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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

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Tony and Monica Li, owners

Wong's Foodland

For Tony and Monica Li the fabled Gam Sahn (Golden Mountain) of their ancestors may have been a myth, but the “American Dream” they read so much about in books still beckoned.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, they left their comfortable office jobs (Monica was an employee of the Standard Chartered Bank and Tony was an industrial engineer) in the late 1980s for the Mississippi Delta to run a grocery store. From about twelve hours a day, seven days a week, you can find them running Wong’s Foodland in Clarksdale, where they have tended shop since 1995. Monica usually keeps the books and helps stock items, while Tony can be found cutting up steaks, chops, and roasts in the meat department. This life may not be the “American Dream” of their youth, but for the Lis, it’s all worth it: operating a grocery store has allowed them to send their children to college.

Tony and Monica Li are the face of the third wave of Chinese immigration to the Delta that occurred during the 1960s and ’70s and continues through today. Mainly consisting of the educated middle- and upper-middle class of Hong Kong and Taiwan, they arrived to this country not on steamers or boats, but on shiny new jumbo jets. For the Li family and many others, they left comfortable lives in their homeland in the hopes of giving their children a better life in the United States. Though they may not have faced the same kind of hardships as those who came before them, life for this “middle” generation is difficult, as they try to maintain the ties with their homeland, while forging new ones in America.

Date of interview:

Jung Min (Kevin) Kim

Jung Min (Kevin) Kim

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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