This quality of independence that his parents saw in their second son later reassured them that he would be a good choice to send to America. Personal characteristics that made him a perfect candidate to send to the United States—youth, independence, and bravery—also became the very traits that facilitated survival in a strange land.
The changing policies of the U. The alliance with the United States against Japan resulted in a change of attitude and policies toward Chinese immigration to America. The Repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in ended almost six decades of involuntary exclusion of Chinese laborers, who had been blamed for taking jobs away from European Americans; the amendment to the War Brides Act enabled Asian GIs to marry in Asia and bring their brides back to the United States Chan John Hom had reported earlier to the Immigration and Naturalization Services INS that he had a wife, five sons, and a daughter in China; in truth, however, he only had two sons and a daughter.
The Page Law, passed by Congress in , forbade the entry of Asian contract laborers, and the Chinese Exclusion Law suspended the entry of Chinese laborers for ten years. Chinese exclusion was extended in , again in , and made indefinite in Chan To overcome the legal obstacles that discriminated against them, some fraudulently claimed Chinese-American citizens as their fathers. Even when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by Congress in , it allowed only a low quota of Chinese per year, making it no better than the original exclusion law Chan Uncle John offered the Lau family the opportunity to bring someone over to the U.
Besides, it was a rare opportunity for someone in the family to go abroad; four other sons at home could help with the family business. One of the major factors pushing him to leave south China was his parents—they wanted to give at least one of their five sons the opportunity to live in another country and to bring over the rest of the family some day. Another push factor was the instability of the time: China had a long history of dynastic conquests and foreign intervention, and many people predicted that with the Communist takeover in , another period of uncertainty was on the horizon.
As a safety precaution, it was best if someone in the family was away, even if present conditions did not seem so bad. The image of the U. It is Tien Tong Heaven. The possibility of living in a grand house and the promise of adventure in a new country attracted many young men like Stan. Like many others before him, Stan spent six months prior to the trip studying the Hom family background and village information to prepare for the intense INS interview that awaited him once he set foot in America.
He remembered that he studied day and night because he could not afford to make any mistakes. Before he could begin a new life, Stan first had to establish his new identity with INS officers through an intensive interview process.
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He remembered that he had to stay in the government office building on Sansome Street in San Francisco for fourteen days. He recalled that some of the other Chinese there had to stay for weeks, months, even years. Stan felt as nervous as any young person faced with a tough situation; yet, because he knew the consequences of failing, he overcame his fear and passed the interview. Not everyone was as lucky as Stan; many were caught falsifying documents and were deported back to China, where they had to face their families in disgrace.
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But life was, nevertheless, hard for young Stan. He had not yet learned his ABCs, and already the school was pushing him to learn as much as he could so he could be moved to the seventh grade. In addition, Stan still worried about the financial situation of his family in China, so he decided to work as soon as he was old enough. His sense of independence—one of his strongest traits—convinced him never to give up.
The letters from home were vague about what was really happening in China at the time, because the Chinese government monitored mail going overseas. Although Stan knew vaguely about the political chaos in China in the s through news reports, he could only speculate about what was actually happening to his family until a few decades later, when he discovered that his own mother had been forced to sit under the blazing sun for a full day and suffer verbal and physical abuse from Red Guards—political extremists who believed that all landowners and small merchants victimize peasant farmers.
Many in the U. During the National Conference of Chinese Welfare Council in , Chinese community leaders and the Justice Department worked out a plan which called for an individual to reveal his true identity; in return, he would be granted immunity from prosecution and deportation Lai and Choy A self-reflective and expressive man, Chin wrote poetry commenting on life in China and the hardships of being an immigrant in the United States.
His work was regularly published in the China Daily News and brought him to the attention of the FBI, then intent on ferreting out communists and illegal immigrants. His vigorous narrative speaks to the day-to-day anxieties of living as a Paper Son as well as the more universal immigrant experiences of raising a family in modest circumstances and bridging cultures.
Journey of a Paper Son
Historian K. Scott Wong introduces Chin's memoir, discussing the limitations on immigration from China and what is known about Exclusion-era Chinese American communities.
Set in historical context, Tung Pok Chin's unique story offers an engaging account of a twentieth-century Paper Son. Tung Pok Chin was a self-taught poet philosopher steeped in the Laundries and restaurants of Boston and New York City during the nightmarish years of the Chinese exclusion and McCarthy red-baiting.
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He writes with a penetrating insight that transports the reader into the working lives of isolated men trying their best to survive a hostile racist world while somehow saving pennies to support their loved ones still in Guangdong. This is far more than the story of one man: he is writing the truth of generations of paper sons and paper daughters. Chin's account not only reveals the details and strategy of how he conducted his 'paper life'; it also puts human flesh to our skeletal knowledge of how papers sons lived their day-to-day lives during the Great Depression, World War II, and the McCarthy Era….
Chin's memoir relates this information in a manner that is immediately accessible, warm, reflective, human, and insightful.
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No doubt his writing style reveals a great deal about his personality, but it also reminds us that much of our history of the exclusion era is faceless. Scott Wong , from the Introduction. At this time when the Asian American Curriculum Project is trying to promote new Asian Pacific American poets and their writings, it's good to be featuring a book on one of our community's pioneering poets.
Founded by Sucheng Chan in , the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique.