Interestingly, after the film was shown at the Chinese Historical Society of Southern Calif, audience members who had "paper son" family connections were asked to pose for a group photo. About half of the audience, around 40 people proudly agreed to be part of this public record!
I later decided to try to use a simple short survey administered anonymously on the internet via Survey Monkey to a sample of older Chinese asking about their family paper son status, their feelings, etc., about it. So far, I have received very few responses, and even one rather hostile reply, even though responses were anonymous. The family secrecy, fear, and sometimes shame, surrounding the issue makes it a taboo topic even long after the parent, grandparent, or even great grandparent who had a paper son status has passed on.
One person who did reply, and gave me permission to quote her, noted that when she was about 10 yrs old:
..."I answered a knock on the door of my grandmother's house to find a man at the door,,, the man started asklng me questions: who was my grandfather, who was my grandmother, etc. etc.... I recall at the time that my parents were very concerned that I had spoken to this man, and I was told to never tell any strangers any information about our family again. It left me scared for awhile, especially when I saw how worried my parents were at this seemingly innocent conversation.... I do not feel as my Dad does, that it is a shameful part of Chinese American history_ at least. it is not the Chinese Americans that should be ashamed but rather it is the American government that should be ashmed for subjecting entire families to this fear... had they not put so many barriers to coming, there would have been no need to resor to "paper sons,"...
These comments illustrate some common sentiments that Chinese Americans have about "paper sons."
You may well imagine the fear generated in this Chinese man even if he was not a "paper son" when stopped by the U. S. Census taker in this photograph probably from about 1930 in N.Y. Chinatown.