Chen’s Immigrations Experience Shared by Many

Vol. 18, No. 8
April 21 – May 4, 2005

By GARY PANG

Ming Kuang Chen, the Chinese food delivery man trapped in a Tracey Towers elevator for four days, had reportedly paid $60,000 to be smuggled into America. While illegal immigrants like Chen often end up with large debts and long work hours, many are willing to endure such hardships in pursuit of the American dream.

Like Chen, most new Chinese immigrants now come from China’s southeast Fujian Province. “It’s not that they can’t make money in Fujian,” said Steven Wong, president of the Lin Ze Xu Foundation, a Fujianese civic group in Chinatown. “People want to go to other places to make money.”

Pandering to people’s hopes in America as a promised land are the “snakeheads,” or human-smugglers. “They say, ‘Money grows on trees, women run naked on the streets,’” said Wong with a laugh. “The snakeheads say you can make $5,000 to $6,000 a month.”

For $60,000 to $75,000, snakeheads offer to smuggle aspiring adventurers into America. Lacking proper documents does not stop them, said Wong. One can get fake visas and passports. There are many ways of getting here: riding ships, boarding planes, and crossing from Mexico.

Once they get into America, they realize much hardship awaits them. They have big debts – and quick-growing interest – to repay, and they only can find jobs that other Chinese shun.

Chen had reportedly paid off his debt in two years, but he earned only $300 a week at Happy Dragon on Jerome Avenue. Wong said Chen might have paid off the snakeheads’ fee but still might have to repay his relatives who lent him money.

Being a Chinese food delivery man is hard work but can pay well, said Jimmy Cheng, vice president of the United Fujianese of America Association. It’s often a 6-day work week, and each workday is eight to 12 hours with up to three hours of free time between the lunch and dinner rushes. One can earn more than $2,000, including tips, each month.

“Chinese born in America don’t want to work restaurant jobs,” said Cheng, so Fujianese and other immigrants take them. Of New York City’s estimated 100,000 Fujianese, said Cheng, more than half work in Chinese restaurants.

“The Fujianese are too hardworking. They don’t have to walk into buildings to deliver food, but they do,” said Cheng.

Still, many stay in America. “At first, everyone wants to make money and go home,” said Wong. “But after a long time, they get used to being here. Paying off debts also tie them down. So they want to bring their family here.”

But life is not all gloomy. Among many Fujianese immigrants, knowing that someone is from the same province, town, or village evokes a deep feeling of kinship. “The Fujianese help one another [in a way] that other people can’t learn,” said Cheng. “When someone wants to open a restaurant, everyone lends him money. They don’t go to a bank, where you need documents and to sign signatures … They trust one another.”

Copyright © 2005 Norwood News. All Rights Reserved.

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