A century in the saga of a Chinese American family.
In 1864, 12-year-old Joseph Tape—formerly Jeu Dip—arrived in San Francisco from Guangdong Province in China. Young Joseph worked hard, succeeded in business and married a well-assimilated Chinese American girl named Mary McGladery. Ngai (History/Columbia Univ.; Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, 2005) depicts the lives of the Tapes and their offspring against a setting of legal and illegal aliens and pervasive exclusion laws. The Tapes participated in the poorly managed “Chinese Village” in the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 and were shaken by the San Francisco earthquake of ’06. They saw the creation of San Francisco’s Chinatown, an urban invention that flourished in several other cities, and they were litigants in a landmark lawsuit to provide public education to all. Their story encompasses both the Great Depression and World War II. At a time when movies presented Warner Oland as Charlie Chan and Boris Karloff as Dr. Fu Manchu, the Tapes were as Americanized as possible. Their son Frank, a translator and hustler, got involved in graft schemes. It was an ordinary family in many ways, with black sheep and marital discord. The author has mined the public records assiduously, but there’s much conjecture regarding individual motivations and activities with a plenitude of “may haves,” “perhaps” and “one imagines.” Yearning to create a story emblematic of the American experience, the author presents a narrative that is no less, and no more, exciting than most other family histories.
A bit too impassive, but a solid contribution to Chinese American history.