The Case of the Ma* Family

By Xingyan Xu 

As a Chinese student attending Northeastern University, I have been interning for the spring semester at the American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives. I read many interesting stories in the case files while working on the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) collection. Naturally, these files tell the stories of Jewish immigrants so I was surprised to find that not all of those helped by HIAS were Jewish, and that some were Chinese! Below is the story of the Ma* family, which I discovered in the HIAS case files.

Letter from M. Ma* to Helen Alpert, requesting assistance on behalf of his brother, a college student from China, studying in New Hampshire.

M. Ma was a naturalized American citizen employed as a senior principal engineer. In 1972-73, M. petitioned U.S. immigration officials on behalf of his brother, who was attending college in New Hampshire. The brother held a visitor’s visa, but wanted an immigration visa for permanent residency. There seemed to be some difficulty with the process. Affidavits were required to explain the brothers’ name differences and identify the parents’ location. A full household registration form also had to be completed. It was then that M. Ma turned to the Boston HIAS for help.

Affidavit stating that the parents did not give the brothers the same generation name, explaining why their names are different.

There is no indication that the Ma family was Jewish. However, HIAS did help non-Jewish immigrants, and Jews lived in China, especially during the 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, China was colonized by Western countries. Immigrants from around the world, including Jews, came and settled in China. Jewish immigrants settled mostly in commercial centers, particularly in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Harbin, where they had a good living and working relationship with the Chinese people. After World War II and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, most Jews emigrated to Israel or to the West, although a few remained in mainland China. After the failure of the Chinese Civil War in 1948, Chiang Kai-Shek led his forces to Taiwan. Many Chinese people, as well as Chinese Jews, then moved to Taiwan.

M. Ma’s whole family, including his parents and his brother, were all born in Shanghai, Republic of China. According to the documents from the folder, his families’ permanent address was Taipei, Taiwan. M. Ma’s family probably moved to Taiwan after the Chinese National Revolutionary Army lost the Civil War.

Copy of letter sent from Helen Alpert, announcing that the petition has been approved.

In the folder are several documents of interest, including affidavits, correspondence with HIAS, and a notice from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service that M. Ma’s petition for his brother was successfully approved.

Xingyan (Jessie) Xu is an archival intern at the American Jewish Historical Society New England Archives and a student of international Affairs at Northeastern University.

*Because this case is more recent, names have been changed and identifying information removed from the images.

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