Chinese American World War II soldier Wah Lee. • Photo from the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC)
Chinese American World War II soldier Wah Lee. • Photo from the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC)

In recent years there has been an increase in studies of people of Asian ancestry, primarily Chinese and Japanese, who immigrated to the West during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Idaho in particular, this movement of people first took place during the Territorial and early Statehood periods, and later through World War II when Japanese Americans were held in internment (Kooskia) and incarceration/concentration (Minidoka) camps there. Archaeological excavations, conducted on a variety of sites in Idaho and elsewhere, have recovered everyday objects that were made in China and Japan. The need to understand these artifacts, their uses, and the people who owned them led to the establishment of the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC) in 1982.

AACC recently released an online resource called “The Wah Lee Letters,” a series of letters written to Wah Lee, a Chinese American man who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. These letters range from 1943 to 1955 and include a variety of newspaper clippings and photographs.

To visit ‘The Wah Lee Letters,’ click here

Wah Lee was born on April 20, 1924, in Guangzhou (Canton), China. He moved to San Francisco, CA, in 1938 and enlisted on February 25, 1943. After the war, Wah Lee moved to Chicago and possibly attended the Chicago Institute of Technology. He returned to San Francisco and worked in real estate. He also served as the grand president of the Chinese Benevolent Association of San Francisco, as the organization director of the San Francisco Double 10 parade for over 20 years, and was commander of the 15th District VFW post in the Bay Area Republican Organization. He died in Sacramento, CA, on September 3, 2004.

The letters and clippings are available as searchable and downloadable PDF documents and have been organized by year and month. The website includes additional research resources such as a summary of historical events to add context to the letters and clippings, information about the various organizations that aided in the creation of the site, and other tools to aid both researchers and the general public.

For more information, contact AACC volunteer curator Priscilla Wegars [email protected] or student researcher Bailey Cavender at [email protected]. The AACC is asking for help with identifying people in the photographs, assistance with identifying Wah Lee’s family members, help with Cantonese pronunciations for the names given in the Chinese translations, and assistance with translating the remaining letters in Chinese.

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