Friday, April 25, 2008

The Dragon's Child

Yep, Laurence and Kathleen Yep. 2008. The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island.

The Dragon's Child is a fictional story. However, the book is based loosely on the author's family history--his father and grandfather, etc. It is also based on hours and hours and hours of research. The book highlights, in a way, my ignorance when it comes to the immigrant experience. Perhaps I should say that most of my 'familiarity' is of European immigrants entering through Ellis Island. The Dragon's Child focuses on Chinese immigrants--mainly all male immigrants--entering the U.S. through Angel Island.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Chinese immigrants flooded America. Primarily for economic reasons, they saw America as a land of golden dreams, golden opportunities. For their families to survive--yes, survive not thrive--they needed one or more members of the family to live in America, in the United States, to send money back to their families in China. Families fortunate enough to have a handful of members in America, were seen as especially prestigious, or wealthy. Wealthy by Chinese standards, not American ones. But this life was hard for several reasons. It required separation from one's family for long periods of time. A person never knew quite when he'd be back to see his wife and his children. It may be a few years. It may be a decade. There were laws in place that would not allow a man to bring his family with him. And a law in place that kept Chinese women from emigrating. I suppose the Americans thought that if they didn't allow these immigrants to have a wife and family, then they could control the population.

Immigration then and now could be a hot topic. The laws in place certainly show that it's something they looked down upon. Perhaps viewed as a necessary evil.

The process of immigrating or the process of traveling back and forth between countries was intense. The government kept track of everything. It was all so precise.

To understand just how detailed these records were, try drawing a map of the block on which you live. List all the people in each house and what they do, and also list all their pets. Then record the births, deaths, and marriages of all your immediate family--including uncles and aunts, parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents--for three generations and describe what the current living relatives do and where they live. Finally write down how many windows and doors the houses have and in which direction they face. That will give you some idea how much a Chinese immigrant was expected to know. (114)
It was by reading some of these records, these documents that the Yeps found inspiration for the story they wanted to tell. A story of a young boy, a ten year old boy, who upon meeting his father for the first time in his memory--though they did meet when he was a toddler--comes home to China to visit. The boy is told that he will go back with his father to America. And that in order to go to America he has to pass a test. He has to convince the officials that he is who he says he is--his father's son. If he fails his test, if they doubt him, then they could refuse to let him and his father into the country. The boy is a bit anxious, a bit scared, a bit excited. He doesn't know what he wants. He likes the idea of America in some ways. But he doesn't like the idea of being separated--perhaps forever--from the life he has known in China.

The story is emotional and authentic.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Jeane said...

It sounds like a good book

Melissa said...

I've not had a good experience with Laurence Yep, but this one sounds like it could be a really good read. I'll have to check it out sometime.

Stacy Dillon said...

I just finished reading this to my fourth grade. I think I am going to take the activity from page 114 and ask my kids to try and do it! I will let you know how it goes!