Li Ling-Ai's Exclusion File


The main charachter of my documentary Finding KUKAN is pioneer Chinese American filmmaker Li Ling-Ai, who was born in 1908 in my home state of Hawaiʻi. I had been researching her entrancing story for over two years before I was finally able to examine her Chinese Exclusion File at the NYC office of the National Archives. I had a lot of mixed emotions while touching the pristine 75-year-old documents in the file.  A photograph of Li Ling-Ai that I had never seen before and hand-written letters by her brought joy and excitement.  But the thought of why the file was created in the first place appalled me.  I faced the ugly anti-Chinese racism that led to The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law and forced U.S. citizens like Li Ling-Ai (Hawai`i was a U.S. Territory when Li Ling-Ai was born) to spend days at Ellis Island in order to get a re-entry form to allow her to return to her own country after traveling abroad.  Her U.S. passport wasnʻt enough because she was Chinese. Indignation rose in my throat as I imagined an officious interrogator questioning Li Ling-Ai as if she were a criminal and the close physical examination she underwent to prove her identity. She faced the very real danger of being deported if she didnʻt cooperate. Li Ling-Aiʻs accomplishments took on a larger dimension after I examined that file. A few pieces of paper and one photograph told me so much about her and the world she lived in. I’m thankful to all the hard work that goes into indexing, storing and retrieving historical records like this.  

For more information on the documentary and Li Ling-Ai's story, click here.

Place(s): Hawai'i, New York City

– Robin Lung, Film Producer/Director/Writer

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more