Moon Chin and his father lugged a single suitcase out of Wing-Wa village one humid morning in the summer of 1924. Sweat trickled from their short black hair and soaked their shirts. Dust trailed from their feet in the two-rut path that led to the riverbank, where father and son balanced aboard a junk bound for Macau, from whence they took a small coastal steamer 30 miles across the mouth of the Pearl River to the sleepy, harbor-side colony of Hong Kong. A Dollar Line steamer took them across the Pacific via Shanghai, Kobe, and Yokohama. Moon and his father slept on bunks jammed into a barracks-like hold they shared with dozens, if not hundreds, of other Chinese in “Asian Steerage,” the Dollar Line’s lowest class of travel. The steamer reached Seattle nearly a month after leaving Hong Kong.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service welcomed Moon Chin to American soil by separating the ten-year old boy from his father and locking him in the Seattle Immigration Detention Facility, a brick-built gulag that loomed over the Seattle waterfront whose main purpose was to allow I.N.S. officials to interrogate – and reject – Chinese immigrants.