Scope and Contents
Newspaper issues of the Southwest Chinese Journal (cataloged separately), photographs submitted to the newspaper for publication purposes and a small amount of correspondence regarding the Lee Printing Company of Houston, Texas, owned by Gene and Hedy Lee. The newspapers and photographs reflect Chinese culture in Houston during the 1970s and 1980s, including family life, business activities, cultural arts and organizations, news, and special events such as the Miss Chinatown contests. The bulk of the materials are comprised of these photographs, many of which taken by photographer Alvin Wong Gee. Gene's Food Market materials include wholesale grocery receipts and two interior photographs.
Language of Materials
The newspaper issues are in Chinese, with English language identification of newspaper title, volume, issue and date. Photographs are largely unidentified, but do in some cases have annotations in either Chinese or English. Correspondence with the Lee Printing Company is in English.
Biographical / Historical
Gene L. Lee, military veteran, entrepreneur, and publisher, was born on October 5, 1926, in Canton, part of China's Guangdong province. While only a young boy, Lee's father left their village of Toisan and traveled to Canada. Lee's mother passed away soon thereafter and Lee was raised by his sister with financial assistance provided by their father in Canada. Lee rarely spoke of his early childhood, for it was certainly marked by upheaval and uncertainty.
Lee did, however, travel in a month-long journey to the United States in 1949. His family was instrumental in aiding his travels: his father helped pay for the ship voyage, uncles and cousins joined Lee, and he ultimately lived with his sister and her husband in Houston, Texas. Soon after arriving in Texas, Lee was drafted into the United States Army and was assigned to occupation duty in Germany. Lee fondly remembered his service in the military as a time in which he met people of great diversity and was exposed to a host of disciplines including classes on typing, mathematics, and history. These formative experiences reflected Lee's life-long ambition to learn as much as possible through self-education.
While in Germany Lee met his future wife, Hedy. Following a courtship of only six weeks, Gene and Hedy married. The couple knew very little English and used a pocket dictionary to assist their communication. The Lees lived for two years in Germany while Gene completed his military service.
The couple returned to Houston and Lee began working in at his uncle's grocery. Gene and Hedy, though, soon purchased their own market and, throughout the 1960s, turned it into a successful business. Lee exhibited a strong work-ethic and labored seven days a week. Gene's Food Market, located at 3404 Leeland, was a family enterprise; all five of the Lee children worked in the store.
In 1970 Lee opened Lee Printing Company in Houston. He had long expressed an interest in the printing business, took community college courses on the subject, and sought advice from some of Houston's existing printers. Lee Printing provided both English and Chinese printing services and even sold office supplies to other businesses.
The printing industry directed the already successful Lee toward publishing his own newspaper. In 1976, he introduced the region's first Chinese/English newspaper, the Southwest Chinese Journal. Similar to his success in the grocery and printing business, Lee's positive influence was easily seen in the printing industry. One of his employees, Wea Lee (no relation), a Lamar University graduate, later founded the Southern News Group, which publishes multiple Chinese-language papers.
Lee retired from his prosperous businesses in 1994 and handed the daily operations to his son, Sam. Gene Lee, in addition to being a successful entrepreneur and businessman was also an avid reader and dedicated to self-education. He immersed himself in classical Chinese literature, history, and poetry. A connoisseur of Chinese music, Lee played violin with a Cantonese opera group.
Gene Lee passed away on October 24, 2010, and was survived by his wife, Hedy, their five children, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandaughter.