A Blue Star Shone in the Cantonese Diaspora

Scattered over most of the world in the last four centuries, a portion of the Chinese people is separated – probably forever – from the mainland of China.  …Accused of refusing to assimilate, the overseas Chinese in fact give vivid testimony to the resilience and adaptability of their old world institutions. In America as elsewhere, the Chinese attest to the validity of pluralism.

— from Stanford M. Lyman’s foreword in Robert Seto Quan’s and Julian B. Roebuck’s book Lotus Among the Magnolias: The Mississippi Chinese (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982)

A child born in 1908 in China’s Canton Province emigrated in 1922 at the age of 14, taking his younger brother, and getting them through the purgatory of Angel Island. Renamed Jimmie Joe, he migrated within the U.S., looking for jobs and caring for his sibling. He went back to China in 1927 for an arranged marriage with Won Kim. Their first child, How Mon Joe, was born in 1928, but Jimmie returned to the States. Phillip Joe’s narrative of his grandfather’s first decades here contains a recurring litany: “working multiple jobs, sending money home, and saving for the future.” After the Japanese invaded Manchuria, Won Kim took How Mon to British Hong Kong, where a daughter was born.

Jimmie joined the army as a staff cook. Post-WWII, he settled in Texas. Between 1948 and 1950, with relatives, he opened the first Blue Star Inn where Camp Bowie Boulevard, Horne Street and Locke Avenue meet, and another on the Weatherford Traffic Circle. In Hong Kong, How Mon married Tak Hing; their son, Phillip, was born in 1952; and How Mon came over. Anticipating more arrivals, Jimmie purchased a Ridglea Hills home for three generations to share. Won Kim joined him 28 years after their wedding. Tak Hing and Phillip came in 1958.

After retirement in 1972, Jimmie traveled and hunted. Former neighbor Pam Smith Kaatz recalled Jimmie’s gift of Canadian moose meat to her mother. Not knowing how to cook wild game, she threw it out. “Mr. Joe came over and asked, ‘Mrs. Smith, how did you like the moose?’ When she answered that it was delicious, he said, ‘Then, please, tell me how you cook it. Ours was horrible.’” She told of soaking it for two days in Coca-Cola and oven-roasting it for three hours on a low setting. In a few days, he reappeared to say that the moose was delicious. “We always wondered if he was also telling a nice lie,” Kaatz said.

Jimmie Joe had crossed an ocean, co-founded restaurants, and reunited his family. He faced the challenges of speaking with a cleft palate and learning English. He made many friends. He died in 1985. Kaatz’ brother, Paul “Snappy” Smith of Red River, New Mexico, credits him as “a major influence on how I have handled meeting new people my whole life.”