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Oral history interview conducted by Cynthia Lee
February 26, 2012
Call number: 2011.019.021
CYNTHIA LEE: It is February 26, 2012. This is Cynthia Lee, interviewing BetteYee, for the "Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations" Brooklyn Historical Society Oral History Project. I'm here with Bette in her home, um, in Brooklyn, New York. Hi Bette.
BETTE YEE: Hi.
CYNTHIA LEE: Thanks for being here with me today. Um, why don't we just beginwith when you were born, and where, and um, we'll start from there.
BETTE YEE: Wow. I didn't know that we were going to go that far back. Um, Iwas born in Boston, Massachusetts, in Chinatown, on Harvard Street it must've been. Um, I only found that out much later on what street it was because, um, my brother Howard, um, had discovered -- was supposed to be Harvard, and this 1:00was only, like when he -- I was -- must've been about 12, and it was only because my -- that's when I saw the birth certificate, and it said, oh we were on Harvard Street, and my father said, yeah, Howard Street. And I says, is that what Howard was supposed to be? He said, yeah. (laughs) So that's how he became Howard. We couldn't figure out why he would like the name Howard, of all names, right? So yes. That's how life was like for us, being first generation. So, I was there for the first five years of my life, and there were four of us. Um, me, my brother Ed, who's 13 months younger than me, and then a year after my sister [Jeanie], and then my brother Danny. We all came, one, -- one right 2:00after the other. And then, um, because my dad had the opportunity or was called to New Hampshire, because one of our cousins, or one of his cousins, had a restaurant called the China Dragon, and so, my mother was interested in going. She had, because, she thought that it would get my father away from all his gambling, because he would play mahjong every night, and there's a lot of gambling in the -- in the houses, and within Chinatown. This, of course, I learned much later too. So, we -- he moved us, four kids, and -- and his wife to the China Dragon, and at that time it was called the China Dragon Inn. It was a big, um -- it seemed to be a big monstrosity of a house. I've never been in anything so large, but the upstairs, I guess, used to be like inns, and they 3:00had converted them to all bedrooms, and it was perfect. All the Chinese cooks were housed there, and my Uncle Harry and I don't quite get -- his name -- his last name was [Moy], and, um, all I kept hearing for the longest time was that he had to change his name because he came over, under another -- under another name which was very typical of what happens, but the Moys also had, um, um -- they had a different -- they seemed to have like different facial features, or different, like, looks than we did, and so I never really believed it. I just thought that we were all called aunts and uncles because we would call everybody aunts and uncles anyways, whether they were blood-related or not. Turns out they really are related. Anyways, Uncle Harry also at that time had four kids, all under the age of four, all under the age of five, because his daughter 4:00Harriet is actually one month older than me, and um, we all just stayed, you know, up there. Um, when we first -- and I don't know how long it was, uh, but I know that they were looking for the house that my father eventually bought under the GI Bill, because my father had served, you know, in the US Army as an infantryman, and um, you know, he got out in 1945, and it took him until 1948 to finally get my mother here, and that's a whole other story, which I don't know that you want me to get into, about how my mother got here.
CYNTHIA LEE: Well actually, why don't we step back a little bit to Boston.
BETTE YEE: OK.
CYNTHIA LEE: Do you remember anything about that time period, living there?
BETTE YEE: Well, it was really like -- you know, I was four, four and a half, orfive by the time I moved, and of course I never knew how old I was because 5:00Chinese never celebrate their birthdays.
CYNTHIA LEE: Can you explain that a little bit?
BETTE YEE: Well, I mean, we had the Chinese New Year, and I don't reallyremember celebrating Chinese New Year either, but it was never -- it was never -- we never knew about birthdays until we moved to New Hampshire, because all the other neighbor kids would have birthday parties, and I remember my mother laughing that they would have birthday parties for little kids. And it still never occurred to us, you know, that we had birthdays.
CYNTHIA LEE: Why would she laugh?
BETTE YEE: Uh, because you don't celebrate. You know, in the Chinese tradition,at least where my -- you know, at least what I knew, um, we were always told that it was silly because you don't -- you're not supposed to celebrate a birthday until after you're married, and then probably not until you're at least 40 or 50, um, uh, and I didn't know why. I just -- I just -- and that's all my 6:00mother would say. She would never explain anything, she'd just say that's just the way it is, you know, and of course, apples were bigger at home, at home meaning China, where she came from. Where really, she came from a village called [Toyson] and so the -- the vegetables were, you know, hardier, the oranges were juicier, the melons were fresher, whatever it was, it was always better back home, and we just grew up thinking that this -- this home was -- we knew it was far away, um, but there was just an image that it didn't exist, because she talked about it as though it was like a dreamland. So it never existed for us. And because we were the only Chinese family, I mean like, what we considered -- what my father would say, pure Chinese, because my Uncle Harry 7:00married a French Canadian woman, and his four kids were half-breeds, and that was somehow we were better than them. And just, just that little attitude, it -- it really shaped and colored the way we interacted with them. We played with them everyday, but you somehow at the end of the day, you just knew you were better. You know, it's just the way you carried yourself, and it wasn't even a conscious thing. It's never a conscious thing. You just, somehow well -- and sometimes you just felt sorry, you know, that they -- you know, because you knew that everybody was talking about them, they're half -- you know, like they're, uh, I don't know, there wasn't a name, but they used to call us, [juksans] which means, you know, the crooked bamboo. We weren't perfect because we were too Americanized, but they were even worse. They were way more Americanized than we were.
