Mrs. Leong's Trousseau
From 1910 to 1935, about ninety-five percent of the Chinese attempting to immigrate cleared Angel Island. While awaiting their fate, however, Chinese immigrants were separated by sex and warehoused in wooden barracks. They suffered the indignity of harsh interrogations, along with humiliating medical examinations. The barracks offered little comfort or privacy. To maintain some semblance of dignity while going to the bathroom, women put bags over their heads. Despair and shame led some to commit suicide, especially when all was lost and deportation was eminent.
Paper Sons Tried to Outsmart the Exclusion Laws
The destruction of vital statistics enabled some Chinese immigrants to enter the United States through deceit and bribery. Some gained status through fraud, claiming citizenship by right of birth. In other cases, Chinese Americans returning from China reported the birth of a child, who was by law a United States citizen. These "births" created slots reserved for future immigrants, who later traveled to America as "paper sons." Paper sons often brought wives with them, increasing the number of Chinese women. Between 1907 and 1924 about 10,000 Chinese women came to the United States, twenty-five percent of the total immigration from China.
Immigrants still faced tough questions as interrogators relentlessly tried to bar common laborers from entering the country. They used village maps and other documents to try and expose illegal immigrants. Some immigration officials accepted bribes in exchange for allowing passage off Angel Island.
Merchant Status and Citizenship Enabled the See Family to Clear Angel Island
By comparison, clearing Angel Island was relatively easy for Fong See and his family. A legitimate merchant, Fong See filed papers guarantying his return before leaving for China. His family had papers proving they were American citizens. Still, immigration officials interviewed several witnesses about Fong See's status.
Coming of Age in the 1920s
Life for the See family changed dramatically during the 1920s. Fong See stayed in China to oversee his enterprises. In 1921 he married sixteen-year-old Ngon Hung, with whom he had seven children: Jong Oy, Ming Chuen, Ming Yun, May Oy, Sum Oy, Wing, and Gary. Learning that Fong See had taken another wife, Ticie abrogated her marriage contract and opened her own store at Seventh and Kip Streets in downtown Los Angeles. Florence continued living at home with her mother. The boys, Ming, Ray, Bennie and Eddy, all married Caucasian women in Mexico, because of California's anti-miscegenation laws. They settled in and around the city and began raising their own families. In 1929, Fong See married one more time to Si Ping, a concubine who remained in China.
Cut off from their father's wealth, the See boys concentrated on making their own way. Working in their mother's store, they developed a movie prop rental business. Friends in Hollywood helped them get contracts to design and build furniture for celebrities like Mae West, Edward G. Robinson, Howard Hughes, Bob Hope and Walter Brennan. In 1928 they opened See Manufacturing, making "fine furniture, mirrors, novelties, and objects d'art." Ray drew the designs, while Bennie worked in the factory. Fusing Chinese elements into the more popular mission style, See Manufacturing created some of the earliest Chinese American designs.
Los Angeles Attorney, Y. C. Hong, Helped Many to Clear Immigration
Y. C. Hong worked tirelessly to defend Chinese immigration and Chinese American civil rights. America's foremost Chinese attorney, Hong was the son of nineteenth-century immigrants. His father worked in railroad construction and the state's borax mines, while his mother labored as a cigar roller and seamstress. Hong's interest in immigration law stemmed from his work as a translator for the United States Immigration Service, beginning in 1918. A graduate of the University of Southern California Law School, Hong passed the bar in 1923, becoming the first Chinese American to practice California law. Before he was 30, Y. C. Hong testified before the U. S. Senate arguing for repeal the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and was elected president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance.