The immigrant experience is as old as America itself. The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West recently held a symposium called “Migrant Letters,” devoted to correspondence from 20th-century Chinese and Mexican immigrants to California. Changing immigration laws, job opportunities, acclimation to a new culture — their experiences echo today’s issues. These letters have been edited for clarity and condensed.
FROM DR. GEORGE CHAN, PORTLAND, ORE., TO ATTORNEY Y.C. HONG, LOS ANGELES, 1930
Dear Mr. Hong:
I am writing for Mr. Chow Yick again. I didn’t quite understand him in the first place. That he is not a American Citizen himself, but his father is. So he is a native born son. Before he even enter in U.S.A. his wife is in the family way & a child was borned 3 months after he was in this country. Will his boy [be] entitled to admission to this country? Kindly let me hear from you again and oblige.
Dr. Geo. Chan
FROM FRED CHANG, OVERSEAS, TO ATTORNEY Y.C. HONG, LOS ANGELES, 1934
My Dear Mr. Hong,
Gee Mr. Hong, I’m very worrying ’cause I heard some bad news that the “citizen papers” might not allow [me] to go back to United States. They fighting in America now, is it right Mr. Hong? If so please let me know immediately.
Somebody told me if [the] “citizenship paper” [bill is signed] no matter those has been in United States or those newcomers unable to get in America. If it is true please write or wire to me right immediately. And please wire to my father about it.
Hoping to hear from you real soon.
Your true friend
[P.S.] My citizenship paper name is Chin Dip Yen
FROM ROGELIO MARTÍNEZ SERNA, LOS ANGELES, TO PACO CHÁVEZ, MEXICO, 1962
I hope that you find yourself well, as I do here, thanks to God. Listen, I am waiting for your letter and no more. What’s up? I am here now, Paco, in Los Angeles. … It’s a good time here. I myself came through Tijuana, as you know. … I am going to tell you: look, if your papers are not somewhat in good shape, it’s better you come to Tijuana [and] there take your local card and you will be here in Los Angeles.
Listen, here “la migra” never bothers you because it is almost pure chicano here. I accommodated myself quickly in a restaurant here in the center of Los Angeles. I don’t work full-time: three to four day per week and I make $1.25 per hour. Come on, Paco, here the scene is more than good.
Here you will see millions and all work more than I. Here it is the biggest, like nothing you [can] imagine. The day that I came here I obtained a job as a busboy at Woolworth’s, but I could not because of the lack of a Social Security card and now that I obtained it, I can work wherever I want; it is the only thing they seek, the Social Security.
I say goodbye as always: Attentively yours and salutations.
To submit a Letter to the Editor: Email Us
Please include the writer’s address and phone number. Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity.