San Francisco, April 15, 2007: Bing Pon passed away at age 94.
Born in Canton, China in 1913, he immigrated to San Francisco at age 11, attending St. Mary’s School in Chinatown, and in 1932 he returned to China where he married a young woman named Thoat Lon.
In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and during World War II he served on the Destroyer USS Kirkland. He and his crewmates survived many battles at sea, and at the end of the war he returned to San Francisco to begin the long process of bringing his family to America.
It took years.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was still law in the United States, the first U.S. immigration law targeted at a specific ethnic group. It had been passed many years earlier as a reaction to the large number of Chinese immigrants who had traveled to the western states as a result of wars in China, availability of railroad jobs in the US, and the gold rush in California.
Although the gold rush was over, and the railroad jobs hijacked by the unions, the Chinese Exclusion Act was still law, and it took Bing until 1953 to bring his bride, and they moved to Dunsmuir, a railroad and fishing town nestled in a deep, wooded mountain gorge in northern California. There they raised four children, and ran a 24-hour restaurant business called Motto’s Cafe.
For 28 years, they ran the restaurant. Their children grew and departed for families of their own, and the customers served themselves while Bing and Thoat Lon cooked. The customers called Thoat Lon “Mama.” Mama was in the kitchen.
Finally, older now, they closed the restaurant, and moved to San Francisco to live close to the children and grandchildren. His wife passed away in 2003, and Bing lived with his son’s family. He continued to eat the Chinese traditional foods, and sometimes visited Dunsmuir, the scene of many happy days.
He died today. “His mind was always sharp,” his son said. “He always made us laugh. Our hearts ache for missing him. We will never forget his never-ending sense of humor, and his sense of duty.”
That was a good man.