Victoria Moy’s first interview with a Chinese American veteran took place when she was only eight years old. A third-grade classroom assignment about Ellis Island required that she interview an immigrant, and Moy interviewed her grandfather.
“What he told me was so hard to hear,” Moy recently told an audience of military-affiliated students and other members of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill community.
The Carolina Veterans Resource Center within the Office of the Dean of Students and The Graduate School’s Diversity and Student Success program sponsored her Nov. 8 talk. Afterward, Moy had lunch with military-affiliated students and Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Grads. She then led a writing workshop for students.
Tommy Moy was born Kwong D. Hom in China, where he lived with his mother and grandmother. He had never met his father, who had gone to America to help build railroads and had lost touch with his family in China. After numerous challenges, the 13-year old arrived at Ellis Island in 1933 and went to Rhode Island, where he worked and lived in his cousin’s laundry when he was not in school. “He was the only Chinese person in his high school in Rhode Island,” says Victoria Moy, his granddaughter.
Tommy Moy graduated from high school near the time the United States entered World War II, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army. “The happiest moment of his life,” says Victoria Moy, “was in the Army with ‘the boys.’ He was very proud to be an American.”
From that formative interview with her grandfather, Victoria Moy later went on to interview dozens of Chinese American veterans, featuring 40 oral histories – 41, including her grandfather’s history in the introduction – in her book, Fighting for the Dream: Voices of Chinese American Veterans from World War II to Afghanistan.
Estimates are that of the 77,504 Chinese Americans living in the World War II-era United States, as many as 25 percent served in the U.S. Armed Forces. This compares to about 11.5 percent of the overall U.S. population who served. Moy recounts that there were few Chinese American women in the United States at that time, but that a significant percentage of these women joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES).
After his wartime service, Tommy Moy traveled back to China and married, yet it took 12 years before his wife and son gained entrance to the United States. “It took four generations in America before my entire nuclear family could live on one continent, where my parents could watch their children grow under their own care,” says Victoria Moy.
Victoria Moy has vibrant childhood memories of holiday gatherings at her grandfather’s American Legion Post in New York City. Then, when she was in her 20s and a reporter for a radio station, she covered a Veterans Day parade in Chinatown; she interviewed Chinese American veterans with varied military experience and ages. When she went to libraries, searching for more information on Chinese American military service, she found few resources. She decided to find as much information as she could by conducting, and collecting, veterans’ own personal histories. The process of writing the book took seven years, she says – “the last two and a half while I was in graduate school.”
In her talk, Moy encouraged all U.S. military veterans to share their experiences, so other Americans can learn about their service.
“We have a responsibility to understand the lives of people who sacrificed so much for our country and our freedom.”
By Deb Saine