70 years ago this week, the U.S. repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law that had prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers since 1882. Despite the discriminatory policy, many Chinese continued to enter the U.S. on forged papers, and a report from NPR looks at the genealogical confusion that still lingers today:
William Wong says that even as a child, he knew Wong was his last name on paper only; his real family name is Gee.
“We knew when we were growing up in Oakland’s Chinatown that we were a Gee family,” says Wong, 72, a retired journalist in Piedmont, Calif.
Wong’s family was one of thousands made up of “paper sons and daughters,” Chinese immigrants who were the “children” of Chinese-American citizens only on paper — fraudulent documents with false names. Blood relatives of American-born Chinese, as well as Chinese merchants, teachers and students, were among the exceptions to the immigration restrictions, which targeted Chinese laborers.
70 years after the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Asian-Americans in Florida are pressing state lawmakers to scrap a standing (if unenforced) provision preventing Asians from owning property in the state.
For more on “paper sons and daughters,” see Byron Yee’s one-man show “Paper Son” or Felicia Lowe’s upcoming documentary “Chinese Couplets”—Yee and Lowe were both featured in the NPR story. For Canadian examples of ancestral ambiguity as a result of immigration policy, watch the short film “Paper Sons and Daughters” on Vimeo. Also see The New York Times’ coverage of a new immigration study which tells a modern day Chinese immigration story.