Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh, illustrated by Wilson Ong
To prepare Lee, his grandparents give him a coaching book which tells him everything he needs to know to convince the immigration authorities in San Francisco that he is really the son of Fu Ming, an American citizen. The book includes such minute details as the number of windows and doors in Fu Ming's house and where they keep their rice bin.
Each night for three weeks, PoPo quizzes Lee to make sure he has learned the information in his coaching book. Finally, Lee sails for America. He continues studying his coaching book, but throwing it overboard just before disembarking.
In San Francisco, Lee and the other Chinese passengers are taken to the Angel Island Immigration Station, given physicals and, if their health is good, they are given a bunk bed in a dormitory until they are called for questioning.
And when he is called, Lee is subjected to hours and hours of interrogation more than once.
What is a paper son, you might be wondering. Basically, it was a way for Chinese people to emigrate to the US at a time when our borders were closed to them due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. But after the earthquake of 1906, records were lost so no one really knew who was born in the US and who wasn't. This enabled many Chinese immigrants to claim they were related to an American citizen of Chinese descent - for a price. In Fu Lee's case, it cost $100.00 for each year of his life, in other words, $1200.00, not a small sum for poor farmers like Gong Gong and PoPo. Of course, there is an explanation at the back of the book about this and about Angel Island, the West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island.
Paper Son is one of those historical picture books for older readers that presents an aspect of history in fictional form. I really like these kinds of books for classroom use, but I wonder if an 8 or 9 year old would read this on their own.
That said, this is really a very informative, well-researched book. The text is complimented on every page by the soft, almost muted though expressive paintings of Wilson Ong, which convey what Lee must have been feeling from trading in his real identity for one that isn't real, to being alone in a strange country, never knowing who to trust.
I have only one criticism of Paper Son- the Chinese words aren't clearly defined. I could figure out that Gong Gong means grandpa and PoPo means grandma (and that would be on the mother's side of the family) and that Gum Saan refers to the United States, but could a young reader? I wonder. Regardless, I definitely love this book and highly recommend it.
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was obtained from the publisher.