July 23, 2011 — A Visit to the New York City Office of the National Archives

photo of documents in Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

When I first start­ed check­ing to see if Li Ling-Ai could have been the real life inspi­ra­tion for the fic­tion­al detec­tive Lily Wu, I tracked down some of her trav­els through boat records that are avail­able on Ancestry.com.  One of the Ances­try records was a New York Exclu­sion file that list­ed the date of her arrival in San Fran­cis­co.  Going over the notes on the record again, I saw that Li Ling-Ai’s file includ­ed an inter­ro­ga­tion.  Since the inter­ro­ga­tion occurred only a year before Li Ling-Ai met Rey Scott and con­ceived of mak­ing the movie KUKAN, I was anx­ious to read through the inter­ro­ga­tion to see if it con­tained any clues.  In July I final­ly got a chance to vis­it the NYC office of the Nation­al Archives where Li Ling-Ai’s Exclu­sion file is locat­ed.

photo of Robin Lung at the NYC office of the National Archives

Robin Lung exam­ines Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File at the NYC office of the Nation­al Archives

It was amaz­ing­ly well-pre­served, and I had a lot of mixed emo­tions while exam­in­ing it.  On the one hand, I was excit­ed to see a pho­to­graph of Li Ling-Ai in the file that I had nev­er seen before and let­ters that were hand-writ­ten by her.  Han­dling the doc­u­ments gave me a very vis­cer­al con­nec­tion to the past and to this woman that I have been pur­su­ing for the last cou­ple of years.

photo of Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File

On the oth­er hand I was appalled that this file exist­ed in the first place.  I had to think about the bla­tant anti-Chi­nese dis­crim­i­na­tion that led to The Chi­nese Exclu­sion Law — the rea­son for the cre­ation of the file I was touch­ing.  I was astound­ed that a U.S. cit­i­zen like Li Ling-Ai (she was born in Hawai‘i in 1908 when it was already a U.S. Ter­ri­to­ry) who had a U.S. Pass­port (doc­u­ment­ed in the file) would have to spend days at the NYC Immi­gra­tion Office in order to get a re-entry form that would make it pos­si­ble for her to come back to her own coun­try after leav­ing it!  And that she would have to sit through an inter­ro­ga­tion to prove that she was authen­tic despite all the oth­er doc­u­men­ta­tion she had made me even more indig­nant.

 

As a researcher, I was thank­ful to be able to access the reveal­ing infor­ma­tion in the file and draw both the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ener­gy from it.  So I have to acknowl­edge the hard work that goes into index­ing, stor­ing and retriev­ing these records.  That day at the Archives I wit­nessed two vol­un­teers who were labo­ri­ous­ly going through files and enter­ing data into lap­tops so that oth­ers like me could find infor­ma­tion about ances­tors and char­ac­ters from the past.  I wish I had got­ten their names and tak­en pho­tos of them if only to pay a small homage to all the oth­ers like them who have helped for­ward my inves­ti­ga­tion.

photo of documents in Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

Doc­u­ments in Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File

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3 Responses to July 23, 2011 — A Visit to the New York City Office of the National Archives

  1. Michelle says:

    won­der­ful sto­ry. I had no idea that is where those images came from of her. sto­ry just keeps get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter as you find out more!

    • robin says:

      Now you know why I am obsessed with find­ing things — I know there are still some miss­ing links out there wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered!

  2. Pingback: November 7, 2012 — A Presidential Trivia Quiz | Finding KUKAN

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