Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown

Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown

A deeply reported look at the Chinese immigrant community in the United States, casting a new light on what it means to seek the American dreamNearly three years ago, journalist Lauren Hilgers received an unexpected call. Hello, Lauren! a man shouted in halting Mandarin. We might be seeing you in New York again soon! The voice belonged to Zhuang Liehong, a Chinese man who...

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Title:Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown
Author:Lauren Hilgers
Rating:

Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown Reviews

  • Liz

    I won this in a first reads giveaway

    This is a fantastic illustration of the modern immigrant experience. The author does a wonderful job of character development and showing how hard it is to start over in a new country where you don't know anyone and have to adjust to a whole new set of customs and social mores.

  • Fran

    Chinatown, in Flushing, Queens, has one of the largest Chinese populations outside Asia. Having lived in Flushing in the 1980's, I traveled on the #7 subway line and shopped on Main Street. Ethnically, the population was mostly of European descent. I was curious about the restructuring and changing ethnicity of my old haunts. "Patriot Number One" is a dual story, a story of a Chinese immigrant family and a recounting of the dwindling size of Wukan Village, Lufeng local government, in Guangdong P

    Chinatown, in Flushing, Queens, has one of the largest Chinese populations outside Asia. Having lived in Flushing in the 1980's, I traveled on the #7 subway line and shopped on Main Street. Ethnically, the population was mostly of European descent. I was curious about the restructuring and changing ethnicity of my old haunts. "Patriot Number One" is a dual story, a story of a Chinese immigrant family and a recounting of the dwindling size of Wukan Village, Lufeng local government, in Guangdong Province.

    In 2012, Zhuang Liehong opened a tea shop in Wukan Village. Zhuang possessed a clear sense of right and wrong. This instinct made him a village leader, one who inspired others to action when, without village approval, local officials requisitioned collective land to be sold to developers. This requisition caused Wukan to disappear in size as the city of Lufeng continued to expand. Zhuang and fellow villagers decided to petition the government, drafting a letter of complaint. In 2014, journalist Lauren Hilgers, visited Wukan Village to do research for a magazine article about the Wukan Village Protests. She happened upon Zhuang's tea shop.

    Author Hilgers documents the journey of Zhuang and wife Little Yan in their attempt to escape to the United States and file for political asylum. Zhuang envisions a welcoming reception. Instead, the plight of undocumented immigrants is replete with menial, low paying jobs and inadequate housing. First things first, Zhuang and Little Yan must apply for asylum. Little Yan secures a grueling job at a nail salon while Zhuang stays tethered to his friends and connections in Wukan. The bottom line, everyone has to eat bitter. (suck it up)

    Lauren Hilgers follows Zhuang, Little Yan and others in Flushing and Wukan Village over the course of over three years documenting an immigrant experience as well as the Wukan villagers attempts to reclaim over 10,000 mu or approximately 1,650 acres of collective land, especially land used for farming. "Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown" by Lauren Hilgers is definitely an eye-opening must read.

    Thank you Crown Publishing and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "Patriot Number One".

  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader & Traveling Sister

    🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

    Lauren Hilgers is an American journalist who met a man named Zhuang while reporting on site in his village in China. Zhuang, a free-thinker, had been arrested for staging protests and was labeled a dissident. He called Lauren one day to say he would be traveling to America and had plans to abandon his tour group, along with his wife, and live in Chinatown in Flushing, New York.

    I found the build-up of what would happen with

    🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

    Lauren Hilgers is an American journalist who met a man named Zhuang while reporting on site in his village in China. Zhuang, a free-thinker, had been arrested for staging protests and was labeled a dissident. He called Lauren one day to say he would be traveling to America and had plans to abandon his tour group, along with his wife, and live in Chinatown in Flushing, New York.

    I found the build-up of what would happen with Zhuang and Little Yan in America completely enthralling, centered around the underground, secret world of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, including language schools, dormitories, off-the-record banks, and employment agencies, all put in place for mere survival of people trying their best to live the American Dream.

