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Pioneers from the East: First Chinese Families in Austin

Pioneers from the East: First Chinese Families in Austin

William Get-Min Ng & Lee Sun You

William Get-Min Ng & Lee Sun You, Ca. 1930's, AR.2009.063(034), Ng Family Papers

According to the 1875 Census there were 20 Chinese living in Austin. Most of these were men who left China to find work in order to support their families. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, they could not bring over their wives or children. These men worked mainly in the laundry or restaurant business. That was the beginning of Asian presence in our city.

As displayed in this photo exhibit, the individuals and families who ended up in Austin built a life for themselves by opening up businesses and immersing themselves into the community. All of their hard work paved the way for future immigrants and Asian Americans who settled down in Austin.

Beginning in the 1870's the Chinese population in Travis County grew rather slowly until there was a large jump from 94 to 332 in the 1960's to the 1970's. Today, we have over 10,000 Chinese Americans in Austin working in many different industries. They share their culture and heritage and are constantly contributing to the great success of our city.

All of the families featured in the photo exhibit have archival collections or biography files at the Austin History Center. These donated items were acquired through the Asian American Liaison program and can be accessed in our Reading Room by utilizing the Asian American Resource Guide.

Sing Family

Joe Sing, Sr.
Joe Sing, Sr., Undated AR.2008.002(001)
Sing Family Papers
Joe Sing was born in China in 1860 and came to the United States around 1890 to find work and eventually settled in Austin. He opened Hong Lee Laundry on 311 W. 5th Street and provided laundry service to many State Legislators and Austinites.
When Francis Moreno, a Mexican American woman, married Joe Sing, unbeknownst to her, she lost her U.S. citizenship. According to the Married Women's Citizenship Act at the time, a woman lost her U.S citizenship if she married a foreign man. This Act was amended then finally repealed in 1936, allowing her citizenship to be re-instated. They had 4 children, Rumalda, Joe Jr., Senovia and Margaret. (in order of age)
Sing Family Photo
Sing Family Photo, Ca. 1910, AR.2008.002(003)
Sing Family Papers
Margaret Sing
Margaret Sing, Undated, AR.2008.002(006)
Sing Family Papers
Margaret Sing worked at Hong Lee Laundry, helping her dad as much as she could. Eventually she got a job working at Home Steam Laundry. She never married because she had to take care of her mother. She resided in her home on 1705 Willow until her death in 2006.

Lung Family

Joe Lung came from China to find work and settled in Austin in 1906 and opened Joe Lung Café on 204 Congress. One of his sons, Sam Lung, is pictured here with two of his children, Joe Michael and Sandra in front of a livestock display, a customary practice for restaurants to attract customers back then. Joe Lung Café
Joe Lung Café, Ca. 1945, PICB 21512
AF-BIOGRAPHY- Lung, Joe & Family
Sam Lung and Family
Sam Lung and his family, Ca. 1950, PICB 21514
AF-BIOGRAPHY- Lung, Joe & Family
Sam and Lorene Lung had three children, Sandra, Joe Michael, and Meiling. They were one of the few Asian American families living in Austin at the time. Sam Lung ran Lung's Chinese Kitchen, the beloved restaurant where many Austinites ate Chinese food for the first time.
As a child, Joe Lung, Jr. loved riding horses and fishing on the Colorado River. As a teenager, he worked for Travis LaRue (Austin Mayor '69-'71) at Travis Laundry for eight years. He carried on the family legacy and eventually ran the popular restaurant, Lung's Chinese Kitchen on 1128 Red River until 1974. Joe Lung, Jr. on a Horse
Joe Lung, Jr. on a Horse, Ca. 1950, PICB 21513
AF-BIOGRAPHY- Lung, Joe & Family
Sam Lung with Kite Frame
Sam Lung with Kite Frame
April 9, 1974, AR.Z.025 (PARD-74-106-10)
Austin (Tex.) Parks and Recreation Department Records
Sam Lung enjoyed making Chinese kites and entered them in kite tournaments co-sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) and the Exchange Club of Austin. He donated a collection of these hand-carved bamboo kite frames to PARD so that children could study their construction.

