One of the dark chapters in American history is the racist Chinese Exclusion acts . These US government acts excluded new immigration of Chinese laborers, and required certificate of identities of Chinese already in the United States , initially to prove their right to travel to and from the United States back to China and later to prove that they were here legally . Ultimately , Chinese unable to produce these certificates would be faced with the possibility of deportation.
Some Asian American scholars have called these the " Dog-Tag" Laws .
Here is a summary of this period of history
"From 1882 to 1943 the United States Government severely curtailed immigration from China to the United States. This Federal policy resulted from concern over the large numbers of Chinese who had come to the United States in response to the need for inexpensive labor, especially for construction of the transcontinental railroad. Competition with American workers and a growing nativism brought pressure for restrictive action, which began with the Act of May 6, 1882 (22 Stat. 58). Passed by the 47th Congress, this law suspended immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years; permitted those Chinese in the United States as of November 17, 1880, to stay, travel abroad, and return; prohibited the naturalization of Chinese; and created the Section 6 exempt status for teachers, students, merchants, and travelers. These exempt classes would be admitted upon presentation of a certificate from the Chinese government.
The next significant exclusionary legislation was the Act to Prohibit the Coming of Chinese Persons into the United States of May 1892 (27 Stat. 25). Referred to as the Geary Act, it allowed Chinese laborers to travel to China and reenter the United States but its provisions were otherwise more restrictive than preceding immigration laws. This Act required Chinese to register and secure a certificate as proof of their right to be in the United States. Imprisonment or deportation were the penalties for those who failed to have the required papers or witnesses. Other restrictive immigration acts affecting citizens of Chinese ancestry followed. During World War II, when China and the United States were allies, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Act to Repeal the Chinese Exclusion Acts, to Establish Quotas, and for Other Purposes (57 Stat. 600-1). This Act of December 13, 1943, also lifted restrictions on naturalization
After the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, laborers such as Jue Joe who were present lawfully in the United States before the passage of the act , could obtain certificates of identity that would allow them to travel to and from China as one of the exempt classes and prove they were legal immigrants. . These certificates would have name, date of birth , and identifying physical marks but did not require photographs. "... such certificate shall contain a statement of the name, age, occupation, last place of residence, personal description, and fact of identification of the Chinese laborer to whom the certificate is issued" - Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
The Geary Act passed in 1892 and amended in 1893 required for the first time photographs on certificates of identity
"In 1892, with a presidential election fast approaching, Democratic congressman Thomas Geary of Sonoma County California, had seized on anti-Chinese sentiment.
He wrote an identification bill that easily passed the House of Representatives, 178-43, and the Senate, 30-15. The Geary Act gave a Chinese laborer one year to register for a certificate or face immediate deportation.
The identity card was to contain two duplicate photographs that were “securely affixed to the papers by strongly adhesive paste of sufficient size and distinctness to plainly and accurately represent the entire face of the applicant, the head to be not less than 1.5 inches from base of hair to base of chin.”
"In support of the statutory photograph requirement , the primary sponsor of the 1892 and 1893 legislation, Representative Thomas Geary (Calif.) argued that "all Chinamen look alike, all dress alike, all have the same kind of eyes, all are beardless, all wear their hair in the same manner."12 Verbal descriptions alone are insufficient, he maintained, and therefore photographs are required to provide a more detailed form of description"
Obtaining a certificate of identity between 1882 and 1892 was optional for Chinese laborers residing in the United States and only required if they were trying to return to the USA after travelling to China . Many laborers obtained these certificates during this time period as anti -Chinese sentiment rose in the West , to prove they were here legally and also in preparation for travel to and from China . It would be reasonable to assume that Jue Joe might have obtained one of these certificates during this time frame . These certificates would not have photos. In 1892 /1893 all Chinese in the United States had to obtain certificates of identity with photos or face deportation and we can asssume that Jue Joe would obtain a certificate with photo at that time .
Jue Joe's sworn deposition before immigration officials on his return to the USA in 1906 is very interesting concerning his certificates of identity and some of the inconsistencies in his deposition coupled with the historical information I have provided help us to improve our understanding of Jue Joe's travels in the early years.
Q In what year, month and day did you register?
A I was 38 years old , in 1892 or '93
Q Did the certificate that you first got in 1892 or '93 have a picture on it?
A No , no picture; the first one no picture, but that no good I no keep , throw it away.
Q When did you register the second time ?
A K.S. 18 or 19 ; got a picture that time .
Q What became of that certificate?
A I left it in the custom house when I went to China
Q Where at ?
A San Francisco. I go home to China they keep my certificate and give me another ticket and if I come back ,everything they keep down there
Q Are you sure you left your certificate with the Chinese Bureau at San Francisco?
A Yes, sir.
Q In what year was that ?
A I was 47 years old when I went home , coming 48 K. S. 28, 1st day, 4th Moon (May 8,1902)
Q When did you return from that trip to China?
A This year
Q What month and day?
A Chinese January 3, K.S. 31, I come to San Francisco, and I come to land on the 13th ; I stay on the boat ten days .
Q What boat?
Q And you are sure you never registered but one time?
A One , that's all
Q Where were you living at the time you registered?
A St. Helena, Napa County
Q Where were you living when you threw the first certificate away?
A In Napa county. Time have to register second time every people say first one no account and I no keep, I throw it away .
Jue Joe's says he registered for the first time in St. Helena in 1892 or 1893 and the first certificate had no picture. This has to be an incorrect date as pictures were required in 1892 and 1893 . Later he says he gets a second certificate this time with a picture in K.S 18 or 19 ( 1892 or 1893 in the English calendar) . The immigration official ,probably confused about the Chinese dates ,did not catch that Jue Joe quotes the same years for his first and second certificates ! Jue Joe says he throws away the first certificate when he has to register a second time . Most family oral history puts Jue Joe in Los Angeles in 1890 to 1893 . The comment in his testimony about registering for the first time in St. Helena in 1892 or 1893 bothered me until I realized that the dates HAVE to be incorrect. Jue Joe probably obtained a certificate of identity without a picture in St Helena , sometime after the passage of the original Exclusion Act of 1882 and before he went to work on the Southern Pacific railway and then ended up in Los Angeles. He got his 2nd certificate with photo almost certainly in 1892 or 1893 when all Chinese residing in the United States were mandated by law to get a photo certificate of identity . I assume that rather than getting this in Napa he got a duplicate identity card with photo in Los Angeles. Remember this immigration interrogation , had to have been a very high stress interview for Jue Joe . He had just returned from China trying to start over in America without having the proper certificate of identity with him . Earlier in this interview he says he left it at the custom house in San Francisco in 1902 when he departed for China and no longer had it . Without the proper identification Jue Joe faced deportation proceedings against him and spoke broken English . . It is no wonder that there are some errors in his testimony . Laborers returning without proper certificates were scrutinized closely by immmigration officials and often had to have sworn testimony from Caucasians verifying their identity if they did not produce the proper identity certificates. I wonder if there are some other documents somewhere of Otto Brant verifying Jue Joe's identity to immigration officials.
All of this detective work about certificate of identities , allows us to say that it is possible that Jue Joe arrives in Los Angeles in 1890 as told by Uncle Guy to Auntie Soo -Yin . There is some confirmatory data from Southern Pacific Railway history that also helps to put Jue Joe in Los Angeles around 1890. Active work on the north end of the Southern Pacific costal railway was underway between the years 1886 and 1889 with over 1000 Chinese laborers involved in laying track . In 1889 the line reached Santa Margarita where the line reached the Coastal mountains near San Luis Obispo . There was a 2 year hiatus in the rail work before condemnation proceedings allowed the construction of railroad to resume along the Cuesta grade with the difficult task of construction of railway tunnels through the mountains to come .
The southern portion of the coastal route was already completed through Santa Barbara to Goleta by 1889. My revised theory is that Jue Joe got his first certificate of identity in St Helena sometime after 1882 and then left St . Helena around 1887 to 1888 and worked on the Southern Pacific until work was halted on the line in 1889 . Out of work in 1889 when railway work was suspended , he probably travelled by stage or horse to Goleta/Santa Barbara and then bought a train ticket all the way to the end of the line in downtown Los Angeles . Looking for work , he probably applied for and received employment by the Brants around 1890 just after David Brant was born and in time to assume his role as the Chinese man referred to by Mrs. Brant when she tells her son he had a Chinese man nurse him as a baby . David Brant has no memory of any Chinese man in his home . David does remember a trip to the World's fair at age 4 in 1893 , the year his father starts the Title Insurance and Trust Company. (Adults often have no personal memory of events in their life before age 4 or 5 or so ) . David Brant is born in 1889 and the family home is in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. . I assume that Jue Joe was a houseboy in the Brant household between the years of 1890 and 1892 or so . This may have been his first job in Southern California after travelling to Los Angeles after working on the railroad. He turns up in Jue family oral history as a houseboy on a Chatsworth ranch in 1893 and also starts farming potatoes in the Chatsworth area later. . My theory is that Jue Joe perhaps in buying produce for the Brant household and discussing the future of the San Fernando Valley as a agriculture paradise with Otto Brant , sensed the opportunity to start his own business as a farmer in the Valley . He may have had Brant introduce him to the Johnson family and started working there as a houseboy on their wheat ranch , saving enough money to start leasing land and farming potatoes in the area. I think family oral history and historical dates are all starting to come together to allow us to weave a very plausible story of Jue Joe's early years in Los Angeles.