    Even with the ingenuity of these supports, it continues to be a challenge to survive for Zhuang and his family. The jobs are few and far between, and what is available is low paying. The housing is abysmal and unsafe. After their arduous work to get to the United States, will they achieve their dreams? Will Zhuang and Little Yan qualify for political asylum, allowing them access to better jobs and an improved way of life?

    Hilgers presents this nonfiction story in a way as compelling as any fictional character study. Zhuang and his wife, Little Yan, are endearing, engaging people, and Hilgers’ writing is silky smooth.

    I never tire of books on the immigrant experience. It’s an often heated debate in this country, and stories such as Patriot Number One offer opportunities for discussion and understanding at a deeper level.

    Patriot Number One came highly recommended by my Goodreads friend, Fran. Thanks, Fran, for an unforgettable read!

    Thank you to Lauren Hilgers, Crown Publishing, and Netgalley for the copy to read and review.

  • Bkwmlee

    With the ongoing immigration debate in the U.S. as of late, this book that takes a deep dive into the Chinese immigrant community through the stories of several immigrants pursuing their version of the American dream is a timely one that I feel everyone should read. Written by American journalist L

    With the ongoing immigration debate in the U.S. as of late, this book that takes a deep dive into the Chinese immigrant community through the stories of several immigrants pursuing their version of the American dream is a timely one that I feel everyone should read. Written by American journalist Lauren Hilgers, this a real-life, first-hand account of the Chinese immigrant experience through the story of Zhuang Liehong, a young man from the village of Wukan in China who finds himself seeking asylum in the United States in order to escape political persecution back home. Using the pseudonym “patriot number one,” Zhuang had organized protests and wrote letters exposing the corruption of local government officials who had requisitioned land belonging to the village and sold it to developers for profit, all without approval or consent of those who owned and/or lived on the land (a “practice” that still goes on quite frequently in China and Hong Kong currently). Despite his boundless enthusiasm and love for his village, the place where he grew up and where he hoped to raise his son, Zhuang came to understand that he was fighting an uphill battle and in 2014, he and his wife Little Yan decided to leave China for New York, eventually settling in Flushing, amongst a larger community of Chinese immigrants. From there, we follow Zhuang and Little Yan on their journey as they attempt to carve out a new life for themselves in a country where they not only didn’t know the language, they also had little in the way of friends and/or acquaintances to guide them (the author Hilgers was the only “friend” they knew in the U.S.). The challenge to survive was an everyday reality for this couple, as they fought to get their asylum case approved so that they could reunite with their infant son, whom they were forced to leave behind in China. In addition to Zhuang and Little Yan’s story, Hilgers also paralleled the stories of a few other Chinese immigrants – Karen, a young woman Little Yan meets at night school who is trying to build a new life for herself after being sent to study in the U.S., and Tang Yuanjun, a former leader of the Tiananmen Square protests who survived his fair share of imprisonment and abuse in China and upon settling in the U.S., decides to devote his life to helping fellow immigrants who, like Zhuang, continue to fight for justice and change in their home towns.

    I first read about this book in Book Page and was immediately drawn to it because of my own background as a Chinese immigrant. Of course, having immigrated to the U.S. as a small child, my experiences were very different from Zhuang and Little Yan’s, but being so connected to the Chinese community (both locally as well as back in the place of my birth – Hong Kong) most of my life, there were many elements of their story (as well as the stories of Karen, Tang Yuanjun, and others described in the book) that I knew I would be familiar with and be able to relate to. The other reason I was drawn to this book was because of my own family dynamics – my brother’s wife is from China, also from a village in the more rural areas, and even though it has been 10 years since she immigrated here and since then, she has overcome many of the struggles she herself had faced, balancing life as an immigrant continues to be a challenge due to the extended family she has both here as well as back in China. Though the circumstances of my family members’ stories were vastly different than those described in the book (for example – my family immigrated here the traditional way due to wanting a better life for themselves and future generations rather than needing to escape political persecution), many of the experiences once here were similar.