Wong Family

Seventeen year-old Lee Shee lived in San Francisco, California with her parents until she married Mow Wah Chin, a laundryman, and moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1912. She gave birth to Rose Chin and soon after died of pneumonia in 1919. Her daughter, Rose Chin (R.C.) was raised by her father with the help of an aunt.
Seventeen year-old Lee Shee
Lee Shee Chin, Ca. 1910, AR.2008.005(001)
Wong Family Papers
Fred & R.C. Wong
Fred & R.C. Wong, January 28, 1938, AR.2008.005(016)
Wong Family Papers
Grandson of a "Pershing Chinese" railroad worker, Fred Wong grew up in San Antonio and married Rose Chin from Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1936. They moved to Austin in 1938 and started New China Food Market on 714 Red River. Fred served as a Rollingwood Councilman and R.C. became a well-known artist, famous for her portraits and philanthropic work. The couple had three children, Mitchel, Linda, and Kay.
3705 Red River Street was the Wong family’s home in Austin until Fred and R.C.’s son, Mitchel Wong, was four years old. It consists of a front room, bedroom, and a kitchen. Dr. Mitchel Wong is an ophthalmologist at Austin Eye Clinic and a founding member of the Texas Asian Chamber of Commerce.
R.C. and her son, Mitchel Wong

R.C. and her son, Mitchel Wong, December 19, 2007
Wong Family Papers
Photography by Patrick Y. Wong

Ng Family

Ng Bon Hor
Ng Bon Hor, Ca.1925, AR.2009.063(020)
Ng Family Papers
At the age of nine, Ng Bon Hor (Harry Ng), a descendant of a railroad worker, came from China to San Francisco in 1925. After returning to China to receive more education, he married Lee Sun You and moved to Austin to help with his father's restaurant. He managed Sam Wah Café and Lim Ting Restaurant for over forty years.
Sons of Harry and Lee Ng, William and Jack were raised in China then brought to America in 1951. They attended St. Edwards High School then Southwest Texas State College. Jack moved to California while William remained in Austin and ran Lim Ting Restaurant on 3900 South Congress Avenue until 1983. William & Jack Ng
William & Jack Ng, Ca. 1951, AR.2009.063(044)
Ng Family Papers
Wah Café (interior)
Sam Wah Café (interior), Ca. 1950, AR.2009.063(012)
Ng Family Papers
Sam Wah Café, on 223 Congress Avenue, was one of the first successful Chinese restaurants in Austin. Harry Ng (on the far right) was a gracious and generous proprietor who often donated to charities and offered jobs to homeless people.
Harry Ng was a beloved member of the Austin community who shared his Chinese heritage and culture with others. He and his wife hosted special dinners for Chinese New Year annually at his second restaurant, Lim Ting.
Harry Ng
Harry Ng, Ca. 1960, AR.2009.063(042)
Ng Family Papers

Tu Family

Kwei 'Duke' Tu
Kwei "Duke" Tu, Ca. 1946, PICB 21335
AF-BIOGRAPHY- Tu, Duke & Family
During World War II, 100 Chinese military officers, fluent in English, came to America to serve as interpreters for Chinese pilots training for a top-secret mission. The FAB (Foreign Affairs Bureau)-100 were sent to military bases all across America. Kwei "Duke" Tu was one of the officers sent to Bergstrom Army Air Field in Austin.
After the war, the FAB-100 members were given the choice of returning to China or remaining in the United States. Duke Tu chose to stay in America and worked in the aircraft industry for Pan American Airways, Boeing, and General Electric throughout his career. He and his wife, Virginia, had three children, Beth, Larry, and Jennifer.
Duke Tu and His Children
Duke Tu and His Children, Undated, PICB 21346
AF-BIOGRAPHY- Tu, Duke & Family
Duke Tu and Son, Larry
Duke Tu and Son, Larry, Undated, PICB 21341
AF-BIOGRAPHY- Tu Duke & Family
Duke Tu's son, Larry, graduated from Harvard and Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He served as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and worked for Goldman Sachs and NBC Universal. He is currently a Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Dell in Austin.