We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.

Review

I Am Full Moon: Stories of a Ninth Daughter

By Lily Hoy Price

November 4, 2013

Review By Patricia Roy

About a decade ago, I wrote a review article in this journal in which I expressed the hope that more first-hand accounts of growing up Japanese or Chinese in British Columbia would be published [1]. Gradually, that wish is being fulfilled. The latest contribution, I Am Full Moon, is a delightful memoir of childhood in Quesnel in the 1930s and 1940s. Lily Hoy, the author, was born in 1930, the ninth of the ten daughters of C.D. Hoy and his wife, Lim Foon Hai. She also had two younger brothers. Her father is well known as the photographer who documented life in Quesnel and the surrounding area in the 1910s, and the book is generously illustrated with his photographs of the family. By the time Lily, whose Chinese name means Full Moon, was born, he was the proprietor of a general store that prospered even during the Depression because of the revival of gold mining at Wells. Yet, while the family lived in a large stucco “Hoy-built” house, there were few luxuries apart from special treats on occasions such as Chinese New Year.

Quesnel had a Chinatown composed mainly of elderly bachelors to whom the children delivered special food for New Year and, in return, received red envelopes with a small amount of money. The only Chinese children appear to have been the Hoy siblings, who participated fully in school activities, plays, and sports. Lily “embraced Caucasian friends, the English language and culture.” “At one point,” she recalled, “I envied my friends’ English noses and clipped on a clothes peg to enhance my flat nose. Overall, I did not experience racial discrimination” (80). This supports a hypothesis that, in communities with few Asians, integration was more common than discrimination.

As teenagers the girls attended local dances but were not allowed to date non-Chinese boys. That posed a problem because the few Chinese boys nearby belonged to the same Chow clan and so were ineligible for marriage. The eldest daughter had an arranged marriage with a young man from Powell River who learned of the Hoy girls and came courting. When almost ten years passed before the next wedding, the parents allowed the girls to marry when they wanted and who they wanted. Three daughters, including Lily, did marry Caucasians.

The emphasis of the book is not on growing up Chinese but on a generally happy childhood, marred chiefly by the death of one brother at age fifteen. It was a childhood of simple pleasures, of skating on the backyard rink or the lake, of fishing expeditions with Pa-pah and berry-picking trips with Ma-mah, of playing in the snow, of swiping green apples, and of seeing the buttercups in spring. It was not all play. The children were expected to help in the store waiting on customers and unloading supplies and to do home chores, such as feeding the chickens and keeping the sawdust bin filled. “Chores for children,” Lily How Price observes, “can only help them grow into strong dependable adults” (129). Her memoir is evidence of this, and it is a charming contribution to our understanding of the lives of the Chinese in British Columbia.

 

[1] ‘Active Voices’: A Third Generation of Studies of Chinese and Japanese in British Columbia,” BC Studies 117 (Spring 1998): 51-61. 

PDF – Book Reviews, BC Studies 164, Winter 2009/10