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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 4: Research and Discovery - An Na, Edwidge Danticat, Laurence Yep, and more
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
An Na
Biography
Work
Edwidge Danticat
Biography
Work
Interview
Pam Munoz Ryan
Biography
Work
Walter Dean Myers
Biography
Work
Laurence Yep
Biography
Work
Interview
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Dragon's Gate

Laurence Yep's historical novel set in California just after the Civil War tells an inspiring personal story, while paying overdue attention to a larger story -- the valiant contribution of Chinese Americans to the building of the transcontinental railroad. A 14-year-old boy named Otter journeys from his home in Three Willows Village, in China, to the icy Sierra Nevada Mountains, where he joins his father and uncle on a work crew that is digging tunnels for the Central Pacific.

In 1866, Otter accidentally kills a Manchu at a place called Dragon's Gate. This site is home to a myth about a carp that swims through rapids and other obstacles, to pass through the gate and become a dragon. Otter's mother, worried for his safety, finally allows him to go to America, the "Land of the Golden Mountain." When he first arrives, Golden Mountain seems worse to Otter than any Chinese prison could be. The men work long hours on little food as they battle the icy cold, trying to pickaxe and blast their way through mountains frozen so solid that Otter at first likens the work to "knocking down a wall with a piece of straw." "I really felt a responsibility to these workers on the railroad," says Laurence Yep, "because they get such short shrift in all the history books... And the fact is, they performed heroic labors... They had to do such things as hang down the cliff face in a basket with a hammer and chisel, make a hole, pack the hole with gunpowder, and then hope that they could be hauled up in time before the explosion went off. I forget how many tons of bones were shipped back to China, of the men who died working on the railroad."

Otter's struggle is not just physical. In China, he had lived well because of the money his father sent back. "It's a shock when he comes to America," says Yep, "because all of sudden Otter he finds that his father and his uncle aren't important; they are at the very bottom of society. What's worse is he's at the very bottom of society. And so here is Otter, he's lived like a prince in China, and he comes to America and all of a sudden he's expected to live like a peasant and a servant, and he doesn't want to accept that."

So Otter must learn the hard lesson that though America had just fought a war for the freedom of its slaves, that freedom does not apply to Chinese workers. He does make a Western friend: Sean, the son of the crew boss. "Sean and Otter are outcasts, so they have that sense of alienation in common," observes Yep. But when Otter's father is blinded in a tunnel explosion and Otter refuses to work as a result, Sean's father whips him until he bleeds. Otter realizes finally what the rest of the work crew has known all along: "We either finish this railroad or die."

Yet as Otter grows into a man, he begins to see that his Uncle Foxfire may be a hero after all -- and that he too may have some of that bravery and defiance. When an avalanche takes out an entire camp of Chinese workers and volunteers are needed for the terrifying job of creeping through a storm to dynamite the remaining snow and prevent another avalanche, Otter and his uncle agree to go. Yep states, "And so with Otter, he's like that little fish, and the Sierra Nevadas, these mountains, are this gate. And when he passes through that gate, he changes. ...Because of the sacrifices of his father and his uncle, he begins to take more responsibility not only for himself, but for other people. And he begins to think about other Chinese, not just even his own clan or his own district; he starts seeing in a more general way that they all have things in common."

Dragon's Gate, which is a Newbery Honor book, is part of Laurence Yep's Golden Mountain Chronicles, a series about several generations of a Chinese American family.

back to top Next: Laurence Yep: Interview
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