Joe Sing’s Certificate of Residence
Chinese immigrant settles in early Austin
Joe Sing (1860–1927) was born Jo Feng Sheng in China and immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s to find work. He eventually settled in Austin, Texas, where he started a family, operated Hong Lee Laundry, and supported the city’s early Chinese community.
The Chinese led the first major wave of immigration to the U.S. from Asia. As the number of Chinese immigrants grew they became victims of racist attacks and harassment, and by the late 19th century, they were the targets of punitive laws and regulations. On the federal level, Congress passed the first of several Chinese exclusion laws in 1882 that blocked Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States. All Chinese immigrants already living in the country were thereafter ineligible for citizenship, which denied them certain services and rights, like the right to vote. The Immigration Act and the restrictions that followed it froze the Chinese community in place, forcing many to live a life apart from the rest of society and to build communities in which they could survive on their own.
Joe Sing came to the U.S. to find work as a laborer sometime in the late 19th century. He initially worked in San Francisco before moving to Louisiana by 1894. After the Geary Act of 1892, which extended the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and intensified regulations on Chinese immigrants, Sing had to obtain and carry a Certificate of Residence to prove he had permission to be in the U.S.
Sing eventually settled in Austin, where he operated Hong Lee Laundry. While in Austin, Sing married Francis Moreno, a Mexican American woman, and they had four children, Rumalda, Joe Jr., Senovia, and Margaret.
Joe Sing became a valued figure in Austin’s Chinese community. He supported other Chinese-owned businesses through loans to businessmen who were denied funds, extending a social support network for members of the community who were not offered services by government agencies or charities. He died on November 30, 1927, at the age of 67 in a car accident.
Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Time Period: 1866 - 1936
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