paper son

<<written & performed by byron yee>>

  • Q:  What is a "Paper Son"?
    • A: "Paper Son" was a term coined for young Chinese males attempting to enter the United States on identity papers that were bought for them.  The identity papers were established by American citizens of Chinese descent who left the US to travel back to China.  Upon returning, they would claim a marriage and the birth of several sons.  Years later, these young Chinese males would appear claiming to be the sons of these citizens.  In fact, a substantial number of these boys were sons "on paper only", thus the term "Paper Son".

    • Affidavit claiming Yee Wee Thing is the son of Yee Guey, an American Citizen

  • Q:  What was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882?
    • A:  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the only law in American History to deny citizenship or entry based on a specific nationality.  Anti Chinese sentiment, specifically from California, fueled by a recession in the 1870's led to the passage of this act which was the beginning of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  Prior to this law, the United States had an open immigration policy.  The only exceptions allowed were for teachers, merchants, students, diplomats, and tourists.  However, a son or daughter of a citizen was also granted entry regardless of nationality.

  • Q:  Why was the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 significant to Chinese immigration?
    • A:  The fire after the great San Francisco earthquake nearly destroyed the entire city, including buildings holding official government documents and files.  All birth records were destroyed.  As a result, every Chinese came forward to claim natural born citizenship, thus allowing them to travel freely between the US and China.  Later it was determined that if every man who came forward was a citizen of the US, each Chinese woman in San Francisco would have to have given birth to 800 boys.

      San Francisco City Hall and the Hall of Records after the Great Earthquake and fire of 1906

  • Q:  What is the Angel Island Immigration Station?
    • A:  The Angel Island Immigration Station was the primary processing point for Chinese immigrants entering the United States from 1910 - 1940.  To try and discourage hopeful Chinese from entering the US after the San Francisco Earthquake, the US Government moved the processing point from San Francisco to Angel Island, the largest island in San Francisco Bay near Tiburon.  (Visitors to San Francisco may have seen but not recognized Angel Island, which sits beyond Alcatraz Island in the bay).  While Europeans were processed within hours and the Japanese within a day or so, Chinese immigrants were detained anywhere from two weeks to three years before being admitted to the US or denied entry.

      Angel Island Immigration Station.  The barracks are in the right center.

  • Q:  When and why was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 repealed?
    • A:  After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7th, 1941, sentiment against the Chinese shifted while Japanese Americans became the object of hostility and anger.  China became a close ally of the US and in turn the US Government and President Roosevelt returned the favor by repealing the Exclusion Act on December 17, 1943.  However, a "National Origins System" or Quota System was then implemented setting a quota for Chinese immigration to the United States at 105 per year.  The quota system was eventually abolished with immigration reform in the 1960's which paved the way for thousands of Chinese immigrants to legally come to America. 

      Chinese immigrants arrive at Angel Island.

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