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Many immigrants who passed through Angel Island came to the United States in search of financial stability, safety from persecution, and a better one. Yun-Chuan “Dora” Chun, however, was an exception. Born on June 10, 1916, to K.H. and Louise Chun, Dora was just eighteen years old when she made the journey to San Francisco via the President Wilson on June 28, 1934. A promising student, she was coming to America to attend the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Her case was exceptional in another sense. As students were exempt from the Chinese Exclusion Act and admissible if they had the proper documents, Dora did not have to spend any time at Angel Island and undergo the medical exam and interrogation required of most Chinese immigrants. She was interviewed on board the ship and admitted into the country the same day. Nevertheless, the immigration process for her was quite complicated and strict.
Dora grew up in Tientsin (Tianjin), China, which after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, was garrisoned by the British. Dora attended Tientsin Grammar School from 1929 until 1933, and according to a letter written by her headmaster, Dora’s “conduct and progress were thoroughly satisfactory.” Fluent in English, Dora desired to further her education abroad: In 1931, she passed the Cambridge University Preliminary Examination, placing fifth among the candidates sent by her school; in 1932, she passed the junior examination, placing second; a year later, she qualified for the advance list of the Cambridge University School Certificate Examination. Dora’s primary school administrators described her as “a girl of very good ability and intelligence, hardworking and extremely conscientious in her studies, and a very responsive pupil,” and assured that Dora was “both fitted and capable of continuing advanced studies at any higher seat of learning.”
The College of William & Mary admitted any student who passed the Cambridge University examinations, and since Dora did so, she was admitted to the school as a freshman, and was set to begin in September of 1934.
But before Dora could travel to the United States, she needed to obtain a visa. In order to do so, she submitted the requisite documents under the Immigration Act of 1924: an affidavit (in lieu of a birth certificate, since those weren’t issued in Tientsin at the time), and a telegram detailing her acceptance to William & Mary. A reference letter was also submitted to the American Consul General by Richard T. Evans, an attorney who knew Dora’s father for “some seventeen years,” as they were co-directors of the Tientsin Land Investment Company. Evans wrote that K.H. Chun was “a person of substantial though modest means,” and confirmed that he would be able to cover his daughter’s trip to the US, as well as her education and living costs while there. Dora’s father planned to make remittances to her through Alfred Tze, her cousin and the Chinese Minister to the United States. Evans assured the consulate that Dora would not likely have financial issues, and didn’t think that there was “the slightest possibility that…she could become a public charge.”
Dora was issued a Nonquota Student Visa (No. 42) on May 25, 1934, as well as a Chinese passport. The consulate remarked that Dora “[possessed] an excellent knowledge of English, and her scholastic record [showed] her qualified to carry on a college course in the United States.” They also found that Dora’s family “[was] prominent in Tientsin,” and the Consulate General believed that “adequate provision [had] been made for the applicant’s support in the US, so that she [would] not have to resort to business or labor while there.” Dora planned to study at William & Mary for four years, after which she would return to China.
The Immigration Act of 1924, Section 4(e) afforded Dora admission to the US, but the procedures that she was required to follow under that act were quite strict. She was considered a Class 1 student, which was defined as “any student whose parents or relatives are financially able to support him, or who otherwise has sufficient income to cover expenses.” Since Dora’s father was sending her remittances through Alfred Tze, Dora was not permitted to find work “either for wages or for board or lodging.” She also couldn’t accept employment that would “interfere with [her] full course of study,” and was required to maintain a full course of study and obtain passing grades.
On June 28, 1934, Dora Chun arrived in San Francisco, accompanied by her friend, May Phang. She then lived with May’s brother-in-law, George Sokolsky, in New York City, before going to Williamsburg, Virginia, to attend William & Mary in the fall. While attending the college, she became a member of the J. Lesslie Hall Literary Society, an all-women academic society. All signs point to Dora’s academic success at William & Mary; this is one more story to add to the list of successful and relatively smooth processes for students who did not intend to stay in the United States.
Bianca Li wrote this when she was a freshman at Yale University and a prospective cognitive science major who served as an extern at the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation during the spring of 2016.
Thanks to Judy Yung for editing assistance.
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