David McNew/Getty Images
A Chinese American journalist tells the story of his grandparents' illegal immigration to this country when its laws severely restricted Chinese newcomers. Many Americans of Chinese descent have "paper" sons and daughters in their family trees. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
In a revealing first-person essay in the San Francisco Chronicle, MSNBC anchor Richard Lui writes about his family's clandestine immigration history that reflects the experience of many Chinese American families whose ancestors arrived illegally in the wake of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
To get around rules that barred most immigration from China, some posed as the children of U.S. citizens, or of people who claimed to be citizens after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed state birth records. Thus "paper sons" were born.
I am the grandson of illegal immigrants. My father's parents came here as Paper Son and Paper Daughter. The "Paper" system involved buying real U.S. identities, sold by international agents, and then assumed, in this case, by my parents when they arrived in California. My real last name is Wong, not the name they bought - Lui.
They were"illegals," and they weren't Latinos.
Lui Lee (grandpa) and Quock Yuen Jow (grandma) took their illegal immigration secret to their grave. Their tombstone was the only place with their real name.
His grandparents kept their real identity a secret for fear they'd make trouble for their children, Lui writes. He emphasizes that illegal immigration and its fallout within immigrant families is much more than a Latino issue. "Asian Americans are their doppelganger," he writes.