Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

A Paper Son's Tale

by Olivia Pollak with Hop Jeong and Kelsey Owyang

Hop was born in Canton, China in 1930, where he lived with his mother, father, and two siblings. When Hop was just ten years old (his paper said he was eight years old), his parents sent him by ship to America, as a member of his grandfather’s paper family.

Hop’s grandfather, Sun Jeong, was born in China, but he had immigration papers that said he was born in America.  As an American citizen, he traveled frequently to China and claimed to have fathered eight sons.  Hop’s father, Yee Jeong, was the number one son who came to America in 1924.  He got as far as Angel Island.  He passed the interrogation questions, but he was over 30 years old at the time.  The paper son was 25 years old.  Because of the age difference, he was refused admission to the United State and sent back to China. Had he been successful and been admitted to the United States, Hop and his younger brother would have come as his children.  Instead, Hop came as the son of grandfather’s second paper son, while his brother was the son of grandfather’s third paper son.

Hop Jeong

Hop Jeong's Certificate of Identity. Image courtesy of Hop Jeong.

Because Hop and his brother looked so much alike, their grandfather decided to bring the younger brother with him two months earlier rather than take the chance of bringing them together to America – so Hop traveled alone. Hop knew next to nothing about America before arriving at Angel Island. His only impressions had been colored by his parents’ tales of a “land of opportunity, of gold, of Gum San - Golden Mountain,”[1] and of free education. They sent Hop and his brother to seek the greater opportunities that they believed were available in the United States.

Hop arrived at Angel Island in September 1940.  He had to spend two long months at the immigration station because he initially answered a question about one paper relative incorrectly. Hop vaguely remembers his interrogation and the interpreter present, but his memory of his time at Angel Island is hazy. He does, however, remember having to study the papers his grandfather gave him of the names and birthdays of his paper relatives in preparation for the interrogation.

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Hop (in green) as depicted in Millie Lee’s Landed, illustrated by Yangsook Choi.
While Hop does not remember what questions he was asked during his Angel Island interrogation, he does think the system of interrogating an eight-year-old was foolish. Children had to prove that they were related to certain family members by reciting the names and birthdays of their father and uncles. As Hop points out, “Ask any child today; do they know the names of all their uncles, and their relationship and all the birthdates and such?”[2]

After passing through Angel Island, Hop lived in a small ten-by-ten-foot room in San Francisco’s Chinatown with his brother and grandfather. Several years later, they were evicted from their home to make way for the city’s Ping Yuen construction endeavor, a project to construct housing for low-income San Franciscans. Once construction was completed in 1950, Hop was allowed to move into the newly constructed building with his brother and grandfather, who he had come to regard as his family, even if, as Hop pointed out, it wasn’t a “traditional” family with a mother, father, and children. Their new home was six to seven hundred square feet with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen — much larger than the living spaces Hop was accustomed to.

Hop and his brother attended St. Mary’s parochial school for a few months. The sisters at the school gave American names to them: Richard (Hop) and Francis (his brother).  Their grandfather was furious when he found out about his grandsons’ American names, concerned about future paper sons coming to America who would be unable to pronounce their American names.  Hop gave up his American name while his brother kept his.

In order to bring Hop’s mother and other siblings to America in 1952, his grandfather previously reported that his wife — Hop’s grandmother — had died when he was in China in 1935. He then “remarried” a younger woman — Hop’s mother — in order to bring her and her children to America. Thus, on paper, Hop’s mother was his paper grandmother, and his brother and sister were his paper uncle and aunt.

Later, in the 1960s, the amnesty program gave many immigrants the freedom to reveal the truth about their family relationships and to correct inaccuracies in government records. Many immigrants had created false “paper families” — family members who, on paper, were related but, in reality, were not blood relatives — when immigrating to America. Under the amnesty program, the government encouraged these immigrants and their descendants to correct these inaccuracies.   Initially, Hop was reluctant, but he did correct his records.  His papers had listed him as eight years old when he immigrated but he was in fact ten years old; he corrected his birth date, picking up two additional years of age in one year. He also informed the amnesty interrogators that he had a brother, who was not born when Hop immigrated to America in 1940, living in Hong Kong. About ten years later, Hop was contacted and informed that his brother was eligible to be immigrated to America.  This brother became the only member in the family to come to America legally.

