Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article on Fujian-Chinatown Snakeheads

The Snakehead (author: Patrick Radden Keefe)

This Friday dGenerate Films and the Museum of Chinese in American kick off their regular screening series Chinese Cinema Club. The first screening, held at the museum’s Chinatown location, will be Robin Weng‘s Fujian Blue, an exciting indie feature about reckless youths tied to the human smuggling trade in China’s Fujian province.

Joining us in post-screening discussion is Patrick Radden Keefe, author of The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream. It’s a fascinating book that digs deep into the smuggling of people from China to the US, an illegal practice which by the 1990s grew into a multi-billion dollar industry. Keefe will share his real-life observations of life and crime in Fujian, and also discuss how the “snakeheads” forever changed New York’s Chinatown.

Admission: $10/adult; $8/student & senior, Free for MOCA member. Visit the MoCA website for directions and details.

In 2006, Keefe published an eye-opening article in The New Yorker that eventually led him to write the book. Here’s a key excerpt:

During the nineteen-eighties and nineties, the demography of New York’s Chinatown was changing significantly. The 1960 census showed twenty thousand Chinese living in the city; by the mid-eighties, the population had swelled to more than two hundred thousand. The arriving Fujianese settled on Chinatown’s grubby eastern frontier – along East Broadway, under the Manhattan Bridge, and on Eldridge and Division Streets – and established restaurants and small businesses. As soon as a new arrival paid off his snakehead debt (which often took years), he began saving money to bring over another family member. In this manner, whole clans made the journey, and, eventually, entire villages. Men of working age abandoned once-bustling rural Chinese communities. Emigrants who prospered sent money back for the construction of multistory houses, which rose incongruously from the rice paddies – monuments to the filial loyalty of “overseas Chinese.” In status-conscious small towns, this inspired other villagers to emigrate, and within several years many of the houses emptied out – becoming lavish, tenantless temples to the good life in America.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/04/24/060424fa_fact6?currentPage=2#ixzz10mFrlxYE

The article can be read in full at the New Yorker.

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