    The struggles of working class immigrants are very real and while I don’t fault those who paint all immigrants with a broad brush or who dismiss immigrants’ struggles as less important and somehow “legitimate” because they are viewed as “imposing” themselves on another country, it is hard for me to share these same sentiments knowing as deeply as I do the “price” behind those struggles. I understand what it means to leave behind family – parents, siblings, in the case of Zhuang and Little Yan, their infant son – and travel to a place that is completely foreign to you, a place that you’ve only read or heard grand stories about, a place where you don’t know the language and barely know anyone and where the question of survival is constantly on your mind. Having to work through bureaucratic red tape in efforts to do things “the right way” while figuring out a means to survive financially without becoming a burden to others, not knowing how long the “wait” will be yet wanting to be useful and contributing to society, learning English and going beyond that to gain new skills and knowledge in the hopes of bettering one’s position in the future, the constant worrying that perhaps all this hard work is in vain and the toll it takes physically / mentally / emotionally, having to deal with racism and discrimination in all its different forms while trying to understand why one’s facial features or the color of one’s skin should matter so much – these are but just a few of the struggles, all experienced at one point or another by the real people described in this book, struggles that many of my family members are also all too familiar with. The struggles, the hardships, the stress of trying to survive, sometimes it is hard not to become disillusioned and disheartened, yet many are willing to endure because compared to what they face in their home countries, this is but a small price to pay in exchange for the freedom that so many of us take for granted. Some of the situations described in the book may seem unfathomable to some people, maybe even “far-fetched” and “unbelievable” that things like that could happen, especially in this day and age, but yet so much of what occurred was indeed authentically recounted -- this I’m sure because I also follow what goes on in those parts of Asia (China and Hong Kong especially) and so I was already familiar with much of the narrative’s backstory. In fact, I was actually surprised (in a good way) to see some of the real-life news stories from that part of the world (such as the 2015 Hong Kong bookseller disappearances for example) mentioned in this book -- this was something I wasn’t expecting but am very appreciative of because of the awareness that it brings, which hopefully leads to much needed understanding on a deeper level…a necessity given the current world we live in.

    I have so many thoughts about this book and to be honest, for this review, I didn’t even include half of the notes I had written down. To me, this is a book that is hard to do justice with a review because there is just too much worthy of discussion in here. The author Lauren Hilgers is obviously a talented writer and also a compelling storyteller -- there were a few times throughout the book where I actually had to remind myself that I was reading a work of nonfiction rather than a fiction novel and that everyone mentioned in the book – Zhuang, Little Yan, Karen, Tang Yuanjun, etc. – are all real people. As mentioned earlier, this is a story that I absolutely felt a personal connection to and in fact would have liked to see an update of sorts in the author’s note on how each person is doing currently, since a year has passed since the last occurrences described in the book. Also, since Zhuang’s story was about his escape from political persecution in his home country and his efforts to rebuild his life as an asylee in the U.S., it was inevitable that there would be some parts of the narrative related to politics in the book, which is something I tend to stay away from if I can help it. Luckily, Hilgers dealt with the politics piece in a way that wasn’t heavy-handed – in fact, it was more a “side story” in the book, incorporated primarily as background to understanding Zhuang’s story, which I definitely appreciated.

    With all this said, I feel that this review merely skims the surface and really doesn’t justify how important and necessary a book like this is, especially right now, in our current situation. This is a timely read and one that I absolutely recommend for its honest, authentic portrayal of the Chinese immigrant experience.

