an immigration story of his own. His father Wong Duc Bing was born in 1893 in Hoi Ping. Duc Bing went to the US in 1917 as a laborer. He did not wait to see the birth of his first son. Because he was only a resident, he would not be allowed to return once he set foot outside of the US. He also could not apply for his wife and son to join him in the US. Working in a laundry in Sacramento, Duc Bing sent money home but never returned to China. He did try to bring his only son, Fook Wah to the US by having Fook Wah adopted into a Ng family as a paper son. Unfortunately, the Ng paper father died before Fook Wah got his visa quota and the prospect of a visa died with him. Duc Bing died in Sacramento, California in 1965 without ever meeting his only son, Fook Wah.

After Fook Wah’s mother died in 1940, Lin Hai and Fook Wah moved from the village to Hong Kong with the intention of waiting for a visa to immigrate to the US, hoping to reunite with their parents. The Japanese army occupied Hong Kong in 1942 and the couple returned to the ancestral village to wait out the war. Their first son, my husband Daniel, was born in Hoi Ping in 1942. After the end of WWII, in 1950, Lin Hai and Fook Wah moved back to Hong Kong to work and to continue waiting for visa quota with their three sons. The land they lived on in the village was simply not plowable, and there were too many snakes. Fook Wah got a job working as a hotel porter and his second son became a waiter to help support the family. His first son, Daniel, did really well at school and was able to receive scholarships for finishing high school and graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a first-class honor degree.

For political reasons and because China was a useful ally during WWII, holding back the Japanese in the Pacific regions, it was embarrassing for the US to continue with the Chinese Exclusion Acts. So, in 1943, the Magnuson Act repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act, allowing Chinese to be naturalized, but kept the immigration quota of 105 visas for Chinese from anywhere in the world. This limitation held till 1965. In 1949, when the US cut ties with the People’s Republic of China, among many other repercussions, the rupture separated thousands of families with members in both countries. During the Cold War, random investigative searches of Chinese happened in Chinatowns all over the US.

In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act overturned the draconian 105-person annual quota for Chinese Immigrants. Twenty thousand visas were allocated to each nation in the world.

Woo Gook Wing was allowed to become a naturalized US citizen in 1966 based on his military service to the country in 1918. He then applied for his three children to immigrate to the US. Finally in 1967, after 55 years of waiting for reunification with their parents, Lin Hai and Fook Wah immigrated to San Francisco with their second and third son. Daniel being over the age to be covered by his parents in their visas, went to graduate school in Canada and was admitted to the US on his own visa to attend graduate school in 1968. Gook Wing and his wife lived till the mid-70s and were able to see the birth of several great grandchildren. Unfortunately, Fook Wah came too late to the US. Duc Bin passed in 1965 without meeting his only son, Fook Wah.

Woo Gook Wing with daughter Lin Hai and two great grandchildren

In San Francisco, Fook Wah worked as a janitor in a primary school. His second son worked again as a waiter to help support the family. The third son won a scholarship to attend UC Berkeley and became a professional electrical engineer. His specialty was on electrical trains and the company he founded consulted on electrical train systems all over the country, including the monorails at Disney World and Disney Land. Lin Hai stayed home and helped raise five grandchildren, with occasional jobs as a seasonal fruit picker in Sacramento. Daniel received his Ph.D. in Physics and entered government service, working at the Department of Interior and NASA and authored three patents pertaining to the International Space Station.

Among Lin Hai and Fook Wah’s sons and their spouses, there are two engineers and two Ph.D.s in science, all immigrants. Daniel was a researcher in the Bureau of Mines and NASA, and I was a professor, research director and an administrator in universities. **

Among the next generation (first generation born in the US) of Lin Hai’s and Fook Wah’s nine grandchildren and their spouses, there are four M.S. engineers, three M.S. computer scientists, two business analysts in investment banks, one fashion designer, one hospital coordinator, one college professor, one M.F.A. bestselling novelist, a lawyer, one author of STEM books for children, one food specialist. Several have had a combination of careers which are typical of the achievements of an Asian immigration family who pulled themselves up through education.

Woo Gook Wing and extended family

Daniel’s and my two daughters married two Caucasian white husbands, producing two beautiful and smart sons with diverse heritage. What will become of them depend on how multiracial, Asian-American children are going to be accepted in America in the future.

