This Month in History: Fong See & Leticie Pruett
Fong See & Leticie Pruett:
An Untraditional Love Story
The saga of the See family, as depicted by Lisa See in her book “On Gold Mountain”, would have unfolded in a different way. After establishing his business in Los Angeles, Fong See, along with his wife and five children, went back to China to visit his family in 1919. Upon their return to the United States, they were denied re-entry and an investigation was conducted. Immigrant Investigator, W. G. Becktell, stated that “there appear[ed] to be some conflict of opinion as to whether an American-born white woman married to a domiciled Chinese merchant should be given a Form, or should be handled strictly under the Immigration Law.”1 This indiscretion led to some controversy regarding the sensitive issue of Chinese immigration. Eventually, the debate settled and the necessary forms were filed and approved.
On July 3, 1919, the See family was cleared by immigration officials and was allowed re-entry to the United States. Because of this, the See family did not have to return to China and Leticie, an American, was able to return to her homeland with her American-born children and naturalized husband. This scenario, although under unique circumstances, mirrors the discrimination against Chinese and even Chinese Americans who were already allowed into the US. The Chinese Exclusion Act prevented many from immigrating to the US and for many years, there is a discrepancy to the number of male immigrants to female immigrants that made it hard for these men to start a family.
Fong See came to the United States in 1871 as a fourteen-year old searching for his father, a doctor who had been employed by the railroad industry to administer to Chinese workers who were suspicious of Western doctors and their medical practices. Upon his father’s return to China, Fong See and his two brothers took over his apothecary business. It was at his father’s shop when one fateful day, Leticie Pruett, an eighteen-year old runaway from Oregon, came asking for a job. While working at the shop, Fong and Leticie developed a relationship and in 1897, they were contractually married through a lawyer since interracial marriages were against the law at that time.2
You can read more about Fong See and Leticie’s story in the book “On Gold Mountain”, by the See’s great-granddaughter, Lisa See. An exhibition with the same title, was shown at the Smithsonian in 2001 that featured Lisa See as one of the speakers.
1 “Immigration Memorandum re Mrs. Fong See,” The Columbia Documentary History of the Asian American Experience.
2 “From China to Chinatown: Fong See’s American Dream,” http://socialstudiesk-12stpaul.pbworks.com/f/Fong+See+Reading.doc