Last June, I was looking through my grandparents’ photo album to try and find my great-great-grandfather. After a meticulous search, I could only find a single photo of him. It was the same one hanging on their wall. I then turned to the National Archives in Boston to try and find his immigration file. My result? Only the same photo.

I then began to wonder why this portrait was appearing in so many different places. At first, I thought it was simply a picture he must have enjoyed, but that theory seemed too easy. After all, when I was at the National Archives I noticed a similar trend in other documents—people attaching the same photos for everything.

From Mug Shots to Masterpieces is my take on the perspectives of Chinese immigrants as they navigated the barriers of the Exclusion Era. At the time, they were the only group of immigrants required to provide identifying photos with their case files. In this paper, I argue that Chinese immigrants purposely modified their portraits to reflect American measures of respectability. By doing so, they successfully challenged the narrative of their enforced documentation.

MATTHEW YEE is a sophomore from Massachusetts studying Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Outside of classes, he enjoys tracking down rare manuscripts and forgotten records to uncover his family stories. He would like to thank Dr. Michele Martinez for her incredible guidance and support throughout WR150, as this project wouldn’t have been possible without her. He would also like to thank Ken Liss of the Mugar Memorial Library and Tracy Skrabut of the National Archives in Boston for their tireless enthusiasm in his historical explorations. Finally, he would like to thank his family.