While I wouldn't describe myself as a fan of Jennifer 8. Lee, the liberal New York Times reporter, I do admire certain of her traits.
Yet as boisterous as Lee's parties are, they don't keep her from retiring early. Friends say Lee excuses herself in mid-sentence to go to bed.
(Not only do I approve of and practice this seemingly rude gesture, I long ago added a variation. From time to time when I'm a guest, if the company bores me I find a comfortable spot in front of the television and fall asleep. No one seems to mind.)
The "8" thing has, I'm sure, been an immeasurable boon to Lee's career. Accepted at Harvard University and once an intern for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, Lee's now a high visibility media star. (See Lee interviewed on Comedy Central here)
But a debate about the origin of the "8" in her name follows Lee wherever she goes. According to some, Lee's birth certificate has no middle name. She added the numeral to jazz up her profile.
I relate to Lee's ingenuity because, although my father's name is Giuseppe, my birth certificate identifies me as "Joseph R. Guzzardi, II"
After my father died, I dropped "II"
Inspired by Lee and with the hope that I can duplicate her success with "8" to finally achieve the fame I so richly deserve, I have created my alter ego: "Joe 2. Guzzardi" You may contact him here.
You've no doubt been wondering when I'm going to get around to my immigration-related point.
Several months ago, Lee published her first book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in Chinese Food.
(Important note: I did not buy Lee's book, because I refuse to contribute to the financial success of a Times reporter. A friend who is an ABC—American-born Chinese—loaned me her copy.)
In (appropriately) Chapter 8, titled "The Golden Venture: Restaurant Workers To Go", Lee provides fascinating insights into human smuggling and, fifteen years after the rickety 150-foot steamer smashed into the rocks off New York's Rockaway Beach, the impact of a mere 300 alien arrivals on American society.
Conversely, Lee tells how their departure from their rural Ho Yu Xiang village left it empty.
Although we followed the Golden Venture details when they unfolded fifteen years ago, they take on a different significance when looked back on in their totality.
The passengers traveled 112 days from China's Fujian Province to New York via Thailand and Kenya. Some paid up to $20,000 to be crammed into tiny living quarters.
By actual count, the Golden Venture had a crew of 286 illegal immigrants on board when it departed.
After the aliens were captured, the minors were released. About half of those remaining were deported. But most of the Golden Venture passengers were sent to Pennsylvania's York County Prison.
Almost immediately, the aliens became celebrities.
Today, Lee estimates that at least half still remain in the US: some won asylum, others were deported but snuck back, and still others remain in what she calls the "legal netherworld."
They live in Virginia, Kansas, Ohio, Arkansas, Texas and Arizona.
Using rough calculations, Lee, with the help of Chinese Migration and Immigration Professor Zai Liang from the State University of New York, estimates that via legal chain migration triggered by the Golden Venture passengers, and the children of those migrants, nearly 250,000 additional Fujianese have taken up residence in the US over the last two decades—a population that would rank it close to Pittsburgh, Toledo and Cincinnati.
And what of the village the migrants left behind?
Lee writes that it is an unusual place filled with "monstrous four-story mansions with bulbous spires, ornate front gates and tiered balconies. Many of them have stone lions out front, the females with their paws on the cubs."
No one lives in them.
These garish homes have been built with money sent from Chinese restaurant employees living in America—remittances, in other words.
What America got out of the Golden Venture fiasco is hundreds of thousands of Chinese taking your to-go order on the telephone or showing up at your door carrying cardboard containers.
The ultimate irony in the Golden Venture tale is that the Chinese food the former passengers serve—General Tso's chicken, broccoli and shrimp, steamed rice, egg rolls and fortune cookies—were totally unknown to them before they arrived in America.
When Lee traveled to China to do research, she found that no one had ever heard of a dish called General Tso's chicken.
The Golden Venture case served as the prototype for all the amnesty appeals to come.
Here's the cast of characters, the same then as now:
To measure the absurdity of it all, just ask: what are the chances are that, from 53 random Chinese aliens, 10 percent of them have "extraordinary ability in the arts?"
Then, as a follow-up question: what are the odds that if your child were to submit crude figurines created from recycled prison materials to the Smithsonian that the museum would be put them on display and that eventually they would be sold for hefty sums?
Answers: the odds are impossibly long. And the chances are zero.
The Golden Venture provides an ugly look at the impact of chain migration on our society.
And since chain migration is legal, it provides yet one more reason all those immigration reform advocates who claim that they have no objections to legal immigration should take a harder look at the big picture.
[Email Jennifer 8. Lee]Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.