Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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Alice Gin’s Father: The Story of Two Brothers Who Shared the Same Name

by Lincoln Chin

My wife Alice and her siblings have always addressed Gin Shue as Him Goh (Cousin Him), but she could not tell how he was related to her family.  One day when we were visiting Gin Shue at his restaurant, the Shanghai Café on the corner of Stone Avenue and 17th Street in Tucson, Arizona, we asked him exactly how he was related to Alice’s family.  His first comment was that he and Alice were first cousins.  Alice had no idea that she had such a close relative in Tucson.  Then he continued to explain in detail information concerning his father and Alice’s father that had never been revealed to us before.

Gin Shue told us that his father, Gin Soo Dung, was born in San Francisco in 1881, but was in China when he died around 1906. His demise was never reported to the U.S. Immigration Service.  Gin Shue was about two years old at the time.  He had no recollection of his father and only knew things about him from what relatives had told him. After Gin Soo Dung’s death, one of his younger half-brothers assumed his identity and came to America.  That younger half-brother was Alice Gin’s father.

Alice’s father was an imposter when he arrived in San Francisco in 1907, but he succeeded in his quest to be legally identified and admitted as Gin Soo Dung.  Indeed, he lived out his life in Tucson as Gin Soo Dung.  His wife, Lee Bag Kam, was known as Mrs. Gin Soo Dung.  The grocery store that he and his family operated on the corner of South 3rd Avenue and 17th Street for several decades was known as the Gin Soo Dung & Co. Grocery Store.  Gin Soo Dung was listed as the father on Alice’s birth and death certificates and probably on the certificates of all her siblings as well.  I remember the reaction of Alice’s brother William, when he saw a passport photo of the real Gin Soo Dung.  He exclaimed, “That’s not Dad!”  He was correct.  It was a photo of his uncle, the real Gin Soo Dung.

Alice and her siblings are all gone now, but the Gin Soo Dung immigration issue continued to intrigue me.  I decided to do some research at the National Archives in San Bruno, California.  I found Gin Soo Dung’s immigration file there.  It was over 100 pages long, from which I gleaned the following information about his immigration history and the strategies he used to counter the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from immigrating to the U.S.

The Real Gin Soo Dung

Gin Lun Sic was in the cigar business in San Francisco. The name of his business was Quong Hing Lung & Co., and its address was 904 Stockton Street.  On January 31, 1881, his wife, Look Kum, gave birth to a son at home, 840 Dupont Street (now known as Grant Avenue). They named the boy Gin Soo Dung. On November 26, 1882, Gin Soo Dung was taken to China by his parents on the S.S. City of Pekin.  He grew up in the village of Dai Hong Gee, Sun Ning District in Guangdong Province.  When he was old enough to work he went into the opium business in Sing Cheung City. Although commerce in opium and its use were condemned by the Chinese government, it was not illegal.

At age 22, Gin Soo Dung returned to the United States, arriving in San Francisco on the Nippon Maru on July 20, 1903.  In hope of facilitating readmission for his son, Gin Lun Sic (he returned to the U.S. in 1898 and to China for good in 1906) had submitted to the Immigration Service a notarized statement with pertinent personal information and an adult photo of his son attached. On the day following his arrival in San Francisco, immigration inspectors came aboard the ship and interrogated Gin Soo Dung in his cabin.  He was informed the next day that he was denied entry based on the Immigration Service’s opinion that he was not a citizen of the U.S. and did not belong to any of the classes of Chinese who were admissible, namely merchants, students and teachers, diplomats, and tourists.




File 13445, Investigation Arrival Case Files, San Francisco, RG 85, National Archives, San Bruno, CA.

Gin Soo Dung’s attorney, George A. McGowan, immediately filed a writ of habeas corpus requesting that his client be released from detention at the Pacific Mail Steamship shed.  (This was before the immigration station was built on Angel Island in 1910.)  At the Circuit Court hearing on September 2, 1903, two witnesses appeared and testified on behalf of Gin Soo Dung:  His father, Gin Lun Sic, and a friend, Gow Ng.  Gow Ng testified that she knew Gin Soo Dung in San Francisco from the time he was born until he departed for China.  Then when she was in China, she saw him in his home when she visited his mother.  Judge E. H. Heacock ruled in Gin Soo Dung’s favor and a court document was issued with an updated photograph of him.  Although his return to the U.S. was less than smooth, Gin Soo Dung was able to reenter the land of his birth.


