Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Lee Why Pack", San Tong's Paper Identity

My grandfather immigrated to the United States as the son of a merchant in 1918 using his real name,  Jew Sun Tong, at the age of 13 and held a valid certificate of identity. Recently my Auntie Soo-Jan shared with me a curious identity certificate she found amongst my grandfather's papers.  It was a certificate of identity with my grandfather's picture but with a different name, " Lee Why Pack",  who was admitted  in July 25, of 1912 at the age of 14 as the " son of a native".  This certificate is a duplicate certificate issued in Washington D.C.  on March 25th, 1926.  This  certificate with my grandfather's picture but with a false identity certifies him as the son of a native born  American and thus a citizen of the United States.

Here is a picture of this  identity card as well as  a picture of  the rear of the certificate. (Click on pictures to enlarge)

Here is a copy of my grandfather's real certificate of identity issued to him after the family was admitted through Angel Island in 1918. Note that both the real and false identity certificates state that the recipient has pit above the right eyebrow.

Racist immigration laws during this period of time required that all ethnic Chinese in America whether citizen or legal immigrant  carry a valid certificate of identity to prove that they were legal residents of the United States.  My grandfather was a legal immigrant and carried a valid certificate of identity in his own name. Why did he also have a false identity certificate?  Did he actually use this identity?  If he did use this identity, how long did  he use it and why  did he stop using it ? In this post I will attempt to provide the answers.

At the time of the 1930 Census my grandfather , his wife Rose, and my father Jack were living at 841 East Adams Street in Los Angeles.  In this 1930 census  my grandfather uses his paper identity of "Lee, Why Pack.". Here is a picture of the 1930 Census information concerning my  grandfather's family.

According to my grandfather's paper identity, he should be 30 years old and not 25 ( his real age) and thus he uses that age on the census. He states that he was born in China. ( His paper identity says he was the son of an American citizen  and thus an American citizen himself  even though he was born in China.). His wife Rose is identified by a Chinese name " Hom Yok" (I am not sure if this was her real Chinese name). Her actual age is  used  (21 years old).   My father is identified as " Jue Jack"  first name, and  " Lee" last name. He is 1 year and 4 months old at the time of the census. My grandfather's occupation is "Produce trucking",  and his employer is" own fruit market."

On my father's birth certificate ( he was born in 1928) , the name listed is  Jue Jack Lee.
My aunt Joan , who was born just after the 1930 census was taken in September of 1930, has her name listed  as Jue Joan Lee on her birth certificate. 
My father and aunt have in their possession their real birth certificates. Interestingly , my Auntie Soo-Jan was able to locate bogus birth certificates amongst my grandfather's papers  for my Dad and my Auntie Joan which list their father as Why Pack Lee. There are some discrepancies in these birth certificates as to the name of the mother , and occupation of the father and there are no real physician signatures on them .

Here is my father's bogus birth certificate:

Here is my Auntie Joan's bogus birth certificate.

By 1937 when my grandfather travels to China to remarry after my grandmother  Rose's death, he is using  his real name as San Tong Jue on immigration documents. In the1940 census he uses his real name and all family members are listed  using their real names. Jue and not Lee is the surname used on all legal documents.

My grandfather explained later to both  my father and my Auntie Joan  that  their birth certificates had the  "Lee" name on them as well as the Jue name so that they could use either name as their  American surname depending on whether  my grandfather ultimately used Jue or Lee as his surname. Americans were aware of the Chinese practice of putting surnames first on legal documents as opposed to the American practice of listing surnames last.  Thus, depending on  which surname my grandfather ultimately used,  a birth certifcate written as Jue Jack Lee and Jue Joan Lee could be interpreted as meaning : first names:  "Jue Jack" and "Jue Joan"  and last name  " Lee".  or  alternately  first and middle names  "Jack Lee"  and "Joan Lee" and last name "Jue".  My grandfather explained to my father and my aunt that using the Lee name as a paper identity for him was arranged by Jue Joe as a potential means of  circumventing the California Alien Land Laws that at the time prevented Chinese born abroad from ever owning land.  The plan was ultimately abandoned as too risky and never actually carried out and my grandfather resumed using his real name.

The story of  Jue Joe's attempts at insuring that real estate purchased by him could be legally owned by the family during the time of the Alien Land laws is fascinating and the decisions made had huge repercussions for the  ultimate history of our extended family. I have discussed much of this in previous posts but  I will discuss some of the material again primarily as it applies to the story of my grandfather's paper identity.
The California Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited "aliens ineligible for citizenship" (i.e., all Asian immigrants) from owning land or property, but permitted three year leases. It affected the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean immigrant farmers in California. Jue Joe and his two sons including my grandfather, San Tong, were born in China and under Exclusion era laws permanently ineligible for citizenship and unable to legally own land.  A common means of  circumventing this  prohibition against owning land was to buy land in the name of  American born children of immigrants who were by birth US citizens and eligible to own land. Immigrants or others could be appointed as guardians of the property owned by these minor children until they became of age. However, California law placed the burden of proof in these arrangements on the guardians that this was not an attempt to circumvent the Calfornia Alien Land Law and allow Asian immigrants born abroad to purchase and own land. If it was determined that such was the case, the land could be confiscated by the State of California. Much more detail about the California  Alien Land Law and it's effect on the Jue Family can be found here.

In 1919 about one year after his family immigrated from China, Jue Joe and Leong Shee had an American born daughter, Corrine.  That same year Jue Joe purchased land in Van Nuys  with the help of  his good friend Otto Brant, president of the Title Insurance  and Trust Company. Rather than purchasing land directly in the name of Corrine with him or Otto as designated guardian, Jue Joe and his friend Otto agreed on a different plan.
"With the help of his friend, O. F. Brant of the Title Insurance and Trust Company, Jue Joe bought Lot 690 from one Anderson in 1919, the year of Corinne's birth. Deed dated October 29, 1919, conveyed title in trust to Title Insurance and Trust Company, subject to Anderson's trust deed to Title Guarantee and Trust Company securing Anderson's indebtedness of $18,000. The declaration of trust dated November 1, 1919, recites that no part of the consideration was paid by Title Insurance and Trust Company and certifies that said property is held by it in trust for O. F. Brant, beneficiary. The specified purpose of the trust is to convey "upon written demand" to said "O. F. Brant or order." An assignment of beneficial interest to Corinne (referred to therein by her Chinese name "Ah How Jew"), was  signed by O. F. Brant and Sue E. Brant,on November 7, 1919." This document was signed shortly after the trust was created. This was an " informal and unrecorded assignment of beneficial interest to Corinne" and legally the beneficiary of the trust remained O.F. Brant.
Unfortunately,  Otto Brant died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1922.
In 1926 Jue Joe arranged for the purchase of paper identity for his son San Tong as "Lee Why Pack"  , an American citizen. Why was this done?
My own theory is that Jue Joe after the death of his long time friend , Otto Brant ,  began thinking about other ways to have legal ownership and control of his lands rather then to keep the land in a trust with the Otto Brant estate designated as the legal owner. Although the property was supposed to be conveyed to Corrine, his American born daughter when she reached maturity, and thus legally owned by the family at that time,  perhaps there was another way to immediately have direct legal ownership of the land. If  Jue Joe arranged for his second son to assume the paper identity of " Lee Why Pack" , an American citizen, then Jue Joe's property could be conveyed by the Brant estate outright to "Lee Why Pack" and the family would have immediate control and ownership of the land. The informal and unrecorded note assigning beneficial interest of the trust to Corrine,minor child, could be cancelled by Jue Joe as Corrine's guardian.

Also, the paper identity would allow  "Lee Why Pack" , an American citizen, to purchase additional lands for Jue Joe directly and without the need to purchase land through non family intermediaries.
As we have seen , this scheme was well underway at the time of the 1930 census with my grandfather establishing this false identity for him and his family. Soon after the  time of the 1930 census the scheme was abandoned by Jue Joe and my grandfather, San Tong, as too dangerous and fraught with serious risks of discovery.  If the subtrefuge was discovered by officials and interpreted as a way of getting around the alien land law , all the Jue Joe property would be in danger of being confiscated by the state! My grandfather resumed using his real name and the paper identity was abandoned and never used in real estate transactions or other documents ever again.

Edited 8/31/2012  I have been able to obtain the original immigration files of "Lee Why Pack" and some other documents with respect to my grandfather's paper identity. ( Click on documents to enlarge and review)
Lee Why Pack and his father Lee Shew immigrated through San Francisco on July 28th 1912.
Lee Shew alleged he was an American born citizen who had travelled back and forth to China three times and was finally returning with his two sons who had been born over seas. Documentation of his American birth in San Francisco is sketchy and there is no picture documentation but he is admitted anyway. His son Lee Why Pack having been born of an American citizen abroad is by American law an American citizen by birth.   Lee Why Pack  has an identifying mark of a pit above his right eyebrow.
Here is Lee Why Pack's and Lee Shew's sworn statement concerning their citizenship status with pictures.

Lee Shew and his two sons are admitted to the United States as citizens in 1912.
It is unknown what happened to the original  "Lee Why Pack ",  but after being admitted in 1912 there is no further record of him . Did he die?  Was "Lee Why Pack " a paper identity that  the young man stopped using once he was admitted ?
In any event,  when  Jue Joe and San Tong Jue began looking for an American citizen paper identity to assume , they were apparently told that the identity of " Lee Why Pack" was available and for sale.  This person was about 6 years older then my grandfather but age was close enough and he also had an identifying mark of a pit above his right eyebrow as did my grandfather ( see my grandfather's true identity card as a young boy earlier in this post).

In  December of 1925, my grandfather posing as "Lee Why Pack" travels to Walla, Walla , Washington state and applies for a duplicate certificate of identity (Form 430)  , claiming to have lost his original identity certificate . Why Walla, Walla? Did the original "Lee Why Pack" live there at one time or was there some other reason for Walla Walla?
The immigrant investigator in charge writes to the San Franciso office requesting the original immigration file to verify his  claim.
" A Chinese named Lee Why Pack has filed application for return certificate as a citizen with this office. He claims to have been admitted  at your port on August 15,1912 from the SS" Siberia", and to have been given certificate of identity  #8344, as the son of an American born citizen, but to have lost said certificate of  identity. To assist in the pending investigation, kindly have your  records searched for landing of this Chinese , and if  found, forward same to this office."

The inspector completes his investigation and forwards his findings and the files back to the main office in Seattle, apparently verifying that my grandfather is indeed "Lee Why Pack" and an American citizen. ( Unfortunately the  transcript of the investigation and testimony of my grandfather in Walla ,Walla  has not been archived and is not available) .

The Seattle commissioner approves the application for the certificate on January 6th , and returns the original immigration file to San Francisco

Interestingly , my grandfather after having his application for a return identity certificate approved, travels to Vancouver Canada from Walla ,Walla . I have no idea what the reason for that trip was.  He carries with him his "Form 430" application for a return identity certificate verifying he is a US Citizen although he has not yet received his official duplicate identity certificate.  From Vancouver he travels back to Seattle aboard the S.S. Princess Victoria and  arrives in Seattle on January 21, 1926.  Strict immigration laws then in effect require verification of  the legal status of any Chinese returning to the United States from Canada.  He is listed  on the ship's manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States as a US citizen carrying a Form 430 application for a duplicate identity certificate in lieu of an actual certificate.   Although born in China, he is listed as a US citizen and a resident of Walla , Walla Washington to which he is returning. His occupation is " Merchant"   He is  listed as 27 years old.
Here is the Seattle ship manifest of his arrival in Seattle:

In March, my grandfather gets his bogus duplicate identity card as "Lee Why Pack ".

The complicated ruse has been successful. Here is the  March 26th, 1926 letter verifying that the duplicate certificate of identity has been issued.

Interestingly by  1930, the Immigration service has begun to suspect that "Lee Why Pack" and his father  " Lee Shew" and  some 37 other Lee family members have all  immigrated fraudulently and claimed all to be from the same village which was in fact a fictious village.  There is a letter in the front of  "Lee Why Pack's " San Francisco immigration file that should he or any other persons listed come before the immigration service again they should be questioned.  I wonder if my grandfather and great grandfather got wind of the fact that the immigration service was suspecting that " Lee Why Pack " was in fact a paper identity and for that reason my grandfather stopped using that identity?  What is clear  is that shortly after 1930 , my grandfather no longer used his  paper identity and resumed using his real identity of San Tong Jue.

Post Script:
The strange story of my grandfather's  paper identity is an interesting example of the complicated ways in which Chinese during the exclusion era circumvented strict immigration regulations. What is interesting in  our family's case was that the paper identity that was obtained was not used to effect entry into the United States but rather used in an attempt to claim citizenship status for my grandfather in order circumvent the discriminatory California Alien Land Law which barred Chinese born abroad from owning land.
If you are interested in learning more about this period , Estelle Lau's book " Paper Identities" is an excellent source of  information about how the racist immigration laws  and policies of the Chinese Exclusion Era shaped an increasingly sophisticated Chinese community response to circumvent the laws and also how these laws also shaped the Immigration service itself that was charged with enforcing them.

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