To celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, members of the API ERG are sharing their personal heritage stories.
How did a mixed race orphan survive World War II in the Philippines to thrive in the U.S.? Janie Pinterits, a program manager in the IDEA office, shares her father’s inspiring story.
We invite other API members to contribute to our growing heritage video collection.
Hello, I’m Janie Pinterits. I’m a program manager in the IDEA office and I’m a member of the Asian Pacific Islander ERG. I’ll be talking about “Surviving and Thriving: An immigration story of a biracial orphan.”
So, how did this little mixed race urchin eventually make it from the Philippines to the U.S. and become my extraordinary father?
Me and my dad Tony McKay can be found every weekend at the Laney Flea Market in Oakland, where you’ll find him haggling with people, walking around on his cane and you wouldn’t know where he came from. He was born in 1930 where he was the youngest of eight kids. His mother was a laundry woman and his father was an American plumber from Eureka, California, on contract with the U.S. military. Both of his parents died though, before he was one year old, and so this was a struggle for all of these eight kids to make it through for the coming years.
Of the eight kids, only three survived World War II and eventually made it to the U.S. During World War II, his two sisters died of illnesses and his three brothers were caught by the Japanese forces and eventually did not make it through. His oldest brother was already shipping out, trying to help the family by bringing in some income, and so he made it to the U.S. by then. But being biracial kids, they had to decide, you know, these ones that were captured, would they be in the line for American prisoners or Filipino prisoners? They split up and, unfortunately, neither one of them made it through.
But Tony was able to get his parents’ marriage license, bring it to the embassy when he was 15 and get a passport. And when he found out that there was a job on a ship as a dishwasher, he got on at 16 and because he was an American citizen then, was able to come to the U.S., start middle school, and complete it at the age of 17. Because during the war, of course, there was no school to go to, it was all disrupted.
So despite the atrocities that he witnessed and the hardships, he got here—and safely—was able to start working. He also started working in engine rooms and ships, was eventually able to become a merchant marine engineer, get some licenses as an engineer and join a union, and to go back and forth between the U.S. and the Pacific, and met back up with a childhood sweetheart. They married, had 60 years of marriage, four kids and six grandchildren. Here he is as he, after he retired, and you can see here one of his nieces also survived, and they’re both alive here in California.
So how did this mixed race orphan survive in the Philippines through these challenging years to make it to the U.S.? Doubtless it was his ingenuity, hard work, frugality, his family, and his street smarts that helped him get through.
But he was also supported by a wider community that helped him. He had citizenship privilege, and his whiteness also helped him achieve things that other Asian and Filipino folks weren’t able to do. He got union membership and through that, he was able to have some social class mobility that helped our family as a whole.
So hope that gives you a sense of our heritage, and if you ever see him – an old guy at the flea market haggling – you can imagine what kind of story there is behind that.
Thank you very much.