In 1968, the Wong family was one of the first Chinese families to move into 103 Orchard St, which today is a part of the Tenement Museum. The Wong family came at the tail end of a restricted period of immigration for Chinese due to 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law, but within months of their arrival Congress passed the 1965 Hart Celler Act. This law would open the doors to Chinese and Asian immigration for the first time.
The Wong children attended PS 42, and Alison Wong remembers there being a mix of children from different backgrounds, reflecting the diversity of the Lower East Side in the 1980’s. When the Tenement Museum talked to the Wong children about their memories of their childhood apartment, the desk they shared was very important to them. The desk represents not only school and their own achievements, but their mother’s dedication to their success.
All the Wong children recall how a college education was expected of them, and they all studied to make that a reality. Mrs. Wong’s work in the garment industry made that college education possible, both through savings, and friendships with other mothers in the factories who would trade advice.
In an interview with the Museum, Alison said,
“She probably didn’t think much of it, but now that I’ve heard, I didn’t realize how much she sacrificed for us. The work of a seamstress was so hard. She knew that education would lead us to better than what she did, as a seamstress or as a farmer’s daughter when she was back in China.”
– The Tenement Museum