On February 27, 1904, seven months after his return to the U.S., Gin Soo Dung left for China on the S.S. China.  These were the days before there was a form 430 or “reentry certificate” to facilitate immigration procedures when the traveler returned to the U.S.   Instead, Immigration Service stamped a notation on the court order of September 2, 1903, that Gin Soo Dung was departing San Francisco on February 27, 1904 aboard the S.S. China.


The Second Gin Soo Dung

Sometime between 1904 and 1907, Gin Soo Dung died in China. Alice’s father, with the support and encouragement of Gin Lun Sic, assumed the identity of Gin Soo Dung, his older half-brother, and arrived at the port of San Francisco aboard the S.S. Manchuria on October 12, 1907. (Gin Lun Sic evidently had more than one wife.)  Interestingly, there was a hastily scribbled note inserted into his immigration file:  “Compare this applicant carefully with photograph on his court record.”  (The Immigration Service was well aware of the many schemes the Chinese were using to gain entry into the United States.)  Moreover, they cut short the interrogation when Gin Soo Dung had difficulty answering questions relating to his seven-month sojourn in San Francisco.  He had no problem reciting the address where Gin Soo Dung was born, 840 Dupont Street.  However, when asked to name any other streets in the neighborhood, he could only come up with Sansome Street, which was just outside the office where he was being interrogated.  When asked if he had gotten acquainted with other Chinese during the seven months he lived in the U.S., he could name only one person.  When asked where the 1903 court case had been held, he took a stab at it and said, “This court,” which was correct.  When asked, “Who told you it was this court?”  He shot back, “Nobody, it was my own knowledge!”  When asked if the judge in that case was an old man or a young man, he was stumped.  His reply was, “I don’t know, I don’t remember.” The immigration inspector denied his re-entry for the second time and for the same reason, as before—he was not a U.S. citizen as claimed.

Gin Soo Dung appealed the decision and his case was heard by O. T. Richey, United States Commissioner for the First Judicial District of the Territory of Arizona, on November 16, 1908.  As supporting evidence, his attorneys presented the 1903 court ruling in which Gin Soo Dung was found to be a citizen of the United States.  The prosecutor obviously had not done his home work.  Upon seeing the evidence presented by the defense, he promptly moved for dismissal of the case without prejudice.  Gin Soo Dung was free to go.  Commissioner Richey ordered that an updated photograph of the applicant be made and attached to the court document and that it be certified with the seal of his office. Alice’s father was now officially certified as Gin Soo Dung!


File 13445, Investigation Arrival Case Files, San Francisco, RG 85, National Archives, San Bruno, CA.
Once admitted into the country, Gin Soo Dung traveled to Tucson to seek his fortune.  He found a job as a cook in Gin Bock Wo’s Eagle Restaurant.   He was able to arrange his work schedule so that he could attend public school for the next five or six years.  His immigration file included a certificate of promotion to the ninth grade, dated May 28, 1915.  In 1916, Gin Soo Dung made plans to return to China to marry and bring his bride to the United States.  (The Chinese Exclusion Act barred wives of Chinese laborers but not wives of U.S. citizens until 1924.)  He applied for a U.S. passport and had to appear before a panel of immigration officials at Angel Island to verify his identity as Gin Soo Dung.  It is ironic to note that in a letter to the Commissioner of Immigration, dated June 16, 1916, Immigration Inspector Albert Long wrote, “It is my opinion that the applicant is the identical person landed by the court as a native on Sept. 2, 1903, writ No. 3445.”  Gin Soo Dung was issued Passport No. 2567 with an expiration date of December 28, 1916.  While in China he applied for extensions, with the final expiration date of July 13, 1917.

When Gin Soo Dung arrived in China, his father, Gin Lun Sic, approached his friend, Lee Dung Ngan, who had a daughter of the right age for marriage.  It was considered a good match.  Gin Lun Sic was a highly respected schoolteacher in Sun Ning District and the groom was a Gold Mountain Man from America, a highly esteemed status in China.  On the other side of the match, Lee Dung Ngan was an intellectual and part owner of the local newspaper in Sun Ning District.  His daughter, Lee Bag Kam, was young, pretty, and well educated.

