Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

The Story of My Paper Brother, Chin Young Dock

by Lincoln Chin

Our family was so desperate during the Great Depression that my parents decided, with grandfather’s encouragement, that Mom would take three of her four children to Macao. Four family members leaving San Francisco would relieve the pressure on Pop to provide for his family.  In Macao we would be taken care of by Grandmother.  She had invested in a company in Shanghai and was living very well on the returns of her investment.  She had a two-story house at Ho Laun Yuen #3 Main Street in Macao.  She had servant girls working for her and she had a chef who cooked for the entire household.  This would not be just a temporary visit to China. The long-term plan was for us children to go to school and grow up in Macao.


In researching our family’s immigration files of this journey to and from Macao, it became obvious to me that in addition to dealing with the problem of the economic depression, my parents had a secondary scheme to earn some money. They would create an immigration slot that they could sell some years down the line.  They would start the process by informing the Immigration Service, as we prepared to depart San Francisco, that Mom was pregnant. Then after an appropriate interval, Pop would notify the Immigration Service that Mom had given birth to a son in Macao, and provide them with the name and date of birth of the nonexistent son.  This would be a long-term project, for they would not be able to sell the immigration slot for another 15 to 20 years.  The young man who would pose as the paper son of Chin Foo would have to be able to memorize the history of the Chin family in order to pass the immigration interview.

On September 19, 1929, we took the ferry to Angel Island to apply for return certificates.  The return certificates would facilitate readmission into the country upon our return from China.  All applicants were required to have their identities verified based on an interrogation of family and personal history and photographs.   Although my father was not going on the trip, he would be serving as a witness. Hence, he was put through the interrogation process as well.  Toward the end of the interview, when he was asked if he had anything further to state, he casually volunteered the information that his wife was two months pregnant.  Subsequently, when Mom was interviewed, she confirmed Pop’s statement concerning her pregnancy.

The immigration inspectors were well aware of the various schemes used by the Chinese to circumvent the Chinese Exclusion Act.  The “paper son” scheme for getting a China-born person past the Immigration Service was well known and commonly used by Chinese immigrants.   It is understood that the immigration inspectors were familiar with this immigration scam and would be suspicious of the claim that Mom was pregnant.  Knowing this, my parents asked Dr. Bertha Stark to contact the Immigration Service and confirm the pregnancy, which she did with a hand-written letter:

To whom it Concerns:

This certifies that Mrs. Chin Foo–Leong Yoke Wan–wife of Mr. Chin Foo, is contemplating a trip to China and is now two months pregnant.

Very Truly Yours,

B. W. Stark, M.D.

The letter was dated September 20, 1929, and was received by the Immigration Service on September 21, 1929, two days after my parents were interviewed.  During the interrogation of my parents on September 19, 1929, the immigration inspectors had obtained the birth information of each of the Chin children:  George was born on March 5, 1921, in Macao; no doctor’s name was given.  Marshall was born on September 9, 1922, at 649 Kearny Street and the attending physician was Dr. Minnie Worley.  Lincoln was born on March 9, 1924, at 46 Beckett Street and the physician was Dr. Lafontaine.  Iva was born on March 14, 1927, at 1206 Stockton Street and the physician was Dr. Rose Goon-Wong.  Had the Immigration Service received Dr. Stark’s letter before interrogating my parents, they surely would have asked Mom why she used the service of Dr. Stark instead of one of the doctors who had tended the births of her children. Typical of Chinese immigrants, my parents were not advocates of prenatal care so why did Mom call on Dr. Bertha W. Stark?  It was probably because she was known by the Chinese immigrant community to be empathetic toward them and was willing to do special favors for them.

It was on October 23, 1929, that we sailed to Hong Kong, where we stayed overnight, and then caught the ferry to Macao. Upon arriving in Macao, Marshall and I were almost immediately enrolled in school, he in the first grade and I in kindergarten.  Iva was only three years old and was spared the drudgery of attending school.  We had lived in Macao for a number of months when Iva developed an infection in her lower leg.  The infection had spread and had attacked her shinbone, osteomalitis, which could result in amputation of her lower left leg.  Fearfully and with a heavy heart, Mom took Iva to visit a medical doctor who was in the Portuguese Army, but who also maintained a civilian practice. This was before the era of antibiotics; it was almost miraculous that the doctor was able to clear the infection and save Iva’s leg.  (Iva told me in later years that the doctor exposed the infected bone and physically scraped it clean of the infection.)  When they returned home from the doctor’s office, Iva, a precocious 3-year-old, said to Mom, “If I don’t go back to the Gold Mountain, I will die.”  Upon hearing that heartrending pronouncement, Mom was so shaken that she decided to return to America with the children.  However, Grandmother wanted one of the grandsons to remain with her.  Since Marshall was older and better behaved than I, he was selected to remain in Macao with grandmother.  He was about 7 or 8 years old at the time and he did not return to the U.S. until he was about 16.  Iva and I were overjoyed when mom gave us the news that we would be going back to San Francisco.

The change in our residency plan in Macao required a drastic change in the paper son scheme.  The immigration slot would have to be used now, not later.  Mom wasted no time.  Through word of mouth, she found a healthy and handsome baby boy that a poor family wanted to sell.  That was how one day when Marshall and I returned home from school, we were told that we have a new baby brother by the name of Chin Young Dock. It was quite confusing at the time.  I remembered that Mom saw us off to school in the morning and when we came home in the afternoon, she was holding this new family member in her arms.  I had virtually no memory of him from that moment on.  The reason for this, I suspect, was that I was not mentally ready for anyone to replace me as the youngest son in the family, a role that I had enjoyed and had played to the hilt.  Not understanding that he was a phony younger brother, I apparently shut him out from my thoughts. As a consequence, I retained only a vague memory that he had existed. This was the reason I decided to research the Chin family immigration files relative to the 1929-30 era at the National Archives in San Bruno. To my delight, there was not only a file for Chin Young Dock, there were also a couple of photos of him (Chinese Departure Case File 29587/4-28).

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My 6-month-old paper brother, Chin Young Dock, in 1930. Courtesy National Archives, Pacific Regional Branch.

The four Chin Foo family members who left Macao arrived in San Francisco on September 17, 1930, and were sent to Angel Island for processing.  Iva and I were quickly landed because we were “natives.”  Mom and Chin Young Dock were incarcerated on Angel Island for two days because the Immigration Service needed to verify that Chin Young Dock was truly the son of Chin Foo.  Mom was interviewed first.  Inspector R. W. Hanlen was Chairman of the Board of Special Inquiry and did all the questioning.  After the preliminary verification of identity, including a recitation of all the children in the family and each of their age and date of birth, the inspectors learned that Chin Young Dock was born in Macao on March 25, 1930.  When asked if her husband was in Macao at the time of birth of the baby, mom responded, “No,” but that she had written a letter on the 1st or 2nd of April to inform him of the baby’s birth and of his full name, Chin Young Dock.  She stated that she and her husband had agreed that if the baby were a son, they would give him the generational middle name of “Young,” which was the same for the other sons.  The boy’s grandmother in Macao would decide on the third character of the name.  They had not given any thought of a girl’s name at any time.  When asked if she had obtained a birth certificate for the new baby, Mom responded that they did not issue birth certificates in China.

Chin Foo, the alleged father of Chin Young Dock, was next in the witness chair. When he was asked how he learned of his son’s birth, he said that his wife had informed him by letter. He claimed his brother, Chin Sow, and his mother also had written to him about the baby.  The inspectors wanted to know whether he and his wife had agreed on a name for the expected child before she left for China. Chin Foo’s response was that he wasn’t sure whether they did or not. Annoyed, Inspector Hanlen said, “If you expected a child to be born to your wife, you should know if there was an agreement with your wife as to what name should be given the child?”  This statement was punctuated with a question mark, although an exclamation point would have been more appropriate.  Equally hot under the collar, Pop said, “I did not tell her what name should be given to the child because I did not know whether it would be a boy or a girl!”  Inspector Hanlen doggedly pursued this line of questioning:

Q.  Did you have any discussion with your wife as to what name should be given to the expected child?
A.  No.

Q.  You do not agree with your wife’s statement in this matter.
A.  I might have told her, but I have forgotten whether I did or not.

Q.  Who did select the name given to Chin Young Dock?
A.   I sent a letter home and named the child.

Q.  When did you send this letter?
A.  I do not remember. I sent the letter home after the child was born.

Q.  When your wife notified you of Chin Young Dock’s birth, didn’t she give any name for the child?
A.  I have forgotten that.

Q.  Was any birth certificate secured for Chin Young Dock?
A.  I do not know whether my wife obtained one from the Macao authorities.

Q.  This applicant is actually your own blood child.  You should know definitely whether or not any name was mentioned when you received notification of his birth.

The interview with Chin Foo was somewhat heated and inconclusive, but there was no basis for denying the claim that Chin Young Dock was the son of Chin Foo.  In his summary of the case Chairman Hanlen wrote:

Although the testimony given regarding the circumstances of bestowing a name on applicant 4-28 [Chin Young Dock] is not entirely satisfactory, I believe that the evidence justifies the conclusion that the latter mentioned applicant is a son of Chin Foo.  I move that both applicants be admitted.

The decision was seconded by the other members of the committee. In reality, there was no evidence one way or another that the baby was the son of Chin Foo. (This was before the days of DNA testing to determine paternity.)  All the Immigration Service had was the testimony of my parents that Chin Young Dock was their son.  Even Pop’s testimony was hearsay because he was informed by mail of the birth of Chin Young Dock.  All the Immigration Service really had was Mom’s testimony that the baby under consideration was her son.  Bottom line: Chin Young Dock was admitted as the son of a native.

Then, as abruptly as he appeared in Macao, Chin Young Dock abruptly disappeared in San Francisco. One day, when I came home from school, I was told that Chin Young Dock was no longer with us.  He had been adopted by (or sold to) a wealthy childless couple from out of town.  We never saw him again or knew what became of him.

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Place of Origin
Macau, China

Place of Settlement
San Francisco, CA

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