This document is a first hand account of a Chinese immigrant who came to the United States in the late 1800s. Reading further, it also serves as a comparison of Lee Chew's reality and perception of America to the general consensus of Chinese that either never made it to our shore, or who have set foot here only to return home with their own opposing account of what it was like.
Lee Chew describes the opinions of Americans in China as "foreign devils"ÃÂ that had broken a treaty with them in regards to the open door policy regarding immigration to and from the two countries. Americans are even referred to as "barbarians"ÃÂ because of their ruthless and deceitful ways. In fact, if not for a local villager who traveled to America and acquired "unlimited wealth"ÃÂ to share upon coming home, Lee Chew probably never would have ventured to this new world.
It was this man's wealth that Lee Chew described as filling his head with the idea that he could also become prosperous in America.
Upon arriving in the United States, Lee Chew learned that many Chinese immigrants took up the trade of laundryman, of which was taught to them by American women. Not being able to speak a word of english, he was paid $3.50 weekly, of which he was able to save $3.00.
After six months, his weekly salary had been raised to $5.00 with board. Monetary issues aside, Lee Chew described Americans as being very good to him.
Lee Chew goes on to describe his rise in earnings as well as his business dealings. At one point he opened up a laundry with a business partner and was able to do quite well for the time period. In a twenty year time period, he Lee Chew was worth about $2500 from his laundry. At that point, he had returned home for a brief one year period before making his way back to America and opening up another business in Buffalo.
Lee Chew in this document is trying to express that the prejudices and stereotypes of Americans in that time period were neither entirely true, nor founded. He even went so far as to describe the views of his fellow villagers as nothing more than "wild tales"ÃÂ that he no longer paid much attention to. He does admit that Americans still have their faults and that their treatment towards Chinese immigrants is outrageous, but that doesn't sway him from his own personal opinion.
Since this is a first hand account of a Chinese immigrant and the opportunities presented to him, it would be tempting to dismiss the widely known and accepted view of American's poor treatment towards them. This is a tricky subject however, as this is only a single event and account of an immigrant's dealings in the United States. Had Lee Chew have been killed in one of the railroad mobs he describes, this account would have never made it to see the light of day.
This account is not enough to say that immigrants were treated better than history provides, that anybody could amass a healthy fortune with a good work ethic and smart planning. The fact is that many did not obtain the riches they so sought, and many were killed due to prejudice and other factors related to being an immigrant.
I found Lee Chew's personal experience as a reminder that no extreme view or interpretation of how immigrants were treated is 100% accurate. There is a definite middle ground, that while some were able to reach their dreams and desires, many did not. Some were able to come home to their villages and share their wealth, while others came home (if lucky enough) to pass on descriptions of Americans as deceitful.
An ongoing theme with Wordsworth with his poetry is the balance of past, present, and future. Looking at the leech gatherer in this poem, the narrator is in fact looking at the effects of experience through time. In doing so, the old man is respected in what he has to say, as he uses a "choice [of] word and measured phrase, above the reach / of ordinary men; a stately speech,"ÃÂ just as the religious men of the time do. Going further into the poem, the reader sees that the words aren't meant to be just utterances, but that they deserve a listerner's attention because out of "decrepit Man [comes] so firm a mind."ÃÂ