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Fuk Yut Ngan  (b. 1888, d. 1973)
Fuk Yut Ngan
Fuk Yut Ngan immigrated to Tucson in 1906 as a young bride. She and her husband, Don Wah, ran a grocery store and bakery at the corner of Simpson and Convent Streets. Working in the store, she became proficient in both English and Spanish while also raising a family of ten children. She is representative of hard-working immigrant women who adapted to a new country and made a life in a strange land.

Region: Tucson and Southern Arizona
Theme: Women at Work

Fuk Yut Ngan came from a wealthy Chinese family and had few domestic skills when she married at the age of 18. Don Wah, originally from San Francisco, had arrived in Tucson in the 1890s to work as a cook for railroad workers. Fuk Yut soon learned to cook and keep house in Tucson.

Don Wah and Fuk Yut Ngan rented their first grocery store at Simpson and Convent Streets, and they also opened a bakery. Fuk Yut Ngan rose early in the morning to wrap freshly baked bread for delivery and ran the store when her husband went to play fan tan and mah jong with friends in nearby Chinatown. Fuk Yut Ngan learned to speak both Spanish and English in order to converse with her clientele. She also kept the business' financial records and extended credit to customers who had to wait for payday to pay their bills. Based on the success of this store, the couple soon opened others while also raising a family that grew to ten children.

When Don Wah and Fuk Yut Ngan began working in Tucson, they were part of a small community made up of approximately 225 Chinese people. At this time, an Arizona law prohibited marriage between Chinese and Anglos, and restrictive covenants limited real estate purchases by Chinese and other minorities to certain areas. In addition, there were anti-Chinese leagues in several Arizona towns, although one did not exist in Tucson. Despite racial prejudice, Fuk Yut Ngan and her family prospered, and eventually owned a chain of grocery stores.

One of their children, Esther Tang, went on to become a community leader in Tucson. She and her husband, David Tang also operated grocery stores, and Tang directed a neighborhood center for twenty years. In this capacity, she helped to organize kindergarten, Head Start, and adult literacy classes along with after-school programs.

Visit Barrio Viejo and the corner of Simpson and Convent Street where their store was located. This site is on the AWHT Tucson Walking Tour which begins at the Sosa-Carrillo-Fremont House. Brochures/maps will be available in May at the Tucson Visitors' Center in La Placita at 100 S. Church Ave.

For additional information, see files at the Arizona Historical Society, Tucson and the "Promise of Gold Mountain: Tucson's Chinese Heritage" website at http://parentseyes.arizona.edu/promise/

Photo Credits:
Fuk Yut Ngan (PC195 f.lc) - Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society, Tucson

 

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