The above photograph of a young Chinese, probably no more than 12 years old and wearing slippers and an ill-fitting suit is the only photograph I have ever seen of an actual interrogation. It is used in many articles about Angel Island Chinese immigration.
The anxiety that this "poster boy" must have felt during this ordeal must have been overwhelming because one false answer and he might be denied entry and deported. Since my parents both underwent these detailed and lengthy interrogations, I cringe seeing this photograph as I can imagine that they must have been in the same type of situation have to face the Immigration officer, a guard, and a transcriber. This young boy must have been able to speak English because there was no translator in the room.
But who was this boy, and was he a "paper son" pretending to be someone else or was he the real son of a merchant? Did he gain admission or was he deported? If he was admitted, where did he live, work, and die?
The December 2017 Angel Island Newsletter included an announcement of a forthcoming 2018 documentary, Chinese Exclusion Act, by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu that describes the paper son method in vivid detail. My attention was drawn to the announcement which was illustrated with a copy of the Identity Certificate of Jeong Hop, a 10-year old who arrived at Angel Island claiming to be the "son of a son of a native."
At first glance of the photo, due to his youthfulness, I wondered if he might possibly the same boy in the 1923 interrogation photo. That would be a very long shot if it were true. However, the certificate showed that Jeong Hop did not arrive at Angel Island until September, 27, 1940 and he was detained for 2 months until Nov. 25, 1940 when he was admitted.
As a consolation, I decided to see what I could find out more about Jeong Hop's case and what happened in his application. I struck gold when I found an interview in 2006 that focused on his memory of his experiences at Angel Island.
The following excerpt of his interview when Jeong Hop was 76 years old shows how complicated family relationships were for some Chinese immigrants who had to use fake names on their false documents.
How did knowing he was using a false name affect Jeong Hop in how they felt about the deception?
Jeong Hop remembers very little about his life in the Angel Island Immigration Station. Being only 10 years old, he was adaptable and didn't realize that he was being mistreated. He had no strong expectations aside from knowing that he had to memorize all the family members and their relationship to him and to destroy his 'cheat notes' before he arrived in San Francisco on the President Coolidge in 1940.
In the mid 1950s when the U. S. offered a Confession Program, aimed to stop the use of the paper son entry method, that allowed Chinese to reclaim their real family surnames without penalty. Jeong Hop gave a detailed account of how this affected his relatives.
Jeong Hop pointed out to the interviewer that he actually was already a citizen before he came over because he was the son of a son of a citizen!
He did have strong feelings about the need for his children and grandchildren to know the history of Chinese in America, especially the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which forced Chinese men to live in a "bachelor society" for decades.