Justice Department Letter

Relationship: Child of im/migrant

After the end of WWII, my father, Po Lee, came to the US to do his graduate work in Physics, studying at U.C. Berkeley and USC. He took the name “Abraham” in honor of what he idealized most about American freedom. Just a few months after receiving his doctorate, he received this letter dated October 4, 1951. It was from the Justice Department, telling him that he was not allowed to leave the country. Cold War paranoia had led to fears that he and other Chinese scientists might give nuclear secrets to China. This restriction affected all our lives. Instead of returning to China, he stayed in the US and was introduced to my mother, Feng Ming Young, who was a visiting professor from the Provincial Taipei Nursing College. The order “temporarily" preventing his departure from the U.S. was finally revoked November 1, 1954. He and my mother moved to Taiwan, where he taught Physics at several universities and where my oldest sister was born. He returned to the U.S. in 1958, where he lived for the rest of his life, teaching Physics at St. Peter’s College in New Jersey. He always talked about how science should be used for the peaceful advancement of humankind. As a teenager, I found it so strange when he first told me the story of having been restricted by the US government. He showed me this letter, which he had kept all this time. After his death in 2009, it came to me: a reminder of all the ways that so many live in fear when politics are governed by fear and ignorance.

Place(s): California, Taiwan, New Jersey

– Josephine Lee, Professor of English and Asian American Studies, University of Minnesota

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant