Angel Island: Immigrant Journeys of Chinese-Americans
Angel Island: Immigrant Journeys of Chinese-Americans
Angel Island history

Former Angel
Island detainees

Beck H. Gee
Helen Wong Hom
Lester Tom Lee
Henry S. H. Gee

Traveling photo exhibition

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About Lydia Lum


Lester Tom Lee
Lester Tom Lee
Stories and Photographs by LYDIA LUM, copyright 1998

At age 16, Lester Tom Lee immigrated in 1935 by himself to the United States. He was detained at least 2 months at Angel Island. He joined his father in San Francisco and eventually moved to Houston, where he worked as a grocer, a wholesale meat vendor and in real estate. Now 79, Lee is retired.

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Lester Tom Lee "We ate vegetables twice a day and some very rough rice, very hard to swallow. I was a growing boy and hungry."

"There were birds outside the wire fence. My hands were small enough I could grab their necks and kill them. We used rice to attract the birds to us. We cleaned the birds in a toilet. Another boy had gotten some matches, somehow. Someone else had a knife. We gathered branches and we got newspaper and rolled it like wood to make a fire. We barbecued birds that way, when the guards weren't around. It was the only tasty thing we could get."

"The main reason I was detained so long was that my father and I gave the inspectors different dates about when I departed China. The Chinese lunar calendar is about a month off from the American calendar! Ay! So my father hired a lawyer to get me out. Sometimes I cried because I missed my family and my friends."

"Two men killed themselves, hung themselves. I went to the bathroom one morning and they were there. Maybe it was with a bedsheet. I screamed. I ran back to the barrack. They were probably about to be deported. I think one was about 30 years old, the other one 40."

"Sometimes I wondered why we all came over here for that kind of treatment. Sometimes I just wanted to go home because they treated us like criminals. We were only immigrants."

--- Lester Tom Lee