Mei Li, Grade 9
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Mei Li, 9th Grade Student
Poly Prep Country Day School
Brooklyn, NY


From the lesson Immigrant Experience.

I stood on the ship's helm, the breeze lifting and sifting through my hair like water through giant kelp. I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time in my entire life, my very short life that seemed so much longer. This giant green lady was the lady my father had written to me about; she held liberty and freedom on her shoulders and to all the enslaved and limited people of China, she was the sign of a new life in a new land.

The ship sailed past the Lady and we arrived at the port of a small island with many buildings and many people. My father wrote to me about this too. This island was Ellis Island and it held the key or lock to my future; this was where I could be let go and fly in the new land or be sent back on some dirty, dark ship like the one I was stepping off of back to China. I prayed with all my heart and soul to the heavens above that I would be able to stay. I did not want to have spent days of living in a moving dirty hell of sickness and death to only be sent back to an even worse hell, where death can catch me for the smallest offense.

I stepped off onto the land and a wave of apprehension washed over me and it battered my mind like a typhoon on the rice fields of China. I was rushed into a building and I waited in the throngs of people for what seemed like forever. Finally, I was thrust into a small room where a strange man was speaking to me in the devil's tongue. I was shocked into numbness as he probed me all over with some instrument; he probed that cold thing in my ear and flashed a bright light in my eyes, blinding me. I was humiliated at being treated like I was nothing to him, just another poor animal wanting to come to glorious America and not the being of mind and heart like I truly was. Then I was pushed to another man, who spoke rapidly to me in that same evil, strange tongue and I did not know anything; I just kept shaking my head and writing the strange word "California" like my father instructed me to in his letters. I was given a brisk nod and given to another man, who wrote many things on a piece of paper and handed it to me. I kept that piece of paper, like my father instructed me to keep everything I was given. Then, they thrust me into the throngs of people but now, I could follow the strange man who had given me the paper like a baby chick follows its mother.

The man led me to a nice ship which looked like heaven in comparison to the hell-ship I was on. I stood on the deck of that ship and all the worrisome thoughts rose out of my mind as slowly as a mist, leaving me carefree as the child I could have been, for now I know I have been selected as one of the lucky who can stay in America and live, for the first time in my life, really live.

I arrived at the port and I was herded off the boat. I clenched my suitcase to my chest, fearing everything and everyone around me; the fear was even worse than the apprehension I felt on Ellis Island for this port was so much bigger, so much more crowded, that the port at Ellis Island was like an ant to a mountain in comparison. I just followed the flow of the crowd because the flow of nature is the most secure thing in the world; the flow of rivers lead to bounty and the flow of herds lead to food. Once we were in the building, I scanned the crowd for my uncle, who was supposed to meet me here but it was as difficult as finding the proverbial needle in the stack of hay.

"Lu Chen!" I heard someone shout in my native language and hearing that familiar tongue instead of the babble of strange sounds coming from everyone else around me gave me the sense of comfort like an old blanket or teddy bear does to a child. I turned towards the sound and I saw the face of my uncle, so much older with lines of hard work that already existed and lines of laughter that had never been there before.

"Uncle Lau?!" I screamed and ran to him, throwing my arms around him. I had not seen him in 10 years.

"Lu Chen, we must hurry. I wish you could stay longer but your father wants you in California immediately. I'm sorry I don't have time to spend with you but we must go now." He then dragged me outside and we boarded a strange vehicle, the moving vehicle that only the richest in China can afford. I actually rode in a car!!! I did not speak to Uncle Lau at all because I was so busy looking all around me. The height of those buildings is amazing; they seemed taller than the mountains of the village, higher than even the gods dare to ascend. We pulled to a stop and went into another building and down some stairs. We stopped and Uncle Lau spoke the strange tongue to a man and then we passed a clicking thing [turnstile] and then I boarded a train.

"I cannot come with you to California and I wish I could. You don't know anything and there is no one to help you. Well, take this piece of paper and show it to all the people who are in uniforms. They'll bring you to the right place. In California your father will meet you at the station." The train started to move. Uncle Lau jumped off the accelerating train and shouted "Remember the paper!" And so that is how I started towards my new life in California, my new liberated home.