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Yaacoobi 1

Heela Yaacoobi
Professor Orta
English-123-2028
11 May 2017

Reading Response 5

Since the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States, people around

the globe have started to arrange walkouts, protests, and lectures on social issues that plague the

world today. Some successful examples of these assemblies include the Womens March, the

protest against the inauguration, and the May Day protests. These protests have sparked healthy

conversations and debates of the current social issues. However, if the social issue you are

interested in and want to bring attention to peaked over half a century ago, it is much harder to

stage a protest or organize a walk out. In Steer Towards Rock, the author, Fae Myenne Ng, uses

an aspect of realism, social critique, through the story of Jacks Paper Son journey to address the

social and political conditions that Chinese immigrants faced after the Chinese Exclusion Act of

1882. Her novel, as a whole, brings attention to the treatment and living conditions of Chinese

immigrants in San Francisco during the 1950s, and therefore functions in a similar way as a

protest or rally would. Moreover, Ngs novel addresses a part of history that is usually erased or

brushed over. Personally, I have not studied about the Chinese Exclusion Act in depth, and the

first time I heard about the Paper Sons program was when it was brought up in class this

semester. I was unaware of how much the Bay Area and the United States itself was impacted by

the Paper Sons program, It was determined that if every man who came forward was a citizen of

the US, each Chinese woman in San Francisco would have to have given birth to 800 boys

(Yee). By inventing this fictional story based on true events, Fae Myenne Ng used realism to

socially critique certain aspects of both Chinese and American culture.


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The novel opens up with the story of Jack Moons paper son experience. We are

immediately delved into a serious-toned recap of how Moon came to America and the process

that he had undergo to get there, "The Father brought the Szeto name and entered California as

the legal son of a gold miner...Who can say if he intended to send for his barren first wife, but

with the money he sent home I was bought into the family" (3). This quote subtly critiques

Americas laws banning Chinese immigrants and shows the paths that Chinese immigrants had to

take in order to seek a better life in America. After the railroads were built with the help of

Chinese labor, the United States basically wanted to send them back and erase their labor

contribution from the books. If we look at photos portraying the finished railroads, we see white

men dominating the photo, with a rare occurrence of a Chinese man in the background or on the

side. With this specific quote and story being on the first page, it seems like a lot of emotionally-

heavy material for the author to pile up on the reader. Nevertheless, this is crucial in translating

Ngs theme of critiquing Chinese and American culture. She does a good job of melding the two

cultures together to represent the actions and feelings that Moon probably had when trying to

assimilate in America, while at the same time being chained to a Chinese Paper Father. Yi-Tung

Szeto was the man I called Father but that was only my mouth in obedience. I was registered as

his son in the American courts and blessed As His Blood Born before the Ancestral Gods (7).

This quote helped to highlight the similarities that America and China held in regards to Jack

Moons true identities. Both lands were ignorant towards his social and economic struggles.

A woman in the same social and economic position as her partner will almost always end

up facing more hardships. Ilin, Jacks Paper Wife, came to America to a new husband who did

not love her; nevertheless, she had to bare him a child. She was faced with a whole new set of

obstacles that paper wives face after arriving to the new land. In Ilins case, she not only had to
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take her daughters needs in mind, but she also had to look out for the man who did not love her.

"Will I? A new plant becomes naturalized to a new land. Maybe my daughter hopes

naturalization will give me the safety to set root. Maybe my naturalization can give her a

sanctuary in trusting that her father will not be deported (190). Ng was adding another layer to

her social critique by telling Ilins side of the story, which added a sort of feminist aspect to the

portion of the novel that she narrated. The author also uses this quote to critique the United

States standing on illegal immigration. These thoughts can be seen as parallels to the thoughts

and daily worries of thousands of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Ng uses the realist aspect of social critique to highlight the theme of the struggles that

Chinese immigrants have to face in America after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Chinese

immigrants had to literally sell their bodies in order to seek a better life in America due to the

racist ideologies that were birthed after Chinese labor was exploited in the building of our

countrys railroad system. Because this subject is one that is often passed over in our history

books, Ng uses the story of Jack Moon and his paper wife Ilin to bring these issues to light in a

realist lense.

Works Cited

Ng, Fae Myenne. Steer Toward Rock . New York , NY , Hyperion, 2008.

Yee, Byron. Paper Son . FAQs - Paper Son, www.paperson.com/faqs.htm. Accessed 18 May

2017.