Bill Soo Hoo and Family
Bill Soo Hoo and Robert Kennedy
Mama Soo Hoo in kicthen
Mama Soo Hoo Orient
Soo Hoo Jung Hall
and Soo Hoo Yee Ton had a son named William Du Chun Soo Hoo. Born in Oxnard
in 1924, he achieved political success that no one ever dreamed possible. In
1966, William, or Bill, was elected mayor of the City of Oxnard. He had the honor of becoming the first man of
Chinese heritage elected to mayor in California,
possibly the United States,
and the first native-born mayor of Oxnard. Just 42 years previously, Chinese were hated
and excluded from immigrating to the United
How did Bill
achieve such distinction? He had strong
principles, a good work ethic, the heart of a patriot, and the courage of his
convictions. Yet overall, he had the
support and encouragement of his close knit family. This essay examines Bill Soo Hoo’s family
life in Oxnard and his rise to
Soo Hoo Yee Tom, his wife Soo Hoo Jung Hall and their baby daughters, Dorothy and Rose, arrived in
this bustling Oxnard Chinese community in the early 1920s. Yee Tom was born in China around 1852. He was
living in China and working as a junk captain on the South
China Sea, and according to family stories, he sailed to America
in his junk and left his wife and family behind in China. It is unclear when
he arrived in the United States, but it appears that it was sometime during the last
decades of the nineteenth century. While
living in America,
a catastrophic flood washed away Yee Tom’s village in China
and his family was lost. Angela Soo Hoo
continues the story.
There were various
people from his village that had asked [Yee Tom] for help . . . One of them was
this person that he knew quite well, and [Yee Tom] sent back letters and
financial aid to him. When it came
around twenty years or more later . . .
[it was time to] settle his debt . . .
that [man] in China
wrote and said, “I know just the right thing for you, I’m sending you a
wife. He said, “You had lost your family
over here and you really should have a wife.”
So, he sent Jung Hall, that is Mama Soo Hoo actually, through San
Jung Hall, also known as Mama Soo Hoo, was born around 1889 and came to the United
States to marry Soo Hoo Yee Tom in
1909. They settled in San
Luis Obispo California, where
they had a farm and raised beautiful products.
Yet, they were struggling and lost money for about four years. During World War I, the Soo Hoo’s were
finally able to make a profit. After the
war, they sold the farm and opened a general store in Guadalupe,
The family moved
to Oxnard and continued their small
store in 1920. Their general store was
called Wing Chen Lung Company and was located on China Alley. Although the store sold provisions, Mama Soo
Hoo cooked for residents of
Chinatown, and her
reputation as an exceptional cook grew over time. The store remained in business in Oxnard
for seven years, and then the family opened a restaurant on China Alley in an
area referred to as Old Duck Pond.
There was a long
boardwalk, and many of the old-timers in this area remember that old
boardwalk. When we took over the
business we changed it from the Duck Pond to the Oriental Inn.
Genny Essa, a family friend, remembers visiting the
restaurant and she said, “It was located on Oxnard
Blvd. and patrons walked through a gate on a
wooden plank and in the back there was a Chinese restaurant . . . There was a
lady, Mama Soo Hoo, cooking inside.” The Oriental Inn remained at this location
until it was torn down in 1948.
Irene Soo Hoo was born after the family settled in Oxnard, and William Soo Hoo was born in 1924 when his father was 72
Bill had older twin brothers who died at birth and were buried in Ventura. Being one of the
few Chinese boys born in Oxnard, Bill garnered a lot of attention from the residents in Chinatown. By 1929, two more boys were born to the Soo
Hoo family: Bartley and Edward. Bartley
spoke about his sisters, “We were gentlemen because we let them come
first, ladies first.”
Yee Tom was
concerned about his children’s education.