CYNTHIA LEE: And they didn't have a name necessarily.8:00
BETTE YEE: And they didn't have Chinese names. We had Chinese names, yeah. Andtheir name was Moy, not even, you know, daring to go back to Yee. Um, but the whole reason was for that, you know, later on they could have -- it was just that all the legal papers in opening up their restaurant was Moy, and it was just too difficult. Uh, everybody got to know them as Moys. So, um, we actually lived together in that old house with four bedrooms upstairs, um, the two family, so there were eight kids, you know, Uncle Harry, and his wife Terri, and their four kids, and um, my parents, and us four kids, and it was long enough -- time just, when you're a little kid, you just don't know about time, but it must have been more than a year because there were fifth kids, fifth childs born on both sides. You know, Howard was born, who was supposed to be 9:00Harvard, and then Quentin was born, on their side, uh, and they stayed there for a little while, before they got their own home, uh, which was only like maybe a half a mile down the road from us. Um, and I remember, we were always shy because, um, you know, Auntie [Terri], she was French Canadian, and um, she's just, you know, she didn't talk like us, and you know, we just didn't want to -- it's -- I don't know, when you're a little kid, you're just shy. You know, you get embarrassed, so we didn't have much interaction with them, but we -- but she always bought, you know, that first notion of Easter, she would buy everybody Easter eggs, and go on an Easter egg hunt, and that was the first time we actually -- because we moved from Boston. On the side of the house, was over -- was a yard that was overgrown with grass, and she hid the eggs in there, and 10:00her kids were like -- like banshees, and that we always kind of always thought of them as like banshees you know, like kind of these primitive people who would just like go out, you know, without any coats on, or without any shoes on, and they were like rough and tough kids. You know, not -- not like well-behaved, sophisticated like we were, and so that was the attitude, and that's -- that's kind of how you treated them, even though you played with them everyday, and you had a lot of fun, but you also knew that if they were a little strange, it was because they were half, you know, they were only half. And, um, but -- the first Christmas, that's the first time we ever celebrated Christmas was because of Auntie Terri, and it was just so much fun. But despite all of the -- despite all of the -- the acculturation, I guess, as I think of it now, and it's strange that I never thought about it in this light before. Um, the overall -- the 11:00overall cast of that, they always remain like half-breed, and thus, you know, not quite perfect. Always stayed there. It always stayed there. Um, and I -- that's -- again it's not a conscious thing, but you always -- it was always on top most of your mind. If they didn't do well in school, it's because they were half-breeds. If they didn't, you know, if they didn't behave, which they didn't not behave in the way that a good Chinese model person would, but -- but then on their report cards back then, you got As, Bs, and Cs, but then they also rated you on, uh, like whether you were outgoing, or quiet. I wish I still had some of the report cards, because out at recess, they would get higher marks than we were, for what -- I remember something like leadership, because they would take 12:00charge of things, and they -- they weren't afraid, and it was amazing, when people made fun of us, they weren't afraid to go down, to stand up and punch somebody, which meant that, you know, they were always having, you know, disciplinary problems, but we were just scared to death, you know, of making any kind of waves. So it didn't make us like admire them. They were just still a little off.
CYNTHIA LEE: So where -- where in New Hampshire were you, at this time?
BETTE YEE: This was Hooksett, New Hampshire, and --
CYNTHIA LEE: What -- what was that town like?
BETTE YEE: Well this is New Hampshire, where they -- where the slogan is still"Live Free or Die." Um, so little did I know that, um, little did I know how, um, how -- how racist, you know, the community was. Not to say that out neighbors, our neighbors were really nice. They always were trying to get us baptized. Um, so there's always that effort of, you know, you know, going -- 13:00you know, sending, there was always somebody, uh, asking my dad, if you know, if us kids couldn't go to Sunday school, uh you know, not so much the Catholics. It was really the Protestants who were doing that. So the first congregation list, and um, me, and my brother Ed, a little bit of Jean and Dan, but they were a little bit younger than we were. We were, uh, pulled into uh, um, becoming inaugurated or whatever they do, because they don't have baptisms, as a first congregation list.
CYNTHIA LEE: What year is this -- what time of year --
BETTE YEE: This is 19 -- let me see, 19 --
CYNTHIA LEE: What year did you move to New Hampshire?
BETTE YEE: It was 1955, when we moved to New Hampshire. Let me say, [unclear]was born in November. He was born in 1955.
CYNTHIA LEE: And you were born in?
BETTE YEE: 1949. Um, so it was 1956, I was in the first grade, and I still14:00hadn't spoken any English. Um, we really didn't have a TV until we were -- until I was like seven or eight years old, and um, and we didn't even know what other kids had. You know, we just knew that we were -- we were different, but we also kind of felt that we were special. You know, we were just a little bit better. Just like the fruits in China were better. Um, everything was a little better, but we were quiet about it. We wouldn't -- we wouldn't stand up and fight for it. So, we really lived two different lives, you know. We -- we really -- or I. I can't say we, because as I talked to my brothers and sisters, we each had a different experience. I would live a different life, and the nightmares that I would have, uh, is that I would be in school, and it would be 15:00class, and I forgot my milk money, and at that time, you had to bring six cents. It was six cents a week in order to participate in the milk program, and I would forget my milk money, and I didn't want the teachers to laugh at me, like they laughed at some other kids. I mean, that's what it seemed like that they were laughing, of course, I didn't really understand it. All I heard was laughing. And, um, and in my dreams, I would speak to them in Chinese, and the kids would laugh. And that was my nightmare. That is something that I really lived in fear of, and that's because -- that's also because there was a bunch of bullies, um, in school as there always are, and they were older -- they were like third and fourth grade people, um, kids, and they were boys. So, uh, we were always called Ching Chong Chinamen, um, and when we went on the bus, they would steal our lunchboxes, or they would take my lunchbox, and dump out the 16:00stuff, and put snow in it, and we would never tell the teacher. And it's only like one or two boys that did that, but that shaded the whole experience because -- and furthermore, we'd never dare tell our parents. Did not dare tell our parents. Um, when I went to school, um, actually somebody said to my dad, Wingy, they called him Wing, because that is his first name. It's a whole other thing about our names. (laughs) Wing, your little girl is old enough, it's a law that you have -- she has to go to school. And so, oh, figure, OK, didn't matter that I didn't know a word of English. Had not even -- you know, other than Auntie Terri, which again at a five year old mind, you don't -- you don't distinguish it. It's a different language. You just -- you just felt she 17:00talked differently because she wasn't a Chinese person. Um, so that's how we all kind of went to school, because Chinese was spoken at the home. We never spoke English, and so not just myself, but at least the first five of us all started school without really knowing English, and um, so that kept us really quiet, and really afraid, and of course, our -- our cousins, the Moy kids, who -- our counterparts, they didn't really know Chinese. Again, that's one of their failures. They didn't learn Chinese. But we would still play together, and um, they could hold their own in the school yard, and we all went to the same schools.
CYNTHIA LEE: Why do you think you didn't tell your parents about the bullying?
BETTE YEE: Um, anything that was -- I don't know. You know, my dad -- I always18:00remember my dad yelling a lot, and my mom wouldn't understand the reference anyways, because she doesn't know what school is, I mean, she wouldn't have any experience of school, and my mother herself didn't -- when school was offered, and I only learned this real later in life, she said that she had -- she had the opportunity to go to schools, because back then, um, I mean she really was a peasant. Girls didn't have to go to school, and uh she was more attuned to working in the fields, and running the household, and you know, helping with taking care of the kids and all of that, and that was her whole life, and that was -- she never questioned that. She was happy doing that. So she did say much later on that she didn't have much of a mind, or an interest in going to school. So she was never really educated, either in Chinese. So she could not 19:00read or write Chinese, um, and -- and so it's -- she wouldn't have any reference, you know, here. She wouldn't have any reference, and for some reason we just -- I don't know. I don't know why we didn't. I don't know why, you know, uh, because we never talk about things like that. It's not because it was -- it was scared. It's not that we were punished, but you know, just thinking about it, and just you know king of being in the mind of a little kid, if it didn't come up at the supper table, and that's one thing that we always had, we always had dinner together because my father would always say, we always eat together. Always, always eat together, and -- and so it would be the grown-ups. Kids never talked. It would be the grown-ups talking, so they would never ask us how did your day go. So there was no opportunity to -- to say this is what 20:00happened. They would never ask, well what happens in school? They never, never asked. At least me. It'd be interesting, to you know, to ask my brothers and sisters if they had the same experience.
