NY Times: On Paper Sons

The New York Times had an excellent article on the “paper son” phenomenon that hugely impacted Chinese American immigration into this country. Here’s an excerpt:

“When we think about illegal immigration, we think about Mexican immigrants, whereas in fact illegal immigration cuts across all immigrant groups,” said Erika Lee, the author of “At America’s Gate: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943.” The book traces how today’s national apparatus of immigration restriction was created and shaped by efforts to keep out Chinese workers and to counter the tactics they developed to overcome the barriers.

The current parallels are striking, said Professor Lee, who teaches history at the University of Minnesota. And though some descendants of paper sons do not make the connection, many others have become immigrant rights advocates in law, politics or museums like this one, which hopes to draw a national audience to its new Chinatown space, designed by Maya Lin.

“In the Chinese-American community, it has only been very recently that these types of histories have been made public,” Professor Lee said. “Even my own grandparents who came in as paper sons were very, very reluctant to talk about this.”

[…]

“To get into the U.S. under the laws back then, I had to pretend to be another person,” Mr. Hom wrote. His father had bought him immigration papers that included 32 pages of information he was to memorize in preparation for hours of interrogation at Ellis Island.

Such cheat sheets were part of an elaborate, self-perpetuating cycle of enforcement and evasion, historians say. The authorities kept ratcheting up their scrutiny and requirements for documents, feeding a lucrative network of fraud and official corruption as immigrants tried to show they were either merchants or native-born citizens, groups exempt from the exclusion laws.

Read the full article here: Immigration Stories, From Shadows to Spotlight

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