  • Jill Dobbe

    The author spends time in China and while there, befriends a man, Zhuang, who is involved in the politics of Wukan, his hometown, and is labeled as a dissident. He is jailed and once released, finds his way to the U.S. where he hopes to be successful. The account of his life, and that of his wife's, take place in Wukan, China, Flushing, NY, and NYC, as they both take on endless jobs and move to countless apartments, in order to make a good life for their son and themselves.

    There is a lot going o

    The author spends time in China and while there, befriends a man, Zhuang, who is involved in the politics of Wukan, his hometown, and is labeled as a dissident. He is jailed and once released, finds his way to the U.S. where he hopes to be successful. The account of his life, and that of his wife's, take place in Wukan, China, Flushing, NY, and NYC, as they both take on endless jobs and move to countless apartments, in order to make a good life for their son and themselves.

    There is a lot going on in this book. The author follows the political career of Zhuang as he meets up with other Chinese dissidents and continues to protest against Chinese officials. The author writes about the lives of Chinese immigrants and the difficulties they have in getting visas, green cards, finding meaningful work, and learning English. Lastly, Hilgers gives us an account of Zhuang's wife, Little Yan, and how she acclimates to the American lifestyle and pursues various employment, while getting a business degree that she hopes will someday get her a nice desk job.

    Hilgers' writing has an easy flow that made me feel as though she was sitting across from me telling me the story of Zhuang and Little Yan's life. Her knowledge of the Chinese people, the food, language, and history of China showed itself throughout the book giving me a sense of her loyalty, compassion, and expertise regarding China.

    I highly recommend this book and thank Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review it.

  • Cheri

    4.5 Stars

    --River of Dreams - Billy Joel, Songwriters, Billy Joel

    4.5 Stars

    --River of Dreams - Billy Joel, Songwriters, Billy Joel

    Much of this is centered in Flushing, New York, but there is enough context of life in China to get a fairly thorough understanding of why this family, along with others, left another country for the American Dream. A picture of their life before, and a picture of their life after, and not only how different the lifestyles were from Wukan to Flushing, but most likely how far from reality their dream of life in America was – and yet, how grateful for the freedom.

    I wanted to read this as, fairly recently, my brother married a woman (whom I adore) who had emigrated to America from China around the same time as this couple. She lived in Flushing with her then husband and their young daughter. I know how hard it was for her to leave family behind, and start a new life in America, and then again, alone with her children, to start again in a new place as a single mother.

    For me, while their stories are very different, there is an element there that made this feel so honestly portrayed, and I loved that. Their frustrations, their day-in-day-out living as new immigrants, and their experiences getting documented, finding work, trying to work their way up an American ladder of dreams which were very slow to be fulfilled. And always parting with money that is so very difficult to come by, and so easily gone. Trying to learn American ways, the English language, a new neighborhood, and then another new neighborhood, followed by yet another.

    Lauren Hilgers began writing this non-fiction account in 2012, thinking of it as a magazine story about Wukan Village in the time following the protests, but as life changed, so did this story. Beginning in China and ending up in New York City, while this is the story of two immigrants, it is also the story of the people of Wukan Village, some of those in person, and some obtained through the internet, as well as Zhuang’s collection of documentation.

    This is truly an amazing glimpse of a life so different from one most of us have lived, the determination and drive to achieve a better life, and the heartbreaks they endure in search of this life, a life with

    This is nothing short of inspirational.

    Thanks to my goodreads friends Jennifer and Fran for getting my attention for this one with their stellar reviews:

    Fran’s review:

    Jennifer’s review:

    Published: 20 MAR 2018

    Many thanks for the ARC provided by Crown Publishing

  • Kasa Cotugno

    Although this reads novelistically, it is the true account of a young family from China who manage to forge a new life chasing the elusive American dream. Timely and relevant, it tells how Zhuang feels he must relocate after his experiences as a dissident, and courageously moves with his wife, Little Yen, without much money, a working ability in English, a support system, or even a realistic knowledge of how life would play out in Queens where he has his heart set on thriving. Chapters are clear