So it was on January 27, 1917, that Lee Bag Kam arrived in the Gin family village of Ai Hong Gee around noontime.  There she married Gin Soo Dung on the day that they met for the first time. Gin Soo Dung was 37 years old, according to immigration records, and the bride was 22 years old.   The wedding was Chinese style, replete with seven or eight musicians.  The marriage ceremony in the family house was followed by a banquet in the afternoon in a temporary pavilion erected in a park just for the occasion.

Mr. and Mrs. Gin Soo Dung departed China about seven months after their wedding.  They arrived in San Francisco on board the SS Tjikembang on September 15, 1917.  This time, Gin Soo Dung was quickly landed as a returning U.S. citizen. His wife, on the other hand, was a newcomer and taken to Angel Island for further investigation.  Although Gin Soo Dung had filed an affidavit attesting to their identities and marital relationship, the immigration inspectors needed further verification that she was truly the wife of Gin Soo Dung (and not a woman being brought into the country to be sold into prostitution).  Consequently, Lee Bag Kam (Lee Shee) was detained at the Immigration Station on Angel Island for eleven days.

File 16516/3-2, Investigation Arrival Case Files, San Francisco, RG 85, National Archives, San Bruno, CA.
Detention on Angel Island was stressful and depressing for most immigrants, especially the women, and Lee Shee was no exception. She was in a foreign and strange place, without friends or relatives.  She was also suffering the discomfort of late stage pregnancy. She wrote a letter to her husband in San Francisco to express her sadness and loneliness.  The Immigration Service, on the lookout for any coaching information in the mail that might compromise the interrogation process, had it translated into English.

File 16516/3-2, Investigation Arrival Case Files, San Francisco, RG 85, National Archives, San Bruno, CA.
The interviews for Lee Shee and her alleged husband took place on September 20, 1917.  Gin Soo Dung was interviewed first.  He was mainly asked questions about the area where the new couple lived before they departed for America, questions about the house, the village, the source of water for the household, their bedroom, daily activities, and etc. Gin Soo Dung also provided a witness, Gin Bock Wo, who testified that he attended the wedding and the banquet in China.

File 16516/3-2, Investigation Arrival Case Files, San Francisco, RG 85, National Archives, San Bruno, CA.
Lee Shee was asked the same questions that had been put to Gin Soo Dung. She could not answer many of the questions about her husband’s village, despite having lived there for a number of months after the wedding.  Her excuse was that as a newly married woman she was too self conscious to be seen in public.  Consequently, she mostly remained inside the house and had few opportunities to see what was happening in and around the village.  Some of her answers were different from those of her alleged husband, especially concerning the photographs in their bedroom and who the go-between person was who brought them together. Despite the many discrepancies, the applicant had testified in a straightforward manner.  The immigration inspectors believed that they were a married couple and recommended that Lee Shee be admitted into the country.  She was officially admitted to the United States on September 26, 1917.

After living in San Francisco for several weeks, the couple boarded a train to Sasco, Arizona, where Gin Soo Dung would work as a cook.  While on the train, Lee Shee gave birth to a daughter on October 13, 1917.  They named the baby Margaret.  Then tragedy struck.  Margaret died seven months later, very likely a victim of the worldwide influenza epidemic. About six months later, Lee Shee gave birth to another daughter, Betty.  The family moved to Tucson in the early 1920s.  Gin Soon Dung worked as a waiter and was a partner of the Joss Stick Café before building and running the Gin Soo Dung Grocery Store.  George was born in 1920, William in 1923, Alice in 1925, Harry in 1927, and the family lived in the rear of the store.

Gin Soo Dung Grocery Store at S. 3rd Avenue and 17th Street. Photo by Lincoln Chin.

Alice’s father died in 1951, carrying his secret identity with him.  His assumed name, Gin Soo Dung, was engraved on his tombstone and so was his half-brother’s birth year, 1881. But the year of death was his own, 1951, as was his real Chinese name, Gin Seung Ping.

Gin Soo Dung (Gin Seung Ping)’s tombstone. Photo by Lincoln Chin.


Place of Origin

Place of Settlement
Tucson, Arizona

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