July 2, 2009 | Yvonne Lim Wilson
The Aguallo family had a solid connection with their Hispanic roots, but knew very little about their Chinese background. There was a sense that something was a little different about their family.
Teri Sing Aguallo remembers friends coming over for a snack, and instead of tacos, they were offered rice.
“There was always a pot of rice on the stove,” she said.
Aguallo never knew the details about her great grandfather Joe Sing until they found an old box in the attic.
“We never made the connection until we saw the documents, and it literally was a box in the attic. There he was. We discovered his name,” she said.
It turns out that Joe Sing was one of the first Asians to settle in Austin.
The Asian American Cultural Center and Austin History Center held a tea reception on April 24 to recognize the first five families in Austin. The descendants of Joe Sing, Joe Lung, Fred Wong, Harry Ng, and Duke Tu were present at the Asian American Cultural Center for the event.
In 1875, only 20 Chinese lived in Austin, mainly working in the laundry and restaurant business, according to Esther Chung, neighborhood liaison for the Austin History Center.
“We now have over 10,000 Chinese Americans in Austin working in every industry. They are contributing to the incredible culture and success of our city,” Chung said.
Chung works to preserve and document the history of Asians in Austin by collecting original documents, photos and oral histories.
“We want to preserve that history – your old photos, what you consider ‘junk’ are very precious treasures,” she said.
Amy Wong Mok, founder and CEO of the Asian American Cultural Center, added, “If we don’t document our history, then we are not here.”
It was an amazing event, connecting past to present. There was a sense of connection and a warmth of familiarity at the event as descendants of these early settlers got together.
Larry Tu, son of Duke Tu thought back to what life might have like for Chinese in Texas fifty years ago.
“They found Texas to be a very welcoming place. That history gets lost,” he said. “There were a bunch of Chinese soldiers in Austin, Texas – who were these guys?”
Zhou Ding, Deputy Counsul General of the People’s Republic of China, spoke of the special connection between China and Chinese Americans.
“I cannot imagine 100 years ago what it was like here. When I see you, I still feel we are relatives,” Zhou said. “I salute your contributions to your community here in Austin. You and your relatives were really good representatives to China. You’ve been a bridge to China and U.S. and contribute to the friendship between China and the U.S. Let’s continue to be proud of our Chinese connections.”
What follows are brief notes provided by Esther Chung about the five first Asian settlers of Austin honored at the event.
Joe Sing came through Shreveport, Louisiana in 1892. He moved to Austin shortly after and started Hong Lee Laundry on Fifth and Congress. This business catered to many of the legislators at the Capitol. Joe Sing married Francis Moreno and had four kids. With us tonight are Mary Frances Aguallo, granddaughter of Joe Sing, and her family.
Joe Lung worked on the Houston & Texas Railway with his brother. He married Dora Wong in Calvert then moved to Austin in 1906. They initially started Lung Café on 204 Congress then opened up two more restaurants, Lung’s Chinese Kitchen and Cocina del Sur. These establishments were very popular and are still fondly remembered by long-time residents of Austin. With us today are Joe Lung, Jr., grand-son of Joe Lung, and his sister, Meiling Lung.
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. This business served the East Austin community with an affordable grocery store and free delivery service. Subsequently, they opened several more markets called TakHom Foods and 10 til 10 all over town. They also built and rented many apartment homes. Fred Wong served as a Rollingwood Councilman and R.C. became a well-known artist, famous for her portraits and philanthropic work. With us today are R.C. Wong and two of her kids, Dr. Mitchel Wong, Kay Wong Flowers and her grandkids, Michael, Shannon, Patrick, and many of her great-grandchildren. [Of note: Dr. Mitchel Wong was first Chinese boy born in Austin.]
Harry and Lee Ng came to Austin in 1925. Harry ran two Chinese restaurants in town, Sam Wah Café and Lim Ting. These restaurants served many local politicians, including Lyndon B. Johnson. The restaurant was featured in the newspapers and TV around Chinese New Year Celebrations. With us tonight are William Ng, son of Harry Ng, and his family.
Duke Tu was one of the FAB-100, 100 Chinese military officers who were sent to America to be interpreters for Chinese pilots training for a top-secret mission during WWII. Some of them were sent to Bergstrom Army Air Field in Austin and Duke Tu was one of them. His son, Larry Tu, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Dell, is with us tonight along with his wife Betsy Ashcraft.
For more information about these five families, additional history about Asians in Austin or if you would like to contribute historical items, please contact Esther Chung at the Austin History Center 512-974-7394, firstname.lastname@example.org.