    Although this reads novelistically, it is the true account of a young family from China who manage to forge a new life chasing the elusive American dream. Timely and relevant, it tells how Zhuang feels he must relocate after his experiences as a dissident, and courageously moves with his wife, Little Yen, without much money, a working ability in English, a support system, or even a realistic knowledge of how life would play out in Queens where he has his heart set on thriving. Chapters are clearly labeled as to time and location, and it is remarkable how quickly things progressed from when the decision was made. Hilgers knows these people and treats them with respect and care. Underlying the momentum, I felt her admiration especially for Little Yen who kept the family afloat by pursuing low level jobs such as working in nail salons, and continues to be the bedrock of the family while at the same time supporting her husband's ideals. Their first 18 months were difficult, having had to leave their infant son with relatives, and the means of having him join them at last was revelatory. Other people make appearances, but this couple best represents the determination and grit necessary to attain their goals.

  • Elyse

    Update from this morning:

    There is nothing boring about Lauren Hilger’s writing - It’s raw- personal - and page turning eye-opening. I’m walking away with a better understanding - of ‘why’ citizens of China who do not speak a word of English - don’t have any family support in the United States waiting them - have little education under their belt - limited skills -still might do anything to escape- fight for Asylum in a complete foreign country where the struggles are mountains bigger than antici

    Update from this morning:

    There is nothing boring about Lauren Hilger’s writing - It’s raw- personal - and page turning eye-opening. I’m walking away with a better understanding - of ‘why’ citizens of China who do not speak a word of English - don’t have any family support in the United States waiting them - have little education under their belt - limited skills -still might do anything to escape- fight for Asylum in a complete foreign country where the struggles are mountains bigger than anticipated. Yet, living in the United States is preferred.

    At the beginning of this story — EVERYTHING seemed SO HARD.... I honestly didn’t understand why Zhuang Liehong and his wife Little Yan thought their life would be better in the United States. I thought they were crazy for leaving their 1 year old son with the grandparents in China ( with intention to bring him later). I felt Zhuang was going to lie if needed to get in this country at any costs —-I had a hard time not judging this couple for leaving their baby behind.

    I kept reading ..... my understanding grew.....

    Before I even got to the middle of this story - EVERYTHING CONTINUED TO GET HARDER IN AMERICA for Zhuang and Little Yan— ( you’d think I’d be even more judgmental then: go home - be with your child - stop protesting your government- carve out a corner of your village for your family and create peace within your own home).... BUT.....it became CLEAR TO ME OF WHY THIS COUPLE COULD NOT LIVE IN PEACE BACK HOME.....

    It became CLEAR TO ME ....that even if we have many undocumented immigrants in our country.... we must keep our doors open!!!

    Author Lauren Hilger’s did an excellent job giving us the story between ‘both’ countries - China and America- politically and personal. My understanding of China’s democracy expanded — and just how complex the issues of immigration ‘really are’—

    Lauren included stories of several characters each in different situations and different ages. Lauren covered many tidbits of true unseen facts about the struggles in ‘both’ countries -

    Even —- down to the most gritty Itsy-bitsy details of things I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT. Who knew immigrants might be in competition with each other- envious and jealous? One of the younger characters is name Karen. When she was offered a job as a maid for $18 an hour— A salary she was ecstatic about in 2017 - in New York - she lied to her roommate, saying she was only getting $14 an hour - afraid to have her feel bad. And when she got her green card, she had to contain her excitement.

    Karen was happy to feel secure— but she certainly couldn’t celebrate with other immigrants who did not have their green card. And for the 2nd time reading about ‘nail salons’ in connection with immigrants in America...( having learn a few facts before this book).... I learned a new one again: it seems in order to get a job....the immigrants have to pay the owner to begin ( to watch and learn). Usually they had to pay $50, sometimes it was $100.

