After Fleeing Communism in China, Harry Jong Builds New Life in Denver

By Emily Maxwell
Jan. 24, 2023

In 1951, when Harry Jong was just 12 years old, he escape the communist takeover of China with his father and siblings. They came from a village in Southern China without electricity or running water and spoke only their native language of Taishun. By the time the family made its way to Denver, a whole new world awaited. 

“My older brother was running a restaurant at the time in downtown Denver,” said Jong. “So we came to Denver.” 

He recalls Denver having a slower pace back then, with fewer cars on the road and gasoline costing 29 cents per gallon. Even this slow life was a stark contrast to his childhood in rural China.

“I went to school, I remember, like six days a week, and we didn't have electricity. So we depended on the candlelight if you wanted to study in the evening,” said Jong. 

His family worked in restaurants throughout his childhood in Colorado because it was the only work his father and brothers could find. Trying to find a room for their family to rent posed a challenge, too. 

“We saw this ad, but by the time we went over to really actually see it, the owner would say, ‘Sorry, this room is already rented out.’” Jong worked 38 years at the Bureau of Reclamation at the Federal Center, starting just days after his high school graduation. While there, he obtained his bachelor’s and later a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado. He then went on to spend another 12 years working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Colorado. 

While raising his now-grown children with wife Martha, Jong said he did his best to impart his Chinese customs and traditions, as well as the importance of education. 

Now retired for several years, he continues to be an active member of the National Wong Family Benevolent Association, where he’s found community with other Chinese Americans throughout the country and a way to stay connected to his roots.

“I was able to continue with the culture, talk to people in need of help, help them, send flowers,” Jong said.