We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.
We are pleased to launch our quarterly reading theme from April to June this year on Migrants, Exiles, Refugees: Stories Of The Dispossessed. Essentially, we are on the look-out for books with the following themes:
Stories of exile and movement from one place to another – either by choice or by circumstance
Narratives on im/migrants, belonging and exclusion
Tales of people who are in transition and displaced from their homes
Stories of seeking refuge and sanctuary and finding forever homes
Narratives of loss and dispossession
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story Of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant And Artist (Amazon | Book Depository)
Written by Julie Leung Illustrated by Chris Sasaki
Published by Schwartz & Wade Books (2019)
ISBN: 1524771872 (ISBN13: 9781524771874). Literary Award: Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Picture Book (2021). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
I first learned about paper sons through the picturebook, Paper Son: Lee’s Journey To America (Amazon | Book Depository) by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh with art by Wilson Ong which I read and reviewed back in 2015.
Tyrus Wong had a similar experience with his father essentially falsifying documents to enable him to immigrate to the United States. Tyrus had to pretend that he came from a family of “high status” defined by immigration officials as “a scholar, a merchant, a business owner”, thereby marking him a desirable alien, thus allowed to enter the hallowed grounds of America.
The image above reminded me of recent events in the US, with migrant children being separated from their families for a period of time – and all the indignities they have to go through. It is strange how the situation has not really improved all that much over the years. I was struck by how Tyrus was being questioned for inconsistencies in their declared statements by identical-looking White men, a visual allegory of homogenizing White power and authority. It also made me wonder about families with authentic documents who were not coached sufficiently and failed the immigration test, versus “paper sons” who were able to clear immigration by virtue of luck and circumstance.
Tyrus’s journey from a paper son to an artist was smoothly executed: with just enough details for the reader to appreciate the struggles he went through to make ends meet, but not too much that it becomes overwhelming to the reader or one feels that the narrative was over-written to elicit sympathy.
Another image that struck me is the one above – when Tyrus worked as an “in-betweener” at Walt Disney Studios. Note how he seems to be the only Asian male in a sea of white faces. The fact that he was never recognized by Walt Disney as the main artist for the movie Bambi did not really come as a surprise to me. It just happens to be one of the many microaggressions and racial injustices that immigrants are forced to ‘happily’ endure for the privilege of living in the land of the free where opportunities abound.
With the growing racial tension brought about by the pandemic, it becomes more imperative than ever to share narratives like this: stories that surface the exceptional skills, talents, and quiet hard work of Asian Americans who are largely unrecognized and unknown to the larger community.
#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 37 out of target 100