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Dirge for an Immigrant


Dirge for an Immigrant


grief flew

across the Atlantic on an isolated journey

to plummet down like a dysfunction

into the heart of a nation of stripes and

stars of promise


beautiful land, 美國,

that’s what we call the soaring landscapes,

tumbling hills tapped like monsoon water flowing

into green-grass pastures,

just a mile away are effervescent desires,

a high-rise hedonistic Hail Mary

for those back East who the rich ones called farmers


back home, they scrambled for

plows and axes, afternoon sun or dusky rain

a trace of dirt underneath fingernails,

hoping that it would promise grain

when mouths in a family were ravenous

but there is nothing but bark to peel from elmwood,

no bite, only the gratuitous grit that

begs a migration


so a 爺爺 packs his bags in 1849,

shuts his suitcase full of pickaxes

tool primed to chip away

at stone for months on end, waiting

for that golden glimmer of gluttony


he may never see his 太太 or his 孩子

again, this he knows,

but as he sails off into the grand blue

he thinks of how he could’ve made a living fishing,

if only the opportunity didn’t dive back into the murk

slithering away like a lodged farewell


grief sailed

over from Angel Island downtown in 1906,

to the Santa Ana streets where markets rustle

with leaves and lantern paper,

warm golden glow against white fog

until one day the haze

ruptured

may 25


somebody had declared a Chinese man in town sick,

said he had leprosy, like his skin was crawling with disease,

said he had spread it to every other yellow one in town


Excerpt from a 1895 map of Santa Ana, California:


“Turn-of-the-century fire insurers considered Chinese people a potential fire hazard, so they marked Chinese residences.”

“burn it,” they said.


“burn it,” the onlookers cry

as sailboats of smoke stream, screaming up to sky

pale-faced firefighters grin at their own ruins,

a remedy for a “contaminated” town,

like yellow warning signs promising danger

with their very existence


just a few blocks away

in a pen enclosed with barb wire

a 婆婆 holds her grandchildren tight,

clutches her draped 漢服 like a futile prayer,

watches wide-eyed as her second home

crumples like burnt bast paper

a 爸爸 falls to his feet, incredulous

as his tailoring shop,

the one he had worked night and day for the past decade,

leaps into flames

suits and dresses reduced to ashes ,

enough soot for solemn funerals


a 弟弟 clings to his brother sobbing,

“why us? why us?”

but all the whites will hear

is the babbling of another China-boy

taken from his motherland too soon.



Editors: Hailey Hua, Katie Truong


Referece: Lewinnek, Elaine. “When Santa Ana Burned down Its Own Chinatown.” KCET, 21 June 2022, https://www.kcet.org/shows/lost-la/when-santa-ana-burned-down-its-own-chinatown.



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