cover image Mott Street: A Chinese American Family’s Story of Exclusion and Homecoming

Mott Street: A Chinese American Family’s Story of Exclusion and Homecoming

Ava Chin. Penguin Press, $29 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-55737-1

Chin (Eating Wildly) traces her ancestors’ journey from China to New York City in this stunning memoir. Raised by a single mother in 1970s Queens, Chin knew close to nothing about the father who walked out on her. Driven by a need to fill the holes in her personal narrative, she painstakingly pieced together the beats of her family’s migration, coming up against a discrepancy that distorts many families like hers—the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which forced migrants to craft new identities to get past immigration officials, scrambling the paper trail for their offspring. For Chinese Americans, Chin writes, “it is the historical record that is a fabulous fabrication.” Eventually, Chin zeroed in on a single building in New York’s Chinatown that she learned housed multiple generations from both sides of her family. She enriches her search with startling personal reflections, including the moment she burst into tears when she realized the medical examiner who supervised demeaning immigration screenings on her paternal great-grandmother was a prominent eugenicist, and one in which she wonders whether her maternal great-grandmother, a midwife, assisted in the difficult birth of her father. Deeply researched and superbly told, this sweeping saga is sure to become required reading for those seeking to understand America’s past and present. Readers will be rapt. Agent: Frances Cody, Aragi, Inc. (Apr.)