Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

Immigration Story of an American Citizen

by Lincoln Chin and May Gin Woon

In my earlier story that I posted on “Immigrant Voices” about Gin Soo Dung, I wrote that he was born in San Francisco on January 31, 1881, and taken to China by his parents when he was two years old.  He returned to the U.S. in 1903 at the age of twenty-two.  But seven months later, he returned to China on February 27, 1904.  We have no explanation for his short stay in the U.S.  He may not have liked living in America or he may have wanted to return to China to get married.  We do know from his friends and relatives that he married and had a son named Gin Shue before he died in China in 1906 or 1907.  This story is about how Gin Shue immigrated to the U.S. as a paper son and his repeated encounters with the Immigration Service.

 

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Gin Soo Dung in 1903

The time span between February 27, 1904, the day Gin Soo Dung departed the U.S., and October 12, 1907, the day his brother arrived in San Francisco as Gin Soo Dung, allows us to make some reasonable projections as to when various events happened in the life of the real Gin Soo Dung and his son Gin Shue.  Finding a suitable bride and getting married was something that could be done very quickly in China. No time was wasted in courtship. Hence, Gin Soo Dung was likely married by mid-1904, just a few months after returning home.  It would be reasonable to assume that the son, Gin Shue, was born about a year later, about mid-1905.  Gin Shue had told his children that he was about two years old when his father died.  This bit of information would put Gin Soo Dung’s death in mid-1907.

After Gin Soo Dung died, his father, Gin Lun Sic, assumed the role of foster father to Gin Shue.  As the son of a citizen of the United States, Gin Shue was rightfully a U.S. citizen.    However, without a father to testify on his behalf, there was no hope that he could enter the U.S. on the basis of his derivative citizenship.  In an attempt to give his grandson a better life, Gin Lun Sic enlisted the help of a kinsman, Gin Ngok, to get Gin Shue to America.  Gin Ngok had immigrated to America in 1873 and had lived and worked in various places, including San Francisco, before settling in Tucson.  The two men were not only from neighboring villages in China, but had been in San Francisco at the same time. It was likely that they had developed a close relationship because of this shared experience.

Gin Ngok was more than willing to help get Gin Lun Sic’s grandson to America. In fact, he was very eager and became dedicated to the task. Gin Ngok had been in the laundry business until 1900, when he came to Tucson and went into the grocery business. He was classified by the U.S. Immigration Service as a merchant, a status that exempted him from the Chinese Exclusion Act and permitted him to bring family members to the United States.  

Since migrating to America in 1873, Gin Ngok had visited China three times.  As the result of his first visit, his wife gave birth to a son, Gin Pon, on March 3, 1889.  When Gin Pon was in his teens, he was brought to Tucson to attend school and work in the grocery store.  It was during Gin Pon’s immigration hearing in 1907 that Gin Ngok declared that his wife had also given birth to a son on August 28, 1900, and that they had named him Gin Shue.  Gin Ngok had thus created an immigration slot for Gin Lun Sic’s grandson.

In 1909 when he learned that his brother-in-law’s son, Wong Doo, was visiting China, Gin Ngok wrote and instructed Wong Doo that when he returned to Mexico, to take Gin Shue with him.  Gin Ngok may have wanted to send Gin Shue to Mexico so he could be smuggled across the border into the U.S.  Since he had merchant status and had set up Gin Shue as his paper son, one wonders why he had decided on this alternative scheme for getting Gin Shue into the U.S.  Was it possible that he thought that the Mexico to U.S. crossing would be easier than dealing with the U.S. Immigration Service over a paper son?  

In preparation for the trip to Mexico, Wong Doo and Gin Shue went to the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong and applied for travel visas so they could travel in the U.S. from San Francisco to Mexico.  In October 1909, Gin Shue and Wong Doo took a steamship from Hong Kong to San Francisco.  Upon arrival, they took a train from San Francisco to Tucson, then  transferred to a train that took them to Sonora, Mexico.  During the brief stopover in Tucson the two travelers were welcomed and greeted by Gin Ngok and his son, Gin Pon.  This was the first time that Gin Ngok had ever met Gin Shue, his paper son.  Can you imagine how surprised and shocked he must have been to see that his paper son was only a four-year-old squirt of a boy instead of the nine-year-old son he had reported to Immigration!  The boy was too young and immature to take care of himself, let alone trek across the border.  

It is interesting to note that during the 1919 interview for admission to the U.S., Gin Shue told the immigration inspectors that Wong Doo had tried to send him back to China during his first year in Mexico.  Nevertheless, Gin Shue remained in Mexico and lived with Wong Doo for four years, just marking time.  He did not work or go to school.  He had no interest in learning Spanish, for his long-term goal was not aimed at living in Mexico.  About the only Spanish that he learned was the names of certain items that were sold in Wong Doo’s store. In 1913 when he was chronologically eight years old and able to take care of himself, Gin Shue was put on a steamship in Guaymas and sent back to China by way of Hong Kong.  The change of plans may have been due to the Mexican revolution at the time or to the increased U.S. patrol at the border, making sneaking across more difficult.  

