An American Dream Dies, by: V. Lee & Jeffrey E. Singer

This, I guess, would still BE the DARK SIDE of the American Dream???  From the New York Times International Weekly that came with the papers today…

Written by Vivian Yee and Jeffrey E. Singer

His younger daughter was the last to go into the ground.  Before her had gone her sister, her younger brother and the baby, William.  Too small for his own coffin, he lay nestled beside his mother.

After American soil had covered his family’s coffins, Yilin Zhuo had nothing left to stay for.  In early December, he abandoned his adopted home, Brooklyn, for the Chinese village he had come from two decades ago.  “A father just wants to see his children grow up,” he said, hours before his flight.  “Now my children are gone.  My wife is gone.  Can I ever be happy again?”

Linda was nine; Amy, seven; Kevin, five; and William, just one.  They and their mother, Qiaozhen Li, thirty-seven, were found stabbed to death in late October in their apartment.  A cousin who had been staying with the family was arrested after the police found him there, his clothes splattered with blood, a large kitchen knife nearby.

It was family violence on a scale rarely seen in New York City, set in motion, the cousin told the police, by his sense of failure to find the security, stability and family all newcomers to Brooklyn’s Chinatown seek.

Until that night, the household had been one more poor immigrant family among the thousands who have emptied the towns and villages around Fuzhou, in the Fujian Province in southeastern China, for the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Once in New York, the men board buses for jobs in the Chinese takeout shops and buffets that sprout along neon-lit highways and inside small-town strip malls; west to Michigan, north to Maine, south to Georgia.  America’s Chinese restaurants are a diaspora of the Fuzhounese, nearly half a million of them hoping that long hours and low wages will someday make their uprooting worth it.

Mr. Zhuo, forty-one, was one such worker.  His cousin, Mingdong Chen, twenty-five, was another.  Their divergent paths lay bare the reality of life in this Chinese community: crushing burdens and relentless poverty, permanent for all but a few.

Mr. Chen’s troubles were there for all to see in his postings on Qzone, a Chinese social media service.

“Why is the pressure now so great?” he wrote.  “The path has been so difficult.”

Both cousins had come to New York the same way, as young men sent away from home to grind away at busboy and wok-cooking jobs.  But Mr. Zhuo built his chance into a humble career, home and family.

Fired from a job and on the verge of deportation, Mr. Chen came to stay in the family’s apartment in October.  He gambled.  He smoked.  He did not act right, Ms. Li told relatives.  Days before the stabbings, Mr. Chen had argued with the children.  The night of October 26, Ms. Li, in a call with her mother-in-law in China, told her that Mr. Chen had a knife.  By the time relatives came to her door and Mr. Zhuo rushed home from work, it was too late.

Mr. Chen told detectives that “everyone seems to be doing better than him” since he arrived in the United States in 2004.

His family, and Mr. Zhuo’s, had borrowed tens of thousands of dollars for Chinese smuggling rings, known as snakeheads, to sneak their sons into New York City.

They would speak no English, have few prospects.  Before saving for the future, they might toil for years to repay their snakehead debts, which can top $80,000.

“Work is our entire life.  We don’t’ have any choice,” said James Zheng, thirty-one, who bounced between more than ten different restaurants across the country before opening an employment agency in the heart of Brooklyn’s Chinatown.  “They think if they keep working so hard, they can own a restaurant or own a house.”
“What they’re pursuing and what they’re living are completely different,” he added.  “This is the American dream: there’s nothing to it.”
Mr. Zhuo’s father died when he was twelve.  When he was twenty-one, he was smuggled out of China for $40,000.  By 2006, he had secured a long-term position as a stir-fry cook at Best Wok, a takeout shop in Queens, preparing dish after dish of chicken and broccoli.  After he struggled to find a wife in New York, his mother set him up with a friend’s daughter in China, Ms. Li.  As his family grew, Mr. Zhuo worked harder.  He declined his boss’s invitations for nights out.  He saved up to help a brother pay his smuggling debts.

To avoid the lengthy commute from eastern Queens, Mr. Zhuo lived like an out-of-town worker, sharing a room provided by his boss with other employees.  He went home on Sundays.  After 12-hour shifts ended at midnight, he and others watched TV or video chatted with their families.

Over time, the couple found some security.  They paid off their snakehead debts.  Both gained legal status.  While others sent their children to be raised in China, Ms. Li stayed at home with her four children.  They rented part of their apartment to relatives, crowding into the remaining two rooms.

When Mr. Chen knocked on their doors this fall, he had just been fired from a job in Chicago.  They offered him a meal, then a bed.

Since arriving in the United States as a sixteen-year-old, Mr. Chen had had troubles holding down  work.  Between jobs, he gambled and smoked marijuana in illegal slot machine parlors, said his friend, Tony Chen.  Often agitated, he would pound his hand against the machines when he lost.

He was usually broke.  His father, Chen Yixiang, had paid nearly $100,000 to his son’s smugglers, and still owes half that to lenders.  “I will never be able to see my son again,” the father said; speaking from China.  “I am worse off than my son is now.”

The stream of Fuzhounese immigrants had slowed in recent years.  But New York still exerts a powerful pull for those who might earn $2,000 a year at home compared with $1,500 or $3,000 a month in a restaurant, said Kenneth J. Guest, a Baruch College anthropologist who studies the city’s Fuzhounese population.

In the employment agencies, men study grids of yellow Post-it notes fluttering on the walls.  Each announces a job, monthly pay and a three-digit number, the restaurant’s telephone area code.  For many, the names of the cities and states where they work mean little.  What they know are numbers: highway exits, area codes and the time it takes to ride back to Chinatown.  On days off, or between jobs, they return to New York.  Some keep small rooms in subdivided apartments, sharing them with as many as six-roommates.  Others stay with relatives.  The less fortunate pay a few dollars to spend the night in Internet Cafés.

Although Mr. Chen did not have much money or a green card, he got engaged a few years ago, Tony Chen said.  But after he paid the customary bride-price—a prerequisite that can top $50,000 among the Brooklyn Fuzhounese—the woman disappeared, a not-uncommon type of fraud that left Mr. Chen devastated.  “Looking at one couple after the next.  Why do I feel so lonely?” he wrote on Qzone in August 2012.  “I want to shout out loud: I love you.”

In this environment, anxiety and depression run rampant.  But mental illness is both stigmatized and not well understood in the community, said Paul P. Mak, the president of Brooklyn Chinese-American Association.

Mr. Chen has undergone psychiatric evaluation, said his lawyer, Danielle V. Eaddy.  A hearing on whether he is fit to stand trial is scheduled for this month.

It is unclear whether Ms. Li sought help for Mr. Chen before October 26.  Too late to save her, her family flew to New York in November for the funeral.  They scattered daisies and carnations over the coffins—white flowers, the Chinese color for grief.

Then it was time to leave.  In his lap, Mr. Zhuo held a photo of his smiling wife and children, as the black car pulled away.

So here, we have a man, who left his hometown, thinking that he is leaving a bad life behind, and he came to the States, without knowing, that the U.S. is already filled up, quite quickly too, with skilled workers, only to find, upon arrival, that there’s little pay to be earned, and, the man took to gambling and drugs, which is normal, because it’s easy to go bad, especially when you have NOBODY you can count on, and you don’t have a strong sense of the self.







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Filed under Expectations, Hindsight, Issues of the Society, Life, Messed Up Values, Substances Abuse, The Dark Side of the American Dream

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