He was very knowledgeable, yet Mama Soo Hoo was not educated. Yee Tom brought a teacher over from Hong
Kong to teach the children Chinese, however the Soo Hoo children
were very mischievous, and they constantly played tricks on their new
teacher. Coming from the old country,
the teacher was not used to such antics, so one day he threw up his hands and
quit. The children continued to attend
public schools in Oxnard.
Bill attended Haydock
School, then Roosevelt
School, then Wilson
School and finally Oxnard
High School. He was very athletic and lettered in
basketball, track and tennis. In fact,
in tennis he was undefeated in the country.
Bartley Soo Hoo’s name appeared in the newspaper in 1944, when he was
elected president of the high school Scholarship Society. Edward received the Oxnard Press-Courier annual scholarship award when he graduated
High School in 1947.
The Soo Hoo
children had a pretty typical American upbringing. They played hide and seek, tag, kick the can,
flew kites and played baseball and football.
They roller skated in front of the houses of ill repute, and the lady in
charge would come out and admonish the children by saying, “Keep quiet, my
girls are asleep.”
celebrated both Chinese and American holidays.
Bartley and Irene Soo Hoo remembered Chinese New Year celebrations. The family would enjoy a big dinner the night
before the holiday, and on the actual day there were family gatherings and
banquets at the Golden Chicken Inn, located on Oxnard
“There were [also] home festivities with meals; the Chinese are known
for eating.” Bartley spoke about his mother’s beliefs and
New Year’s Day was to be a day of inactivity.
“If anything happened on Chinese New Year’s, it would happen for the
rest of the year, so my mother was never open for business on that day. She believed that if you were going to spend
money during that year, why you had to spend it on that day, so she always went
shopping on that day.” The children would also receive a red
envelope, called lai see, which contained money on Chinese New Year.
Soo Hoo Yee Tom passed away in 1936. He was suffered a stroke that left the right
half of his body completely paralyzed; he was bedridden for three years. Only on his death bed was he able to speak a
few words. Mama Soo Hoo was left to
raise six children and run the family business.
Irene Soo Hoo Lai spoke about her mother, “When my father died,
[my mother] paid all of his bills. She
was not church going but taught integrity and values, and she taught the Golden
weddings and receptions of both Rose and Irene were reported in the local Oxnard
newspaper. In the fall of 1947, a
newspaper account described a party held at the Pierpont Inn, in Ventura,
announcing Irene’s engagement to Harold Lai of Fresno. Local notables from both the Euroamerican and
Chinese community attended the gala event complete with piano music provided by
the young virtuoso, Rosalie Soo Hoo of Oxnard. In December 1954, Rose married Eugene Akers
Ventura. Their wedding, along with the fashions wore
by the bride and bridal party, was described in the Oxnard Press-Courier. Eugene
Akers was a bomber pilot in the Air Force during World War II, and when he
married Rose he was studying engineering at Cal
Polytechnic College. A wedding reception for the bride and groom
was held in January 1955, and 300 guests attended the traditional American
entered the Army on January 7, 1943
to fight in World War II. The Army sent
him to university to learn Chinese, much to his mother’s delight. He later served in Europe
and worked with the occupation army in Germany,
and while overseas he earned two battle stars.
He returned to Oxnard in
1946 to find three new military bases and a population explosion. The town had grown from 8,000 residents to
1949, the Soo Hoo family opened a new restaurant across Oxnard
Boulevard called Mama Soo Hoo’s Orient. The business was located downstairs, the
living quarters were located upstairs, and the Soo Hoo family lived together
and worked together. At the restaurant,
Mama Soo Hoo and Eddie chopped the meat and Bill took care of the frying. They established a division of labor, and
when the restaurant was busy, they would work at individual stations.
Essa, a family friend, has warm memories of Mama Soo Hoo’s.
Mama Soo Hoo
continued to cook when she was in her seventies . . . I helped out when Rose or
her husband Gene were gone. I would eat
with the family, and they ate differently than the food served at the
restaurant. They had the traditional
Chinese food. I would say to Bill, “You
couldn’t get me to eat that Bird’s Nest Soup!”