 

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Page 1 of Gin Nook's affidavit (click to enlarge)
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Page 2 of Gin Nook's affidavit (click to enlarge)

Gin Shue returned to his home village and attended school while living with his grandfather.  In 1917 Gin Ngok decided to make another attempt to get Gin Shue into the U.S.  This time, he wrote to China and asked for a portrait of Gin Shue, which he attached to an affidavit to support Gin Shue’s immigration to the U.S. as the son of a merchant.  The affidavit summarized Gin Ngok’s marital status, the several trips that he took to China, and his status as a merchant.  The two-page affidavit, with a photo of himself and a photo of Gin Shue attached, was submitted to the U.S. Immigration Service in Tucson two years later, on October 7, 1919.  

The paper son that Gin Ngok had created was purported to have been born on August 28, 1900.  Since Gin Shue was actually born in mid-1905, it meant that his paper age was seventeen while his real age was twelve.   It could be seen from the photo on the 1917 affidavit that Gin Shue did not look seventeen.  However, there was no documentation that indicated the inspectors were at all concerned with the youthfulness of Gin Shue.  It was apparently not an issue in this immigration case as it was in many others where an applicant was subjected to a physical exam of the body parts to determine his or her age.  The lenient treatment accorded Gin Shue may have been due to Gin Ngok’s good connections with immigration officials in Tucson.

Gin Shue departed China and arrived in San Francisco on September 21, 1919.  He was detained on Angel Island and was interviewed on October 2, 1919, by a Board of Special Inquiry chaired by Inspector J. F. Dunton.  At the interview, Gin Shue stated that he was twenty years old (born on August 28, 1900, in the village of Gin Gong, Sunning District).  He had a brother Gin Pon in Tucson, and his father Gin Ngok was over sixty years old.   There were seven pages of questions and answers, mostly dealing with different members of Gin Ngok’s family: their names, relationship to the applicant, and their ages. There were also the typical questions about various aspects of the housing arrangements and the village they had lived in.

Gin Ngok, the alleged father, and Gin Pon, the alleged brother, were interviewed in Tucson on October 7 and 8, 1919, by Inspector Harry Hannah, who volunteered that he had known Gin Ngok personally for the past five years and that Gin was the proprietor of the Gin Ngok Grocery Store at N. 4th Avenue and E. 7th Street in Tucson, and thus classified as a merchant.  Getting to the heart of the matter, namely the immigration status of Gin Shue, Inspector Hannah asked for witnesses who could confirm that Gin Shue was Gin Ngok’s son.   Gin Ngok declared that no one in America had ever met or seen Gin Shue.   Gin Ngok himself had seen his younger son only once in his life and that was for just a few minutes at the Tucson train depot in 1909.   Gin Ngok and Gin Pon were the only ones who could testify that Gin Shue was the son of Gin Ngok.  The immigrant inspectors were evidently satisfied with their answers, for Inspector J. F. Dunton summarized the findings as follows:  “After careful consideration of all the evidence I do not believe that the discrepancies noted are sufficient to constitute grounds for denial and therefore move that applicant be admitted.”  The motion for admission was seconded by the other two inspectors on the board.

Gin Shue lost no time in going to Tucson, where he attended school and helped out in Gin Ngok’s store.  Gin Ngok retired in 1922 and returned to China, where he died in 1923. At the time of his retirement, Gin Ngok distributed his $4,000 holding in his grocery store to Gin Pon and Gin Shue equally.  This gesture implied that Gin Ngok may have looked upon Gin Shue as more than a paper son.  It also spoke well of his deep regard for his friend, Gin Lun Sic.

Gin Shue did not work full time in the grocery store, for he also worked in the Joss Stick Café, where he learned about the restaurant business.  In 1923, when he was about eighteen or nineteen, he opened the Gin Shue Grocery Store at the corner of South 3rd Avenue and 17th Street.  As the owner of a grocery business he applied for and was granted merchant status.   He had planned to go to China, visit his mother, get married, and bring his bride to the U.S.  He departed San Francisco on December 29, 1924, got married in China, and returned to the U.S. on November 1925 alone.   Why didn’t Gin Shue bring his wife to America on this trip?  It may have been because his bride, Lee Sue Fong, was still very young--no more than sixteen years old--and she may have had some trepidation about leaving the security of her home.

Before he left for China, Gin Shue had sold his grocery business to his uncle for $1,500, although he had told Immigration that his uncle would only be managing his grocery store until he returned from China.  When he took his next trip to China on April 16, 1928, Gin Shue was classified as a laborer. During the interview when he applied for a return certificate, he remarked that his wife was about to turn twenty years old.  Gin Shue was a romantic; he wanted to be in China to celebrate his wife’s twentieth birthday.     

