Monday, February 11, 2008

The Dragon's Child

I am always on the look-out for a good immigration story. The topic is a big one in our curriculum. Imagine my delight upon having The Dragon's Child A Story of Angel Island, by Laurence and Kathleen Yep delivered by my fab colleague Jen.

A young boy, Gim Lew, is living with his family in his father's village in China. Father doesn't stay with them, however. He is a Guest of the Golden Mountain. In other words, he lives in America. He comes back periodically, brings money, and takes the sons away. Gim Lew first met his father two years ago, when he was seven years old. His father is a dragon, and the boy is nothing like him.

Gim Lew has a stutter and uses his left hand as well. He is just getting hit with the bamboo rod by his Uncle Jing, when word comes that his father has returned. His father is the most important man in the village, and as he usually brings gifts from San Fransisco, everyone is excited about his arrival. The New Year is just over, and most people could use the extra food that celebrations bring.

Gim Lew is shy around his father. His stutter is more pronounced, and he struggles to communicate with this important man. Imagine his surprise when he finds out that he too, is to return to the Golden Mountain with his father. Eventhough he does not want to go, he knows he must. The situation in China is precarious. If bandits do not get paid, they destroy villages. If the weather fails and the crops die, families will have nothing to eat if money is not sent.

Father soon starts preparing the boy for the "test". Gim Lew must learn every answer to any question that American immigration might ask of him. He is only ten. Can he overcome his shyness and his stutter to please his father?

Laurence and Kathleen Yep tell of the start of a journey and the stay at Angel Island. This story is a piece of their family history, though fictionalized. Readers get a clear view of a Chinese village, and of Shanghai as well. The journey on the ship is not glamorous, and one can only imagine the heat and stench of the hold. Even though Gim Lew's father is an American citizen, and therefore his children are too, the racism he faces everytime that he travels is intense and predictable.

The text is chock full of details that will enrich many a lesson on social justice, immigration, and family. There is a fourteen page essay after the conclusion of the book that details some of the hardships and legislation faced by the Chinese (and American Chinese) from the mid 1800s until the mid 1900s. Also included are some family photographs, and photos of the ships and of Angel Island.

A moving piece of historical fiction.

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