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[LEGAL] Y.C. Hong - 1st Chinese American Attorney in California

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  • madchinaman
    Chinatown Time Capsule Building once owned by lawyer who helped thousands of Chinese gain U.S. citizenship is sold. His files go to Huntington Library. By
    Message 1 of 1 , May 18, 2005
      Chinatown Time Capsule
      Building once owned by lawyer who helped thousands of Chinese gain
      U.S. citizenship is sold. His files go to Huntington Library.
      By David Pierson, Times Staff Writer
      http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-
      chinatown18may18,0,5456839.story?coll=la-home-local


      In Chinatown's Central Plaza, elderly men sit on benches sipping
      milk tea, old women nosily shuffle mah-jongg tiles and cooks clack
      metal spatulas against their woks, filling the air with the pungent
      aroma of ginger and garlic.

      Overlooking this scene is a white, three-story building guarded by a
      pair of stone lions. Venturing up the building's darkened stairway
      to the top floor is like entering a time capsule that tells the
      history of Chinatown and the community that grew from it.

      An intricate, 1930s typewriter with minuscule Chinese characters
      stained with ink rests on a counter. A private office is adorned
      with shaped wood and Art Deco furniture. Then there are the dusty
      file cabinets whose contents date to the 1920s. Within those
      yellowing pages is the story of the burgeoning Chinese diaspora.

      For nearly 60 years, You Chung Hong practiced law here. His office
      was a legendary entry point for the thousands of Chinese he helped
      gain citizenship, often despite economic hardships and prejudices.
      Many of his clients became successful businessmen. One is a federal
      judge.

      Hong's office was for years the only place that Chinese Angelenos
      could find immigration advice. The first Chinese American to pass
      the California bar, Hong testified before the U.S. Senate to reform
      immigration laws.

      His workplace appears frozen in time from the day he died of a heart
      attack in 1977; it was largely untouched by his family. But this
      month the family sold the building. And that left Hong's youngest
      son and head of the family trust, Roger, with the task of sorting
      through the papers and artifacts in the office.

      Some of the papers — mainly personal immigration files that stretch
      from the 1920s to the 1950s — will be donated to the Huntington
      Library.

      "This collection has been very much sought after," said Suellen
      Cheng, curator at the El Pueblo Historical Monument and executive
      director of the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles. "In the
      field of Asian American studies, this is a treasure."

      Hong, who was referred to by his first two initials, Y.C., was born
      in San Francisco in 1898. His father came to the United States to
      work on the railroads, but died when his son was only 5. That left
      his mother, Lee Shee, with a son and a daughter, whom she took care
      of by working as a cigar roller and seamstress, according to John G.
      Tomlinson Jr., who wrote about Hong in a USC law magazine.

      It was her hardship as a single parent that Hong recognized when he
      erected Central Plaza's now famous, neon-tinted, east gate facing
      Broadway in 1938 to commemorate mothers everywhere.

      He moved to Los Angeles after graduating from high school, and began
      teaching English to Chinese immigrants and worked as a bookkeeper in
      Chinese restaurants. Hong was dropped as a baby, causing a deformity
      that curved his spine much like a hunchback. Fully grown, he was
      only 5 feet 3, but his ambition and his American-accented English
      distinguished him, Roger Hong said.

      Hong became an interpreter for the U.S. Immigration Service in 1918,
      and was encouraged by a Japanese American at USC Law School to
      attend night classes. He enrolled, but was so poor that classmates
      had to lend him textbooks.

      Hong, the first Chinese American to graduate from USC Law School,
      passed the bar in 1923, becoming the first Chinese American to
      become a certified lawyer in California, Roger Hong said.

      Then Hong set up an immigration law practice in Chinatown and
      married Mabel Chin Qong, a U.S.-born Chinese American who graduated
      from Oregon State University.

      "For someone like him to show up and claim he was a lawyer at the
      time was pretty outrageous. But of course he had the credentials, so
      there was nothing they could do," said Hong's eldest son, Nowland, a
      litigator based in downtown Los Angeles.

      At the time, thousands of Chinese men who came to the United States —
      many of whom worked on the railroads, in laundries or as house
      boys — could not bring their wives or family over because of the
      Chinese Exclusion Act. Hong often had to argue meticulously for his
      clients, proving that many were American citizens and legally had
      the right to have their loved ones come here.

      Such was the case of U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew's family,
      which was separated for nearly two decades because of the Chinese
      Exclusion Act.

      "My father arrived in 1922, and it wasn't until 1939 that my mother
      and brother came," Lew said. "How Y.C. did that, I don't know."

      Lew's father encouraged him to follow in Hong's footsteps, which he
      did, passing the bar in 1971 and becoming a judge in 1982. Hong was
      something of a folk hero to Lew's father's generation when he
      testified before a U.S. Senate committee to advocate immigration
      reform while only 28 years old. He was also a prominent leader of
      the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, which fought for civil
      rights.

