Monday, June 26, 2017

WISE 2017

Here is the text of the dialogue Ting wrote with my help.  I am unable to post the video as the file is too big.

 The first Chinese immigrants came to America in the early 1800’s.  In the 1830’s and 40’s large numbers came as part of the California Gold Rush and to be merchants.  Afong Moy was the first woman to immigrate from China in 1834.  In the 1860’s immigration from China grew rapidly as they helped build the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad.  During this period as many as 300,000 immigrated, though some went back.  They worked for very low wages, and after the railroad was completed in 1869 Chinese workers were seen as a threat to white males for jobs.  The Chinese were also viewed as being racially inferior.
 The first drug laws in the US were created that targeted Chinese living here.  Smoking opium, which was common among Chinese men, was made illegal in San Francisco in the late 1800’s, while other methods of using it favored by whites was allowed.  This made it possible to jail or deport Chinese.  Chinese men were made villains in newspapers that described a “Yellow Peril” of Chinese men luring white women to opium dens.
 In 1882 the US passed the first law to stop people coming from a specific country:  The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigration, restricted those here from freely traveling back and forth to China, and barred citizenship to anyone from China.  Those here also faced possible deportation.  The act was extended once and made permanent in 1902.  This remained in place until 1943 when immigration quotas were used to limit immigration from China to only 105 per year.  In the 1960’s immigration restrictions were loosened, and again in the 1990’s.  However, no more than 7% of immigrants can come from one country.  This has led to large numbers of immigrants coming to the US illegally from China.
 In 2003 my father became one of those who immigrated from China.  He did not come legally.

 My father left me when I was 7 years old.  Because I was a child, I did not care where he was going or understand how long he might be gone.  When he was already in the US my mom told me he was in the US and he may never return.  This made me cry.
 Every day he called at 12 pm our time, but it was the middle of the night in NY City when he was done working.  At first I didn’t know what to say to him and I just wanted to play so we didn’t talk much, this limited how much our relationship could grow and eventually it was lost.
 What you are about to hear is a dialogue between my father and me that tells his story of travelling to America.

 Father, I am an adult now, there are many things I understand, but many more that I have no answers for.  Only you can give me the answers and I hope you will.  

 Ting, I can never give you all the answers you deserve by my leaving you and your mother and brother, but I will tell you what I can. I hope the answers make it easier for you to understand why I had to do what I did.

 The first thing I want to know is what has caused the most pain for me.  How was it possible for you to leave mom and me?  I was only 7 and you had been married to her for such a short time.

Before your brother was born, my income for one year was 20,000 Renminbi.  It was enough money for three people to live.  Your brother was born and he added to my financial burden.  In addition to paying living expenses I had to pay the government a fine for having a second child.  It was a lot of money, I didn't think I would have the ability to pay for everything, so I decided to go to the US.  American money was 10 times more valuable than Chinese money.
 Even though I was so far away I thought of you all the time.  I called every night after I finished working, but you wouldn’t talk to me.

When you called, I didn’t want to talk because I didn’t know much about you.  My memories were few and over time they faded, soon you were just a strange voice on the telephone.  I thought you would visit us sometime and when you didn’t I decided you didn’t care about us.  Why else would you stay away so long?

I was working all the time, sending all my money back.

But we were we still so poor.  Why?  When I got sick mom punished me because medicine was expensive.  She couldn’t afford to see a doctor or send me to one.

After I arrived in the United States, I still needed to pay back debt first.  The longer time it took made me pay more interest.  I had very little to give the family, most of my money paid the debt. To get to America I had to borrow from everyone I knew: my family, your mother’s family, even neighbors and friends.  They all wanted to loan it so they could get more back with interest.  It is very shameful to not pay the debt, it would have been very hard on you and your mother if I didn’t pay.

Mom didn't have enough money to spend on other things we needed either.  Why did you need to borrow so much?  Who did you pay it to?

