'American Paper Son' book helps libraries

3:23:24 PM CDT - Thursday, March 02, 2006

By Chase Willhite

Wayne Wong can tell a story.

He can tell the story of his immigration to the United States from China at the age of 13.

He can tell the story of his service during World War II in the only all Chinese-American regiment ever assembled by the U.S. military.

He can tell the story of his experience living and raising a family in the Midwest.

Now, all of those stories and many others are captured in Wong's new book, "American Paper Son."

But, through Wong's generosity, the book itself has become part of another story.

A portion of the royalties from the book will go to support the Wayne Hung Wong and Kim Suey Yee Wong Endowed Library Fund at WSU, which will be used to purchase books, films and other materials about Asian culture for Ablah Library.

Wayne Wong
Photo by David Dinell

Wayne Wong, who will donate part of the royalties from his new book to help WSU Libraries, displays some of the medals he has been awarded.
Until recently, those interviews have been shared every spring only at the William Inge Theatre Festival, held at Independence Community College, Wood's alma mater.

Wong, a successful local businessman, hopes these materials help future generations better understand the culture.
"It's very important to me that people today know the past," Wong said. "Knowing that, they can better understand what happens in the future."

Those wanting to learn about the past can find a wealth of information in Wong's book. The public will also have an opportunity to hear more from Wong during a book signing March 13 at the Marcus Welcome Center.

Following the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, immigration from China to the United States became increasingly difficult, with Chinese-Americans having to resort to new means to bring their families.

Wong was able to join his birth father in America only after authorities could be convinced that he was the son of a U.S. citizen who'd raised a family during a trip to China. Thus, Wong became the "paper son" of one of his father's acquaintances.

Also a decorated World War II veteran he was awarded a number of medals for his service Wong tells of his experiences with the 987th Signal Operations Co., which served as a liaison between American and Chinese troops.

The idea to write a book came after Wong connected in the early 1990s with Barbara Hammond of the Sedgwick County Historical Museum. Hammond then introduced Wong to Benson Tong, a former WSU faculty member who edited "American Paper Son" and wrote an introduction for the book.

While Wong was working with Tong on the book, he also came into contact with Mike Kelly, former special collections manager for WSU Libraries.

Through Kelly, Wong learned that there weren't many materials dealing with Asian culture among the library's collections. It wasn't long until Wong's endowment became a reality.

Wong's gift and continued support are very unique, despite the fact that the library has many other endowments supporting it.

According to Lynette Murphy, development director for the WSU Foundation, Wong is one of the few, if not the only, Asian-Americans to have an endowment with the Foundation.

"This is a gentleman who represents both a very important group of Americans and a very important time period in our nation's history," Murphy said. "He was made aware of a need for resources, and he stepped up to lend his support."

It's that support that is already making a difference at the library.

"Through Mr. Wong's support, we are able to purchase quality materials about the Asian culture, but these materials are also relevant in terms of history, sociology, general studies and a number of other fields," said Pal Rao, dean of University Libraries. "All of this is significant in terms of building a quality collection and preserving this culture within our institution."

In addition to the historical references in his book, Wong also discusses the many people who have helped him through his life as he undertook restaurant and real estate ventures in the Wichita area.

It's those relationships that have kept him in Wichita all these years.

"I'm very grateful for all of the opportunities I've had in America and Wichita," Wong said. "I hope that this endowment can make a difference like so many people made a difference for me."

Wayne Wong will sign copies of his book, which will be for sale, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 13, at the Marcus Welcome Center. Jay Price, assistant professor of history, and Pal Rao, dean of University Libraries, will participate, with Price giving a historical perspective and Rao talking about the importance of an endowment fund created by Wong and his wife for the libraries.

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