Moy Hong Tow: Case Study in Chinese Immigration

Seen from a few case files from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Chinese immigrants were subjected to harsh and overly detailed questions concerning their families, backgrounds, living situations, and other basic information in order to determined whether or not they were able to enter the United States. Even children were required to undergo intense interrogations without a parent, guardian, or even an attorney present with them.

The case file concerning Moy Hong Tow serves as an example of such thorough examination. Only eleven years old when applying for admission as the United States citizen in 1937, Moy’s file includes multiple interviews to which he and family members were subjected in order to prove his familial connections.  Throughout the course of these interviews, the Moy children were expected to know the exact locations of where their family lived—both in the United States and in China–and other intimate details.  This file is also a wonderful window into the lives of the Moy family.

Moy Hong Tow was the fifth son of Moy Sing, a deceased Chinese-American native. Moy’s older brothers–Moy Hong Nguey, Moy Hong Dong, and Moy Hong Ham–immigrated separately to the United States several years prior to his arrival. Moy Hong Nguey lived and worked in New York, New York as a laundryman, which his other brothers verified. Moy Hong Dong and Moy Hong Ham testified that they attended Jefferson Public School in Alexandria, Virginia and lived with their cousin, Moy Ngook Len, above the Bok Hop Restaurant, located at 400 King Street. At one point, Moy Hong Tow was asked about the exact years, and in what order, that his siblings immigrated to the United States. His two brothers and witnesses, in addition to himself, were required to identify family members from photographs that were shown to them.

Left: Moy Hong Dong. Right: Moy Hong Tow

Left: Moy Hong Dong. Right: Moy Hong Tow (Courtesy of the National Archives, New York, NY)

As seen in Moy’s case, the entry process’s detailed nature highlights the difficulties that Chinese faced in coming to the US in the 1930s.  The facts that his older brothers migrated at separate times, that Moy Hong Nguey paid for Moy’s passage to the United States, and that not all of his siblings and other living family members were in the United states also suggest immigration’s expense.


Moy Hong Tow Case File, Record Group 85; Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Justice, New York, NY.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *