Category Archives: Writing for Peace Books

W4P Book Review: My Name Is Immigrant, by Wang Ping

In keeping with our goal of developing empathy, compassion, and awareness through education and creative writing, Writing for Peace is encouraging expanded reading through our partnership with Poetic Justice Books.

My Name Is Immigrant

by Wang Ping

Hanging Loose Press. 2020. 130 pp. $18.00. ISBN 978-1-934909-66-9

reviewed by Robert Kostuck

 

Old Home

“The population of Chinese immigrants in the United States has grown nearly seven-fold since 1980, reaching almost 2.5 million in 2018, or 5.5 percent of the overall foreign-born population. Whereas in 1980 Chinese immigrants did not appear among the ten largest foreign-born groups in the United States, China in 2018 replaced Mexico as the top sending country. After immigrants from Mexico and India, the Chinese represented the third largest group in the U.S. foreign-born population of nearly 45 million in 2018.” (1)

Wang Ping’s tenth book resonates with some of her previous themes, opened once again for deeper and wider exploration. The immigrant experiences are here, alternating with the cockleshell picker stories, all presented like random flowers that together form a bouquet. The title piece winds backwards and forward through time. The immigrants are generations of family, communicating with letters, envelopes, stamps. The charge is an electric current running with a branching blood line, and Wang finds her place among the many who left China and those who returned.

At sixteen, my father ran away from his widowed mother, to fight the Japanese. “I’ll come back with a Ph.D. and serve my country with better English and knowledge,” I pledged at the farewell party in Beijing, 1986.

Back from America, my mother furnished her apartment on the island, bought a new one in a suburb of Shanghai, and is seeking a third in Beijing. “A cunning rabbit needs three holes,” she wrote to us, demanding our contributions. They swore, before boarding the ship, that they’d send money home to bring more relatives over; in return, they were promised that if they died, their bodies would be sent back home for burial. I drink American milk—a few drops in tea. I eat American rice—Japanese brand. Chinese comes to me only in dreams—in black-and-white pictures. My mother buried her husband on the island of the East China Sea, where he lived for almost fifty years, after he ran away at sixteen, from his old home on the Yellow Sea. (“Lao Jia | Old Home”)

And those who lack the money, means, or connections. Here Wang gives a voice to those who are dispossessed. One feels her reaching out to embrace everyone who seeks a safe haven. Her research is evident in her poetic storytelling. Here, truly, form follows function. In an earlier book she brings forward the named and the unnamed. What’s missing in the American immigrant/migrant discussion is this lack of names. When experience is generic it becomes amorphous and gray, and unfortunately, boring. It becomes something we can scroll past, only registering the thought, Just another statistic. Stories are about people.

In this new book she gives out as many names as she can, for when experience is generic it becomes amorphous, gray, and generic.

Jakelin Caal Maquin was seven years old from Guatemala. She developed fever soon after she was separated from her father at the border. Within thirty-six hours, she died of cardiac arrest, brain swelling and liver failure.

Seventeen days later, Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, an eight-year-old boy from Guatemala, died of cardiac arrest, brain swelling and liver failure within thirty-six hours, soon after he crossed the border. (“Buried on Christmas Eve”)

an empty wave
ten thousand voices
broadcast the pain
please, oh please call our names
Chen Xinhan, Zhen Shimin
even if you can’t say them right
Lin Guoshui, Chen Dajie
even if you don’t know our origin or age
Wang Xin, Huang Changpin
please, oh please call us
raise our shadows from the moss
be gentle as you call our names (“Calling Ghosts from the Golden Venture”)

In pieces like “How To Cross the Line,” “An Immigrant Carol” and “Hui Jia | Circling Home” she all too briefly limns vignettes from her own past. Spaced throughout the book the author’s story blends with the immigrant stories of China, Syria, Guatemala, Honduras,

At fourteen, I left home on the big island of the East China Sea. I worked in a fishing village, for the one-in-a-million chance to go to college. I never returned. Three years later, I left the village to study English in Hangzhou. I never returned to the island. I left Hangzhou for Beijing University. My college dream came true at twenty-two. I left China in 1986, to pursue my Ph.D. at NYU. I never returned. “Go back home!” Americans scream, from streets, colleges, social media. Still, I never went back. I drift farther away from Weihai, my lao jia, carrying that old earth in my dreams. (“Hui Jia | Circling Home”)

 

Cockleshells

“The Morecambe Bay cockling disaster (Chinese: 拾貝慘案 Shí bèi cǎn’àn, “cockle-picking tragedy”) occurred on the evening of 5 February 2004 at Morecambe Bay in North West England, when at least 21 Chinese undocumented immigrant labourers were drowned by an incoming tide after picking cockles off the Lancashire coast.

