Sunday, July 8, 2012

Estelle T. Lau " Paper Families"

Recently, I completed a series of posts on my family history blog about the immigration interrogations of the Jue family on Angel Island in 1918. An excellent book that details the manner in which immigration policies and procedures developed during the Chinese Exclusion era as well as the Chinese response to those policies is Estelle Lau's book, "Paper Families- Identity, Immigration Administration, and Chinese Exclusion". Over time,  Exclusion era procedures which initially were relatively simple and cursory became increasing complex and more difficult as Chinese immigrants attempted to circumvent the racist immigration laws of the time and the immigration service attempted to prevent them from doing so. Because of the difficulty immigration officials had in verifying the testimony of applicants and witnesses about events occurring in China, increasing reliance was placed on the consistency of testimony amongst the witnesses. This led to increasingly detailed questions about family relationships and events and the physical layout of homes and villages in an attempt to show inconsistencies between testimony that would reveal fraud. These interviews became so diffcult that even real family members were in danger of giving the wrong answers.
Family members attempting to immigrate to America during the Exclusion era could do so only as a member of the exempt merchant class or as family of native born American citizens. This loophole in the Exclusion laws lead to extensive fraudulant claims of  family relations amongst Chinese immigrants. Fictious families , and paper identities, and extensive coaching notes were needed in order to effect immigration. Over 80% of families that immigrated during the Exclusion era had at least one family member who immigrated under a paper identity.
The fictious identies had major implications on  the structure of Chinese communities. Chinese imigrants needed to be closed mouthed and insular during the Exclusion era in their dealings with the greater white communities for fear of discovery of  their illegal status and deportation.
Ms. Lau did extensve research of Exclusion era transcripts housed at the National Archives in San Bruno and presents a detailed and fascinating portrait of the interaction of the Immigration service in San Francisco  and the Chinese immigrant community throughout the Exclusion era.  The book has numerous case studies of  individual immigration files that illustrate the way the  immigration service itself was changed over the years as a result of the interaction with Chinese immigrants who became increasingly sophisticated in trying to circumvent it's procedures.
Finally, Ms. Lau discusses the legacies of how the Exclusion era policies continue to shape the nature of United States immigration procedures and policies in the 21st century.

No comments:

Post a Comment