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From China to chop suey

Updated: 2020-12-26 12:45:31


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On their way back to Adams' home in Memphis in 1966, Adams, wife Liu Linfeng and their two children on board a ship in Hawaii. [Photo provided by Della Adams to China Daily]

One word that surfaces from time to time and provides a dark, unsettling undercurrent to the narrative is racism. The book begins with depictions of the discrimination experienced daily by a black boy growing up in Memphis, Tennessee.

"We were allowed to shop on Main Street, but we could not eat anywhere or use a toilet," he said. One time, when a 12-year-old Adams was peeing in an alley behind the main street, he was spotted by the police and had to walk away while "peeing right down" in his own shoes.

"I might not have known what China was really like before I went there, but I certainly knew what life was like for blacks in America, especially in Memphis," Adams said years later, in defense of his life-changing decision.

The segregation was total: black teachers taught only black students; black doctors treated exclusively black patients; and black mailmen delivered mail only to blacks. Adams, who called himself "small but tough", received boxing training yet was only allowed to fight other blacks in the ring. (Years later he would take part in a bout held inside the POW camps as the war raged on. And that was more than a decade before he taught the same skills to his daughter so that she could fight off another version of racism in a place her father called home.)

In the 40s the teenage Adams, nicknamed Skippy because of his happy-jumpy nature, learned to hop trains for fun. "We would not just run up and hop on-we had to do it with style," he said.

Once, while doing his "swinging and hooking", a friend of Adams hand-slipped and landed under the train. "There he was. His body was lying on one side of the train and his legs on the other," said Adams who, if not for a series of events that took place not long afterward, might have met a similar fate.

"My father joined the army on Sept 11, 1947, at the age of 18," Della Adams said. "The day before, he had a rather violent clash with a neighborhood bully in the morning, before he and his pals ran into trouble with a white tramp asking them to find him a black woman."

The next day police banged at the front door. Getting a peek of the two policemen from the kitchen, Adams ran out the back door and kept running along the railway track until he arrived at an army recruiting station. Then and there he became an American GI.

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