David Anthony Eden, Sr., and David Anthony Eden, Jr., a father-and-son from England, had unlawfully hired a group of Chinese workers to pick cockles; they were to be paid £5 per 25 kg of cockles, (9p per lb.), far less than the typical local rate at the time.  The Chinese had been imported unlawfully via containers into Liverpool, and were hired out through local criminal agents of international Chinese Triads. The cockles to be collected are best found at low tide on sand flats at Warton Sands, near Hest Bank. The Chinese workers were unfamiliar with local geography, language, and custom. They were cut off by the incoming tide in the bay around 9:30 p.m.” (2)

Wang Ping has touched on the Morecambe Bay disaster before, notable in Ten Thousand Waves, and here she intersperses the body of her current book with vignettes told in the voices of those who died. Interestingly, David Anthony Eden, Sr., and David Anthony Eden, Jr. who hired the workers were cleared of any charges involved in these deaths.(2) In researching this disaster this reviewer found an archival website of jokes and alleged witticisms centered on these deaths.

Again, by giving names to the deceased Wang manages to bring each individual into focus. While we may not be able to see them as clearly as in a photograph, still, we can at least see a real person.

We pat the sand, we pat the san
Teasing cockles to the cold surface
We dig, we pick, we break our back
Bagging cockles for two pounds
They say we can return
When the bag is full (“Cockle Pickers: Wu Hongkang”)

Every night since I left home
I’ve been folding a boat
To rest my aching bones
How thin is the paper
Paler than winter (“Cockle Pickers: Chen Aiqin”)

The lichee tree we planted is blossoming
White flowers hide under dark green
The first moon comes and goes
But I haven’t returned as promised (“Cockle Pickers: Lin Guohua”)

The water is up to my chest
The boss got the time wrong
I can’t get back in time
This is my last call from the sea
Oh darling, can you hear me
Through raging waves
Washing me to the bay? (“Cockle Pickers: Guo Binglong”)

To not forget this tragedy is this poet’s calling. Through these memories she is able to establish a framework that shows how immigration is never smooth and does not always have a happy ending. She brings this forward in her writings about named contemporary migrants, showing how the tragic lines began long ago – even before Morecambe Bay – and bring us to the present. Central America, Syria, North Africa, the stateless Rohingya and Kurds—the list is finite but daunting. According to the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “The number of international migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million in 2019, an increase of 51 million since 2010.”(3)

Many flee repression, ethnic cleansing, drug wars, and genocide. Wang’s messages in the Cockle Pickers poems is that we should remember that migration is not an anomaly but an ongoing crisis. Can we open our arms, even a little, even for a short span of time? Can we practice acknowledgement, acceptance, and respect? Can we open our hearts? Can we share? We can. We will.

There is a homily that addresses this never-ending movement of people across the globe, and how we can honorably respond: “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a bigger fence.”

(1) https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/chinese-immigrants-united-states

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Morecambe_Bay_cockling_disaster

(3) https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/international-migrant-stock-2019.html


Robert Kostuck is an M.Ed. graduate from Northern Arizona University. Recently published fiction, essays, and reviews appear or are forthcoming in the anthologies Everywhere Stories, Vols. II and III, Manifest West, Vol. VI, and DoveTales Vols. IV—VII; and many print and online journals including Kenyon Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Southwest Review, Louisiana Literature, Free State Review, Zone 3, Saint Ann’s Review, Bryant Literary Review, Concho River Review, Flyway: A Literary Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Silk Road, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Crab Creek Review, Takahē Magazine, Roanoke Review, EVENT, and Tiferet. He is currently working on short stories, essays, and novels. He lives near an ocean; his heart belongs to the Chihuahua and Sonora deserts, and certain parts of Nova Scotia.

 

Copyright © 2020 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

E. Ethelbert Miller Joins W4P, and Other Exciting News

E. Ethelbert Miller Joins Writing for Peace

“Peace is linked to harmony, our relationship between people as well as with nature. Peace might be linked to calm and stillness but it is also fluid. It is always something we should be moving towards. Peace is also the measurement of the heart and the capacity to love. Our desire but failure to find the ‘strength to love’ is often why peace is so difficult to maintain.”

~E. Ethelbert Miller, Writer, Literary Activist, Writing for Peace Adviser

Writing for Peace welcomes E. Ethelbert Miller to our Panel of Advisers. Mr. Miller is the Featured Writer in our current DoveTales Online, and brings a wealth of experience to our panel through a lifetime of literary activism.

E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer and literary activist. He is the author of two memoirs and several books of poetry including The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller, a comprehensive collection that represents over 40 years of his work. For 17 years Miller served as the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest poetry magazine published in the United States. His poetry has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. Miller is a two-time Fulbright Senior Specialist Program Fellow to Israel. He holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Emory and Henry College and has taught at several universities.

