Chinatown And Human Smuggling


June 6, 1993, on the shore of Long Island — an amazing, terrible spectacle. A leaky tramp freighter, The Golden Venture, run aground in pummeling midnight seas.

It had come from halfway round the world, by way of Africa, with a hold full of would-be illegal Chinese immigrants. Half-starved, disoriented, tumbling out in the surf. Some drowning.

They were just part of a huge trade, run out of New York’s Chinatown, smuggling humans into America. “Snakeheads,” the smugglers were called.

This hour, On Point: The snakeheads, underground Chinatown, and a wild chapter in pursuit of the American dream.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


We’re joined in our studio by Patrick Radden Keefe.  He has written for The New Yorker, Slate, The New York Times, and many other publications, and he is a fellow at the Century Foundation.  His new book is “The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.”

Read the first chapter of “The Snakehead” (pdf).

More links:

Patrick has been discussing the book in an extended online exchange with sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh at Slate.

The book’s website offers notes on the key characters, maps of the Golden Venture’s voyage and the Chinatown neighborhood, and links.

Here’s a video trailer showing Chinatown’s streets and the restaurant run by Sister Ping:

In an On Point blog post, Tom Ashbrook recalls his days on the “snakehead” beat as a rooking reporter in Hong Kong for the South China Morning Post.

Also check out WBUR’s “Inside Out” documentary “Snakeheads and Slavery.”

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