This year Presidents Day and the Day of Remembrance share February 19. As we honor our presidential leaders, we are also mindful of their failures to foster liberty and justice for all. On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The executive order resulted in the displacement and incarceration of over 100,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans from the western coast of the US. Congressional and state political leaders, the military, significant sectors of the American public, and the Supreme Court share responsibility with FDR. On this Day of Remembrance, we listen to the histories of those impacted by FDR’s presidential action. On this Presidents Day, we consider the magnitude of presidential power and those who have and have had the privilege and responsibility to exercise such power.
In commemoration of Valentine’s Day, we offer this poem of familial love written by a California daughter:
A Poem for My Father
A man saw a bird and wanted to paint it. The problem, if there was one, was simply a problem with the question. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy—series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?
My father is a mountain man,
both in practice and in preach.
he greets the trees.
“I pine fir you,”
he says to the trees.
“I long for you,”
he says to the pale grass.
How to fit so much love
in one brain?
How to teach all that
My father is a scholar,
“Teach me how to live,”
I say to him.
says my father.
And, suddenly, life!
By Li Wei Yang
As one of the first Chinese Americans admitted to the State Bar of California, Y.C. Hong was a major figure in the Los Angeles Chinese community during the period of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal law in effect from 1882 to 1943 that prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States. This letter, dated May 4th, 1929, from Y.C. Hong (Alfred, as he was known back then) to Mabel Chin, expresses his love for her during the long courtship. It’s also apparent from the letters that there were many potential suitors for Mabel, so Y.C. Hong was facing stiff competition. The courtship lasted roughly two years and the couple was married in 1931. It’s worth noting too the gender balance between Chinese American women and men was not equal. For example, the gender ratio for Chinese American men to women was approximately 10 to 1 in the 1920s. Chinese Exclusion made it difficult for many Chinese American men to form families.
May 4th, 1929
You have certainly been nice to me! I really can’t find a way to express my gratitude, and I am not going to try. I’d rather be indebted to you for the rest of my life anyway. Your wire came this morning just as I got back to the office. Thanks a lot for the kind thoughts. Your favor of the 30th (?) reached me yesterday and your letter dated the 29th came the day before. To show my appreciation in my humble way, I am writing you on my birthday. I have just gotten home from a heavy Chinese dinner, and if this letter should turn out to be a tiresome one, please blame it on the said dinner.
The weather has been terribly hot the last few days. The sudden change of temperature made me a bit out of tune. I have been feeling fine ever since your telegram came. Somehow, I’ve always thought medicine is supposed to be bitter and hard to take. You are surely a paradox! You’re so sweet and yet able to cure me of my ills. Mabel, you are my “Candy-Kid” and “Medicine Man” all wrapped up into one.
The snapshots are adorable. Once upon a time, some poetical swain said: “To see her is to love her; to love her is to love her forever”. I heartily agreed with him, and how! I am still waiting both patiently and impatiently for the photograph, Mabel. Please be merciful and not make me wait too long, please.
Henry, Dan [and] I took in the Broadway Melody at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre last Monday evening. The play was very nice and not a few of the songs were quite entrancing. One particular song struck my fancy quite strongly because it reminded me of you and your brigade of Romeos. The chorus no doubt repeats the sentiments of the “Romantic 15”, but I’d rather have you hear the words of the verse first because – well, because. At any rate, the words are as follows:
“Life was a song, You came along;
I’ve laid awake the whole night thru.
If I but dare To think you cared,
This is what I’d say to you –
“You were meant for me,
I was meant for you.
Nature patterned you and when she was done,
You were all the sweet things rolled up in one.
You’re like a plaintive melody,
That never lets me free,
For I’m content the angels must have sent you
And they meant you just for me.”
I wish I could sing it. Maybe I’ll try someday. Dan said he’ll do it when you come down the next time.
So you are willing to marry the man who really loves you and who has the power to make you love him? Well, the first condition is certainly easy to fulfill but the catch comes in on the second requirement. Can you name me a few of the boys who you think can meet the second requirement? We only live to learn, and I want to know who is he [and] to learn something really worthwhile before I die. I am not flattering you Mabel. You are surely a wonderfully adorable girl. You certainly did upset my equilibrium [and] I don’t mean maybe! I am glad of it however. I won’t sue you for damages, such as loss of sleep, (?) et cetera.
