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
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Stan had four brothers and five sisters—a typical size for families in China, because the Chinese believed that more children meant more hands to help with farming. But this also meant more mouths to feed. Stan’s father was a moderately successful rice shop owner who inherited money and property from his father, a sojourner in Australia during the late nineteenth century. Although not wealthy, the Lau family was better off than most people in their village. Young Stan was an athletic child who often swam in the ponds near his village with his friends and played basketball for his champion elementary school team. Stan was an independent and brave child: at the age of nine, he lived with an uncle in the family’s rice shop to safeguard it against bandits because, as he recalled, “no one else wanted to.” “It was really scary spending the nights there because it was so dark and we didn’t have many lights back then. Once, I heard this scratching noise and I thought someone was trying to break in, but it turned out to be our store cat clawing on my bed frame” (Personal Interview). This quality of independence that his parents saw in their second son later reassured them that he would be a good choice to send to America. Personal characteristics that made him a perfect candidate to send to the United States—youth, independence, and bravery—also became the very traits that facilitated survival in a strange land.