by Jonathan Farrell
Richmond District native Kyle Shin is eagerly anticipating the release of his latest collection of songs in February. To the world outside of Shin’s neighborhood at 39th Avenue and Balboa Street, he is known as “Son of Paper.”
The name Son of Paper has special significance for Shin.
“It is in honor of my great-grandmother, who was detained on Angel Island,” he said.
“Paper daughter” is a term that was used when Angel Island was used for immigration, sometimes referred to as the Ellis Island of the West Coast.
Cynthia Tom, who has done extensive research on the history of Angel Island, has created special art exhibits and installations about this topic.
“Paper daughter was used, for numerous reasons,” she explained. “Some for the conditions that were a result created by the U.S. Exclusion Act, which kept women from entering the United States.”
A “paper son” meant that it was not really the son (or daughter) of the person bringing them into the U.S. This was a way to get around the U.S. Exclusion Act, Tom said, to bring in new Chinese children or “adult children.”
“My father was a paper son,” Tom said. “A Chinese-American couple went to China and bought my father and brought him to the U.S. claiming he was their son.”
But there were difficulties.
“A paper son or daughter experienced either love, servitude or outright hatred by the sponsor bringing them into the U.S. In some instances they were sold. Women from China were not allowed to enter the U.S. I theorize that officials viewed the Chinese as heathens and did not want them to procreate,” she said.
“My dad was beaten by his family and disowned by his step brothers and sisters when the mother who brought him over died.”
Various interrogation tactics were used by immigration officials to discern if someone was a paper son or daughter.
“If they failed, they were sent back to China in disgrace,” Tom said.
Shin is proud of his heritage and takes the difficult history of Asians in America to heart.
“I am fourth generation Chinese-American and my father is Korean-American,” he said.
Shin wants to avoid superficial stereotypes in his music.
“It was a difficult process to pick a rapper name. Many rap song artists don’t really think about it and take the time to pick out a name carefully. I wanted to make sure my rapper name was unique but also meant something significant,” Shin said.
Shin has gotten good responses to his music, with about 400 plays per song and between 2,000 to 4,000 hits on YouTube. He is consciously building connections and a fan-base.
Shin is grateful to Sunset Youth Services, a non-profit organization located at 46th Avenue and Judah Street, which has a recording studio. It is through friendships and mentors there, like Raimol Cortado (Rymeezee), that he was able to record his music.
Shin recognizes the universality of rap music, but avoids gangs and violence.
“My music is about my experiences, about family,” he said.
His goal is to work at presenting positive role models and constructive points of view when addressing controversial issues or topics. Shin has happy memories growing up in the Richmond District.
“As a kid I was at the Cabrillo Playground and Golden Gate Park a lot. I liked being with friends on Balboa Street or at 19th Avenue and Geary. Life is happening there,” he said. “It’s not crazy, like downtown.”
Currently Shin is earning a college degree at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, but his roots are still in the Richmond.
“I went to the East Coast for college because my dad went to Harvard. But winters are not easy,” he said.
Shin’s parents still live in the same house he grew up in, right across the street from St. Thomas the Apostle Church on Balboa. They are supportive of his rap music career.
“I was the easy child in the family. I was always studious, interested in things and hardworking. They know now that this is not a hobby,” Shin said.
“I started rapping when I was in high school. I like poetry and recorded my first songs before going off to college,” he said.
Shin sees his music as homegrown, with some of his recordings being made at Ocean Beach. Shin said all the material on the upcoming album release in February is completely original.
“It really feels good because I own all the rights. My upcoming album will appear on all major platforms,” he said.
Shin is on SoundCloud, YouTube and BandCamp.