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 States. 

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 political prominence.    

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 Francisco. 


Bill’s mother, 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, California. 

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 years old.  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 from Oxnard Union 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.”

The family 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 Blvd.  “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 Rule.” 

The engagements, 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 of 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 style soirée.

            Bill 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 13,000 residents. 

            In 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.  

            Genny 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.

            Bill’s 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. 

            He 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 office.

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.  

Bill loved 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 center. 

Bill had 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. 

            The 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. 

Apparently Angela 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. 


            After 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 Francisco.  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.

            After 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. 

            What 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.

            Brian 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. 

Bill skyrocketed 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 States .  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 Oxnard 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 countrymen.