by Steve Kwok
From 1882 until December 1943, immigration restrictions, namely the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, made it nearly impossible for Chinese to immigrate to the United States. It was the only law in American history to deny citizenship or entry into the United States based upon a specific nationality. Only merchants, diplomats and sons of citizens were allowed into the U.S. During the 1920’s 30’s and 40’s many immigrants from China arrived in the United States with purchased citizenships. Those who utilized this method to enter the U.S. were known as “paper sons.”
From 1910 to 1940, Chinese immigrants were detained and interrogated at the U.S. Immigration Station located on Angel Island in the bay of San Francisco. They were detained for weeks, months and sometimes even years. Those who did not pass the scrutiny of the interrogations were deported back to China. Many committed suicide rather than to be sent back to China in despair and shame.
Jim Fong (Quock), a "paper son" with U.S. flag pin which he was so proud to wear. circa 1924
Paper Sons and the Road to Citizenship
Jim Quock’s “paper brother,” Jack Fong (left) and his family
On February 6, 1929, at the age of 17 (on the ship’s manifest, he was listed as being 15 years old, his “paper son” age), Jim Fong, a “Paper Son”, arrived in San Francisco, CA on the ship SS President McKinley. While crossing the Pacific Ocean, my father, spent the time on board the SS President McKinley studying the 200 page document his father had purchased from a Fong family. He memorized the layout of the village, the layout and design of his “paper home”, including such things as what room he slept in and how many steps there were in front of his “paper home”. He memorized details and pictures of his fake brothers and parents. Dad went through three weeks of intensive interrogations on Angel Island by US Immigration Officials to determine if he was a true son of a citizen. On February 27, 1929, he was permitted to enter the United States as a U.S. Citizen based on the citizenship papers that his father purchased in China. The transcript and details of these interrogations are stored at the Regional National Archives in San Bruno, California.
An interesting note: when the Interrogation Board signed off recognizing Jim as son of Fong Mon (his paper father), the meeting minutes stated that “A very favorable aspect of this case is the marked resemblance between the applicant and his alleged brother and I also note a considerable resemblance between the two boys (Dad and his paper brother) and Fong Mon. I believe that the evidence submitted in this case reasonably establishes that the applicant is a blood son of Fong Mon, a recognized U. S. citizen, and I accordingly move that he be admitted as of the status claimed.” Our family always noted that Dad did look more like his paper brothers than his real brothers.
Young Jim Quock
When Dad set foot in San Francisco he spoke no English and he did not have any family members here to help. He told us that it was a very lonely and scary experience. All he had was a letter of introduction from his father to a friend in San Francisco. Within the week, Dad was sent to the Sacramento Delta area, a farming community, to work as a fruit picker. Realizing that a fruit picker was a dead-end job, he made arrangements to return to San Francisco to work as a dishwasher at the Sun Hung Heung restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He was soon promoted to assistant cook. From there he moved to the front of the restaurant as a waiter where he had opportunities to use his newly acquired language, English. He continued to attend night school to improve his English. From there Dad became the head cashier. He got married in 1934 and was given a promotion to manage the restaurant. Eventually he acquired an ownership interest in the restaurant. With Dad’s salary and Mom’s income from her seamstress work, Dad was able to repay his father for the cost of the paper citizenship and the cost of his ship fare. In fact, for many years thereafter, especially during the Second World War, my parents continued to send money back to China to support the rest of his family in China. Although we were not wealthy, we all had a good life as we were growing up.
Engagement picture, circa 1934. Lily Low (1914-2006) & Jim Quock (1912-1999)
When the United States entered World War II, sentiment towards Chinese in America became more favorable. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in December 1943 in an attempt to improve relations with the Chinese government in the war against Japan. Even with the repeal, “paper sons” who were here constantly feared discovery and subsequent deportation, especially during the McCarthy era in the 1950's. After the Chinese Revolution in 1949, American citizens including Chinese Americans were being investigated for being a communist or a communist sympathizer. Daily reports of deportations in Chinatown Chinese newspapers exacerbated this fear.
Jim Quock's Certificate of Naturalization
On August 6, 1966, under the Amnesty Program, Jim gave up his false citizenship as a Fong, in exchange for a status as Permanent Resident and reverted to his true name, Jim Quock. He petitioned for Naturalization on February 10, 1969 and became a Naturalized citizen of the United States on January 20, 1970.
Written by Steve Kwok, 2nd son of Jim and Lily Quock.
Place of Origin
Place of Settlement