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Oung Dan You

Oung Dan You

The story of Oung Dan You is very different from what modern Americans might consider a typical immigration story. Oung Dan You resided in the United States for 71 years. Oung immigrated to the US in 1870, at a time when the United States was actively encouraging the entry of Chinese immigrants under the 1868 Burlingame Treaty. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act nullified the treaty. Oung worked in a laundry, and had he attempted to enter the United States after 1882 he would have been excluded as a Chinese laborer by the congressional legislation.

By the 1940s, Oung was living in Dover, New Jersey, a town quite distant from New York and Newark – where sizeable Chinatowns were located – and not a common destination for Chinese immigrants. It is unlikely that in Dover Oung could rely on the comfort and companionship that came with being part of a larger Chinese immigrant community. In the testimony he would provide to immigration officials, Oung stated that he had a wife and son in China. Oung had returned to China in 1880 for roughly 15 months, but this was the only time in his 71 years of United States residence in which he visited his native country. Following the passage of the 1888 Scott Act, Chinese immigrant laborers who left the United States and sought to return were not guaranteed re-admittance in spite of previous residence. In addition, as a laborer Oung was barred from bringing his wife and son to the United States to join him.

Toward the end of his time in the United States, Oung fell into destitution and relied on public assistance for a majority of his income. His landlord let him reside rent-free for a lengthy period of time. Oung had no relatives in the United States to turn to for support. According to his file, Oung voluntarily notified immigration officials about his status as a “public charge,” in order to be designated for deportation. His lack of resources, family, and elderly age made it unlikely he could improve his resources. Oung Dan You was finally ordered to report to Ellis Island on March 12, 1941, for deportation to China via San Francisco. The true significance of the story of Oung Dan You lies in the suffering of a man who came to America, like so many others, in the hope of opportunity. The suffering ultimately drove Oung to volunteer for deportation. The occupation of China by Japan during World War II meant that the land Oung returned to would be a far cry from the China he left more than 70 years prior.

The Great Depression led United States officials to deport nearly one million Mexican and Mexican Americans. The movement began in California under the guise of “repatriation”. Questionable legal tactics and acts of intimidation led some Mexicans, in the country legally, to volunteer for repatriation. Much like Oung, many were returning to a country they had not been in for years. The Great Depression put so many laborers out of work that Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and other Americans scrambled to find jobs alike. Mexicans, much like the Chinese, had now drawn the ire of the United States government. At the heart of the repatriation was the argument that the United States government was clearing out individuals they deemed “public charges” in order to relieve pressures on the system and give jobs to “Americans”. Research showed that Mexicans on public assistance represented a small fraction of the total number and the benefits of deporting so many were grossly overestimated. It is interesting to see how the attention of the United States government – and the idea of who poses a threat – can wander from one group to another.


-- Urban, Andy, Bugen, Sarah, Houston, Travis, Lanz, Hillary, Pirl, Will

Oung Dan You's residency certificate

Oung Dan You’s certification of residence in the United States, as required by the Geary Act, which was passed by Congress in 1893. Oung Dan You is shown to be a Chinese labor, age 38 years-old, and, at the time, residing in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Oung Dan You's removal order

Oung Dan You’s deportation record, which ordered his removal from the United States under the authority of the Department of Justice. Here, Oung is pictured upon his removal at the age of 85, after residing in the United States for 71 years. Seventy-one years earlier Oung first entered the United States through San Francisco, at the age of fourteen.

Telegraph of Oung's deportation

A telegraph received by Ellis Island stating Oung Dan You had been deported. Oung surrendered himself at Ellis Island then traveled under guard to San Francisco, where he was then deported by steamship to China.

Findings and comment from the investigation that led to Oung's deportation.

A list of “findings” from the investigation that led to the deportation of Oung. It is interesting that such a thorough investigation was conducted since Oung volunteered to be deported and was so clearly a “public charge”.

Oung's Application for Removal to China

This is Oung's application for removal to his native China. Interestingly, the fact that this form exists means that voluntary deportation was common. Many immigrants, like Oung, must have given up on the prosperity they sought in the United States.