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A look inside: Stories of Chinese American veterans from WWII to Afghanistan

Victoria Moy is a New York-born, Los Angeles-based writer. She is the author of  the book Fighting for the Dream: Voices of Chinese American Veterans from World War II to Afghanistan,  an anthology of the oral histories of 40 Chinese-American men and women who served in the American armed forces from World War II to the U.S. War in Afghanistan. Moy talked to Alhambra Source about how she went from researching her own family history to writing a book on Chinese-American war stories that are overlooked, even within the Chinese-American community.

What started your interest in the history of Chinese-American veterans?

I grew up in Chinatown in New York City. I had a grandpa who had come to America as a paper son, then joined an all Chinese-American unit that was sent to support the Flying Tigers in China during WWII. My grandpa always took me to the American Legion Post in Chinatown for Thanksgiving and Christmas parties where I saw my Chinese-American classmates and their grandfathers. It was interesting that so many of my friends had grandfathers who were also veterans. Since then, I became interested in the topic of Chinese-American veterans.

But, what made me decide to write this book was a veteran parade in New York City where I met four generations of Chinese-American veterans. They were WWII veterans, Korean War veterans, Vietnam War veterans and some younger veterans, who were my age, coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. They told me, “If you are a writer, you should write about us.” Then I did some research and realized that no one had done a book for Chinese-American veterans across generations yet. So I decided to record their stories.

Book cover of Fighting for the Dream: Voices of Chinese American Veterans from World War II to Afghanistan

Who is the first veteran that you interviewed for this book? What is his/her story?

I met a young man named Pakee Fang at that parade. He emigrated with his parents from China at the age of 10. He was recruited as a Marine in his high school before 9/11. He thought he might get an education and opportunities to travel if he joined the military. So he left Chinatown at the age of 18 for the first time since he arrived.

He went to boot camp where he experienced extreme culture shock. Then he was sent to Iraq after 9/11, and assigned one of the most dangerous jobs: finding explosives. After Iraq, he was sent to Africa where he made a local friend who wanted to give his sister to Fang as a present. When he came back and went back to school, he transformed from a C student to a 4.0 GPA student.

I am not saying military is great or terrible for everyone. There is no one general Chinese-American veteran experience or military history. There are certain things that repeat. But every story is unique in its own way. I think we can only come closer to the truth when we have as many different perspectives as possible. That’s why I wrote this book as an oral history collection.

Moy with Chinese American veterans in New York

Is the Chinese American veterans' history well-known in the Chinese community?

I came across this information by accident. When my grandfather told me I had a great-grandfather who came to America to work on the railroads, I asked my father if he knew about that. He said he never had a conversation with his father about our family history, because “we were always working”. I think that is true for many other families who are struggling with working and don’t have time to sit down and have a talk.

For some Chinese-Americans, they are looking forward but don’t look back. I think, to be strong, you have to know what’s happening in front and back. There can be disconnect between different generations. But we still go through a lot of the same things. Most people of my background do not know about our history. I want other Chinese-Americans like me to know about it.

What does this book mean to you?

Victoria Moy, author of Fighting for the Dream: Voices of Chinese American Veterans from World War II to Afghanistan

I have a much greater understanding of myself after compiling these stories, talking to people about what it means to negotiate being a Chinese-American in other eras and centuries. It was very interesting for me as someone who was born in the 80s.

For instance, there is one story about Jerry Miki in my book. He was born in Hawaii as a son of his Chinese-American mother and Japanese-American father. He said after Pearl Harbor, everyone in Hawaii had to be 100 percent American as apple pie. People who spoke Chinese or Japanese would be questioned about their loyalty. It helped me to know that I am not the first, or my generation is not the first to have gone through the dual identity struggle. This struggle has exsited among us as long as the Chinese have been in America. 

Do you have any suggestions for young Chinese-Americans who want to join the military? Or for some new immigrants who are considering joining the military as a shortcut to fit into American society, or to get a green card or citizenship?

Some of the veterans I interviewed from Chinatown came from broken homes and other bad situations. Joining the military was an escape. Some had positive experiences. Others did not. There was Danny Chen who committed suicide in Afghanistan.

Another reason why I decided to put this book together is that I don’t want people to blindly volunteer themselves for six to eight years without knowing what could happen. I want people to know that whatever difficult experience they’re facing is probably not something we are facing for the first time. We have been here many generations, we have a foundation, support and people who we can talk to and ask for help.

Editor's note: This interview was edited and condensed.

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1 thought on “A look inside: Stories of Chinese American veterans from WWII to Afghanistan”

  1. Good article; in every war in which American has been involved, every racial/ethnic/religious group have been involved, starting with the Revolutionary War when many Negroes fought for America (but have never been given credit – I use the term “Negroes” because that was the common use at that time).