This is one story about one immigrant family. How many in the US have similar stories? In this land of immigrants, family stories like this are everywhere. The only difference is when did the stories begin. The Asians Americans belong to a group of recent immigrants. Historically, they had been marginalized and not recognized as bona fide US citizens because of physical and cultural attributes. Their contributions to the development of the US were ignored. This must change.

Our family story is a story of determination and hard work, without acceptance of any social service help. The experience was hard but it was better than what happened to the estimated 20,000 Railroad Chinese who were recruited to build the Transcontinental Railroad (1864-1869). *** Their sacrifice, sufferings and 1,200 deaths were not recognized nor even recorded. When the railway was completed at Promontory Summit, Utah in May1869, the Chinese workers were not recognized and were left in situ to walk back to California by themselves. These were the Chinese who set up restaurants, laundries, fisheries, mining towns for the ones who came later, like Woo Gook Wing and their descendants, until they were massacred or forcibly removed from their land. It is a part of American history that was denied, seldom mentioned in history books and of which the majority of the US people knew nothing about.


* Note:175 years of exclusion laws to drive out the Chinese and Asians from America

1790 The Naturalization Act of 1790 made Asians ineligible for citizenship.

1868 The 14th Amendment established the right to birthright citizenship but excluded the Chinese.

1875 The Page Act kept Chinese women out except for wives and daughters of Chinese males exempted from exclusion, e.g. merchants, students.

1879 The Constitution of California prohibited the employment of Chinese people by state and local governments, as well as by businesses that were incorporated in California. In addition, the 1879 Constitution delegated power to local governments in California in order to enable them to remove Chinese people from the borders of their communities.

During the 1880s Communities across the west drove out Chinese residents, torched Chinese homes and businesses and murdered Chinese people in broad daylight. Native-born Chinese children were also denied public education.

1882 Congress formalized the expulsion of the Chinese from the US by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act--the first time the US restricted immigration explicitly by race and class.

The legislation barred immigration of Chinese laborers, but exempted merchants, students, and diplomats because of trade with China.

1892 The Geary Act extended exclusion permanently. All Chinese residents were required to register with the government and carry photo identifications at all times.

1917 The Immigration Act of 1917 created an Asiatic barred zone.

1924 The Johnson-Reed Act excluded Asian immigrants altogether and instituted a quota system for visas issued based on national origins that privileged Northern Europeans. China was given a quota of 105 visas per year.

1943 The Magnuson Act repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act, allowed Chinese to be naturalized, but kept the immigration quota of 105 visas for Chinese from anywhere in the world.

1965 The Immigration and Nationality Act overturned the draconian 105-person annual quota for Chinese Immigrants. Twenty thousand visas were allocated to each nation in the world.


**The diversity of my research group is worth mentioning. This is my academic family and the students are my academic descendants. In 18 years, nine Ph.Ds and two M.S.s graduated from my research group, including four white Caucasian women, one Hispanic woman from Puerto Rico, one Japanese-American, one Russian-American, one Vietnamese-American, two Chinese from the PRC, one Chinese from Taiwan. Three came into the US as refugees, three as graduate students, all are now US citizens in gainful and important careers in government agencies, industries, and universities. I continue to be immensely proud of my academic children.


*** See for example Ghosts of Golden Mountain, by Gordon H. Chang





Leave a Reply

  • Rowland March 30, 2021, 4:04 pm

    Extraordinary story. What a history of “White” domination and control that persists up until today. In the UK it is not quite so tortuous but is equally nasty and is currently causing hurt and pain still.

  • carollmasters March 30, 2021, 4:34 pm

    What an amazing history–the detail surely helps inform our understanding of the forces that shaped our nation. I love seeing the beautiful images of Lily’s family.

  • Linda Kusserow March 30, 2021, 4:57 pm

    Thank you so much, Lily, for sharing these family stories of struggle, separation, and achievement.

  • Helen Gilbert March 30, 2021, 5:05 pm

    Lily, thanks for telling your and your husband’s ancestor stories. Growing up in the Midwest, I learned about the Asian exclusion laws in history but felt distant from it. Your personal stories make it all so much more real, and give context to what it coming up for a new reckoning now. It is so admirable – awesome, really – how people like your family pushed so hard against injustice and racial hatred to become educated leaders and contributors in the same country that tried to exclude them. I loved seeing the diversity in your research group.