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Korea to Honolulu, HI

1916 | Byuen H. Leem | Male | Unknown

Filed under:

Angel Island immigrant: No

Place of Origin

Place of Settlement
Honolulu, HI

On December 12, 1916, “Eduardo Sanchez” (actually named Byuen H. Leem) arrived in San Francisco on the S.S. Great Northern from Honolulu, Hawaii, claiming he was born in the Philippines.  Because Filipinos were considered “U.S. nationals” and not aliens, they were not subject to the Asian exclusion laws and were usually landed from the ship.  But the boarding officer, suspecting that “Sanchez” was not Filipino but Japanese, decided to send him to Angel Island for further investigation. He was detained at Angel Island for 44 days and when he was found to be Korean, he was returned to Hawaii on January 24, 1917.

Eduardo Sanchez

Eduardo Sanchez

According to statements made by “Sanchez” in his limited English to Inspector J. P. Lawler, he was born in Honolulu to a Filipino father and Hawaiian mother. Both died when he was still an infant.  He had previously worked on the sugar and pineapple plantations and a laundryman for the 25th U.S. Infantry in Honolulu. However, he had no documents to prove his birthright. When the inspectors asked for his father’s name, he was unable to recall it. But he was able to provide his mother’s name as “Maria Arrampse.” Interpreters were called into question him in several Filipino dialects, in the native Hawaiian language, and even in Japanese, but without success.

On December 16, 1916, the immigration officials sent Leem’s photograph to the immigration office in Honolulu and asked them to contact Leem’s former employer at Schofield Barracks.  They received a reply on December 29 from the Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Infantry that the photograph sent to them was identified by another Corean [Korean] worker as Byung H. Leem, a Corean who came from Corea thirteen years ago and who had done laundry work for Company “A” in the 25th Infantry for only a month before moving on to work as a janitor at Punahou School.

Evidently, Leem had migrated to Hawaii in 1903 with the first group of Korean contract laborers who were recruited to work on the sugar plantations.  Working conditions were so harsh that many Koreans left for better jobs in Honolulu or the U.S. mainland as soon as they had completed the three-to-five-year term of their contracts. By the time Leem wanted to re-migrate to the mainland in 1916, this window of opportunity had closed. The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907-08 successfully stopped immigration of Japanese and Korean laborers to the U.S., and Executive Order 589, issued by President Theodore Roosevelt that same year, prohibited Japanese and Korean laborers in Hawaii from entering the continental United States. But citizens of the Philippine Islands, a U.S. territory since 1898, were still allowed to freely come to the U.S. to live and work.

In the end, Leem admitted that he was a Korean.  He also told the officials that Filipinos in Hawaii were making a business of assisting Japanese and Korean laborers to come to the U.S. mainland disguised as Filipinos. The method involved sending a Korean or Japanese along with a group of Filipinos, in hopes that the alien might pass in as a Filipino. However, the passenger list for Sanchez’s ship indicated that he was the sole Filipino on that voyage. Perhaps that was why he got caught. In any case, Leem failed in his attempt to pass as Filipino and was sent back to Honolulu at his own request and expense.

Erika Lee and Judy Yung, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America. New York, Oxford University Press, 2010, Chapter 5, “A People without a Country.”

File 15775/2-5 for Eduardo Sanchez, RG 85, National Archives and Records Administration, San Bruno, CA.

Dennis Nguyen is a graduate student in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and an intern with AIISF. Initial research was conducted by Daniel Mariano, SF State student.

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