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Title Shanghai Girls - History Book Report
Poster Uijin (Jina) Kim Date 2017-07-04 Visit 820

Immigration and Lives of Immigrants
     Defining itself a country of immigrants, America has a unique history of immigration unlike any other countries in the world. Of the immigrants, Chinese immigrants take up great percentage, and looking at the history of the Chinese immigrants and the life they lived, allows people to understand American history, culture, and the relationships between other countries and US as well.

     In the book Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, See brings readers into the beautiful but tragic lives of two sisters who were beautiful, wealthy Shanghai models. The two sisters, Pearl and May, experience their lives shift from the wealthy and prosperous life of Shanghai to refugees of the China-Japan war, to Chinese Immigrants in the US. The author vividly and beautifully describes the emotional shifts of the characters by depicting the setting, but more successfully shows, and almost actually bring the readers to each historic scene that Pearl and May live through.

     Life in Shanghai is described at the very beginning of the book but becomes the base for Pearl, who is the main character of the story. Her life in the US as an immigrant contradicts in every possible way and shows the hardships she had to go through. When she finally gets on a ship heading to the US, she wonders what life in America would be like and whether expected or not, her life in the US begins in the Angels’ island, immigration office.

     For me, life in the US was full of happy memories and extraordinary experiences of different cultures as well as hardships that I faced, which all happened on the base of understanding of people who knew that I was from a foreign place and therefore it was okay—or even mandatory—for me to make mistakes or ask for help. Memories of listing all different kinds of animals’ names in Biology class when I was supposed to name all the root names for plants, or going into the “men’s” restroom when I thought it was “ma’am’s” restroom all make me smile although they once were painfully embarrassing moments. However, there still were moments that I remember just as much, but meaningful moments that shaped me to be who I am, such as packing tuna sandwiches to save few dollars or organizing the shopping carts in front of the Stop&Shop to earn pocket money my mom would not give me.

     However, America of the mid 1900s that Pearl experienced was full of segregation and discrimination as well as hatred towards the Chinese who represented communism and Russia to Americans. Pearl passes phone call interviews because of her fluent English, learned in Shanghai, but is rejected when her ethnicity is revealed through a face to face interview with a word, “Sorry, we thought you were Italian because of your last name Louie.” For Pearl, America never once stopped being suspicious of her intention of coming to the US and of her skills or abilities because she was from China when her one and only purpose for living in America was to survive.

     Not only this, but one of the significant parts in the book was the part where Pearl’s family is inspected by the US government because of their visa problems that has to do with fake family relationships made under the name of the paper son in order to immigrate into America. Although on the surface, the government had inspected Pearl’s family because of illegal migration issues, the real reason for the inspection is because Joy, Pearl’s daughter has been participating the Students’ Communism Activities. Such inspection ends as Sam, Pearl’s husband commits suicide under the pressure of the government to report all the people he knew that illegally immigrated and unending questions out of suspicions of any relationships between him and communist activities.

     After reading Pearl’s life story, I could not stop questioning, “Why would have it been so different between Pearl and me?” Despite of the circumstances, the different attitudes towards immigrants cannot be just explained just by time difference. Then I found out the answer also from the book and the history; many people have fought against discrimination and become pieces that together made the big picture of an equal society. Speaking of “fighting for equality” the first few people that came into my mind are Martin Luther King Jr. or Sojourner Truth as well as Harriet Tubman, but through the book, I got to realize that normal immigrants who lived without being noticed by every person all around the world, were also the people who contributed their lives to fight against discrimination. As they did their best to fit in and make the American Dream come true, they showed Americans that they were same people just like them, who love peace, family, and an optimistic future.

     One last thing that I found amazing in the book is the part where Pearl sees opportunity in her daughter Joy’s life through the college education she will be receiving. Pearl and her husband Sam both work hard to let Joy have opportunities that they did not have through receiving education because education means possibility. This has not changed since then, since even nowadays people seek education because the opportunity of education leads to further possibilities of even more opportunities. Putting the painful experiences Pearl and May or even Sam had to face in the back, the author ends the story by alluding to the possibilities Joy will have through college education and thereby connects with my life; the life of “Joy’s” daughter.

     “There is no future for a country that does not learn from history (past)” This is a famous saying in Korea that people use to say we must learn from history in order to live properly in the present and this is exactly how I felt after reading and studying the history of immigration. Through the book, I was thankful to learn that because of the hardships that immigrants in history faced, we are able to live in a world where equality and rights exist and it is now our generation’s—Joy’s daughter’s generation’s—duty to end discrimination and provide opportunities for those who seek for it.

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