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Paper Families: Identity, Immigration Administration, and Chinese Exclusion (Politics, History, and Culture)by Estelle T Lau
Synopses & Reviews
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made the Chinese the first immigrant group officially excluded from the United States. In Paper Families, Estelle T. Lau demonstrates how exclusion affected Chinese American communities and initiated the development of restrictive U.S. immigration policies and practices. Through the enforcement of the Exclusion Act and subsequent legislation, the U.S. immigration service developed new forms of record keeping and identification practices. Meanwhile, Chinese Americans took advantage of the systemandrsquo;s loophole: children of U.S. citizens were granted automatic eligibility for immigration. The result was an elaborate system of andldquo;paper families,andrdquo; in which U.S. citizens of Chinese descent claimed fictive, or andldquo;paper,andrdquo; children who could then use their kinship status as a basis for entry into the United States. This subterfuge necessitated the creation of andldquo;crib sheetsandrdquo; outlining genealogies and providing village maps and other information that could be used during immigration processing.
Drawing on these documents as well as immigration case files, legislative materials, and transcripts of interviews and court proceedings, Lau reveals immigration as an interactive process. Chinese immigrants and their U.S. families were subject to regulation and surveillance, but they also manipulated and thwarted those regulations, forcing the U.S. government to adapt its practices and policies. Lau points out that the Exclusion Acts and the pseudo-familial structures that emerged in response have had lasting effects on Chinese American identity. She concludes with a look at exclusionandrsquo;s legacy, including the Confession Program of the 1960s that coerced people into divulging the names of paper family members and efforts made by Chinese American communities to recover their lost family histories.
"This is a wonderfully nuanced case study of the formative period in U.S. immigration policy between the Civil War and the end of World War II. Estelle T. Lau highlights how immigrant identity formation was a two-way process involving both the immigrants and the relentless efforts of immigration officials to exclude them. She deftly and incisively uses her case study to illuminate the evolution of U.S. immigration policy overall."--Edward O. Laumann, George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago
Cultural and legal study of the Chinese Exclusion Acts, which restrictedChinese immigration into the U.S., and the efforts of immigrants to circumvent these policies through the creation of fictive families.
A look at how the Chinese Exclusion Act and later legislation affected Chinese American communities, who created fictitious "paper families" to subvert immigration policies.
About the Author
Estelle T. Lau is a practicing attorney and an independent scholar. She has a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Harvard University.
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History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » Asian American