074_keefe - A Reporter at Large The Snakehead The criminal...

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A Reporter at Large The Snakehead The criminal odyssey of Chinatown’s Sister Ping. by Patrick Radden Keefe April 24, 2006 Several hours before dawn on June 6, 1993, two Park Service police officers were patrolling the road next to Jacob Riis Park, a long stretch of beach on the Rockaway peninsula, in Queens, when they were startled by two Asian men flagging them down. As the officers got out of their car, they heard the sound of screams coming from the beach. The moon was full, and about a hundred yards offshore the officers saw a hundred-and-fifty-foot tramp steamer that had run aground. The ship’s deck was crowded with people, and, as the officers watched, men and women jumped over the side, falling twenty feet into the surging waves below. Dozens of figures bobbed in the water, some managing to clamber ashore, others flailing wildly, apparently unable to swim. The officers radioed for backup. The ship’s name, stencilled in white block letters on the bow, was the Golden Venture. Its cargo was nearly three hundred illegal Chinese emigrants. Before reaching the Rockaways, the ship had sailed some seventeen thousand miles, from Thailand to Kenya, around the Cape of Good Hope, then across the Atlantic to New York. The passengers—mostly adults, but a few children—were emaciated. They had been confined in the ship’s hold for months, subsisting on rice, peanuts, and purified salt water. It had been keefe 1
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uncomfortably hot, and many passengers wore only underwear; when they hit the water, which was fifty-three degrees, some went into cardiac arrest. One Coast Guard officer who performed CPR on two men onshore recalled, “I could feel the gristle of their bodies, the cartilage. They walked up out of the water, collapsed on the beach, and died.” Six bodies were recovered from the surf; four others were found later. By dawn, news helicopters were capturing live footage of the disaster. The Golden Venture accident was not an isolated incident: in the preceding year, more than a dozen ships had dropped human cargo from China on American shores. In April, a ship called the Mermaid 1 , carrying two hundred and thirty-seven illegal Chinese, had been intercepted by the Coast Guard near the Bahamas. In May, the Pai Sheng had slipped beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at night, depositing two hundred and fifty passengers on a San Francisco pier. An internal Department of Justice report declared an “immigration emergency”; the San Francisco Chronicle heralded a “SMUGGLER SHIP INVASION.” Several miles from the beach, in a small shop at 47 East Broadway, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a middle-aged woman named Cheng Chui Ping watched the story unfold on television. Short and stout, with cropped black hair, wide-set dark eyes, and a hangdog expression, she was known in the neighborhood as Ping Jia—Sister Ping. Her gruff demeanor and simple clothes gave her the appearance of a Chinese peasant; she had little formal education, spoke almost no English, and
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This note was uploaded on 11/03/2011 for the course ASAM 2 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '10 term at UCSB.

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074_keefe - A Reporter at Large The Snakehead The criminal...

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