I had my eyes opened yesterday night to an amazing family here in El Paso. Linda Yee Chew was the featured speaker and spoke at length about her family’s journey from China, to Juarez, and ultimately to El Paso.
She shared her family roots; from a soujouner son from Canton to an activist daughter-in-law in Juarez, to a merchant family in both Juarez and El Paso. Interspersed with not only personal accounts of her family and pictures, she painted a story of how political forces and historical circumstances shaped her family.
From the California Gold Rush and Mexican Silver Rush, to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Mexican Revolution, the fall of the Manchu dynasty, to the establishment of Angel Island, WWII and finally the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, her family has been touched in all aspects of those historical events.
Throughout the speech, what stood out to me is how the family ties and loyalty built her foundation over time. In each hardship her family would overcome, it would be together working towards a goal of not only survival, but working towards a better future for their family supporting not just their children, but the family left behind in China as well. They kept their roots alive by visiting and making sure their children knew where they came from.
A snippet of her speech gives us an idea of the type of family she came come: Herlinder Wong Chew saved not only her family but 200 of her “closest friends” by asking for asylum and shelter from the fighting in El Paso temporarily.
It’s a fascinating story and a longer excerpt can be found here:
She downplays her own successes but that family foundation gave her generation opportunities that they have honored and lived up to. She’s the first lawyer of Chinese descent to serve as a District Court judge in El Paso. Her brother David Wellington Chew, was an El Paso City council member and the first elected Asian American appellate justice in Texas. Her other sister Patricia Chew also an attorney, and her other brother Brian Chew the CTO of the Georgia MLS.
The Tom Lea Institute showcased them at the Hotel Indigo and I brought my friend and fellow emigre Seiichi Yoshizaki; both he and I are 1st generation immigrants and loved seeing the result of just over 3 generations in their family. Linda and her remarkable family gives us hope for our future generations.
Not only were we treated with this presentation, but the Tom Lea Institute outdid themselves this time with a performance of a traditional Chinese fan dance, and a presentation by S. Champagne Chyi, director of Ai-Hwa Chinese School.
Asian appetizers (pot stickers, eggrolls, chicken lettuce wraps) and no-host-inspired cocktails (like the Tom Lea lychee martini) were served in a beautiful patio setting on top of the Hotel Indigo. It was one of the best events I’ve attended all year, and I’ve gone to a lot.
If you want to go to future FREE events like this one, I suggest you follow the Tom Lea Institute and RSVP to their upcoming events.
Side note: I found out that’s why Chinese people were called Coolies, because they came thru Cuba as indentured servants. Also her father was finally given citizenship after serving 4 tour of duties in WWII.