    There was another supporting character, Tang Yuanjun- and that’s what he did: ‘support’. He was the guy who helped immigrants with their protests in America. It’s tricky for an immigrant to be effective protesters in the United States. I couldn’t believe how much Tang was in demand. He couldn’t help everyone - but I felt his passion ‘wanting’ to help his ‘brothers & sisters’. This man spent time in prison in his own country for protesting. He knew a few things.

    The two most stand out characters we follow are Zhuang and Little Yan.

    From the start of their journey...Zhuang’s ‘three’ plans to get from his village in China to New York:

    .....get to the American embassy, ( he felt they would be sympathetic to her situation),

    ....flee by sea

    .....obtain to tourist visas for he and Little Yan.....

    To the history of How Zhuang and Little Yan each grew up in China, history about their family members, their distinct personalities, Zhuang’s beliefs - and how Zhuang became “Patriot Number One”, political leadership as an activist in his village Wukan, his relationship with father, ( a fisherman), the decision to leave their son behind with the grandparents, getting cell phones, dealing with transportation, housing, food, the language, people, Jobs, job training, schoool👻finances, sending money back home to China, laundry, their marriage, ( the changes & struggles), their ongoing challenges and obstacles .... to get work permits, their fight for asylum, SO MUCH MORE INFORMATION WORTH READING .......I haven’t even skimmed the surface—

    Throughout the story we will be dying to know about a little child name *Kaizhi*.

    Highly recommend!!!

    This morning.....before the above review:

    Wow!!! I’m blown away!!! Drained ... unbelievable story!!!! I had NO IDEA ABOUT THIS BOOK. I missed seeing it - hearing about it - knew ‘nothin’!

    This immigration story makes most others I’ve read look like child’s play ..

    This one ...is NO JOKING MATTER!!!

    It’s a VERY HARD KNOCK LIFE FOR AN IMMIGRANT!!!!

    Most immigrants usually have a dominant story: the one they tell most often: either the story from where they came from—

    Or....

    the story of adjusting to life in the United States...

    A few immigrants EQUALLY have TWO dominating stories to tell — that’s in THIS TRUE STORY!!!

    I honestly could never do this book justice....

    A PERFECT BOOK CLUB PICK

    DISCUSSIONS would not slow down!!!

    I’ll add a few more tidbits of a review later - but most of us would benefit reading this page turning highly engaging true story.

    Back to sleep.

  • Nancy

    I am so sorry this will be my last Blogging for Books choice as they are discontinuing. I have loved getting print books, which are so much easier on my eyes. I thank them for the 27 books I reviewed over these last years.

    Journalist Lauren Hilgers was covering a story of Chinese villagers protesting the land-grab by local authorities and demanding democratic rights when she met Zhuang Lienog, son of a fisherman and tea shop owner. When the corrupt local government decided to crack down on protes

    I am so sorry this will be my last Blogging for Books choice as they are discontinuing. I have loved getting print books, which are so much easier on my eyes. I thank them for the 27 books I reviewed over these last years.

    Journalist Lauren Hilgers was covering a story of Chinese villagers protesting the land-grab by local authorities and demanding democratic rights when she met Zhuang Lienog, son of a fisherman and tea shop owner. When the corrupt local government decided to crack down on protestors, Zhuang and his wife managed to leave China for Flushing, NY to join a community of Chinese immigrants.

    Zhuang's story as the activist Patriot Number One and his continuing activist work in America reveals a great deal about the situation in China. At the same time, readers learn about the challenges of immigrant life, finding work and adapting to a new world. Readers get to know Zhuang and his wife Little Yan, their friends and neighbors.

    As Zhuang continues his protests in America, his Chinese family is targeted as a way of silencing him. Zhuang's commitment to his home village and for democracy truly makes him Patriot Number One.

    I enjoyed the insight into modern China and the plight of immigrants. The author keeps a journalist's objectivity. This is not a fault, but the story may feel flat to readers used to more emotional bias.

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