Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown

Patriot Number One offers an intimate portrait of one immigrant family's struggles to assimilate into U.S. culture while examining the harsh realities that Chinese immigrants face in pursuing the American dream.

Zhuang Liehong was a 30-something activist and dreamer from the Guangdong village of Wukan. He became acquainted with journalist Lauren Hilgers while she was reporting on the aftermath of a 2011 protest that swept through the village. Using the code name "Patriot Number One" on social media, Zhuang hatched a plan to obtain tourist visas to the United States, with the intention of seeking political asylum in "a country of justice and freedom, a place with values that paralleled his own." Two years later, Zhuang and his wife, Little Yan, unexpectedly show up at Hilgers's doorstep in the U.S., seeking her assistance in settling in Flushing, N.Y. This begins a journey of discovery, in which Hilgers documents the hardships and turmoil that many immigrants within the community face while settling in the United States. She also examines the roles that infrastructure and networks established immigrants play in helping their countrymen assimilate.

Despite Hilger's closeness to Zhuang and Little Yan, she maintains a detached distance as the astute and attentive ethnographer observing her subjects. Their lives, she comes to discover, are not so different from the lives of hardworking U.S.-born citizens living paycheck-to-paycheck in search of an American dream that moves in either direction depending on where the political tide falls. Hilgers captures these harsh realities and more in this empathetic and timely tale of exile and the search for new beginnings. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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