Winner Of W. Eugene Smith Award 1999
New York’s Chinatown
Upon arriving in New York, smuggled immigrants from China’s coastal Fujian Province are held in virtual indentured servitude for years in ill-paid jobs until they work off their debts to traffickers. They are not prepared for the harshness of the life they find in New York City. Most of them feel they’re trapped on an island within an island and deeply regret enduring the hardship and separation from their families. No one knows how many have been smuggled into this country. New York’s Fujian Association estimates there are 500,000 illegals from the province.
Taiwan native Chien-Chi Chang, now living in Kew Gardens, N.Y., used his grant to continue documenting the plight of illegal immigrants in New York’s Chinatown, and returned, with several of his subjects, to photograph family members left behind in rural China. “I have an emotional stake in ‘Divided Lives,’” Chang wrote of the project. Before coming to the U.S. in 1991, he had heard endless stories about New York’s immigrant community. “I discovered a different reality where many Chinese were delivered at great personal sacrifice into a life of indentured servitude, fear and extortion.”
Since receiving his grant, Chang has connected 21 Chinese illegal immigrants with their family members back in China.