Charlie Quon lived near the City Market Chinatown.
Written by Kelly Ha & Michael To
Charlie Quon, one of many Chinese Americans who grew up in Los Angeles, experienced many changes in Chinatown throughout his life. Quon was born in Butte, Montana, in 1923. Sometime between the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, his family moved to Los Angeles where his father owned a grocery business. He lived in an area rich with Chinese, at a time where many minorities chose to stay together for a comfortable life. “In the 30’s many Chinese families were hard working. They had grocery stores, laundries, fruit stands, and restaurants, produce stalls, farmers, and gifts shops. They saved their hard earn money so that would sent their children to school. Many would go to China for a Chinese education and return to USA to continue their higher education,” said Quon. It was a period of strong prejudice and racism, but Quon never faced any strong doses of that “poison” in his community.
Charlie was one of the many Chinese Americans who were sent back to China by their parents to study. Charlie recalls, “In 1937 Dad and I went to China on President Hoover by way of San Francisco, Hawaii, Japan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Many of my shipmates were Chinese in 3rd class and, like me; their children would be going to school in Canton. On July 7, 1937 Japan invaded China in Peking and August 29 1937 bomb Canton near our school. The school relocated inland with war many overseas people began returning to the USA. I came back in April 1938.”
During the war Quon recalled wearing a badge that said, “I am Chinese”. Due to the mounting racial tension of the war, many Chinese had to identify themselves all the time. Quon remembers once while traveling, he and some friends were stopped by a highway patrol officer and held overnight while the officer determined whether they were Chinese or Japanese.
Like many other Chinese Americans, World War II was a major factor in Quon’s life. In 1943, he graduated from high school and from there, went on to serve his country. Charlie remembers, “I was overseas in England and had an unknown assignment for weeks in Egypt, then we went by land through Israel, Syria, Jordan Tehran, to Kiev, Russia. We spent weeks preparing an airfield and facilities to service airplanes. Before, during, and after D-Day, we had many missions of planes, based in England, bombing Poland and landing in Russia for service to bomb Romanian oil fields and then return to their bases in England. When the war with Germany was over, I was assigned to the European Air Transport Service to move supplies, transfer war personal for trial in Germany in April 1946.” After the war, Charlie returned to Los Angeles.
In Chinatown, Quon and his son joined the Los Angeles Drum and Bugle Corps. The American Legion ran competitions and provided awards to the top students. Due to the amount of instruments and items needed for the drum corps, it was expensive to maintain. The drum corps was basically composed of a horn section, a drum section, and the color guards. The members of the color guard were mostly girls. Quon played an essential role in helping to guide the group.