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The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America Hardcover – September 15, 2010
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If you're Irish American or African American or Eastern European Jewish American, there's a rich literature to give you a sense of your family's arrival-in-America story. Until now, that hasn't been the case for Chinese Americans. From noted historian Mae Ngai, The Lucky Ones uncovers the three-generational saga of the Tape family. It's a sweeping story centered on patriarch Jeu Dip's (Joseph Tape's) self-invention as an immigration broker in post-gold rush, racially explosive San Francisco, and the extraordinary rise it enables. Ngai's portrayal of the Tapes as the first of a brand-new social type--middle-class Chinese Americans, with touring cars, hunting dogs, and society weddings to broadcast it--will astonish. Again and again, Tape family history illuminates American history. Seven-year-old Mamie Tape attempts to integrate California schools, resulting in the landmark 1885 Tape v. Hurley. The family's intimate involvement in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair reveals how the Chinese American culture brokers essentially invented Chinatown--and so Chinese culture--for American audiences. Finally, Mae Ngai reveals aspects--timely, haunting, and hopeful--of the lasting legacy of the immigrant experience for all Americans.
Photos of the Tepe Family from The Lucky Ones
(Click on Images to Enlarge)
Joseph Tape with his hunting rifle and bird dogs, San Francisco, c. 1880s
The Tape family (Joseph, Emily, Mamie, Frank, Mary), 1884
Mamie with children, Emily and Harold, and sister Emily, Portland, 1912
Ruby Tape, 1912
Gertrude and husband Herbert, Sunol, California, 1913
Gertrude with Florence Park and daughters, Pacific Grove, c. 1915
From Publishers Weekly
A thoroughgoing look at the historical record of early Chinese immigration to San Francisco unearths the heartening story of one rags-to-riches family. Columbia history professor Ngai (Impossible Subjects) characterizes her work as history, situating the union of two young working people in San Francisco in 1875 within a larger frame of Chinese immigration, which had been encouraged by the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century, attracting impoverished men mostly from the Guangdong Proivince. Jeu Dip, an enterprising drayman who had come over at age 12, and Mary McGladery, an indentured Chinese servant (mui tsai) who had emigrated as an orphan and was then rescued from prostitution at 11 years old, thanks to the Ladies' Protection and Relief Society, both became acculturated English-speakers and ambitious to live among the white middle-class. Despite recent legislation limiting Chinese immigration, and growing anti-Chinese racism due to the resentment from the displacement of the white workforce, Jeu Dip, renamed Joseph Tape, flourished as a deliveryman and broker for new immigrants; Joseph and Mary grew prosperous and even sued to have their daughter Mamie attend the local white public school. Ngai traces their descendants, especially their son, Frank, who was tried for extorting money from new immigrants, and his estranged wife, Ruby, who joined the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. Ngai fashions a terrifically readable, compelling work about the little-known middle-class in the Chinese immigrant experience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Top customer reviews
the first members of the Chinese middle class in America. It's a love story and a family saga and
a history lesson all rolled into one compulsively readable package. I've read it more than once.
It just gets better.
I have read a lot about the Asian experience in the 19th and 20th centuries and this one is set mainly in northern Californian cities where I grew up so I was looking forward to it, but after reading such good reviews of this book, I am sorry to say how disappointed I was. Maybe I missed something that other readers saw ... For one thing, there was a complete lack of interviews, or journals, or letters, or any sort of personal information; hence, the author had to infer from questionable public records and a few family photos ...
The very best of the many other books on the same subject include Lisa See's book ON GOLD MOUNTAIN about her family and THE CONCUBINE'S CHILDREN by Denise Chong, a truly amazing story.
It is not even clear how or when Mary arrived --- only that she walked one day into the office of a kindly Christian pastor who, knowing her likely origin, settled her in with the otherwise all Caucasian orphans at San Francisco's Ladies' Protection and Relief Society, where she chose (or was given) the name of the loving woman who thereafter raised her.
The rest is speculation, since the author makes in clear that Mary never spoke --- to anyone --- of events before she walked into the pastor's office. Most probably, however, her parents sold her into domestic bondage at about age 11 and most likely she arrived in California in steerage on a certain ship that sailed in 1868 from Shanghai. She also probably was forced to work at a San Francisco brothel in the hope that, during puberty, her buyers could force Mary, like hundreds or thousands of girls before her, into the sex trade itself. Due to her raising among Americans, however, Mary felt most at home living with them, not the Chinese whom she obviously wished to avoid, and most probably had oppressed her.
Mary's husband, Jeu Dip, on the other hand, apparently came to San Francisco on his own steam, as it were. The author is not certain of which ship he arrived on either, but surmises --- since he definitely came in steerage, definitely from the remote and horrifically impoverished Guangdong Province, and definitely at age 12.
Jeu also quickly acquired a distaste for his own people, and demonstrated an extremely quick wit, great enough to learn proficient English and engage his natural entrepreneurial spirit. He took the Anglicized name of Joseph Tape, which was easier for Americans to pronounce and better helped him to blend in with other businessmen. At first, Joseph hired himself out as a domestic hand to a Scottish immigrant and farmer who lived on what was then the outskirts of San Francisco. Eventually, he worked his way into delivering milk for the farm, and then acquiring his own horse and cart to establish a carting business. He became wildly successful.
Joseph met Mary while she lived at the Ladies' Protection and Relief Society, not far from his employer's farm, on a milk delivery run. They bonded, soon wed and made their own home, also outside the bustling Chinatown center. They were lucky, to be sure, but they actually made their own luck. It did not just fall upon them without effort. They were the quintessential successful American immigrant entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, as Chinese they looked visibly different than most other immigrants of that era --- despite their Western dress and hair styles --- and consequently suffered some of the discrimination of the era, which undoubtedly rained far greater upon the uneducated Chinese laborers and masses, who dressed in poor Chinese garb, and had learned little to no English.
I agree with other readers of this book that it offers many extraordinary details. I am delighted to have read it, and to have learned more specifics about the hardships of Chinese immigrants to California in the mid to late 19th century.
However, the book is somewhat dry --- and I too missed some of the richness of detail and personality, the internal workings of the family, that the author could definitely had researched and included had she been so inclined.
It's not a big complaint however, and the author did exception research on this slice of U.S. History. Therefore I strongly recommend the book.
--- Alyssa A. Lappen
Ngai has done a great job telling the story of this family. It is not so much analysis as it is a narration of the family's life, their battle against segregation in education and how they retained or in some instances assimilated there culture with that of America. The author used mostly family photos and official documentation to reconstruct their lives, the former can be found throughout the book.
At 304 pages, this book is not a light read and may be mostly suited to history buffs like myself yet the content of the book gives you a story not just about this family but about Chinese (and Japanese) Americans during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century and more importantly the development and growth of one of the most populated states in America, California.
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