A Bill Moyers Special - Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

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World War II Brings Change

"If the war didn't come I don't think we would have that opportunity. The war made a world of a difference to everyone."

By Tommy Wong

In 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. When America then declared war, China became an ally. Suddenly, as Japanese Americans were vilified, Chinese Americans found themselves held up as patriots and welcomed in ways they had not been before. Tommy Wong grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown and joined the U.S. Army just as change began.

When I first went into the Navy it was general duty. I had the occasion where the personnel officer interviewed me and he wanted to put me in the kitchen. I rejected that. I says, "Look, I worked for the Navy Department. I work as a machinist. I understand boats. I'm more accustomed to mechanics. So put me in the mechanical department. I'm not cut out to be a cook. I have a trade." I had to argue with him to get my point across that they're not gonna stick me into the kitchen.

So finally the personnel officer says, "I agree." He was a gentleman about it. He understand it. My being American born, he noted that right away. He says, "You were born here?" That's the first thing he asked me. I says, "Yes." So he says, "You got automotive. Put you in the shop." "Fine. Thank you."

If the war didn't come I don't think we would have that opportunity. The war made a world of a difference to everyone. Not only to us, but mostly to us Chinese people. It was a lot of help.