Monday, July 23, 2018

Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown

Title:  Patriot Number One:  American Dreams in Chinatown
Author:  Lauren Hilgers
Publication Information:  Crown. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0451496132 / 978-0451496133

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Zhuang Liehong had made three plans to get from his village in China to New York."

Favorite Quote:  "The biggest fortune in life is not health but freedom."

Hero. Dissenter. Activist. Immigrant. Husband. Father. Leader. Uber driver. Chinese. New Yorker. American. Asylum seeker. Asylum recipient. All these labels are only some that apply to Zhuang Liehong. He came to the United States as an asylum seeker in 2014 to escape persecution in China.

In China, Mr. Liehong and his wife come from Wukan, a small village in the Guangdong province of southern China. In September 2011, the villagers rose in protest of government corruption. Mr. Liehong was an activist in the movement. The active protests were quelled in December; however, the activism continued. Ultimately, Mr. Liehong feared for his life and the safety of his family and developed different plans for coming to the United States. Once here, the plan was to apply for asylum as US policy requires.

In the United States, Mr Liehong has found a home in Flushing, Queens in New York City. Flushing Chinatown is one of the largest Chinese communities in the world outside of China itself. This is indicative of Flushing itself, one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse communities in the United States. Here, Mr. Liehong and his family's life has centered on creating a new life - job, language, home, community.

The story of any immigrant and/or asylum seeker has two distinct parts - the life they seek and create in their adopted home and the life they leave behind in the home they have known. Going back and forth in time and place, the book attempts to capture both sides of this story. Although the title of the book is "American Dreams," the book becomes more focused on the activism of the group of immigrants that the story follows. In that, the book is presents as much of their life in China as their new beginning in the United States. On both sides of the story, the book depicts a struggle. One is the activism and fight against corruption. The other is the attempt to navigate the US immigration and justice system in a legal application for asylum.

One thing that would add considerably to this book is pictures. So many people and places are described in the book; the images would add to the impact of the book and provide the needed accompaniment to the words. The book references a lot of names; images associating faces with those names would also help in navigating the details of the book.

The perspective of Little Yan, Mr. Liehong's wife, brings in more the aspect of adapting to a new home and a new life. This begins with the heart wrenching decision to at first leave their young son in China, the struggle to reunite with him, the process of learning a new language, and the need to make a living to survive. Her story becomes the individual emotional anchor for the book more so that the bigger struggle against a political regime. As a woman, a mother, and an American proud of the immigrant history of our country, I find myself pulled towards her story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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