By Erin McKenzie-Brahms, Itero Group Partner and CEO

As an Asian American, May is very important to me and my family. To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I am honoring my Chinese grandfather, Lee Ying Moy, who served in the Army during WWII as a cannoneer in the 531st Field Artillery Battalion, as well as paying tribute to the generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have enriched and contributed to America’s history, culture, and achievements.

In 1927, my grandfather immigrated from Guangdong, China (today know as Canton) to the United States. He was 12 years old, and he was by himself.  As a male, it was his duty to help support his parents and grandparents, who stayed in China – he was sent to the US to find employment and send money back to them.  He traveled as a third-class passenger on a ship called the SS Thomas Jefferson. Third-class accommodations were on the bottom of the ship, and he slept on the top bunk of bunk beds stacked three high. He was allowed to spend time each day on the deck but had to go back into his room by evening.  The ship made stops in Tokyo, the Philippines, and eventually docked in Seattle, WA after 28 days at sea.

In Seattle, he had to take a physical examination and endured hours of questioning by an interpreter because he did not speak English.  He then spent more than a month in a detention center, which was like a jail, where he was asked the same questions repeatedly as a provision of The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), which was the first significant law that forbid a specific minority group from immigrating to the U.S.

After he was released from the detention center, he took a train from Seattle across the country to Washington, D.C.  The trip took four days and four nights.  He lived in Old Chinatown (which was then at the corner of 3rd St. and Pennsylvania Ave.)  Several years later the government decided to widen Pennsylvania Avenue and moved the residents to H Street.

My grandfather’s first job was at a laundry mat.  He worked Monday through Friday from 4-10 pm, all day Saturday, and Sunday from 8am-12pm.  He earned seven dollars per week, plus room and board.  He also attended the Gales School, which was a school for foreign-speaking students.

He quit school when he was 15 years old to work at the laundry mat full-time to support himself and his family in China. He