Miller is host of the weekly WPFW morning radio show On the Margin with E. Ethelbert Miller and host and producer of The Scholars on UDC-TV. In recent years, Miller has been inducted into the 2015 Washington DC Hall of Fame and awarded the 2016 AWP George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature and the 2016 DCMayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honor. In 2018, he was inducted into Gamma Xi Phi and appointed as an ambassador for the Authors Guild. Miller’s most recent book If God Invented Baseball, published by City Point Press, was awarded the 2019 Literary Award for poetry by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

In W4P other news~

Looking Ahead to Summer 2020 DoveTales

Brad Wetzler has agreed to be our Guest Editor for the Summer edition of DoveTales Online, published on August 1st. A former senior editor at Outside magazine, Brad Wetzler is a writer, journalist, and editor best known for his magazine feature stories and essays. His work has appeared in respected publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Wired, GQ, Men’s Journal, Best American Travel Writing, and Outside, where he is a current contributing editor. Stay tuned for more details!

Exciting Writing for Peace Book News

Congratulations to Writing for Peace Advisers Veronica Golos, Djelloul Marbrook, Wang Ping and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley on the publication of their latest books! These wonderful advisers continue to challenge and inspire us through their work. Watch here for coming reviews and please support their work by purchasing their books and/or asking your local librarians to make them available to their patrons.

Adviser Veronica Golos, Girl

“Once, several years ago, on the mesa between Tetilla peak and the Santa Fe River gorge, I saw what I believe to this day was a wolf running. I believed at the time the creature was male. Now I am certain there was a girl inside. This new conclusion because I have finished reading (and studying) Veronica Golos’s wonder, entitled GIRL from Andrea Watson’s 3: A Taos Press. No other poet inhabits persona as completely as does Veronica. GIRL is a masterpiece of shifting formal and free space and time. This is the creation of a master linguistic geographer. The space of the narrative defies topology. Time becomes rhythm becomes JAZZ. The music morphs from species to species. The lyric becomes prayer, becomes rant, becomes an evolutionary triptych. Every gender on the planet should go buy this book and read it, to each other, to their lovers, to their daughters, to their sons, to their parents, to their husbands, to their wives, to their friends, to their confessors, to their shamans, There are truths inside. “INSIDE EVERY WOLF IS A GIRL.”  ~Gary Worth Moody

Adviser Djelloul Marbrook: Lying Like Presidents, New & Selected Poems, 2001-2019

Governments are prone to becoming sinkholes of lies. Sometimes whole societies are swallowed by them. “Lying Like Presidents,” the title poem of prize-winning poet  Djelloul Marbrook’s new and collected poems, is a meditation in cantos on this horrific history. The work explores how our minds rewrite and invent memories to light our footsteps towards the kind of persons we aspire to be. The lies we tell ourselves, the poet says, can transfigure our lives—or the opposite.

Here is an opportunity to savor the breadth and depth of this surprising poet in one volume. No library should be without Lying Like Presidents.

 

Adviser Wang Ping, My Name is Immigrant

“Bleeding dreams and hungry ghosts move about Wang Ping’s latest collection, building up deposits of rage, shame and sometimes mercy. Her truth telling emerges from a deep well, describing the movement of people and the stories, the hope, and the desire they carry with them across deserts and oceans, over walls and through every barrier. The age-old question remains, with sharp clarity in these pages⁠—who among us decides who is allowed in, accepted, celebrated?” ~M.L. Smoker, Montana Co-Poet Laureate

Adviser Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Praise Song for My Children, New and Selected Poems

“Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is unequivocal about the uses of poetry, of her poetry—she is determined to trade in truth, in the power of experience, in the beauty of language to alarm and delight and in the challenge she willingly bears to be an instrument of witness and articulation for her people—for Africa, for women, for the lovers of poetry. In Praise Song for My Children, we encounter a poet at the height of her skills and at the height of her clarity about the world and what things must be spoken into it. But we are blessed to be given an insight into how she arrives at this place of power—it is a remarkable selection of some of the most urgent poems to emerge out of the wars of Liberia. Here is work of incredible joy, deepest lamentation, and necessary hope. It is a sure testament.” ~ Kwame Dawes

Dear readers and writers for peace, we encourage you to purchase all your books from Poetic Justice Books, a like-minded business that donates a portion of their proceeds to Writing for Peace. Thank you for supporting an Independent Book Seller and Writing for Peace, a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

Writing for Peace Employment Opportunity

Writing for Peace is looking for grant writers who have experience working with literary and youth organizations. For more information, please contact us at mawlecarmel@gmail.com with the subject heading W4P Grant Writing.

Keep the faith, keep speaking out, and keep writing for peace!

Copyright © 2020 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.