I think I can furnish the Prince Charming, the next time you come to Los Angeles. He is handsome, not quite tall enough but he makes up for that in some other nice ways. He is quite a lady’s man, [and] many a girl had sighed hopelessly over him. You know him too, so it is not necessary for me to tell his name. Now aren’t you thrilled? Henry Lowe said that Albert Quon will be back from China in September and he is coming back to America single. Isn’t that just too wonderful for words? He is one man who measures up to the conception of an ideal lover and prospective husband in the estimation of our co-eds with a few exceptions, [and] only a few is right.
Thanks for the address of the O.S. C. Students’ Co-op. The “Royal” is supposed to have more modern features than any other portable typewriter on the market. The one in my office is a “Royal”. The “Remington” is supposed to be the most durable of them all. You can have any make you want. If you don’t care for the Royal, please be kind enough o give me the address of some Portland agent so that I can order thru him. Do you like the “Corona”? Why not drop in on some of the companies [and] find out what you want? I know I’m impossible but you’re going to get one just the same. No use to argue with me.
It’s pretty nearly one o’clock in the morning [and] I am getting terribly sleepy, so au revoir until later. I hope to be able to write a more interesting letter the middle of the week. Good night, charming farmerette!
P.S. Don’t pay too much attention to those Romeos [and] write to me at your earliest convenience.
For more on Y.C. Hong, visit the Huntington Digital Library: http://hdl.huntington.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16003coll12. For researchers interested in accessing this collection, this 1929 letter can be found in Hong Family Papers box Y38 (1).
Li Wei Yang is curator of Pacific Rim Collections at The Huntington Library.
A different sort of love letter. Here Sarah Nichols, beside herself with loneliness and fear, writes to her husband and son who have set off for the California gold fields upon hearing news of the Gold Rush. It reminds us how far away California was to most of those who either went there looking for gold or who remained home.
Buffalo April 7th 1849
My husband & Son—You know not my feelings I cannot live if you go any futher—Oh return home sell your things & return to me Save oh Save my life I cannot live if You go to California, there is war famine pestilence— murders—& evry evry evil there to await you have mercy on a poor mother oh come home I’m Sick & depres’d—I know not what to do, I think I shall give up the house—I’m not fit for any charge the boys are well—Mrs Clark thinks I will not live long unless you return home—come back Oh come, I fret & weep day & night, a cruel wife was I to let you leave me—remember If You will go on we never meet on earth again I’ve pray’d but get no relife If you do not return by May 1 I shall take my passage on a line of Steamers & start for san francisco my mind is decided If you will go to the grave, I’ll go with you Earth has no charm for me—unless you both will return—I have made arrangements to leave for California soon as you answer this— unless you will return I come to you—I’m almost heartbroken why should we be separated—George my son beg for me oh plead with your father ere it is too late to save a fond wife & mother Mrs Tiffany is dead grief kill’d, I shall soon follow. Answer next mail.
See the full letter on the Huntington Library’s web site.
By Jordan Keagle
Deciding on a dissertation topic did not come easily to me. Throughout the year I spent preparing for my qualifying exams, I thought I knew what my topic would be—the bizarre and spectacular rabbit drives that took place across the West until the 1940s. But after being set loose to begin work on my prospectus, I decided that my pet project didn’t have the broad impact needed for a successful dissertation.
But if I wasn’t going to move forward with rabbit drives, what would I do? I knew, in the broadest sense, what I wanted my dissertation to be about: the intersection of environmental and cultural history in the American West. That was a far cry from a workable topic, however. Over the summer of 2017, I met with my advisor, Bill Deverell, several times. We tossed around dozens of potential topics, but Bill kept pushing me to develop ideas around “big concepts,” which could branch out into numerous dissertation topics.
Bill’s advice led me to “cold”—an intersection between environment and culture–but this quickly proved to be too large to tackle as a dissertation. Looking over my notes, I started to imagine two potential approaches, one intuitive and one less so. The first was to examine cold as an adversary, a deadly force that had to be conquered in order to make a life in the West. This made sense and certainly provided enough to write about, but was perhaps too easily understood. As Bill often says, “Don’t we know that story already?” Instead, I wondered if we could consider the way the cold was tamed, made into a tool and a product that could be used for human purposes?
My dissertation centers on commodifying coldness in the American West circa 1850-1950, tracing the evolution of cold in the West from elemental threat, to a purchasable product, to a domesticated force, available at the press of a button. Modern technology has rendered control over the cold so easy as to make it invisible to the average American. One of my goals for this project is to recapture an understanding of the labor and challenges of the West before “mechanized cold,” a world with familiar desires for cold drinks and comfortable homes but one that achieved these ends through means that seem very foreign to us.
Jordan Keagle is working on his Ph.D in the USC History department
As we commemorate the life, work, and vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., here is Dr. King’s encapsulation of American history and westward expansion in customary brilliance and power.
As we begin 2018, we asked several Huntington Library curators to share specific collections relevant to the West that have been newly acquired, catalogued and are now accessible for research. As many know, the Huntington Library has extensive materials related to the American West. In fact, the subject constitutes nearly 40% of the Library’s holdings. Historians interested in these new archives can learn more about researching at the Huntington Library on its website: http://www.huntington.org/research/.
Peter Blodgett, H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western American History
The Barrows and Weyse Families Papers contain hundreds of letters and photographs from two families who became linked by marriage in 1860s Los Angeles.
Julius Weyse was a political refugee from Germany to England in 1836 and then a gold seeker to the United States in 1850 while Henry D. Barrows had relocated to California from the eastern United States. The contents include German-language Gold Rush narratives and later correspondence with details about family life in California while the Barrows materials include similar documents. With the presence of a US Marshal’s letter book for Southern California between 1857 and 1864, various land papers, and 62 pocket diaries from Henry Barrows, the collection includes numerous details about life in Southern California in the second half of the nineteenth century; the presence of significant content from German immigrants offers the possibility of investigating a potential transnational Los Angeles.
When incorporated with copies of Barrows publications here and other family collections at the Huntington such as the Wolfskill papers (Henry D. Barrows’ first wife was Juanita Wolfskill), the Barrows and Weyse Families Papers might shed some additional light upon the multiplicity of peoples and perspectives in Los Angeles. Also, depending upon the degree of depth in the papers, researchers might find possibilities for inquiring into the history of the Historical Society of Southern California.
Collection description in the Online Archive of California: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8mk6k3m/
Dan Lewis, Dibner Senior Curator, History of Science & Technology
The Huntington’s history of aerospace collections have essential California connections — including the recent acquisition of the papers of William Arata, an aerospace engineer whose work spanned corporate life at Lockheed, Northrup Grumman, and other corporations.
His materials provide an excellent pan-corporate view of aviation and aerospace in Southern California between the 1930s and the 1980s, and are notable for his work across institutions. Arata also worked with Willis Hawkins at Lockheed, whose papers are at the Huntington, and with many others in positions of power and responsibility. The papers contain a great deal of material on transport designs, and are more broadly reflective of Arata’s thinking, responses and reactions to industry change and innovation. This transport work is an excellent counterpoint to the military focus of other aerospace holdings at the Huntington.
The Papers of J. Michael Scott, a pioneering Federal wildlife biologist who worked in Hawaii just after enactment of the Endangered Species Act, will be ready this Spring for research use. Scott was one of four such biologists working in the islands to survey the wildlife, but especially the bird life, in order to help set Federal conservation priorities. These papers have strong utility for environmental history research, as well as the particulars of wildlife biologists’ fieldwork in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, the Federal government, and other stakeholders.
Clay Stalls, Curator of California and Hispanic Collections
The Huntington has recently opened two valuable collections for research in Hispanic history in California.
The Chávez Esparza Family Letters document extensively the immigration of members of this family from the state of Aguascalientes, Mexico, to California in the 1960s and 1970s. The letters provide particularly valuable first-person accounts of the family members’ experiences at work, especially types of employment and relations with employers and fellow employees; transnational family relations; and strategies for moving to and living in the United States. Collection description in the Online Archive of California: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8st7vx1/
The Pedro Villaseñor Political Papers offer rare documentation of the transnational character of Mexico’s troubled church-state relations in the 1930s. Born in the Mexican state of Michoacán, Pedro Villaseñor (1907-1996) was an ardent Mexican nationalist aligned with the political resistance against the federal government’s suppression of Roman Catholic religious liberties in the Mexico of the 1920s and 1930s. After his move to Los Angeles, he supported this cause, which still strongly resonated among the large Mexican population of Los Angeles, by organizing political groups and activities and publishing newsletters that would have a nation-wide circulation. Collection description in the Online Archive of California: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8zc883p/
Li Wei Yang, Curator of Pacific Rim Collections
Last week I acquired the papers of Kenneth Y. Fung, immigration attorney based in San Francisco. Fung was president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (1947-1949) and he testified before Congress in 1945 about the unequal treatment of Chinese American spouses under the American immigration system. Fung was also a good friend of Y.C. Hong.