One day they had soup and Bill asked me how I liked the soup, and he
told me it was Bird’s Nest Soup. Genny
replied, “I thought I saw a feather in there.”
Mama Soo Hoo came
to America at
the age of 20 to marry a man who was 57 years old. She
was uneducated, yet she could cook up a storm.
Her husband died when she was 43 years old, leaving her with six
children to support in an ethnic enclave of Oxnard. She conducted her business and her family
with an iron fist, so much so that her children called her “the general.” She was greatly loved by her community and her
family who rewarded her hard work with success and dedication. She did not live long enough to see her son
elected to mayor of Oxnard; Mama
Soo Hoo passed away October 8, 1965.
journey into politics began when he experienced institutionalized
discrimination, face to face. Upon his
return from World War II, he wanted to build a house and a lot was available on
Deodor Street in Oxnard. Bill paid for the property and he described
the events that followed.
[The land owner]
called me up two days later and he says, “Bill, you can still buy this but I
just found out you can’t live here.” I
said, “What do you mean I can’t live there?”
He said, “there’s a clause in here that says ‘Caucasians only’, but
there’s no law against you buying it, but you can’t live there. . . . I said,
“What you’re telling me is I’m good enough to go out and fight for my country,
and possibly die for my country, but not good enough to live in it.”
This was the beginning of Bill’s
determination to make changes in Oxnard.
began his public life when he served on the Grand Jury in 1956. He was the first man of Asian heritage to
serve in this capacity. The City Council
was the place where Bill decided to start his political career. In 1960, he made his initial run for the
ruling body in a field of twelve candidates.
He placed third, yet only two seats were available. He was undeterred and in 1962, Bill ran again
for City Council, and that time he was successful.
The office of
mayor was his next goal, and in 1966 he became “Oxnard’s
Native Son Mayor.” With only sixty
people of Chinese ancestry in the City, and perhaps only ten who were
registered, Bill appealed to the greater population of Oxnard. His election was big news! The new mayor was catapulted into world wide
fame; after all, Bill was reportedly the first mayor of Asian heritage elected
to mayor in the United States. Chinese newspapers in the United
States carried the news, and Bill made
headlines in Canada
and Japan. Television and wire services clamored for
more information while the Governor of California, Edmund G. Brown a fellow
Democrat, wanted to ride the wave of Bill’s raising star. Lastly, Bob Lagomarsino, a state senator,
authored a resolution passed by the Senate commemorating Bill ascension to
William Du Chun
Soo Hoo was forty-two years old and his future in public office was
bright. One of his goals was to bring in
new industries to Oxnard that would
in turn promote opportunities for the growing community. Bill knew that his knowledge of business, at
the time he was the owner and manager of Mama Soo Hoo’s Orient, would be an
asset to the city. He wanted to work
closely with the division of Highways and improve relations between the cities
of the Port Hueneme and Camarillo.
politics and he wanted to assure that the citizenry had a voice. When Bill
looked back at his accomplishment during his tenure as the Mayor of Oxnard, he
was the most proud of the development that took place in the city, such as the
building of the inland harbor, additional fire departments and a cultural arts
aspirations for higher public offices and he attempted to unseat Ventura County
Supervisor Thomas E. Laubacher in 1966, yet he was defeated. He fulfilled his term of Mayor of Oxnard in
1970 and than ran as the Democratic candidate against Republican Representative
Charles Teague’s seat in Congress.
Teague retained his position.
time had come for Bill Soo Hoo to get married and he found his match; Angela
Lee in San Francisco. Bill and Angela met at a party in San
Francisco where Angela was asked to turn pages in a
book of music while her friend sang.
