January 29, 2009
Sui Sin Far: In the Land of the Free
Although she was not a direct immigrant from Asia to the United States, Sui Sin Far's writing is seen as a portrayal of the harsh treatment Asian immigrants faced upon entering this country in the late 1800s. Her experiences as a journalist for Fly Leaf while living on the west coast of the United States exposed her to the extreme injustice Asian Americans experience. Far's use of irony throughout The Land of the Free reveals the truth about what immigrants found behind America's "golden door" (Lazarus).
"The Little One protested lustily against the transfer; but his mother covered her face with her sleeve and his father silently lead her away. Thus was the law of the land complied with" (881).
This moment describes the heart wrenching scene of Hom Hing handing his newborn baby over to the immigration officers. The unbelievable idea that a young baby would actually be separated from his parents shows the complete absence of compassion in the American government. This moment is particularly significant in that it teaches the couple the reality of life in America. The heart breaking feeling these parents share is far from the bliss they expected to find in America. While there may have been economic opportunity in America, the racial oppression Asia immigrants faced made life phenomenally challenging.
The experience Hom Hing and Lae Choo have upon entering the America clearly effects the emotional side of the reader. A forceful separation of a child from its parents is inhuman and cruel. The reader immediately feels sympathetic towards the poor family and becomes infuriated with the actions of the government. Sui Sin Far is able to portray the American government very harshly in this context because this story revolves around dehumanization. The anti-immigration laws are so severe that families can be ripped apart if they do not comply.
Although I do agree with Far that Asian immigrants were severely mistreated, I feel this story only represents a very extreme case. What we must remember as readers is that the Asians immigrated to America for a reason. Although they did not find the paradise they may have imagined, many did find economic improvements. I do not doubt that some families suffered the same nightmare as Hom Hing and Lae Choo, but I can't help but think about the other side of the argument.
Vast numbers of immigrants poured into the U.S. at this time for a reason; to escape the harsh conditions they had faced in their home countries. If immigrant treatment in America was universally awful, why did so many make the journey? I am in no way defending how the government treated immigrants in this country but could their lives here be much worse than at home? Perhaps America wasn't "the land of the free" but can we really say the American Dream never existed for immigrants?