      "He was very small in stature, yet he was so powerful because of
      what he did," Lew said.

      Roger Hong, the youngest son, said Lew's family records probably are
      among the 6,500 client files he found in his father's office. He
      spent more than four years searching for a suitable institution to
      receive the papers — settling on the Huntington Library in 2003
      because it specialized in archival exhibits and is in one of
      Southern California's newer Chinese enclaves, San Marino.

      "Each file has a photograph, and they're in good condition," said
      Bill Frank, a curator at the library. "There's maps of villages, so
      it also tells us a great deal about life in China. We're very
      interested in the [Chinese character] typewriter too. It's a gold
      mine."

      The library also received such Hong family artifacts as photographs,
      documents, letters and books, which all will be made available to
      the public. The client files, the bulk of which are from the late
      1920s to the 1950s, are far more complicated. Many will remain
      protected under federal privacy laws unless the client has died or
      75 years has passed since the document was initiated, Frank said.

      Cheng, of the El Pueblo Historical Monument and Chinese American
      Museum, said not much research has been devoted to Hong, though he
      is known by Asian American historians.

      "However, once the Hong papers are made available, I would guess
      many scholars would be very interested in studying them," she said.

      As for the office building, it has acquired a great deal of
      sentimental value for Roger, 63, and his brother Nowland, 70. They
      would visit their father there when they were youngsters, often to
      get noodles and tea or eat at Little Joe's, an Italian restaurant
      that has since closed.

      In the kitchen, a glass soap dispenser is still half full. Vintage
      yellow tin cake covers and cookie jars lie on the counter. A sleek,
      shoulder-high, General Electric refrigerator is still stocked with
      all the firecrackers that Roger Hong's mother didn't want her sons
      to play with.

      Hong's office is surrounded by law journals. They are illuminated by
      a square ceiling lamp made of white frosted glass and brass strips
      evoking a Chinese screen door.

      Everywhere there are cardboard boxes, especially in the former
      waiting room where clients often sat with bags of groceries they
      used to pay Hong with for his services.

      The boxes were removed from the former Hong home in Country Club
      Park. The house was purchased in the 1930s for $1 from a white
      family friend who wanted to defy neighborhood laws that prevented
      Chinese from owning property. The family sold it in 1997 shortly
      before Mabel Chin Hong died.

      Hong's office building is being sold to Richard Liu, a Burmese
      Chinese interior architect who also bought two other buildings owned
      by the Hong family. He converted one into his company's headquarters
      and the other into a trendy store that sells Asian-inspired
      dishware, glassware and books.

      The buildings were completed in 1938 as part of the so-called New
      Chinatown that Hong and other community leaders designed after the
      construction of Union Station forced everyone out of the old
      Chinatown.

      The new Chinatown was the first Chinatown in America to be owned
      entirely by Chinese; it became a nightclub district for Hollywood
      celebrities in the 1940s and '50s.

      The Hong buildings had many lives. Some as restaurants. Others as
      banks. One was an underground nightclub that once served as the
      city's punk rock epicenter.

      But Roger Hong says one thing will live on: his father's private
      office, which the new owner assured he will retain almost the same.

      "I wouldn't have sold the building if I didn't find the right
      person," Roger Hong said. "We have a culture here in L.A. that needs
      to be preserved."


      ===========


      http://www.camla.org/usc/ychong.htm
      The life of You Chung Hong (1898-1977), the first Chinese student to
      graduate from the USC Law School, was a model of education success,
      professional accomplishment, civic engagement and philanthropic
      largess. The son of poor Chinese immigrants, Hong was the first
      person in his family to enter college and the first to study law;
      his achievements as a Los Angeles attorney earned him financial
      reward and civic regard in ways that were unimaginable to his
      parents.

      Like many 19th century Chinese, You Chung Hong's father arrived in
      California to work as a laborer on railroad construction and in the
      state's borax mine. Death came in 1903 to the senior Hong, leaving
      his son Y.C. and a sister in the care of their mother who, having
      never learned English, eked out a living in San Francisco as a cigar
      roller and seamstress. Following his high school graduation in 1915,
      Y. C. Hong founded an English language school for Chinese immigrants
      while working as a bookkeeper in several Chinese restaurants. Moving
      to Los Angeles around 1918, he began translating for the United
      States Immigration Service. There, a Japanese interpreter who was
      attending the USC Law School extolled the benefits of studying law,
      especially with an eye toward practicing immigration law.