After returning to the U.S. in 1929, he made plans to gain merchant status in order to bring his wife to the U.S.  He opened a restaurant named Shanghai Café at 10 South 4th Avenue. To the restaurant he attached a small grocery store.  His intention was to have the grocery store qualify him for classification as a merchant. He hired a cook for $50 a month and a waitress to work in the restaurant. There was no need to hire anyone to work in the grocery store. He could go back and forth between the two businesses, wherever he was needed at the moment.

In 1933 Gin Shue went to the Immigration Station in Tucson to apply for a return certificate as a merchant on the grounds that he was now operating a grocery store.  After extensive interviews with Gin Shue and several white witnesses, the Immigration Service denied his request for merchant status because the store was attached to the Shanghai Café.  He was told, “Any Person connected with a restaurant in any manner whatsoever could not be classed as a merchant.”  Gin Shue departed the U.S. on May 19, 1933, as a laborer and returned to San Francisco about a year later, once again alone.

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Gin Shue's affidavit for his wife (click to enlarge)

Gin Shue was now more determined than ever to bring his wife and two children, who had been conceived during his last two visits to China, to the U.S.  He moved the Shanghai Cafe to 266 East Congress.   He upgraded and modernized the interior and installed six tables and eight booths. He hired a crew of workers to work in the restaurant:  Two cooks, kitchen helpers, and dishwashers for the kitchen; also several waitresses for the dinning room. In 1940 Gin Shue once again applied for classification as a merchant so he could bring his family to the U.S.  This time he asked several prominent white businessmen to serve as witnesses that he was a merchant.  They testified that Gin Shue had owned and operated the Shanghai Cafe for four or five years and had done no manual labor in the restaurant; all his activities in the restaurant had been confined to management of the business.  Acting Inspector Samuel Wright, who was in charge of evaluating Gin Shue’s application for merchant status, had frequented the Shanghai Café and rated it as a first-class establishment. It was obvious that Inspector Wright had empathy for Gin Shue.  In his letter to the District Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Francisco, dated August 21, 1940, Inspector Wright cited the 1926-court case of Wong Jun, who was a partner and assistant manager of a large restaurant in Washington, D.C. and who performed no manual labor. The judge had ruled that he was a merchant.  The inspector also cited INS Lecture No. 32 of January 21, 1935, that Chinese who were admitted legally prior to July 1, 1924, who own and conduct a restaurant and who are connected with the management thereof but who perform no manual labor in the restaurant or otherwise, are classed as merchants.  On the basis of these two precedents, Inspector Wright recommended that Gin Shue be granted merchant status.

Successful in his quest for merchant status, Gin Shue wasted little time in bringing his family from Hong Kong to the United States.  His wife, Lee Sue Fong, his daughter, Gin Bak Jean, and his son, Gin Ben Fung, had moved to Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded China.  The family arrived in San Francisco on December 29, 1940, but was not admitted until almost a month later.  Gin Shue, the alleged father and husband, and Wong Jing, a supporting witness, were interviewed in Tucson on January 20, 1941.  Gin Shue’s wife and daughter were interviewed in San Francisco on January 28, 1941.  The son was too young to be interviewed. After the hearing in San Francisco, Chairman E. H. Parsons moved for admission of the three applicants as family members of a merchant.  Oh!  How sweet it was to be Chinese and a merchant in America!

Mr. and Mrs. Gin Shue wasted little time in making up for the years of separation.  Within a span of seven years they had five more children--a boy and four girls.  As Gin Shue continued to operate the Shanghai Café, the downtown area on Congress Street became progressively seedier. In the early 1940s, Gin Shue moved the Shanghai Cafe to Stone Avenue on the corner of 17th Street, a much brighter location. Life finally seemed to be running on an even keel.  He was even able to bring his real mother, Mrs. Gin Soo Dung, over from the old country.  

In 1943 Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Acts and Chinese aliens were finally granted the privilege to become U.S. citizen through naturalization. Gin Shue decided to take advantage of that privilege.  On November 3, 1947, he raised his right arm, took the pledge of allegiance, and became a documented U.S. citizen.  Gin Shue’s naturalization immediately set off an explosive reaction!  Because he became a naturalized U.S. citizen, Lee Sue Fong, Gin Bak Jean, and Gin Ben Fung were now  subject to deportation!

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) explained to Gin Shue that by becoming a naturalized citizen, he had abandoned the exempt status of a treaty trader under which his wife and two China-born children had been admitted.  As a result, the immigration status of his wife and the two children had become unlawful and they were now deportable under the Immigration Act of 1924.  However, INS in their summary report recognized how deportation of part of the family would cause a serious economic detriment to the huband-father and the five U.S. born children.  If Gin Shue were to send half his annual income to support the family members in China, he and his five children in the U.S. would have inadequate funds for living.  INS therefore ordered that deportation be temporarily suspended and that the deportation be cancelled if Congress would approve the permanent suspension of their deportations.  There was no further entry in the Gin Shue family immigration file beyond this point.  However, it can be safely presumed that Congress permanently suspended the deportations, for Lee Sue Fong, Jean and Ben Gin, were never deported.

Place of Origin
Taishan, China

Place of Settlement
Tucson, AZ

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