Not American | TeenInk

Not American

December 18, 2018
By drahcir-swims GOLD, Highland Park, New Jersey
drahcir-swims GOLD, Highland Park, New Jersey
19 articles 6 photos 0 comments

i.

 

The rotting planks creaked beneath his feet, a disjointed harmony to the rowdy

cacophony of hundreds of laborers stuffed into the dark recesses

of the ship belly, their accents a myriad

of harmonies, a sprawling tapestry stretching across the frozen mountains and rice paddies

of China, billowing in the blustery wind of naïve hope which swirled throughout

the shadows of steerage.

 

He hunched over his rice bowl, the sparse grains an iridescent thread

of love arcing gracefully over the turbulent waves

 

to a mud brick, one-roomed house facing rows of rice, their stalks bent

with destitution,

 

to his father’s curved back, their vertebrae screaming from acute spasms

of pain forty years too early,

 

to coarse yet caring hands braving the ferocity of

the midday sun to harvest so many miniscule white grains, traded for a few grimy coppers

from fox-faced merchants, painfully scant

savings slowly fed by the love of poor parents praying to change the destiny

of their son.

 

And still the great steamer plows ahead towards a glorified land

of prejudiced patriots indifferent

towards the optimistic souls tossed like filth belowdecks.

 

ii.

 

The detention facility rose up

above the lapping waves encircling

squat buildings, so many faithful dogs eager to escort prisoners to

their wicked master.

 

He knew, oh yes he knew

the horrors within, from fearful accounts whispered by broken men, broken,

Broken by this racist sentinel standing guard over America,

labelled nothing but flesh and bone with

yellow skin.

 

And as the black,

black windows punched into Angel Island’s walls neared, jagged holes that swallowed

his fires of tenacity,

he silently rehearsed the cold facts drilled into him, the birthday of his naturalized

“father” in the States, the address of this

stranger, the fake identity that would lull the beast of Angel Island

to sleep.

 

He knew the fear

the fear as sour-faced inspectors

hurled questions

like bullets at the cowering

Chinese

immigrants, their lips struggling to wrap around the terror and

anger rising up their throats, paper sons and daughters wanting

but a better life.

 

He knew the anger,

the anger as Angel Island’s lackeys welcomed

white men with open arms while the detainment center leered at

Chinese

like winter leers at tender saplings,

and as the months flowed past, hope

curdled in the despondent characters carved upon

the walls, so many dark characters saturated with the tears

of racism’s victims.

 

As Angel Island snarled,

fear coursed through the latticework of

his veins for he knew winning

the lottery for liberty was a rose

in the bosom of winter.


The author's comments:

I grew up not knowing about the systematic racism that Chinese immigrants were subject to starting in the late 1800s. When I stumbled upon the Chinese Exclusion Act exhibit in the National Archives museum, I was at once ashamed by my ignorance and enraged. Why was I not taught this in school? I hope this poem allows readers to question the impact and morality of keeping parts of history hidden.


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