Paper sons Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The use of faked paperwork identifying new Chinese immigrants as sons and daughters of American-born citizens significantly increased Chinese immigration, which had been severely limited by strict federal immigration laws.

During the several-day fire that followed the great earthquake that nearly leveled the city of San Francisco on April 18-19, 1906, most of the city’s official birth records were irretrievably destroyed. Afterward, many Chinese immigrants claimed to have been born in San Francisco. When their claims were recognized, they were regarded as American citizens by birth and permitted to bring their families from China to the United States."Paper sons"[Paper sons]Chinese immigrants;"paper sons"[paper sons]San Francisco;earthquakeSan Francisco;"paper sons"[paper sons]Illegal immigration;"paper sons"[paper sons]Earthquake, San Francisco"Paper sons"[Paper sons]Chinese immigrants;"paper sons"[paper sons]San Francisco;earthquakeSan Francisco;"paper sons"[paper sons]Illegal immigration;"paper sons"[papersons]Earthquake, San Francisco[cat]EVENTS AND MOVEMENTS;Paper sons[04070][cat]EAST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Paper sons[04070][cat]ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION;Paper sons[04070]

After the 1906 earthquake, parts of San Francisco burn in conflagrations that destroyed the city’s official birth records.

(Library of Congress)

In many cases, nonrelatives entered the United States using falsified paperwork. They became known as “paper sons” because their family ties existed only on paper. These arrangements benefited both the new immigrants and the Chinese who were already in the United States, who were paid money for claiming the immigrants as their kin. Because official birth records had been destroyed during the earthquake, government officials conducted extensive interviews to verify that the immigrants’ claims of family connections were valid. The papers the immigrants purchased included detailed information about ancestors and hometowns in China. Many Chinese families have continued to use the surnames their ancestors assumed when they immigrated.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Geary Act of 1892 prohibited Chinese immigration into the United States. California’s own [a]Anti-Miscegenation Law of 1906 (California)[AntiMiscegenation Law of 1906 (California)]Anti-Miscegenation Law of 1906 prevented Chinese and white couples from marrying. These laws to prevent growth in the number of Chinese people in the United States created the conditions that made the paper son arrangements attractive."Paper sons"[Paper sons]Chinese immigrants;"paper sons"[paper sons]San Francisco;earthquakeSan Francisco;"paper sons"[paper sons]Illegal immigration;"paper sons"[paper sons]Earthquake, San Francisco

Further Reading
  • Chin, Tung Pok. Paper Son: One Man’s Story. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.
  • Wong, Wayne Hung. American Paper Son: A Chinese Immigrant in the Midwest. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Angel Island Immigration Station

Asian immigrants

California

Chinatowns

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Chinese immigrants

Families

Geary Act of 1892

San Francisco

Categories: History Content