Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island

2008. Yep, Laurence. The dragon’s child: A story of Angel Island. New York: Harper Collins.

Prolific writer, Laurence Yep and his niece, Dr. Kathleen S. Yep, are fortunate to have uncovered over 500 pages of historical documents relating to their family’s immigration records. Children are fortunate that they have chosen to share this information in The Dragon’s Child: A Story of Angel Island. The Dragon's Child, is written in the form of an interview of Yep Gim Lew, by the author, Laurence Yep. Each answer is followed by a first-person "flashback" to young Yep Gim Lew's past in 1922.

QUESTION: Did you want to go to America?

POP: Sure. I didn't have a choice. My father said I had to go. So I went.

"I had always known I would have to leave home. Our villages land was so poor that men in my clan always had to work elsewhere. My grandfather had been one of the first to cross the ocean to the Golden Mountain. Others went to different countries. For generations my clan had been like rice chaff, scattered in the wind all over the world."

The book follows Yep Gim Lew's journey from his rural village in China to San Francisco, where he will become a Guest of the Golden Mountain. Full of documented information on the difficult path to immigration faced by Chinese immigrants in the era of "Chinese exclusion" laws, this is a wonderful resource for children learning about immigration. The immigration stories of Angel Island, "The Ellis Island of the West," are markedly different from the stories of those greeted by the Statue of Liberty.

A stuttering, 10-year-old, Yep Gim Lew must make the long journey to San Francisco and study for the grueling interrogation at Angel Island as he prepares to make the transition from Chinese farm boy to grown-up, Guest of the Golden Mountain, as travelers to the American West were called. His father, Yep Lung Gon, uncomfortable as a wealthy Chinese "lord" during his visits back to China, instructs Yep Gim Lew in the ways of the west.

In addition to the novel, there is an extensive Author's Note, a chapter on Chinese Immigration , as well as period photographs, web resources, and a bibliography. At under 150 pages including extras, this book is a quick and interesting read. There are not many light-hearted moments in the story, but the voice is authentic, and the story offers a great insight into Chinese and Chinese-American culture.

Coincidentally, according to immigration documents, the author's grandfather, Yep Lung Gon arrived in San Francisco on one of his many voyages, the day after the devastating San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. He writes about this period in history in The Earth Dragon Awakes. (see earlier post)

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