Bill approached Angela and asked her when she was going to sing. She stated that she was there only to help
her friend turn pages.
made quite an impression on Bill, because he diligently tracked her down and
called her a few weeks later. Angela
takes the story from here,
[I said to Bill]
“Oh, you know, I don’t really remember who you are.” But after he explained himself, “I’m the mayor
of Oxnard, you know, and I also own
my own Chinese restaurant.” Well, owning
a Chinese restaurant, I believe. A mayor
of Oxnard, I thought, yeah and I’m
the Queen of Sheba. [Later I] found out
that he really was the mayor. It put another light to the whole thing.
a courtship, and to the delight of both families, Bill and Angela were married
in 1968 at Stanford Chapel. He was forty
five and she was thirty five. Many
people came to the wedding from Oxnard,
and Greyhound buses were filled with friends and family from San
After a short honeymoon, the bride and groom returned to Oxnard. Angela was instantly the first lady of the
City, and their only child, Brian, was born in 1969.
leaving political office Bill heard a visiting official from Washington
D.C. say that Port Hueneme
needed a customs house brokerage. So,
Bill and Angela decided to open Soo Hoo Customs House Brokerage to serve Oxnard
Harbor District, and they also have an office in the Los Angeles Chinatown where
they serve Chinese importers and exporters.
Until they opened the office in Los Angeles,
there was not a single Chinese customs house broker.
became of the members of the Soo Hoo family?
Dorothy married a Filipino man named Freddie Estivido who was a meat
cutter at Ashai Market on Oxnard Blvd,
and together they had an ice cream stand near the family restaurant. Dorothy passed away in 1956. Rose and Eugene Akers had a daughter named
Gena and they lived in Lancaster. Rose passed away in 1988. Irene moved to Fresno
and she has a daughter named Elizabeth
and two sons named Harold and Kenneth.
Irene loves to ballroom dance and play bridge. She is a devoted
Christian. Bartley moved to Los Angles,
studied at UCLA, and worked in the life insurance business. He married a Chinese girl from Texas
named Lilly, and they have two children, a son named Michael and a daughter
named Leslie. Bartley passed away in
2004. Edward also studied at UCLA, and
he married a Euroamerican woman named Patricia.
Together they had four children, Wayne, Neill, Jay and Gail. He was a businessman in Ventura
and he bought into and worked with the surveying firm of Lewis and Lewis for 30
years. In 1981, he suffered complication
from neurological surgery; he retired, and passed away in 1994.
Soo Hoo attended USC and married Linda Szeto of Thousand
Oaks in 1992.
Linda and Brian have four children: one son named Brandon and triplet
daughters named Ashley, Melody and Neomy.
Today, Brian and Angela operate Soo Hoo Customs Brokerage. Angela is active with many organizations,
including the Chinese American Historical Society, and she travels often. Her grandchildren are the greatest delight of
her life. Bill Soo Hoo experienced heart
troubles beginning in 1973. In October
1990, he experienced a heart attack and died suddenly. He was 66 years old.
The story of the
Soo Hoo family is one of struggle, determination and success. Yee Tom and Jung Hall Soo Hoo worked hard to
establish a business to support their large family. They bore six children who hailed from
Chinese parentage, yet they were Americans though and though. A few of the children married Chinese
spouses, while others married outside of their ethnicity. The Soo Hoo’s experienced their share of
tragedy, beginning with the death of Yee Tom when the children were young, and
sadly, many of the Soo Hoo children died before their time.
in the public arena. He was the first
man of Asian decent to sit on the Grand Jury in Oxnard,
and he was reported to be the first Chinese American mayor in the United
When asked about his incredible rise to public office, Bill attributed
much of his success to his mother. “What
I am today, I owe to my mother and the fine reputation she established in this
community.”t was Mama Soo Hoo’s philosophy that to be
of service to anyone you must be strong in mind; and Bill embodied this
character trait. He loved the City of
and he worked hard to make significant contributions. While the lives of most Chinese pioneers in America
are unknown; Bill Soo Hoo’s life and accomplishments is written in history
books and he stands as a symbol of success for his family, his city, and his