Arizona Chinese: A History

1998 commemorative of the Arizona Chinese
1998 commemorative of the Arizona Chinese

My maternal grandfather, We Fong (George) Ong, was born in Phoenix (1903-1995), and was the first American-born Chinese (ABC) in Arizona.  His parents, my great grandparents, traveled from San Francisco to Arizona in the late 1890’s where they started a dry goods business through the Sun Mercantile Company, operated by distant cousins. Their business served mainly the Mexican and Native American communities at a time when there were about one hundred Chinese men and only ten Chinese women in Phoenix; and well before Arizona achieved statehood in 1912. 

My family were among the first Chinese immigrants settling and developing small businesses in Arizona. Many were of the Ong and Tang Clans hailing from the Hoiping region of Guangdong province. Despite a hostile social environment of racism and discrimination, immigrants and their children created a niche in which by the 1930’s, there were more than 100 Chinese families operating small grocery stores and restaurants. Fascinating yet very typical at that time! 

Grandpa Ong, who only completed the 8th grade, grew his own grocery business -- the Village Market -- which reopened as a supermarket at North 32nd and East Osborn in Phoenix in the early 1950’s.  Several Chinese grocerers’ children became the first Chinese-American lawyers in Arizona, and entered mainstream political life.  Notably, Thomas Tang, my grandfather’s first cousin, became the first Chinese-American appointed to the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Place(s): Phoenix, Arizona

– Steve Yip

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more