“Today…people of Chinese origin tend be considered ‘model minorities,’ but they passed through a crucible into which Muslims are now being thrust”


From THE LOST POETRY OF THE ANGEL ISLAND DETENTION CENTER – Beenish Ahmed – The New Yorker – 2/22/17:

“What would-be immigrants couldn’t tell their interrogators they inscribed on the walls in the form of classical Chinese poetry—complete with parallel couplets, alternating rhymes, and tonal variations. In 1970, when the buildings of Angel Island were due to be torn down, a park ranger noticed the inscriptions. That discovery sparked the interest of researchers, who eventually tracked down two former detainees who had copied poems from the walls while they were housed on Angel Island, in the thirties. Their notebooks, additional archival materials, and a 2003 study of the walls—which were preserved—turned up more than two hundred poems. (There could be hundreds more buried beneath the putty and paint that the immigration station staff used to cover the ‘graffiti.’)”

….In “Islanders,” which was published last year, Teow Lim Goh imagines English-language versions of the poems that Chinese women detainees might have composed.

The Waves

Teow Lim Goh

His father died
suddenly, leaving a sick wife
and four young girls.
He decided to go to America, stake
a claim on Golden Mountain,
and come back for me.

Read rest of poem and three others from Islanders 


More from The New Yorker:

“Teow Lim Goh finished writing ‘Islanders’ before the 2016 Presidential campaign, but she wrote it, she said, in response to hostile rhetoric around immigration that was already in the air. ‘A lot of anti-immigration sentiment has not changed for the last one hundred and fifty years or so,’ Goh said; it’s just that ‘the target groups are different.’ Today, she noted, people of Chinese origin tend be considered ‘model minorities,’ but they passed through a crucible into which Muslims are now being thrust. Goh wrote ‘Islanders’ in part to provoke broader questions about social acceptance in America, she said. ‘Who do we include? Who do we exclude? And why?’”

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