The Vanishing Chinese in American History

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The Vanishing Chinese in American History

Our country’s history is filled with stories that are ignored: the Japanese Americans who were held against their will in internment camps during World War II, African-American pilots who fought bravely for our country during the second World War, Native Americans who sacrificed their lives in defense of territory that was rightfully theirs, and Chinese immigrants who toiled to build the western leg of the transcontinental railroad in the nineteenth century. Typical of this silencing of stories in American history is the exclusion of Chinese “paper sons”—young men, many in their early teens, who came to this country with papers that fraudulently established their family relations to an American-born or naturalized father.

The “paper son” phenomenon is not unusual in the history of the Chinese in America; it was a common way to get around the discriminatory immigration laws that prevented many Chinese from coming to the United States. Thus, the stories of “paper sons” should be told as we examine the racist attitudes and policies toward the people who built, shaped, and changed America alongside European immigrants. As former U.S. Congressman Norm Mineta so eloquently puts it, “When one hears Americans tell of the immigrants who built this nation, one is led to believe that all our forebears come from Europe. When one hears stories about the pioneers going West to shape the land, the Asian immigrant is rarely mentioned” (Takaki 6). We need to acknowledge the contributions of extraordinary individuals—“paper sons” such as my uncle, Stanley Hom Lau, who left their families and homeland behind to establish new roots and who made America the unique salad bowl it is today.


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...ide of the Pacific to the other and have opportunities they never dreamed possible. The voices of “paper sons” like Stanley Hom Lau should not be silenced; they should be included in history books because these people are an important component of U.S. history—as important as the Irish, German and Russian immigrants were to this country at the turn of the century. For, as Americans, we originally came from many “different shores” (Takaki)—Europe, Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

Works Cited

Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.

Lai, H. Mark and Choy, Philip P. Outlines: History of the Chinese in America. San Francisco: Fong Brothers, 1971.

Lau, Stanley. Personal Interview. May 2-3, 1997.

Takaki, Ronald. Strangers From a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.

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