Fighting for The Dream: A Book about Chinese-American Veterans

(Image via Sing Tao Daily)

(Image via Sing Tao Daily)

[Editor’s note: The story has been updated from its original version to reflect two corrections.]

From World War II to the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many Chinese joined the American military and fought for the country. Their stories are worth remembering. Yet there are few books about Chinese-Americans veterans out there. A new book entitled “Fighting for The Dream: Voices of Chinese American Veterans from World War II to Afghanistan,” to be published by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California in November, will fill the void. Victoria Moy, the author of the book, is a third-generation Chinese who grew up in Manhattan’s Chinatown. She said she hopes the book can help younger generation Chinese understand that they have to thank the older generations for the life they enjoy today.

Moy first got interested in Chinese veterans because of her grandfather, who was a WWII veteran. When she was an elementary school student at P.S. 124, her grandfather often took her to the events held at the office of American Legion, Lt. B.R. Kimlau Post 1291, on Canal Street. At the parties she attended, she found many of the veterans happened to be grandfathers of her classmates. It turned out a large proportion of students in her school had grandfathers who were veterans.

Moy later learned that during WWII, 40 percent of Chinese living in New York enlisted in the military. The number may sound incredible: After all, there were not many women in the military then. How come close to half of the entire Chinese population in New York were in the military?  Moy said this was due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which largely prohibited Chinese from emigrating into the U.S. for decades. So the Chinese population in New York then mainly consisted of men who came here as laborers before the ban and were not able to get their wives to join them after it.

Victoria Moy (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Victoria Moy (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Moy said when she was a kid she couldn’t understand why many grandfathers in Chinatown spoke fluent English while the grandmothers only spoke Chinese. Now she knows it’s because the Chinese Exclusion Acts (and other acts) severely restricted Chinese women from entering the country until 1965.
Moy’s own grandfather was sent to China during the war to help maintain the flights for the Flying Tigers, a team of American military pilots who went to China to assist the Chinese Air Force fighting against the Japanese.  Her grandfather passed away when she was 13. Moy remembers clearly asking him in his last days what the happiest time in his life was, and his responding that it was his time in the military.

If the answer is perplexing to a teenager, Moy now knows exactly why her grandfather enjoyed wartime so much. Moy said that at the time of WWII, segregation was widespread in the U.S. Even in the military, minority soldiers were only put in their own units. But the Chinese were somehow exempted. Among all Chinese soldiers at the time, 90 percent were assigned to heterogeneous units and served together with their white peers. “Most Chinese at that time could only work in laundries or restaurants [due to general discrimination]. The military provided a rare opportunity for them to be treated equally and to serve this country as Americans,” said Moy.

Moy keeps in contact with many veterans in her grandfather’s generation. Most of them are nonagenarians now. Moy said for a long time until she was 23, she thought veterans only existed in that generation. That year, during the Memorial Day parade in Chinatown, she saw veterans her age who just came back from Afghanistan. “That was the first time I realized people in my generation could also fight in war and become veterans,” said Moy, who is 32 now.

After high school, Moy went to Dartmouth College. After graduation, she worked various jobs, including as a tutor and as a journalist. She is now back in school, pursuing an MFA in playwriting at the University of Southern California. Moving out of New York helped her get to know more veterans around the country. The book, which took her more than seven years to finish, focuses on the stories of 40 Chinese veterans, ages 24 to 94.

Moy said American schools don’t often teach the history of Chinese Americans. But for younger generation Chinese, it is important to know the history. “So we know that the life we have now didn’t just come to us. Our ancestors struggled,” she said.

To mark the publication of the book, the Museum of Chinese in America will hold an event on Nov. 6, inviting Moy and three Chinese veterans of different ages to share their stories. The event will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The address of the museum is 215 Centre Street in Chinatown. For more about the event, visit http://www.mocanyc.org/visit/events/mocacitizen_Fighting_for_the_Dream

One Comment

  1. Howard Chun says:

    when will be book be available? I remember those war years. As a child in N.Y. Chinatown, I remember my uncle returning after WWII. After graduation from CCNY (CUNY), I served 30+ years on active duty and in the reserves. My eldest son is currently serving (25 yrs) and should be retiring soon. Serving gives us a sense of honor and a feeling of payback for the privilege of living in the U.S.

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