      In 1920, Hong enrolled in USC's four-year night program, held in the
      Tajo Building at First and Broadway. The sole support of his family,
      Hong was so poor he could not afford to purchase textbooks; he
      depended upon the kindness of classmates willing to loan their
      books, as well as his ability to recall, sentence-by-sentence, law
      school lectures. He passed the Bar in 1923, becoming the first
      Chinese-American to practice law in California. Law School Dean
      Frank M. Porter nonetheless persuaded Hong to finish not one but two
      degrees in law at USC; and after completing an LL.B. in 1924 and a
      LL.M. in 1925, Hong established a practice in Chinatown.

      Both immigration law and his tireless work on behalf of Chinese-
      American civil rights were central to Y.C. Hong's practice and life.
      For 50 years, Chinese-Americans regarded him as the country's
      foremost Chinese attorney, a reputation based on his relentless work
      to repeal the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. He testified
      before the U.S. Senate Hearing Committee in immigration laws before
      he was 30 years old and, at the age of 28, he was elected president
      of the Los Angeles chapter of the Chinese-American Citizens Alliance
      (C.A.C.A.), which was founded in 1895 to quicken the spirit of
      American patriotism, to insure the legal rights of its members and
      to secure equal economical and political opportunities for its
      members. The Chinese Times, the journal of C.A.C.A., was the popular
      medium through which Hong advanced his views on Chinese community
      affairs.

      Hong was keenly involved in the construction of New Chinatown in
      1938, providing legal advice and personal investments. Moving his
      practice to 445 Ginling Way represented the confluence of law,
      community and wealth. Here he gave flight to his philanthropic side,
      especially but not exclusively for the Chinese community. The Law
      School, for example, continues to benefit from his happy association
      with USC. Presently two scholarship funds, one managed by the
      Southern California Chinese Lawyers' Association, provide assistance
      for law students in Y.C. Hong's honor; and the education of several
      USC law students was financed by Y. C. Hong awards, a testament to
      the school which so shaped his life in law and community. Two sons
      attended USC; Nowland, a 1959 graduate of the Law School, and Roger,
      who earned degrees in architecture (1965) and urban and regional
      planning (1968).


      ====


      Nowland C. Hong
      By Karen Restivo
      http://www.mcca.com/site/data/lawfirms/outstandingoc/hong1201.htm


      Son of the First Chinese lawyer to Pass the California Bar
      Despite bias against Chinese-Americans that persists to this day,
      Nowland C. Hong's father, You Chung Hong, became the first lawyer of
      Chinese descent to pass the California bar in 1923.

      You Chung Hong's successes did not come without sacrifice, however.
      The sole supporter of his family, You Chung Hong worked days as a
      translator for the United States Immigration Service while attending
      law school at night. Because he could not afford to buy books, he
      relied on his photographic memory and the consideration of
      classmates who allowed him to borrow their books. Later, he
      succeeded in earning not one but two law degrees.

      You Chung Hong's work to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882,
      his testimony before the United States Senate Hearing Committee on
      Immigration Laws, and his role in the construction of New Chinatown
      in 1938in terms of legal advice and personal investments earned You
      Chung Hong a reputation as the country's foremost Chinese attorney.

      Growing up with that legacy, Nowland Hong was inspired to follow the
      path his father blazed. He received his J.D. from the University of
      Southern California Law School, his father's alma mater. "It didn't
      take shows like L.A. Law or The Practice to spark my interest in the
      law. My father made the everyday practice of law seem just as
      challenging," the younger Hong said.

      Nowland Hong's 40-year passion for the law has earned him second-
      generation recognition in the Asian-American community. He was one
      of the founding members and president for two unprecedented terms of
      the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association, which gave rise
      to and assisted in the founding of numerous other ethnic bar
      associations throughout the state. Nowland Hong was also past grand
      president of the Chinese American Citizen's Alliance, the oldest
      Chinese American civil rights group in the country.

      In reflecting on his professional career, Hong notes that having a
      distinct ethnic background has been highly advantageous. "At a time
      when it was unusual for a person of oriental extraction to be
      handling matters of substantial magnitude, I stood out as being
      reliable and capable of handling complex litigation. Judges and
      clients therefore remembered me."

      He is also known to put out fires. Legal ones, that is. And, is
      probably best known for his precedent-setting work on the 1980 MGM
      Grand Hotel, Las Vegas fire case. He successfully negotiated a
      settlement on behalf of a major contractor of the hotel with the
      Plaintiffs' Committee, who represented practically all of the 700-
      plus injured plaintiffs and family members of the 85 deceased
      victims of the fire.

      Presently, Nowland Hong is a shareholder with the Los Angeles
      downtown law firm of Brown, Winfield, and Canzoneri. He specializes
      in class-action litigation and large complex matters in the areas of
      municipal law, general business, trusts, insurance, construction and
      eminent domain litigation for clients in both the private and
      governmental sectors.

