A Chinese teenager’s saga immigrating from Eastern China to Italy.
Funded by the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship and intrigued by migrant behavior (particularly the Europe-bound emigration patterns of her husband’s birthplace of Qingtian), journalist Ma’s fieldwork charts the course of a Chinese immigrant’s journey from Qingtian to Venice. Drawn to “characters who seem a little out of place,” Toronto-born Ma relocated to Qingtian in 2011 and was captivated by fast-talking teen Ye Pei’s story. When Ma first began their informational interviews, Pei’s mother had been in Italy for half a decade already, and the girl was determined to join her. Culled from interviews and diary entries, the author vividly reconstructs Pei’s life beginning with her long days laboring with limited Italian vocabulary in northeastern Solesino, two hours away from Venice’s picturesque canals, where she’d originally dreamed of settling abroad. As she expands her research with profiles of other hardworking immigrants and a particularly atmospheric tour of France, searching for a Qingtian connection, Ma depicts the determined immigrant experience from both a historical perspective and from effective firsthand accounts. She documents widespread xenophobia from the influx of Far East immigrants to Europe and reaches back to Pei’s Chinese childhood to the day her mother left for Europe and joined a migration that’s been a behavioral staple in China for centuries. Once reunited with her mother and beginning employment on a mushroom farm with the rest of her family, Pei admitted to harboring impressive ambitions far beyond farmwork, taking night classes to “learn about workplace safety, food safety, and hygiene.” A sensitive writer, Ma expertly channels the yearning and base desires of her subjects through intimate conversation and cultural analysis in a narrative full of genuine compassion and appreciation.
A genial, informative chronicle of the hopes and dreams of a Chinese immigrant.