9780385521307

Snakehead : An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780385521307

  • ISBN10:

    0385521308

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 7/21/2009
  • Publisher: Doubleday

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Summary

Cheng Chui Ping slipped into the United States in the early 1980s, part of a huge wave of Chinese immigrants hoping to realize the American Dream. Her path to that dream began with an underground bank for illegal immigrants run out of a noodle shop in New York City's Chinatown. She became known as Sister Ping and built a global people-smuggling conglomerate that stretched from China's Fujian province to Africa, Europe, and South America, relying on one of Chinatown's most violent gangs to protect her power and profits. Sister Ping's empire came to light in 1993, when a ship loaded with 300 near-starving immigrants ran aground off Queens. It took New York's fabled "Jade Squad" and the FBI nearly ten years to untangle the criminal network and home in on its mastermind. Sister Pingfinally convicted in 2005is currently in prison. Before her capture she amassed an estimated mind-boggling $40 million. THE SNAKEHEAD is a panoramic tale of international intrigue and an inside look at a remarkably successful illegal enterprise and the undocumented immigrants who both fear and depend on it. It is a story about the conflicted issue of immigration in the United States, and a moving exploration of what it means to beand to becomeAmerican.

Author Biography

PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE, a fellow at The Century Foundation, is the author of Chatter and a frequent commentator on NPR, the BBC, and CNN. His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, and many other publications.

Table of Contents

Dramatis Personaep. xi
Map of Chinatownp. xv
Pilgrimsp. 1
Leaving Fujianp. 20
Eighteen-Thousand-Dollar Womanp. 36
Dai Lo of the Fuk Chingp. 57
Swiftwaterp. 81
Year of the Snakep. 97
Mombasap. 117
The Phantom Shipp. 133
The Teaneck Massacrep. 146
Mutiny in the Atlanticp. 164
A Well-founded Fearp. 178
The Fat Manp. 203
Freedom Birdsp. 223
The Goldfish and the Great Wallp. 245
Parolep. 257
Snakeheads Internationalp. 274
Catching Lilly Zhangp. 287
The Mother of All Snakeheadsp. 300
Epiloguep. 323
Acknowledgmentsp. 338
A Note on Sourcesp. 343
Notesp. 346
Indexp. 405
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpts

Chapter One
Pilgrims
THE SHIP made land at last a hundred yards off the Rockaway Peninsula, a slender, skeletal finger of sand that forms a kind of barrier between the southern reaches of Brooklyn and Queens and the angry waters of the Atlantic. Dating back to the War of 1812, the people of New York erected battlements and positioned cannons along the beaches here, to defend against foreign invasion. Even before white settlers arrived, the local Canarsie Indians had identified in the eleven miles of dunes and grass something proprietary and exclusive. "Rockaway" derives from the Canarsie word Reckouwacky, which means "place of our own people."

A single road runs down the center of the peninsula, past the Marine Parkway Bridge, which connects to the mainland, through the sleepy winterized bungalows of the Breezy Point Cooperative, right out to the western tip of Rockaway, where weekend anglers reel in stripers and blues. Looking south, past the beach at the Atlantic, you wouldn't know you were on the southern fringe of one of the biggest cities in the world. But turn your head the other way, out across the bay side of the peninsula, and there's Coney Island in the distance, the grotty old Cyclone tracing a garish profile above the boardwalk.

At a quarter to two on a moonless Sunday morning, June 6, 1993, a single police cruiser drove east along that central road, its headlights illuminating the dark asphalt. A large stretch of the peninsula is national park land, and inside the car, a twenty-eight-year-old National Park Police officer named David Somma was doing a graveyard shift with his partner, Steve Divivier. At thirty, Divivier had been with the force for four years, but this was his first time on an overnight patrol.

It wasn't typically an eventful task. The Breezy Point neighborhood west of the bridge was close-knit. The families were mostly Irish Americans who had been in the area for generations, working-class city cops and firefighters whose fathers and grandfathers had bought modest summer homes along the beach in the fifties and sixties and at some point paved over the sandy lots and winterized their weekend shacks. At 98.5 percent white, Breezy Point had the peculiar distinction of being the least ethnically diverse neighborhood in New York City. A night patrol of the beach might turn up the occasional keg party or bonfire, but serious crime along that stretch was unheard of. The Breezy Point police force was a volunteer auxiliary. The officers had so little use for their handcuffs that they had taken to oiling them to stave off rust.

Somma was behind the wheel, and he saw it first. An earlier rain shower had left the ocean swollen with fog. But out to his right, beyond the beach, the darkness was pierced by a single pinprick of faint green illumination: a mast light.

The officers pulled over, got out of the car, and scrambled to the top of the dunes separating the road from the beach. In the distance they beheld the ghostly silhouette of a ship, a tramp steamer, perhaps 150 feet long. The vessel was listing ever so slightly to its side. Somma ran back to the car and got on the radio, alerting the dispatcher that a large ship was dangerously close to shore. He and Divivier climbed the dune for another look.

Then, from out across the water, they heard the first screams.

Half stifled by the wind, the cries were borne to them across the beach. To Somma they sounded desperate, the kind of sound people make when they know they are about to die. He had a flashlight with him, and pointed it in the direction of the ship. The sea was rough, the waves fierce and volatile. About 25 yards out, between the rolling swells, Somma saw four heads bobbing in the water. The officers turned and sprinted back to the car.

"We've got a large number of people in the water!" Somma shouted into the radio. Divivier had grabbed a life ring and was alre

Excerpted from The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream by Patrick Radden Keefe
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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