CYNTHIA LEE: Would you ever talk to your brothers and sisters about it?
BETTE YEE: No. No. That was -- if we were embarrassed in school, it was anembarrassment, you know. I know that the boys -- I liked school because I liked what -- I liked the activity, and it was just always interesting, and I know that the boys hated it. They would cry, and cry, and cry, and they -- they had a much harder time as boys. They had a really, really hard time, and I never knew it. They never talked about it. They just hated going, and so if you think about little kids, they don't always -- they can't always tell you why. You know, it's like, because nobody hit you. You know, there were no words for, 21:00like, embarrassment. We just -- it was just an experience. We didn't have the vocabulary, really, for that. It's just that you didn't like it. All you knew was that this is what I didn't like.
CYNTHIA LEE: I know you mentioned how your mom had always talked about China, inthese sort of glowing terms, and it sounds like she referenced that as home.
BETTE YEE: Right.
CYNTHIA LEE: So, did that affect you in how you viewed New Hampshire? Was thathome for you, or did it feel somewhat different?
BETTE YEE: I don't know that we had a sense of home. I mean we knew that homewas -- was where our family was, but that sense of hearth, maybe that sense that you're talking about, rather than home, um, it was indistinguishable, hearth and 22:00home. It's only later on, when you get to be a teenager, and you leave, that you -- you really feel torn, because as much as I hated the limiting experience of being at home, going outside without any of that support structure is really scary, was really scary, and that was the first time the distinction of hearth occurred to me. Um, it was just an everyday experience of, you know, well do you -- I mean do you like this? Meaning that, you know, um, is it comforting, is it there? Mm, you were comfortable in that you know that these were your brothers and sisters, and -- and you didn't have to -- you didn't have to be anybody else. It was comforting in that way, but I didn't have a whole lot of 23:00reflection time. Um, most of my days, I mean, from the time that I was six was just helping my mother with the household chores, washing my -- helping her, you know, bathe my brothers and sisters.
CYNTHIA LEE: Because you were the eldest.
BETTE YEE: Because I was the eldest, and for that reason, I also wasn't allowedto play in the sunlight -- I wasn't allowed to play. It was just, I was shamed into playing, so every time I played, my mom would say, you know, shame on you. Aren't you ashamed that a big girl like you, still playing, you know, like little -- like a little kid?
CYNTHIA LEE: So, would, um, being in school, and outside of the home, eventuallyfeel more comfortable to you?
BETTE YEE: It was more exciting. So that kind of -- that definitely colored theway I wanted to experience life. So it made me unafraid to just do things that 24:00would terrify my parents.
CYNTHIA LEE: Like what?
BETTE YEE: Go on a date, which I was never allowed to. I was never allowed todate white boys, or -- yeah white boys, and God forbid any other color. (laughs) And -- and I remember distinctly my dad saying, you know, you're going to marry one of the Chinese cooks, and I was so horrified. I was so gross, because first of all, I wasn't even thinking about marriage. Second of all, um, uh, I remember in high school, I didn't -- I know I wanted to go to college, but I never -- I didn't know how -- how I was going to pay for it. I didn't know, because I -- we never talked about money, and all through -- all through my growing, it was, um, you know, the boys go to school. The girls don't need to. 25:00And even Auntie Terri would say, oh, you don't want to send your daughters to school. You know, you know, you want -- you know, that's for the boys.
CYNTHIA LEE: So that's not just in your family, but maybe --
BETTE YEE: Oh sure.
CYNTHIA LEE: -- the thinking of the time.
BETTE YEE: Well I knew later on that that was the going, you know, theme, butyou know, when you're a little kid, you don't think about -- you don't have an experience with the world. I mean, I certainly didn't. I didn't know what current events were. I didn't know -- I didn't really know what happened outside. I just knew that they ate different things, I had different schedules. I didn't know that they went to movies. I didn't know -- I didn't know the games that they had.
CYNTHIA LEE: So outside being anyone outside of the Chinese home.
BETTE YEE: Anyone outside of our home, because we had no experience with anyChinese families, not 100% pure, so that's why for the longest time, I thought 26:00that we were the last of the Mohicans. It wasn't until really -- you know, until I started studying history, (laughs) that there was a whole two billion of us, you know, on the other side of the world, and the only reason I thought the last of the Mohicans, because we would, you know, they would have those awful shows now, you know, about the cowboys and Indians, and how you, you know, like slaughter -- you know, it was a good thing to slaughter all the Indians. So you really grew up -- we really grew up being ashamed of who we were.
CYNTHIA LEE: At the same time, proud?
BETTE YEE: At the same -- but only, we could only be proud in the family. Wecould not be proud once we stepped out the door, and that was definitely once we had television, and you know, um, and because, you know, we had -- sometimes we 27:00were called Injuns, because of our black hair, I guess. So there was always -- you know, there was always that, like, aimed at us.
CYNTHIA LEE: That's the frame of reference up in New England.
BETTE YEE: That was a frame of reference, totally. Um, the frame of referenceat, you know, in 19 -- you know, there was a Korean War, and the kids there would just, you know, like um, to be -- you know, almost spat at, you know, by the other kids, calling you Chink, and how, um, you know their uncle, you know, was, you know, was killing us, or how we killed, you know, their uncle. And when you're a little kid, it's like you're horrified. You know, and you feel you must be terrible. You know, you really must be a terrible person. So that was -- so we didn't even have the, um, we didn't have a Chinese community. We were it. (laughs) Other than -- other than the Chinese cooks, but we never -- 28:00we only saw them on their day off, and they were all males. They didn't have wives. They didn't have children. They were kind of weird, but we didn't -- you know, and again, when you're a little kid, you don't think about it as weird, but it was -- what was nice is that it was happy. Everybody was happy. They were relaxed. You know, and it was always around a huge meal, when my dad had his, um, day off, you know, we would have a feast, and it was great. It was great for the kids, because the grown-ups were happy, because when the grown-ups are happy, the kids could run around, and scream, and you know, do anything they want, and when there was company, they wouldn't yell at you as much. And as a matter of fact, you know, like the advantage of having a lot of them is that they would just all enter -- we would all just entertain ourselves, except for me, because I had to pick up the dishes, and do the, you know, wash the dishes, sweep the floor, wipe the table, um, and do all that. Did all that, but I never helped them prepare the food. Well no, that's not true. They used to make me 29:00stir the mustard, and they used to say, you have to stir it over a hundred times to make it really smooth, and so, um, yeah so that was -- that was -- so I -- you know, you just don't have the consciousness. You know, like, if I like really put myself back there to think in terms of -- so the experience was -- the outside experience convinced me that we were not really as superior as my mother said we were. And it was only in, you know, the family, but we never thought -- we didn't have a word for crazy. We didn't think that they were crazy. It's just -- you just kind of -- you just kind of accepted, you know, like -- you don't -- there's not much thinking through that. You just accept, 30:00this is the way it is here, this is the way it is out there, and -- and you adapt accordingly. You adapt your language, you adapt, you know, your demeanor, because I was a holy terror in the house, because I was the oldest, and I could boss all of my, you know, siblings around, but outside, I was so shy. I would not open my mouth. I would just not ever open my mouth, and for -- until I was nine years old, I was in the fourth grade, did I ever dare to even speak.