      From the December 2001 issue of Diversity & The Bar®


      =====


      Los Angeles Attorney, Y. C. Hong, Helped Many to Clear Immigration
      Hong was the first Chinese-American to graduate in law from
      University of Southern California (U.S.C.) and first to pass the bar
      exam to practice law in California in 1924-1925.
      http://www.apa.si.edu/ongoldmountain/gallery4/gallery4.html


      Y. C. Hong worked tirelessly to defend Chinese immigration and
      Chinese American civil rights. America's foremost Chinese attorney,
      Hong was the son of nineteenth-century immigrants. His father worked
      in railroad construction and the state's borax mines, while his
      mother labored as a cigar roller and seamstress. Hong's interest in
      immigration law stemmed from his work as a translator for the United
      States Immigration Service, beginning in 1918. A graduate of the
      University of Southern California Law School, Hong passed the bar in
      1923, becoming the first Chinese American to practice California
      law. Before he was 30, Y. C. Hong testified before the U. S. Senate
      arguing for repeal the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and
      was elected president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Chinese
      American Citizens Alliance.


      =======


      Legal Unprecedent
      http://www.usc.edu/dept/pubrel/trojan_family/summer98/FourLives/lives
      1.html


      The life of You Chung Hong (1898-1977), the first Chinese student to
      graduate from the USC Law School, was a model of educational
      success, professional accomplishment, civic engagement and
      philanthropic largess. The son of poor Chinese immigrants, Hong was
      the first person in his family to enter college and the first to
      study law; his achievements as a Los Angeles attorney earned him
      financial reward and civic regard in ways that were unimaginable to
      his parents.

      Like many 19th-century Chinese, You Chung Hong's father arrived in
      California to work as a laborer on railroad construction and in the
      state's borax mine. Death came in 1903 to the senior Hong, leaving
      his son Y.C. and a sister in the care of their mother who, having
      never learned English, eked out a living in San Francisco as a cigar
      roller and seamstress. Following his high school graduation in 1915,
      Y. C. Hong founded an English language school for Chinese immigrants
      while working as a bookkeeper in several Chinese restaurants. Moving
      to Los Angeles around 1918, he began translating for the United
      States Immigration Service. There, a Japanese interpreter who was
      attending the USC Law School extolled the benefits of studying law,
      especially with an eye toward practicing immigration law.

      In 1920, Hong enrolled in USC's four-year night program, held in the
      Tajo Building at First and Broadway. The sole support of his family,
      Hong was so poor he could not afford to purchase textbooks; he
      depended upon the kindness of classmates willing to loan their
      books, as well as his ability to recall, sentence-by-sentence, law
      school lectures. He passed the Bar in 1923, becoming the first
      Chinese-American to practice law in California. Law School Dean
      Frank M. Porter nonetheless persuaded Hong to finish not one but two
      degrees in law at USC; and after completing an LL.B. in 1924 and a
      LL.M. in 1925, Hong established a practice in Chinatown.

      Both immigration law and his tireless work on behalf of Chinese-
      American civil rights were central to Y.C. Hong's practice and life.
      For 50 years, Chinese-Americans regarded him as the country's
      foremost Chinese attorney, a reputation based on his relentless work
      to repeal the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. He testified
      before the U.S. Senate Hearing Committee on immigration laws before
      he was 30 years old and, at the age of 28, he was elected president
      of the Los Angeles chapter of the Chinese-American Citizens Alliance
      (C.A.C.A.), which was founded in 1895 to "quicken the spirit of
      American patriotism, to insure the legal rights of its members and
      to secure equal economical and political opportunities for its
      members." The Chinese Times, the journal of C.A.C.A., was the
      popular medium through which Hong advanced his views on Chinese
      community affairs.

      Hong was keenly involved in the construction of New Chinatown in
      1938, providing legal advice and personal investments. Moving his
      practice to 445 Ginling Way represented the confluence of law,
      community and wealth. Here he gave flight to his philanthropic side,
      especially but not exclusively for the Chinese community. The Law
      School, for example, continues to benefit from his happy association
      with USC. Presently two scholarship funds, one managed by the
      Southern California Chinese Lawyers' Association, provide assistance
      for law students in Y.C. Hong's honor; and the education of several
      USC law students was financed by Y. C. Hong awards, a testament to
      the school which so shaped his life in law and community. Two sons
      attended USC: Nowland, a 1959 graduate of the Law School, and Roger,
      who earned degrees in architecture (1965) and urban and regional
      planning (1968).


      =


      1924
      http://www.usc.edu/dept/pubrel/trojan_family/summer00/Law/law.html
      You Chung Hong JD '24, LLM '25 graduates. Hong was the first Chinese
      American admitted to practice in California and went on to become
      the nation's foremost Chinese civil rights attorney over the next
      four decades.
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