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IMMIGRANT STORY. "When the ship docked, American officials came aboard to process the passengers," author Milly Lee writes. "A loud announcement in Cantonese directed passengers arriving in America for the first time to assemble in the main lounge."
From The Asian Reporter, V17, #19 (May 8, 2007), page 17.
"Now I have only my memory to get me to America"
By Josephine Bridges
On his twelfth birthday, Sunís parents gave him an American fountain pen. At dinner, Father served him the choicest piece of the fish, and his mother looked sad." So begins Milly Leeís absorbing story of one boy at an intersection of Chinese and American history.
Sunís three elder brothers are already in America, so he isnít surprised that his father, a merchant, plans to take him along next. But this isnít going to be easy. He will be interrogated by American officials, his father tells him, "to prove you are my true son."
Fortunately, Sun has a wise teacher. "Mr. Chan told Sun that the best way to remember something was to find the answers yourself," so Sun counts the windows in his house, makes a chart of his family tree, and even figures out how to measure the distance between his home and his school. "The Chinese compass, called Ďwater south needle,í was invented in the fourth century in China," we learn. Unfortunately, Sun "always had trouble figuring directions."
"Of all the strange new foods Sun tasted during the twenty-two days on board the S.S. President Taft, his favorites were pineapple juice, fried potatoes, beef steaks, bacon, and cookies. He did not like milk." Itís Milly Leeís attention to details like these that makes Landed such an easy read.
Sun must say goodbye to his father, who will disembark before the boy goes to Angel Island. As his father tears up the pages of his coaching book and throws them into the ocean, Sun thinks, "Now I have only my memory to get me to America."
Sun meets two boys on Angel Island: Hop Jeong has been there for five weeks; Puy Gong for twenty, denied entry. "But my case is being appealed," the latter explains. "They tell me it can take as much as a year to win an appeal." Turns out that Hop Jeong and Puy Gong are "paper sons," boys who falsely claimed to be the sons of returning merchants. "It was the only way they could come to America." We never learn Puy Gongís fate.
After more than a month of waiting, Sun is called for his interview. "Iíll be all right unless they ask me about direction," he has told his new friends. Youíll have to read Landed to find out whether Sun makes it to America, but this history lesson come alive is well worth reading.
Yangsook Choi outdoes herself with her illustrations of charactersí facial expressions, and her paintings of details such as an abacus, an identification card, a window, a globe, and a hat beside a suitcase tell a quiet tale of their own.
Donít miss the authorís note at the very end. Thereís a surprise in store.