CYNTHIA LEE: So, kind of living in two worlds, almost.
BETTE YEE: Definitely.
CYNTHIA LEE: And, growing up, as you're getting older, which world did you seeyourself in?
BETTE YEE: I think the biggest thing that attributed to my maturing into this --31:00the world that we're in, was that when I was 16, uh, I got to work in, um, my father's restaurant. It wasn't my father, it was my uncle's restaurant, but it was family-owned, and uh, well, it was really Uncle Henry's. Henry was the older brother to Uncle Harry. Um, and uh, and my father was somewhere down that totem pole, so we didn't have a lot of ownership. He just worked a lot with the promise that, you know, he'll get a piece of the pie, and that was always the bitter conversations. I -- we never figured it out until much later but those were part of the bitter conversations that I would hear my parents talk about late at night.
CYNTHIA LEE: Which restaurant is this?
BETTE YEE: This is the China Dragon. So at 16, at 15, they -- uh, they gotangry at their dishwashers, which were, you know, it was -- they weren't Chinese 32:00dishwashers, they were white dishwashers, women, you know, just, um, you know your run of the mill, you know, average, uh, kind of factory worker because that's what was available for work in -- in New Hampshire was more -- you know, there were a couple of factories in Manchester and Suncook because the mills in Suncook, so that was -- it definitely, it's a blue collar community, and they had blue collar attitudes, which I later found out was blue collar, and racist. Um, but we were also racist, you know. Anyways, uh, some of the, the, um, so my father called me in, because I was old enough to do dishes. Curiously enough, my cousin Harriet, who's my age, didn't because their dad owned the restaurant, Uncle Harry owned the restaurant. They weren't, you know, they weren't going to be caught doing dishes, but we did, but I did dishes, uh, and my brother -- my 33:00brother and I, we worked at the China Dragon, we were the oldest. He was 14, I was 15, and they had him doing side work, cutting vegetables, or washing vegetables, pealing onions, things like that, and I would do peapods during the time that I wasn't washing dishes. So, um, so I -- so that kind of gave me the opportunity, and the waitresses were also nice. They were all white, but they were -- they were really friendly, and they would call you honey, and dear, and -- and I thought, wow, this is like, why can't Chinese families be like this, you know? They were so warm. They were so emotional. And it's like, um, that's the first time that I felt that there was such a disparity between, you know, the Chinese, even though you know that they loved you, but there was no physical warmth. There was no touching. There was no -- it was just no -- ever 34:00no acknowledgement that you -- the only acknowledgement that you got, was what you did wrong, or you know, that, you know, you should be ashamed of yourself, because you know, you shouldn't -- you know, it was all a matter of what you shouldn't do. It was all defined in what you shouldn't do. Um, and again, that's only much later. You know, you only react to -- you only go to the places that you feel are inviting, and, and so you desire this, and that was like the wish that I had, but it was never verbalized. It's just -- it's just something that you do. So, you're going to tend to pay more attention. You're going to watch, you know, what they do. You're going to watch how they behave, and um, so that was like the beginning of my realization of what the outside was like, even though I was at school, but it was also, you know, I was coming of age. You know, I was in high school. I had -- now my experience is more of 35:00the outside world, than it was inside. Um, but my father was still working at the restaurant, and there was still that -- there was still that, the closeness of -- of the family dinners, on Friday night, when my father would have his day off, and so, I could never sneak out of the house on Friday because he was home.
CYNTHIA LEE: (laughs)
BETTE YEE: And, I could -- I could on Saturday, when I figured out, you know,like you know what the bus schedules were. There was only one bus that ran between Concord, and, um, Manchester. Hooksett was right -- there's 20 miles difference between Concord, the capital, and Manchester, the queen city, because it was larger -- larger than Concord, and Hooksett was smack dab in the middle, and so you had to walk a half a mile to the corner, and stand on the side of the road, where there's not even a sign, (laughs) and you just knew that the bus was going to stop there if you wanted a ride into Manchester. The only way we knew 36:00Manchester, was that we had chosen, rather than go to Pembroke Academy, we went to Central High. Um, uh, for high school, so I got to know a little bit about Manchester, in a big city, and things like that, although never -- never really walked the streets. Never really went into a restaurant. Never really went into -- had dinner in any restaurant at all, um, until junior year in, um, almost senior year in high school, because the kids would hang out at the Puritan, um, smoking cigarettes, eating French fries, and drinking cokes, and that was how I got indoctrinated into the American way of life.
CYNTHIA LEE: So, did anybody help you?
BETTE YEE: What do you mean?
CYNTHIA LEE: Um, you know, when you go into Manchester, did you have friends whoyou met there, or was this really just something that you did on your own, or -- 37:00how did you get indoctrinated?
BETTE YEE: I had a friend -- I had a friend, uh, her name is Jamie Hartnett, um,she -- um, her mother worked at the brick house, oh, which is a, um, what would you call it, a -- a like a fast food -- fast food, um, hot dogs, hamburgers, frat kind of thing, um, and they would make -- the first time I ever had fried clams, and still to this day die for their fried clams, um, she worked there. I mean, her -- um, [Jamie] worked there. She was the middle girl with three of three, um, and I met her in -- oh, in -- in grammar school, they -- her mother 38:00moved into Hooksett, and so we finished our seventh and eighth grades together, and by the time I was seventh and eighth grade, I also realized that I really liked sports, and I really -- and it could be just a reaction to getting out of the house. It's like, you know, I -- I realized that I was like pretty coordinated, and I really -- so I was on the softball team, and I was on the basketball team, and Jamie got to be my friend. We were both, you know, doing things together. She actually more introduced me to the lifestyle of the tomboy, because she felt that she was -- she verbally would say she's a tomboy, and I just thought, wow, that's pretty cool. I like this. And it was also stuff that would be OK, you know, with my parents. Now she didn't have a dad, because her dad died, but she lived right in the back of her house, like there 39:00was a road that's a quarter of a mile down, the um, and it was a long driveway. It really wasn't, uh, a public access road, but there were the sandpits, the Manchester -- the Hooksett sandpits. It was a gravel company, but it was, um, but we would go there and play, climb the trees, and jump into the sand dunes. Uh, little did we know how dangerous that was, because we could've gotten buried alive. Well parents didn't realize it either. They just, you know, all the kids around that area just, you know, did that. Spent, uh, when I was 13, that's how I spent my whole summer with Jamie, almost every day, and I would walk to her house, which was like a mile and a half, maybe two miles away, and we would go and from morning until it got pitch dark at night, we would just play in the sand pits, and her mom would feed us whatever the brick house offerings had, and then drive us home. And I thought, oh my God, her mother's 40:00so nice. I mean she would drive her kids around, to anywhere they wanted to, and -- and it was such a difference from my parents, who never went out, and you know, we never asked them, but we just kind of assumed that they wouldn't, that they wouldn't be interested, and as a matter of fact, if we did suggest it, they would kind of laugh and say, why do you want to -- you know, what do you want to do that for? Um, only later did we realize that they just didn't have that experience. They didn't know what it was like. Their whole world was just, you know, my mother was, you know, taking care of her kids, her [unclear], my father was, you know, working ungodly hours, you know, at the restaurant, and didn't know what experience us kids were going through. But again, here's another stark difference between Chinese families, and non-Chinese families, or what we would call white families, and sorry, but it was a lot funner, and a lot nicer 41:00on the white side. So, so she and I would kind of plot things, you know, to get into Manchester, or, or do things like that. Um, so yeah, I don't think that I would've done it alone. Although, later, so Jamie was when I was like 13, and 14. Uh, we were going to high school. She, um, she joined the cheerleaders, and I -- I just had it in my head that they weren't going to accept a Chinese cheerleader. I don't know that they would have, but I just had it in my head that no, I looked too different. You know, they're not going to accept me as a cheerleader. So I -- I never tried out. Um, but she then had her own set of friends. You know, she was part of the cheerleading squad. She went out with, 42:00you know, having the football team, and that was a whole -- so during the high -- after 14, I really didn't hang out with her anymore, but I was working at the, um, China Dragon, and this time I was, uh, um, I was still doing dishes, but I was doing a little bit more side work. I never waited on tables. Um, uh, but they did graduate me to the cashier place, so I was taking orders to go. And, um, so I had -- I had a view of what people did at night. I had -- I could see couples coming in, couples going out, and so that was a whole other experience that, you know, a typical 14, 15 year old wouldn't have. So, I couldn't really talk about that experience to my high school people, because most of the high school people weren't working. So I then had another, what I 43:00call -- what I thought was -- I never distinguished it as an experience. I just knew, it's just that, well I'm not going to talk about something that they can't, you know, they won't understand what I'm talking about. So my whole life, as I'm talking about it now, I realize that I couldn't talk about my experience to my parents about what it was like going to school. I couldn't talk in school about what my experience was at home, and it's not that anybody put a gag in my mouth, it's just, I either didn't have the words to express it, um. It was all just a matter of, there were all different feelings that I had. They were all just -- I felt this way at home. I felt this way at school. I felt this way with my friends. I felt this way, working, and to me they were all separate. I mean, that's how I -- that's, you know, that's how I dealt with it, because the other part of Chinese upbringing is that, you know, kids just 44:00don't talk. You don't talk. So you're always in your head. You know, you're always, always in your head.
CYNTHIA LEE: Was there a point when you would meet someone who you could talkabout all this stuff with?
BETTE YEE: No. No. Because, what I talked about was, um, I loved hearing theirexperiences. And, I didn't -- they didn't press me for mine, so I didn't talk about it. Or, it was more like, I wanted to be so much like them, that I had to -- I had to find ways that I could relate to them, or they could say, oh yeah, I know what you mean, type of thing. And that's -- that's really what defined my whole teenage years, which you know, when I think about it, you know, like when 45:00I was in my 20s, and married, um, I -- I realized that I hated my teen years. It was horrible. It was, you know, I would never want to be a teenager again, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. So, it -- no, we never, never talked about that. It was never, never talked about. Not between, um, ourselves. Not between the siblings. You know, not with my parents, and not ever with outside people. Really, the only person that I really, really got to, um, talk about it to was, um, [Gerard], my husband.
CYNTHIA LEE: How did you guys meet?
BETTE YEE: Uh, he was a busboy at the -- at the China Dragon. I was adishwasher, and I was 16, he was 19. He had just finished his first year at seminary, so I felt, I knew enough seminary, OK, you know, they're supposed to 46:00be -- they're not supposed to be into girls. So he was -- so he was a safe person to talk to. And that's all we do. We would just talk, and then he got drafted into the Army, uh, you know, while he took his sabbatical, because uh -- and I didn't know that he was just having ambiguous feelings about, you know, pursuing a life as a priest, and that sounded good. Oh, you know, like I felt that I had made it to a different level. He wasn't like a working-class person. He had like higher sights, and he had this lofty, you know, ambition of becoming a priest. So you know it would never be serious. And so, I felt so bad for him. Everybody did when he got drafted. You know, this is the height of the Vietnam War. This is, well actually, not the height, it was the beginning of the huge draft of the Vietnam War.
CYNTHIA LEE: What year was this?
BETTE YEE: This was 1966? Yes. 1965, or 1966, right around then, and uh, after47:00he finished, um, he went to Fort Dix in New Jersey to do his boot training, and I just started writing to him, because he asked me. He asked me if I would write to him, and -- and so, I wrote to him, and I wrote to him everyday, and the reason -- and he wrote to me everyday. Um, and the reason for that was, uh, I just felt so bad for him, and because, you know, he was interested. He was interested in how I felt. He was interested in -- in, um, you know, what I was doing. Um, and I was -- and he would always tell me about what life was like in the Army. He would tell me about what life was like, you know, being in the seminary. You know, if I really -- we really were very much two very like human 48:00beings, in our experience. He's French -- I didn't know, he was a white boy, but his French Canadian, um, culture was really almost a mirror of my Chinese culture.
CYNTHIA LEE: In what ways?
BETTE YEE: Um, he was automatically sent off, because he was really bright. Hehad a -- he had this photographic memory, supposedly, um, and of course, you know, the thing of a good Catholic family is to, you know, send your sons off to be a priest. So, he was sent off to be a priest, without him knowing. You know, you don't know what you want to do, you know, but you know, he was smart. He aced everything. Um, and uh, he had this, uh -- he had this Catholic upbringing, which to me, seemed more, uh, uh, I don't know, seemed warmer and 49:00more real, than uh, than the Protestant people, brought up in the Protestant religion. They were more, I don't know what it was. I couldn't put my finger on it, but they -- but to me, they were -- they were more erudite. They had more honor, or they had more, um, they had more sense of morality. Something like that, because they themselves, you know, I -- I could hear the things that they were struggling with inside, whereas what I grew up with was kids taunting me, and not feeling -- you know, there was never a sense of guilt in what they did. But, you know, experiencing this Catholic boy, and he actually had a huge sense of guilt, and I go, oh, no I can deal with this. This is really comfortable. You know, like he can -- you know, like he can like really talk about it, and he actually talked about it. So, it was really through him that 50:00I got to understand how to like kind of express some of the feelings that I was going through, that really for the first time, and probably because we wrote to each other every day for two years. For two years, because when he was stationed in Fort Hood, we knew that he could be called anytime to go, you know, um, to -- to overseas. But because, um, he was -- because, you know, because he had like, he was good at at least, uh, not so much following orders, but he was just good at processing things. You know, he -- he had -- he was smart, so they kept him, you know, stateside, you know, working at headquarters, and so that's how he got out of -- so he was lucky. That's how he -- he never saw the front lines. And then when he got out, um, I was already -- um, I had already 51:00finished my freshman year at UNH, the University of New Hampshire.
CYNTHIA LEE: You ended up going to UNH, and I know you had said that yourparents weren't really interested in --
BETTE YEE: No. I had to do all this. I had to do all the paperwork myself. Inever talked to them about it. They -- I just knew that they were proud of me. I mean, they never said it. Never once did they say it. Um, but I got -- I got pretty decent marks, and uh, and I -- and I wanted to take the college course. It was my decision, and that was a good thing, because they were never -- they were never interested in what I was doing in school anyways. As long as I didn't have to -- as long as I can go back and work, they didn't want me to be on the -- I made the special gym team. They wouldn't let me be on the special gym team. You know, um, so that's why I knew I couldn't try out for, uh, uh cheerleading. Um, and they didn't -- and I -- that was the first anger that I 52:00felt, is that they don't even know that it's a privilege to make the gym team, you know. They didn't even care. And that was my attitude, so that was like, probably like the first time I ever sulked, but they didn't know. I didn't tell them. I didn't express that I really, really wanted to do this, and I think that if I had, if I could have done that, they would've relinquished a little bit, but see the conversation, again, my family was -- they were really a peasant family. They -- I mean, and that's my conception of it. They didn't talk a lot about -- they didn't talk a lot about what I thought were intellectual things, or -- or uh, uh, you know, things to develop, you know, your mind. Uh, they just kind of -- they just kind of assumed that you were, that you would be this, and now you're just finally like growing into this. 53:00
CYNTHIA LEE: So when you enrolled in UNH, they, University of New Hampshire.
BETTE YEE: Right.
CYNTHIA LEE: They -- they didn't stop you.
BETTE YEE: They didn't stop me, because I realized that they were proud, thatthey never said it. I realized that they were actually proud, and um, and I had -- and I had saved all the money that I was working to go there. I was able to get a small scholarship, which is what everybody does, you know, like you get a thousand dollars here or there, and because I was, uh, um, I was a resident, or a state student, um, you know, the tuition wasn't so great. I actually had money for a year and a half.
CYNTHIA LEE: Did you actually earn money from working at your family's restaurant?
BETTE YEE: No. Um, that was the money that I had earned since I was 15, workingat the China Dragon. Um, during my first year at UNH was when my father decided 54:00to open his restaurant.
CYNTHIA LEE: OK, oh, but you were paid for your work at the China Dragon?
BETTE YEE: At the China Dragon, I was, but not at my father's restaurant.
CYNTHIA LEE: Because that was your uncle's --
BETTE YEE: That was my uncle's.
CYNTHIA LEE: Technically, your --
BETTE YEE: Right.
CYNTHIA LEE: -- your uncle's restaurant. OK.
BETTE YEE: And you know, my father, still with his gambling habits, he wouldtake, on his day off, or in the mornings, when you know, because he was head chef, he didn't have to be around for all of the side work, he would gather everybody's bets, and go off to the tracks at Rockingham, you know, Raceways, and one of those times, he, he won a chunk of money. I don't know how much it was, but I knew that it was enough to open his restaurant. OK. And, and that's thanks to the push that my mother had, and at that time, my mother -- we ended up, because all of the kids were in school, um, for the -- and I forget what year it was that she ended up getting a mill job at [Wanthat] Mills, in 55:00Manchester. Uh, they -- they were makers of the gauze, you know, for like Johnson and Johnson, or something. And so she saved her money too, from that. I mean my father did get paid, and he -- he got paid better than anybody else, as far as -- but not as -- but you know, it was the Moys that got all of the chunk of money, and my father was feeling the pressure. Uh, he -- I mean one of the things that we did know was that, um, that my mother always felt bad because she felt that my father was always kind of like the black sheep. They had, you know kind of described themselves as that, among that family, and even though they had promised him that, you know, Wingy don't worry, we'll take care of your kids, you know, they'll be able to -- but that meant they weren't going to give their girls any money to go to school, but they would give the boys money to go 56:00to school. So I never questioned that I -- I never questioned it. I just knew that I had to pay for it, myself. And it wasn't -- it was, when my money ran out, it was actually Gerard who said that I could take out a school loan, because I didn't -- even though I knew about it, I, you know, the machinations to do it, you know, were outside of what I could do, and I think then your parents still had to sign, but you know, I would just tell my father to sign, and you know, he never knew what he was signing anyways, so I would sign it because the other thing was that because his Chinese was limited, uh, and mine was getting better as the oldest in school, he would actually have me talk to the bankers, and everything, and it was terrible, because I didn't know what I was saying. I mean, I didn't know anything about banking. You know, I didn't -- you know, and I was supposed to translate for him. There were things that I 57:00didn't know how to translate.
CYNTHIA LEE: All right.
BETTE YEE: Anyways. Um, but you know, we all -- we all survived (laughs)through all that, nonetheless. Um, I don't know that -- I'm sure that there would've been different choices that we would've made, had we, you know, known better, um, about investing, about, you know, about really using the banks, because in -- even when my parents had their -- they only had 13 tables, and the 13th table was what we'd call the wait station, where all the waitresses sat, and we had dinner and lunch there, and it was only cleared off during the rush hours, that you had 13 tables, but that little restaurant, uh, profited, netted, a million dollars. Not a year, but over the course of the time that they were there, and -- and that was all stashed under my brother Jimmy's bed. Jimmy and 58:00David, who shared a bedroom all through, you know, their years, um, uh, my mom stashed all the money underneath their bed, that I didn't know about until way, way later.
CYNTHIA LEE: Um, maybe we should get back to when Gerard comes back.
BETTE YEE: OK. So when Gerard comes back, we know that he's not going to goback to the seminary. Uh, he's going to go to UNH, uh, again, because it's the cheapest, but also, um, he didn't know what he was going to study. You know, all he did -- I mean he just had all these seminarian courses. So, uh, he actually said he was, um -- he actually picked his major as philosophy. So it was through his study in philosophy, and him talking about it every, you know, 59:00to me, every day, that I got to pick up ways of thinking, but also the college was huge for me, because that's when I took, um, that's when I took world history, uh, that we had to have as part of our requirement. That's where -- we had to take comparative religion. That was the most eye-opening experience for me. When I realized that all the major religions in the world, we're all going to the same place, whether they were Buddhists, Zen, Muslim, Catholic, you know, we're all headed for the same place, and um, that made it a lot easier to digest, and it also made me understand why I was attracted to Gerard. Also because, you know, we could actually talk, you know, in, in, in conceptual -- in a conceptual format, um, which was -- uh, which I always thought was missing from my experience, so it was -- it was being able to really put on a different 60:00set of lenses, and like when you had a concept, you could, you know, see the -- you could see a whole different way of the world. You know, you just saw everything differently now. Um, it's only much later in life that I realized that those were also limiting, but that's later on in life. So, he -- so that was, yeah, yeah. That was that, and it was my first inklings of racism, uh, or anything like that, really came through Gerard. He had the words to explain it. He had the, you know, he justified, you know, where my feelings were. Um, uh, he -- he just, you know, had the concepts that as soon as I heard them go, wow, 61:00that's exactly, you know, what was happening to me.
