Winston Ho 何嶸.
University of New Orleans,
Department of History 紐奧良大學歷史學系.
2020 Jan. 20, MLK Monday.
[Yip family in Taishan in 1933. From right to left: Wally Yip, Chee See, Poy Yip, daughter of Poy Yip (either Yip King Fong or Yip Yee Ping), Leung Kam Yuk, and Tommy Yip. Photograph courtesy of Jeannette Yip Hew.]
I don’t normally study families histories or genealogies, as this kind of research requires a great deal of time and can get very confusing. However, the extended Yip family is important to New Orleans history and deserves special attention.
The photograph attached to this article comes to us courtesy of Jeannette Hew, who has been conducting extensive research on her family. Mrs. Hew’s maiden name is Yip, and this is a photograph of the Yip family in Taishan (Hoishan) county, Guangdong province 廣東省台山縣, in 1933.
Jeannette Hew 葉月明 is the daughter and eldest child of Yip Wah Sim 葉華深 (1923 Feb. 8 → 2012 Jul. 13), who was better known as “Wallace S. Yip.” Wally Yip appears at the age of 10 on the far right of this photograph, shortly before he immigrated to the United States.
[PfC Wally Yip in 1943. Photograph courtesy of Jeannette Yip Hew.]
Yip was childhood friends with Beck Gee from Leland, in the Mississippi Delta, and Wally Yip often spent his summers working at the Gee family grocery store. During the Second World War, Wally Yip served as a mortarman in the U.S. Army and participated in the Normandy invasion. I’ve written an article for Mr. Yip on my website.
Wally Yip was the son of Poy Yip 葉培 (1877? → 1940s), who is the elderly gentleman in the center of this photograph. Poy Yip had two Chinese names. His other name was Yip Jung Kwan 葉仲君, and this may have been his “official name” — the name that appears in the Yip family genealogies. Poy Yip was the name that appears on his immigration papers, and this may have been a courtesy name — a name adopted when a boy reaches adulthood.
[Poy Yip in the 1930s or 1940s. Photograph courtesy of Jeannette Hew.]
Poy Yip was a farmer in California. His official immigration records say he first arrived in the U.S. in 1908, two years after the San Francisco earthquake, though I suspect he may have been in California before this. I also suspect he was not a common laborer. He could speak and write English proficiently, so he may have been a foreman who managed other Chinese laborers.
Poy Yip had two wives. The first wife was Chee See (Gee Shee), and she is the elderly woman on the left of Poy Yip. Poy Yip and Chee See were probably arranged to be married by their parents, as most Chinese marriages were arranged at the turn-of-the-century.
A daughter was born from this marriage, Yip Hong Koon (Yip Shee), who married a laundryman turned restauranteur from New Orleans named Lee Bing. Yip Shee is not in this photograph because she was living in New Orleans with her husband in 1933. Yip Shee and Lee Bing raised eight children together, including Harry Lee 朱家祥, the former sheriff of Jefferson Parish. That makes Poy Yip and Chee See the maternal grandparents of Harry Lee, and the great-grandparents of Cynthia Lee-Sheng, the current parish president of Jefferson Parish. That also makes Wally Yip the uncle of Harry Lee, and Jeanette Hew a cousin of Cynthia Lee-Sheng.
[Leung Kam Yuk in the 1960s or 1970s. Photograph courtesy of Jeannette Yip Hew.]
However, no sons were born from this marriage, and Poy Yip married a secondary wife — a concubine — named Leung Kam Yuk. This second wife is the young woman on the left of the 1933 photograph, and she is the mother of Wally Yip. Leung Kam Yuk and Poy Yip raised four children together, including another son and two daughters. Wally Yip was the eldest of the four. One of Wally’s younger sisters is on the left of his mother.
In addition to marrying a second wife, Poy Yip adopted a son named Tong Sim Yip, better known as Tommy Yip, who appears on the far right of this photograph. Tommy is slightly older than his adopted brother Wally. According to Jeannette Hew, Tommy’s original surname was “Wong,” though Tommy’s father was a relative of Poy Yip. Tommy’s father died young with no other children, and Tommy’s mother married another man, who refused to raise the child. Poy Yip was without a son at the time, so he adopted Tommy and raised him as his own.
Research is ongoing with the extended Yip family, but this family history demonstrates a very important idea. In traditional Chinese culture, raising sons was a life insurance policy and retirement plan. Sons and their wives would care for their parents in old age, while married daughters would care for their in-laws. Thus, the desire to produce sons was a matter of great importance, and daughters were not important. The Chinese saying was that raising daughters was like raising someone else’s crops.
In fact, Poy Yip and Chee See did raise one son, but he died before reaching adulthood. Childhood mortality was high in this age of war, famine, disease, and lack of access to modern healthcare – the main reason why Chinese families were so large at this time. Thus, even though he had an adult daughter, Poy Yip resorted to adopting a relative’s son and marrying a concubine to ensure that someone could provide for him and his wife.
[Photograph of Yip Hong Koon (Yip Shee) in New Orleans in 1933 with her husband, Lee Bing, and three children, May, Hellen, and Harry. Yip Shee and Lee Bing would add another five children to the family later. Photograph from Deno Seder’s 2001 biography of sheriff Harry Lee, Wild About Harry.]
Nonetheless, their daughter, Yip Shee, was supporting her parents financially, even though she was living with her husband in New Orleans. Several interviews with Harry Lee and his brothers and sisters indicate that their mother was constantly sending money back to their relatives in Taishan. This money was probably received by her parents to support her step-brothers and step-sisters as they were growing up in the 1920s and 1930s.
Even her step-brother, Wally Yip, moved to New Orleans in 1934 and lived with Yip Shee’s family. She effectively became Wally’s surrogate mother, though she had eight children of her own to raise, and her family had little money to begin with. As a child, Wally worked in the Lee family laundry, shined shoes, delivered newspapers, picked cotton on a plantation, and stocked shelves at the Gee family store every summer to help support his family – all while going to school like everyone else. Though he barely spoke English when he first immigrated to this country, Wally Yip was an excellent student, learning to speak and write English fluently, and completing high school.
Interestingly, Wally Yip’s daughters served as his caregivers in old age, demonstrating how different yet similar modern Chinese American values are from their Chinese ancestors.
NolaChinese: Yip Family 葉家族. Accessed from WordPress (https://nolachinese.wordpress.com/2020/01/20/yip-family/).
NolaChinese: Wally Yip 葉華深. Accessed from WordPress (https://nolachinese.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/wah-sim-wallace-yip/).
NolaChinese: Chinese Americans: Understanding History 北美華僑：歷史研究. Accessed from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-du-0FMXLgNJlV1OdNRPGqUCIZMBHklv).
American Ancestors: Chinese American Genealogy. Accessed form Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9loNNgBNJ8).