paper son

<<written & performed by byron yee>>


(Seto Family Picture, circa 1925)

The following was contributed by my cousin, Pak Seto, who lives in New York City:

The American Journey of the Seto, Yee, and Gue Clans

In the interest of tracing our roots, we are trying to gather as many facts and background information as far back as the early 1800's. There will be a lot of blank pages and unconnected dots, which hopefully can be filled in by the older generations still living. We are very grateful for any information or old stories of our ancestors in China and in America. Please feel free to provide any tidbits or photos, etc. to us, to update our story.

In the early 1800' s, one of our ancestors took a series of competitive civil exams, and got a job as a country executive with the Manchu government. His official posting must have been a good one because he retired a wealthy gentry. He bought some houses and farmland and employed tenant farmers to work them. His offspring would become a part of the local power structure/establishment.

However, there was a dark spot in our family history. Two or three generations down his line, there was a dispute over the distribution of the family fortune. In accordance with Chinese custom, the eldest son was given the lion's share after his father's death. He would also act as the head. Unfortunately, Tak Kuen, the second oldest son, was envious of his brother's newfound position and wealth: He bribed a manservant to poison the breakfast of his older brother. Following the eldest brother's death, was a long period of costly lawsuits among the families. As a result of these lawsuits, the clan was split into many families. Our branch of the family was left with very little money and only a fraction of the original estate. The head of our family was Soo Hoo Moon Jim, who was also the head man of Hoy Ping (county) Protective Association of the Chuck Hom Market branch. Soo Hoo Moon Jim had two wives, the first of which bore him eight children and the second of which adopted a son.

Unfortunately for Soo Hoo Moon Jim, it was also a turbulent time for China.  Rebellions, imperialism by western nations, and natural disasters bedeviled the Chinese people. For this reason, thousands upon thousands of Chinese went overseas to South China Sea countries like Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Others went to the USA, Canada, Australia, and many other countries, to earn a living, support wives, children, or fathers and mothers back in their homeland. There, Chinese immigrants faced many difficulties. They had to start at the bottom of their new land, doing mostly manual labor, farm works, or in mining, for very little pay, and for long hours. They had to compete for the job with other workers, both native, and non-native.

It was because of the difficulties in our homeland that our great grandfather and grandmother decided they should send the oldest boy, Ah Kay, to the United States. Due to the restrictions of Chinese Exclusion Acts, Ah Kay was not permitted to immigrate.  The laws limited admission of new Chinese immigrants and separated married men with their wives for years and years, until they saved enough money to go back to see their wives and/or children for a short period of time, only to return to America to work again.

Fortunately for our family, we had connections in America that would allow Ah Kay to leave China. The second youngest daughter of Soo Hoo Moon Jim had married the son of Mr. Dea Gin Foo, a business man in America. At the request of our great grandparents, Mr. Dea Gin Foo bought false papers that stated Ah Kay was the son of one of the cooks, a Mr. Yee, in Dea's restaurant, and paid for his boat passage. Ah Kay became a "paper son", someone who has come to America under the false identity of being another's son.  At the age of ten, he washed dishes on a milk crate and did other chores all day, until the debt was repaid. However, a dispute between the Dea brothers, prompted the younger brother to inform the authorities that Ah Kay was an illegal immigrant. Ah Kay was questioned by the officials, but he managed to give the right answers, and finally he got his legal resident papers. After repaying the debt to Mr. Dea Gin Foo, he left Arizona, and traveled to New York City in hopes of finding a job.

By chance he had a distant cousin, a Mr. Fong Y. Man, who was running a "gaming shop" in Chinatown. Ah Kay worked there for years, saving his money and sending a portion of it to support his kin in China. When he had saved a tiny sum, he went back to China to marry Ms. Dea H. Chim. Their eldest son was born Soon after and because Ah Kay came to America under a different identity, their son Gene was given the family name Yee. Ah Kay wanted a full family life. He wanted to raise his sons in America and live out his American dream with his wife by his side. Uncle Ah Kay went by boat to San Francisco and took the train back to New York City. He resumed his old job in Chinatown and saved more money to buy a set of false papers to bring his younger brother, Tony Jue to America. Though Tony's family name was Seto, he had to take on the family name stated in the false papers. This is how our second Uncle had to change his family name to Jue instead of his real family name of.Seto. In 1935, Ah Kay returned to China again with the intent to bring his wife and first born son to come back with him to America. He also started the paper forms that would allow the immigration of his youngest brother, Bing Q. Yee, which he claimed was his own first son. Cousin Gene was claimed to be his second son. Finally, Ah Kay collected the live histories of the various "paper son's" stories of the original owner/son's to match the false identities of those he was bringing over. The reason for this last step was to defeat the U. S. immigration officials at the U.S. port of entry. In order to stop "'paper sons" from entering America, immigration officials would subject immigrants to hostile, unending days of questioning. Ah Kay's family would have to learn this new personal history in order to convince the officials that they were indeed who they claimed to be, and to avoid being sent back to China.

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