Chapter 2: Preparing to Leave

First, Father sent us a letter from America with some coaching papers. He explained to us that our mother couldn't enter the United States as his wife because there were laws that forbade a laborer to bring in a wife. The only Chinese men who were allowed to bring in wives were diplomats, students who were studying in the United States, and merchants. However, our mother could enter as his sister. He told us to call our mother "Auntie."

Once we got our father's letter, we used the coaching papers to study, and we had to memorize the answers to the questions. The authorities in the United States asked lots of questions before they allowed any Chinese in. Some of questions they asked:

  • When and where were you born?
  • What is your occupation?
  • Can you read any language?
  • What is your final destination in the United States?
  • Who is that lady with you? Is she your mother?

Mother, Li Hong, and I went over the questions and memorized the answers. Lai Wah was too young to do what we did. We practiced calling our mother "Auntie" many times. My father came back to the village to travel with us to America, and he helped us prepare our answers. Father kept saying, "You must never make a slip by calling your mother 'Mother.' If you make a mistake, the authorities will deport us back to China in shame." We nodded our heads when Father spoke to us. We didn't want to jeopardize our chance of entering the United States.


Why did Asian Americans have to deal with racism in the United States? To learn more about immigration quotas and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, click here.

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