CYNTHIA LEE: And I would imagine at this time, like, because this is probablynow the late '60s, right?
BETTE YEE: Let's see.
CYNTHIA LEE: Drafted in '66.
BETTE YEE: Right.
CYNTHIA LEE: And he was away for --
BETTE YEE: Uh, this was the late -- yeah, '66, he was back in '67, or '68, hewas at UNH, but he was commuting everyday. He wasn't living on campus like I was.
CYNTHIA LEE: So --
BETTE YEE: Yeah because --
CYNTHIA LEE: A lot of --
BETTE YEE: -- Jonathan was born in '69.
CYNTHIA LEE: So a lot of things were happening at the time.
BETTE YEE: A lot of that -- this was such a hot bed, because even in sleepy UNH,uh, I think it was 1968, yeah, it was 1968, the sit-ins, the college, you know, all the sit-ins were happening, and I was going, wow, what the heck is happening? So that -- that just broke the lid, like totally broke the lid. You 62:00know, now --
BETTE YEE: -- I'm political. Like I -- you know, under -- you know, I didn'tunderstand it, you know, from before, but you know, like here was -- you know, a set of students that could formulate some thinking, and some action, that I felt really excited about. You know, um, I didn't know about politics. Um, I didn't know it was happening. Uh, the Vietnam War was something that we just experienced, but I didn't -- you know, I didn't know the fervor -- I didn't know the extent of the fervor, whatever cover-up there was. You know, that was all so new to me, it was so, so, so very new. But, you know, um, it just took -- it just swept all of us, you know, so there we are. You know, we being, now I'm feeling, you know, the real part of being that generation of what we now call 63:00the Baby Boomers.
CYNTHIA LEE: Did it change how you saw yourself as a Chinese-American?
BETTE YEE: It was the first time that I was proud to be Chinese. Actually,Gerard had dropped those seeds about, um, just -- had dropped those seeds about, um, you know, like not being ashamed of who you are. Um, because he was fighting the same thing, being French-Canadian. And, um, that actually allowed me to be open to what was happening with the sit-ins, because all of a sudden, you know, when that like breaks into your head, you have a whole different interpretation of the world.
CYNTHIA LEE: Did you find that your fellow students, maybe even saw you had adifferent attitude towards you as opposed to what you experienced in, you know, 64:00grade school, middle school, high school?
BETTE YEE: Um--
CYNTHIA LEE: Did it go that far?
BETTE YEE: You know, like my college experience, I didn't make a -- um, well Idid, [Jerry Ann]. I mean just like anything else, I mean, I wasn't really, really popular, and I had enough, you know, like it was just the thing that, you know, oh who wants to be popular, type of attitude. You know, you didn't want to be the cheerleader, like floozy type of girl. You weren't going there for a popularity contest, but uh, in real life too, there was only a very small group of people, you know, from college. I didn't have a whole, large group of people. You know, not from the classes. It was really from the dorm that I was in, that we could, you know, get together, and -- and I realized that the only people that I could get close to are the people that I could really talk to, 65:00meaning -- I mean and that was natural, but what was in a comfortable enough setting for me. So, what I was attracting were all people who, you know, had some sort of, you know, thing that they were struggling with it. Jerry Ann was struggling with her weight. You know, there was something, you know, like -- I had some Greek friends, you know, and they were also struggling with their ethnicity. Um, we never talked about it. It's just that, you know, we kind of, you know, your likes kind of just, you know, come together, but you don't necessarily talk about that. You talked about coming of age stuff. You talked about boys, you talked about, you know, your teachers, um, things like that. You really -- the only person that I really talked politically with, or philosophically with, was Gerard. He -- so he's, you know, like he really was 66:00my mentor in that way, but I also have a feeling that, you know, much later on, I learned that I was the only one who could talk to him also that way, because his friends from the seminary he never considered real friends, and they were never -- his friends were never as politically charged as -- as the Blazons were, but I found out later that it was really due to the father, who was really -- the father was a John Birch, (chuckles).
CYNTHIA LEE: Mm, hmm.
BETTE YEE: So he had -- he was always spewing his political -- venting hispolitical, um, uh, um, philosophies, and it always amazes me, because um, Gerard would like, for awhile, as any kid, you follow along those, but then you know, 67:00when you're able to think about it a little bit more, he -- it was a shock to me, because he was totally against his father's way of thinking, but hitched against it, but they were the opposite ends of the same thing, right.
CYNTHIA LEE: So, um, when did you guys decide to get married?
BETTE YEE: It was, uh, oh gosh -- we got married on February 2, 1969. But wehad decided to get married, um -- I mean I was strong enough, and brave enough, to consider getting married, because prior to that, I was like scared. I was like really scared, um, but he had already been back, you know, to UNH. Um, we were both already, you know, seeking -- even finding fulfillment in the political fervor that was happening, and kind of doing your own thing. So we 68:00had already decided to get married by the end of -- by the summer of '68. I just didn't know how I was ever going to tell my parents, because I knew they would not be for it.
CYNTHIA LEE: Because--
BETTE YEE: Because he was white. Um, and there was no -- and I didn't haveenough Chinese to explain to them that his, you know, that he may be white, but the French Canadians were considered the blacks of, of New Hampshire. They were 60% of the population, yet they had the lowest jobs, they had the lowest opportunity. You know, all of that, which is why Gerard studied the French-Canadian history, and again, it was just so fascinating to me. You know, like had I never -- I don't know, if I had never met him, you know, would I be who I am, most likely not, but I also think that because we're both the way that 69:00we are, we would've just glommed onto somebody else, who would've been -- I mean there's not much choice, you know, there's not much choice in your life. I don't know if there ever is in any point of your life. You, you know, you attract who you're more comfortable with. They're exciting to you because -- and for us, it was a whole -- everything was exciting. You know, just everything, the whole world was just fresh, it was exciting, there was new music happening, and even though we weren't deeply into the music scene, um, his sister, [Joanne], was into Bob Dylan like nobody's business, and Gerard would always kind of make fun of her, because he wasn't a musical being. He, you know, his stuff came in through the books. He didn't really listen to the lyrics of Dylan, whereas his siblings, who didn't go to the seminary, but still 70:00had that political flavoring, they had -- and that was always amazing to me, they just always -- they were definite about -- they never made apologies about where they stood, politically, or philosophically.
CYNTHIA LEE: So, do you think -- do you think that, um, given who Gerard was,and his -- his family, that that helped you kind of make the decision to get married, and tell your parents?
BETTE YEE: I never told my parents. Actually, it was because Gerard's aunt,[Tippy], worked as a waitress at the restaurant. That's how he got his job at the restaurant, that you know, they knew about it, and it was, uh, my Uncle Henry, who went to my dad and said, what are you going to do about it? You 71:00know, Bette's thinking I'm going to take off and marry this guy. And, um, they were ashamed. They were ashamed. I was, like, such a bad daughter.
CYNTHIA LEE: Did they talk to you?
BETTE YEE: No. See, the thing is that they never talked to me, but they didn'thave to. I -- you know, they -- I knew. Their glances, they wouldn't -- they would like ignore me.
CYNTHIA LEE: So you, in some ways, sort of understanding the impact of yourdecision, knew to lay low for awhile.
BETTE YEE: I laid low. I didn't come home, and it was easy not to come homebecause you were away at college. Um, I did during the summers, I did come and help with the restaurant, and um, and I knew that I was going to, and I knew -- I knew what I was going to do was going to hurt them, and I knew that I was 72:00being a bad daughter. So, it didn't make -- it didn't make the time a joyous time for me. It was that this is what I wanted to do, because this is the person that I wanted to be with, and if we wanted to be together, and that was also the time, you know, you know, like everybody else was beginning to live together, and because of his Catholicism, and you know, you know, like, did that -- it was just going to be easier to just get married, so we -- so we decided we were going to get married, but it's only his family that knew, which then, you know, and that was in the summer of '68. And we didn't know -- so we went through another -- we had talked about it, talked about it, talked about it, and then, uh, I got easier with it, uh, around November, and uh, around Christmas, actually. It was around Christmas, and even though we were like -- like every 73:00other couple, we were experimenting with sex, and all of that, you know, and we were always very careful, but as soon as we decided to get married, you know, he decided to not be careful anymore, and that's how Jonathan was born. So, that's what caused us to up, you know, the date of the --
CYNTHIA LEE: Ceremony.
BETTE YEE: Of the ceremony. And uh, so we were married on February 2, 1969, andI didn't know I was pregnant. I didn't know I was pregnant until like a week later, when I was just so nauseous, like really nauseous.
CYNTHIA LEE: So, you know, it's sort of interesting, because your uncle wasmarried to a French-Canadian.
BETTE YEE: That's right.
CYNTHIA LEE: And so, did your parents really get negative feedback from your uncles?74:00
BETTE YEE: Yeah. Not only that, my cousins, because of the way I conducted mymarriage, my cousins came to me. My cousins, my equals, you know, my --
CYNTHIA LEE: Generation.
BETTE YEE: Generation, said yeah, well, you know, they were kind of snickeringabout the way -- how I got married, you know, sneaking off and getting married, and that's the first time in my life that I just took umbrance to that and I said, oh, do you want me to tell you how your parents got married? You know, because Auntie Terri was only 16 years old. She was working at the restaurant, and Uncle Harry, who was like a good 10 years her senior, was dating a 16 year older, and believe me, there was no announcement of a marriage, you know, right there, and that like, you know -- I was saying that to Peter Moy, and Peter just went, whoa. I didn't mean to start that whole thing, I was, you know, I was 75:00only, uh, and then he says, mm, you're right. You know, and that was like for the first time that I had really, truly spoken my mind out, because I was mad.
CYNTHIA LEE: So that was less about -- the criticism was less about the factthat Gerard was not Chinese, and more about how --
BETTE YEE: Right.
CYNTHIA LEE: -- you guys came to the decision, and maybe had gone about it.
BETTE YEE: Yeah, well I think that they assumed, the Moys assumed, because theywere free about that discussion, that they -- they just assumed that our family was just as free. So that -- that made sense, right --
CYNTHIA LEE: Right.
BETTE YEE: -- that they would -- they would criticize me for that, but I wasn'tfree. I wasn't free.
CYNTHIA LEE: How did your siblings take it?
BETTE YEE: Well, uh, let's see, Ed, Jean, and Dan came, and my parents let themcome, but they knew that they would never come, even though they knew him, they 76:00knew who Gerard was, they knew about him, they knew that I was seeing him, you know, he would drive me to school, drive me back, and um, uh, they were OK with that, but um, never -- and you know what, I don't know if they ever knew that I was like really seeing them. They don't know to the extent. They never knew that I was writing to him. You know, they didn't know that I've had a relationship with him since I was 15.
CYNTHIA LEE: Right.
BETTE YEE: So that I totally kept from them.
CYNTHIA LEE: So it was a little bit of a shock.
BETTE YEE: Yeah. Yeah.
CYNTHIA LEE: The seriousness of your relationship.
BETTE YEE: Right, right, right. And for them, it was just really scary, I mean,in retrospect, because they just knew, you know, this is their oldest d 77:00 78:00 79:00 80:00 81:00 82:00 83:00 84:00 85:00 86:00 87:00 88:00 89:00 90:00 91:00 92:00 93:00 94:00 95:00 96:00 97:00 98:00 99:00 100:00 101:00 102:00 103:00 104:00 105:00 106:00 107:00 108:00 109:00 110:00 111:00 112:00 113:00 114:00 115:00 116:00 117:00 118:00 119:00 120:00 121:00 122:00 123:00 124:00 125:00 126:00 127:00 128:00 129:00 130:00 131:00 132:00 133:00 134:00 135:00 136:00 137:00 138:00 139:00 140:00 141:00 142:00 143:00 144:00 145:00 146:00 147:00 148:00 149:00 150:00 151:00 152:00
Oral History Interview with Bette Yee
Bette Yee was born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in Hooksett, New Hampshire. Both of her parents emigrated from China and her father served in the United States Army during World War II. She worked in family restaurants as a teenager and young adult, and attended the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire for her undergraduate degree. She later moved to Brooklyn, New York, and settled in Prospect Heights. She worked in finance and became involved in New York City's Asian community, particularly the Organization of Asian Women. She later lived in Park Slope and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
In this interview, Yee speaks extensively about her experience growing up in a Chinese family, and in particular, the culture surrounding gender, race, shame, and responsibility. She talks about how this culture affected her friendships and interracial romantic relationships, particularly her relationship with her first husband, a white French-Canadian Catholic man who was drafted during the Vietnam War. She also describes being bullied and feeling isolated in the predominantly white area of Hooksett, New Hampshire. In addition, she discusses moving to Brooklyn and her involvement in New York City's Asian community.
CitationYee, Bette, Oral history interview conducted by Cynthia Lee, February 26, 2012, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.021; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Yee, Bette
- Bullying in schools
- Chinese Americans
- Community organizing
- Racially mixed families
- Sex role
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- New Hampshire
- Park Slope (New York, N.Y.)
- Prospect Heights (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidCrossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection