The Snakehead is the true account of the June 6, 1993, a small, weathered freighter, the Golden Venture, ran aground along the shoreline of New York’s Rockaway Beach. The freighter, carrying 300 people from China’s Fujian province, was in many ways an age-old American story of immigrants risking their lives for a better life. Each person on the freighter had paid $35,000 to smugglers (the going rate is now upward of $70,000), and when the ship beached,those on board were ordered by the smugglers to jump into the rough surf and swim ashore. The sea was so turbulent that it flipped a 22-foot Boston Whaler sent out to rescue the swimmers. Ten of the Chinese men died. The rest lay exhausted in the sand, tended to by medics, given food and water, and then arrested.
I am linking the full review of this book here, along with a suggestion that you consider adding this to your summer reading list. The book has been praised for its nuanced approach to the conflicts inherent in U.s. immigration policy as well as being a “rich beautifully told story.”
“For much of its history,” Patrick Radden Keefe writes, “the United States has suffered from a kind of bipolarity when it comes to matters of immigration.” And so it was that the men and women on the Golden Venture were not embraced but instead imprisoned, most of them in a jail in York, Pa., where they remained for three years while the government tried to figure out how it viewed them: as illegal immigrants or refugees — or something in between. Indeed, the Golden Venture, which Keefe points out brought “the single largest arrival of illegal aliens in modern American history,” came to symbolize the tightly wound tension that has long characterized this nation’s stance on immigration: the instinct to take in the tired and the poor versus the oft-expressed inclination to return new arrivals to their home countries. “The Snakehead” evocatively captures our yin and yang over immigration policy. Even if you know where you stand, you’ll get tossed about enough in this compelling narrative that you won’t necessarily end up where you began.