After graduating from high school in 1952, Hop was drafted into the U.S. Army in the Korean War. In July 1953 when the truce was declared between North and South Korea, Hop was sent to Korea.  He worked with a military intelligence unit whose duties were to interrogate South Koreans returning from North Korea.  Hop had not seen his father since he left Hong Kong in 1940. While stationed in Korea, he took several weeks leave and returned to Hong Kong to reunite with his father. But communication between Hop and his father after the visit remained minimal, as Hop’s father did not speak English; while Hop’s father wrote letters in Chinese to Hop’s grandfather, Hop did not know enough Chinese to respond.

After his discharge, Hop attended California State University at San Francisco under the G.I. Bill of Rights. This is where he befriended many students from Hawaii. They invited him to their parties; it was at one of these parties that he first met his future wife Carol, a teacher in Cupertino at the time. They have been married for fifty-two years in 2013.

After college, Hop worked for an impressive thirty-three years in the finance department at the Kaiser/Permanente Hospital. After retirement from Kaiser/Permanente, Hop became an Enrolled Agent (Enrolled Agents is the only group licensed by the Internal Revenue Service to prepare tax returns for individuals and organizations).  Hop is self-employed and still working at home as an Enrolled Agent in 2013.

Hop had always remembered his experience he endured at Angel Island as a child.  When he found out about the National Archives in San Bruno, he went there and made copies of his family’s records — himself, his brother, grandfather, father, and uncles.  He was surprised to find over twenty single-spaced pages of questions asked of his eight-year-old self.  Hop also returned to Angel Island with his brother, although he said that visiting “didn’t bring back any memories”[3]. In fact, he describes the Island as an almost “strange place.”

A plaque on Angel Island honors Hop Jeong. Photo courtesy of Catherine Matsuda.

A plaque on Angel Island honors Hop Jeong.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Matsuda.

More recently, Hop brought his children and grandchildren to Angel Island to take part in a picnic sponsored by the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. At the picnic, a film was screened about Angel Island, which described the island as a jail. Hop’s eight-year-old granddaughter believed Hop had really been in jail, and she wondered what he had done to end up there. His granddaughter grew curious about his experience; she later wanted to see Hop’s Angel Island records.  Despite the comparisons between Angel Island and a jail, Hop said going back “didn’t bring back brutal, bad memories.”

Hop provided his Angel Island paper records to Milly Lee, who wrote the children’s book Landed (Frances Foster Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2006).  The book is about a paper son’s experience, similar to Hop’s experience, immigrating to America.  Hop’s name was used in the book as the child who befriended the paper son.

Hop believes it is important that future generations know about Angel Island. He admits that many Americans, including Chinese-Americans, know little about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was not repealed until 1943. Hop reflected, “Very few people are aware of Angel Island and what it represents… And the extraordinary lengths people had to go through to [deal with] the Exclusion Act”[4].

 


[1] Jeong, Hop. "Oral History Project, Angel Island." Interview by Durfee Ian. Pacific Regional Humanities Institute. EScholarship, University of California, 22 Mar. 2006. Web. 6 June 2013. . Page 3 of 17.

[2] “Hop Jeong, Arrived at Angel Island 1940, Age 10.” Conversation Between Generations: Stories from the Angel Island Oral History Project. Ed. Aaron K. DiFranco and Kella De Castro Svetich. Davis, California: Pacific Regional Humanities Center, 2006. 35-36. Print.

[3] Jeong, Hop. "Oral History Project, Angel Island." Interview by Durfee Ian. Pacific Regional Humanities Institute. EScholarship, University of California, 22 Mar. 2006. Web. 6 June 2013. . Page 15 of 17.

[4] Jeong, Hop. "Oral History Project, Angel Island." Interview by Durfee Ian. Pacific Regional Humanities Institute. EScholarship, University of California, 22 Mar. 2006. Web. 6 June 2013. . Page 16 of 17.

 

Olivia Pollak is an intern at Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.

Place of Origin
Guangdong, China

Place of Settlement
San Francisco, CA

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