In the early days of the 20th Century, in the southern part of China,
was born a boy named Chow Sun Ho. His family called him “Ho”. The
region in which he was born was called Jung San, which means “central
mountain”. It was near the Portuguese colony of Macao, and less than
a day’s journey from the great city of Canton. But he and his family
lived in a smaller town. His parents were farmers. They were not
impoverished; neither were they wealthy. And although they were
frugal and hard working, they knew, that as peasant farmers, there was
little hope of achieving real prosperity for themselves or their
children, including Ho. For although hard work and frugality are
required to become prosperous, something else is needed as well: opportunity.
Note: For an alternate form of this essay that includes pictures, go here.
Then one day opportunity did come. The possibility arose for Chow Sun
Ho, then a boy of 9 or 10, to go to America, the Land of Opportunity.
His family knew that many of them would never see the boy again.
Still they chose to send him.
What must it have been like for the boy? To be put on a boat, sail
across the broad Pacific Ocean. To arrive in a country with strange
language, strange customs, strange buildings, and even strange
He had come from the central mountains to the central valley — the
Great Central Valley of California. Here, he was once again a farmer,
but even the farming was different here: different crops, different
methods. But he adapted–children of that age do. And he adapted to
his new home in other ways as well, learning English, and even taking
on an American name, “Raymond”.
By the time he was a young man, World War II had begun. He joined the
U.S. Army and volunteered to be a paratrooper–to jump from airplanes
into battle. When I, myself, was in the army, the paratroopers were
considered the elite. He fought in North Africa, Italy, and France.
He risked his life for his new country. But, although he was wounded
in battle–a piece of shrapnel is still embedded in his back–he
survived the war and when it was over he returned to California.
He found a job working for an optical company, who taught him how to
make eye glasses–a craft he would pursue the rest of his working
Having established work for himself, he returned to China–to Jung
San–not to stay, but to find a bride to take back with him to his new
home. The woman he chose wass Yim Pu Yee. What must it have been like
for her? But he knew. And he helped his new wife through the
They lived first in Oakland. Eventually they built a house in
Kensington, a small suburban community north of Oakland.
They started a family: First a daughter, Dixie; then a son, Robert;
then another daughter, Alice.
Both he and his wife continued to work to provide for their children:
he as an optician, and she as a seamstress.
They raised their children. They provided for their material needs.
They put them through school and encouraged dilligance in their
studies. They taught them right from wrong. They taught them the
Chinese values of hard work and frugality. They taught them the true
roots of love, which is not passion as some would believe, but rather
acceptance and harmony.
Now his children are grown and have families of their own. Even his
grandchildren–of which there are six: Elizabeth, Jesica, Jedidiah,
Sarah, Michal, and Mia–are grown as well.
Last week Raymond (Sun Ho) Chow died after a long illness. His family
came together to support and console his widow and each other. For a
strong family is another value he brought with him from China. I came
too, for I am now part of that family: You see, I married his eldest
And although I mourn his death, I also rejoice at his life. He did
nothing less than achieve the American Dream. He raised a family who
love and will miss him. He built a home for that family. He put his
children through college. He achieved a prosperity that the young
Chow Sun Ho could never have imagined in rural China. He did it by
following the Chinese values of hard work and frugality. But after
all, isn’t that how one achieves the American Dream?