There are people who make arrangements to get out of China and into America, they are called Snakeheads.  They charge for the cost of travel and documents, but they want to make money too.  They charge as much as $70,000 US.  
Sister Ping was very famous and became rich until one of her ships ran aground on Long Island near NY.  They say she was worth $40 million when she went to prison for 35 years.  This was before I went to America.  Snakeheads accept small payments before you leave, but when you get to America you have to pay much more or they make you work as a slave or even kill you.

I remember Sister Ping from the film about the Golden Venture, the ship that you mention.
So after you paid the snakehead, then you flew to America?

I was not lucky enough to fly to America, it had become too dangerous because they were looking for Chinese with fake papers.
No, first it was a long and dangerous trip to get out of China. When it was time to leave the Snakehead told me I had to go almost right away so no informants would tell the police.  I only told your mom and at night a car picked me up.
Since it was so many years ago I can´t remember everything, like the exact places we went.  There were many times I did not even know where we were.
We first traveled in a van without windows to a country south of China.  There were hundreds of Chinese together, adults and children, waiting for a boat.  Finally, a night came when we boarded a boat.  I was grouped with about 40 men and had to go to a cabin below deck without light.  The women were above and as a disguise they made them look like waitresses on the ship.

Did the boat go to the US?

The boat went many places.  At first everyone was very excited and talkative.  We all shared stories of our lives and told about our families and dreams of a better life in America.  After a week things changed, many were sick, we were all hungry and the dark cabin was so dirty.  We could not even go outside for light or air.  After a month we ran into a storm and the sea got very rough and cold, but we only had clothes for summer.  I feared we were going to die at sea.
We stopped at many ports along the way, but we never knew where we were or how long we would stay.
Finally we were near land when another boat came to meet us.  It was a small fishing boat that just pulled up next to us, both boats were going up and down on the waves, and when they were at the same level we had to jump onto the fishing boat.  It was very dangerous, but it had to be this way because our big boat could not reach land.

Did you know where you were then?  Did you fly from there to the US?

No, from this country we flew to Cuba and then to Mexico.
It is too dangerous to enter the US through an airport with fake passports.  We had to go to Mexico so we could cross the border.
Once we got to Mexico a Little Horse, a person who works for the Snakehead, said, “You have to wait for the Snakehead to inform you what time you can go.¨   We had 6 people living in a room as a group, all with a different time to go so if some got caught not everyone would be together.
The Snakehead said secrecy during this time in the house was very important because a lot of police do rounds in the area to check for illegal activities.  We lived in the big house one week before we tried cross the border.

It seems like the whole trip you were always hiding so no one would find you, I´m glad you made it all the way without being found.

Almost all the way.  When I arrived at the US-Mexican border we got robbed,  by some locals.  I had so little money I did not want to give them so they hit me, but I could not get legal protection because I was still hiding.  It was horrible but at least we weren´t caught by the police.  I took a picture and sent it back to your mother, hoping if the Snakehead knew he would charge less for not protecting me and return some money to your mom.

I remember the picture.  When I saw it I didn´t know it was you until mom told me.  We were so upset and worried.  Were you allowed to enter the US?

I got hurt so I had to wait another week before crossing.  The first time we tried we walked through the mountains to get to the border, that´s why we were caught by the local thieves.   The second time we went by car and made it without any problems.  
When the car stopped the Mexican driver said, ¨Wait for a child to come and lead the way, the border guards don´t catch children as much.¨
Everyone got out of the car and a little boy came, and he gestured for us to follow him.  We had no idea how far we had to go or how long it would take.  The boy led us across the border by walking to avoid the police.  When we were in the US we got on a bus that already had women and children on it.  I had to climb in a kind of box under a seat so I wouldn´t be seen.  There were also lots of clothes hanging in the windows to keep people from seeing in.  Some of the police had been bribed by the Snakehead to leave us alone.
The bus took us to Los Angeles and we arrived without any problems.  There we got new fake passports, but since we weren´t entering the country through the airport it wasn´t as dangerous to have them.  The Snakehead bought our plane tickets and we flew to NYC right away.

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