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Paper Sons

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Anti-Chinese Exclusion & Illegal Entry

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed to severely restrict Chinese immigration to the U. S. Entry of merchants, and their families, was still tolerated to allow U.S. to benefit from economic trade with China. To counter this discriminatory legislation, the Chinese created ways of illegal entry using false identities. Older Chinese who had worked in the U. S. and held merchant status but had no sons in China would nonetheless claim the existence of sons. They would then sell the immigration papers of their nonexistent sons to unrelated young men who wanted to come to America to seek their fortune on Gold Mountain.

These imposters, called paper sons, would attempt to enter using their fake papers (gai chee). Inasmuch as the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906 had destroyed immigration records, it was thus possible for many Chinese to claim such sons had been reported earlier.

In an effort to detect these paper sons and deny entry, immigration Officers asked detailed questions about the physical and social structure of the villages from which the immigrants allegedly came. Equally detailed questioning was also directed toward the family and relatives supposedly shared by the paper sons and their alleged fathers. Separate interrogations would be made of the paper sons seeking entry and of the fathers attempting to bring them into the country and inconsistencies between them would often be the basis for deportation.

Do You Think You Could Pass The Immigration Interrogation? (Click link and find out) ______________________________________________

Father's Immigration Document in 1921
His name, Ben, was later changed to Frank

My father, Kwok Fui, like all other paper sons, was coached carefully with answers for the kinds of questions that would likely be asked. He had claimed to be the son of Jung Lim, a merchant in San Francisco, but in reality was using false papers as no such son existed. That is of course why he had to abandon his family name, Lo, and use the surname, Jung, of his paper father. During his immigration entry in 1921, he was asked dozens of questions. He was asked about the physical layout of the village, which direction the main street faced, features of the house in which he lived such as how many windows were on each side of the building, how many doors there were, and how many stairs led up to the front door. Questions about relatives living in the home and where they slept were asked.

Angel Island Immigration Station
Chinese were processed for entry at the Immigration Detention and Quarantine Station on Angel Island in the San Francisco bay not far from Alcatraz Island. Detention was usually two to three weeks, but many stayed for several months or even longer while awaiting decisions.
Living conditions were austere if not outright deplorable. Men and women had separate common open barracks for sleeping quarters that afforded no privacy. Women were even separated for a while from their children, creating much distress for all of them. Communal living quarters held over 100 people who would sleep in bunk beds, stacked three high with little space between each row.
Food was tasteless and bland, and totally foreign and different from the diet she was accustomed to in China. Sometimes rice would be provided, but it was not steamed as the Chinese cook it, so it was not appetizing. The misery and anguish of those detained on Angel Island were often poignantly captured in verses written in Chinese. These expressions of suffering carved on walls of the buildings were later found and preserved.
My mother would later often relate to us about how difficult it was to be confined like a jail prisoner on Angel Island. This trying ordeal that greeted her to America was one that she often related bitterly to her children as they grew up. She used her experiences as evidence of how much injustice and discrimination was inflicted on the Chinese.

Angel, or Was It 'Devil' Island

Chinese immigrants felt like they were in a prison while they awaited the interrogation that would determine whether they entered the U. S. or were deported. You can not imagine the ordeal until you see transcripts of the actual interviews. Here is one page from my father's and one from my mother's interrogation. Each interview ran about 50 single spaced typed pages with detailed questions about issues that no normal person could really answer well. With careful coaching and much study, and some luck, they managed to 'pass' the test.

Excerpt from Father's Immigration Interrogation

Below is an excerpt from mother's interrogation