Four Sparrows goes Kindle!

Just a quick note to say Four Sparrows is now available in Kindle version! I know, it’s about time. You can get your copy here. I fixed the pricing so those who already purchased the hard copy can purchase the kindle version at a discounted price.

Special thanks to Christopher Abreu Rosario for his technical expertise during my publishing process in multiple formats!

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Four Sparrows, Chapter 2, Scene 4 and Final Scene

Tomás had learned some English from the three Americans who boarded the ship in Acapulco. He knew the words for oro, herramientas, río, navio, tienda, cuerda, pan, cerveza, gracias. He’d repeat them to himself at night: gold, pan and shovel, river, ship, tent, rope, bread, beer, thank you. Frankie taught Tomás a few more key words in English and directed him to talk with Zamora the waiter if he had any questions.

“What happened to that other guy?” Tomás asked.

“He was stealing. Frankie didn’t have real proof, but his instincts were correct. Doesn’t make sense anyway, you can make $80 dollars just sweeping gold dust off the floor.”

Tomás almost yelped. “There’s that much gold?”

“It’s probably why Frankie gets so many workers leaving without notice. They come down from La Veta Madre, sweep up some gold, and return to try their luck again. He’s used to it though.”

“La Veta Madre. Why don’t you go up there?”

“I did, but as they say,” switching to English, “it didn’t pan out,” back to Spanish, “and living in the camps can be dangerous, more than San Francisco. This is a better situation for me.”

Zamora then signaled for Tomás to turn around, Frankie was talking to him from the bar.

“Tommy, wipe down the dirty plates, food’s almost ready. Then ring the bell for lunch,” he said, waving his forearm up and down.

Patrons came in, drank, gambled, ate, and drank some more, and Tomás worked around them. Frankie supplied an array of foods including baked trout, curried sausages, potatoes, mutton, and stewed prunes. Tomás wiped the utensils and plates to be used again, threw out the trash in a hole out back, and performed other menial tasks. During dinner, the patrons became livelier – some were celebrating, some were disgruntled. One man just sat staring, drinking coffee, his head swaying in seeming disapproval. Frankie’s was filled with the smell of men, open whiskey bottles, burnt tobacco, and hot meat.

“Hurry up greaser.” Tomás delivered the food, too busy to care what the men called him – not that he knew what greaser meant. He got an occasional tip from others who had found their own supply of gold in the riverbeds.

As he worked Tomás compared the Yankees to the Spanish. It was hard to know what to expect from the white men here. Back home the white men were more predictable. Spanish culture seemed to fit well over the Tagalo, the Ilocano, Cebuano, and the ethnic Negrito. He remembered the old adage “be careful you don’t spit on your own face.” Distant lands had been mapped, and one’s status was already determined. As he understood it, there was little about the world not already defined. He delivered two more beers.

“Hey, hey you. You’re not a Mexican are you?”

Tomás didn’t return eye contact and didn’t know what they were saying, but he waited, smiled.

“What do you think Jasper? Maybe he’s a Kanaka.”

“Dunno John. Well, steward, where are you from, de dónde?” Jasper asked.

Tomás understood and replied, “Las Indias Orientales Españoles.”

“Indians, oriental, Espanole,” John repeated, “Oh, the Spanish East Indies. That archipelago’s detailed in some books I’ve read.” He turned to Jasper, “The Spanish control those ports still. America is eager to capitalize on the Pacific trade.”

He turned back to Tomás. “I guess we’d be seeing more of you if we were to sail west.”

A smile was the best he could offer in reply.

“So you’re a Manila Man,” Jasper said.

“Well yes or no?” John asked.

“Sí,” Tomás said, not wanting to be inhospitable. It was close enough. Tomás had noticed these men earlier, so tall and fair. They looked a little rough around the edges, but Tomás had no reason not to trust them.

“Say it with us now. Manila Man.” John gestured for him to repeat the words, “Manila Man.”

“Manila Man. Tank you,” his accent thick.

“Now he knows what to say and he won’t have to go through this whole rigmarole every time.”

“Good job, John.” As friends approached to say hello, they sent Tomás away so he could tend to other customers.

“He seems pretty docile. I wouldn’t mind having a claim next to him if he paid his tax. There wouldn’t be any trouble with claim jumping I imagine. Less corrupt than others?”

“I never jump to conclusions,” Jasper replied.

“Cheats never prosper, as they say.”

Both John Paddock and Jasper Allen had served with the New York Volunteers in the Mexican War, 2nd Regiment. They stayed in California afterwards, to pan for gold among other things. They could isolate themselves completely from foreigners if they wanted. That reality was more a reflection of demographics than privilege still. Yet the changing demographics generated new concerns. They had been through a lot for being just twenty-three and twenty-four years old.

John was six feet tall and strong from working at the family lumber mill before coming west. He had straight even features and wavy brown hair. He wore his usual wool shirt with a makeshift suspender to hold up dark brown pants. His boots were caked with mud. Wrapped around his neck was a faded handkerchief, scratched from his own scruff. He liked to go for a shave twice a month, or more if an occasion called for it. Jasper looked similar in appearance and build except his eyes were blue and his posture was always more relaxed.

Tomás felt good about earning the respect of the Yankees. Displeasing them could make things difficult and he wasn’t going to ruin what he had with Frankie. “Vengo de la nada,” he reminded himself.

How exciting it sounded, to be a Manila Man. In Tayabas the gobernadorcillo had come from Manila, so refined and tall, like the men here. Funny how in the Philippines the native born whites were called Filipinos and he was accurately called a Tagalo. In California he was the Manila Man, and those who ran the government were called Yankees. There were so many labels and categories that he had become obsessed with them all. The layers of subjugation were so complicated that he didn’t have time to reflect on the oppression it secured.

John continued his conversation with Jasper. They had a strong opinion of everyone who came to California. Just that month they helped to disband a group of squatters from the states. Lt. Governor John McDougal had summoned them for help against the land-hungry squatters. John knew you couldn’t judge a white man on phenotype alone because they were too individualistic. But you could insist they abide by an American hegemony, a common good.

Jasper noticed John deep in thought. It seemed to be his main hobby lately. Lost in thought he watched an ant crawl down the edge of his beer glass. He watched it join other ants on the trail they had made. Their little path was so efficient. Nature was that way, ordered.

“We need roads Jasper.”

“What’s that?”

“We need roads. And you know the Pacific trade was important to President Polk for the resource potential. Like that hardened sap, gutta percha, comes from those tropical trees by the Spanish East Indies. That sap can be used for cables and pistol grips. Supplies can’t be sent inland without roads heading east.”

“Yup, you’ve mentioned it before. It’ll be good to get railroads too.”

“We have to get Congress to speed things up before trade is monopolized by someone else. We’ve worked hard to secure these borders.”

“We’ll have statehood. It’s inevitable. In the meantime, you can build those roads you’re dreaming of to spur trade, and transport mail.”

“Yes.”

“After your stint as a traveling justice of the peace expires.”

“Yes,” He kind of chuckled.

They finishing their beers and departed.

Tomás paused for them when they got up to leave, but they didn’t notice. At the end of the day, around one in the morning, Tomás finished sweeping up the floors. His mother always warned him not to sweep at night for some reason, but that superstition didn’t seem to apply in California. He sifted through the dustpan for the gold dust and gold flakes. Using the scale on the bar, he saw it was about four ounces, which he figured was $60. He rented a cot right upstairs, too tired to go the few blocks to Little Chile. Frankie allowed patrons of any race to sleep in the room upstairs as long as they could pay for it. He was nervous about the idea of sharing a room with outsiders, but money was already opening doors in this place and he chose to embrace it, meritocracy.

There were twenty men in his room, some had bunks attached to the wall, some had cots, most had the floor with a blanket and their own hats for pillows. It cost $6 – Frankie’s boasted no rats.

“Where are you from lad?” One man asked. Tomás didn’t respond at first. The man pointed to himself, “Ireland,” and then pointed inquisitively at Tomás.

“Tomás, Manila Man, en el Pacífico, sir.”

“He’s one of those Luzon Indians”, said another.

“Luzon Indios in los campos de oro?” Tomás asked.

The man paused, “Yup, I think there’s some of yous up there. Er, maybe some other type of Malay boys.”

Another Yankee spoke up. “I spent all my diggings already. Now I gotta go back. I take it you haven’t been yet.” Tomás just smiled.

“Luzon Indios in Mariposa?” He asked.

“No, well dunno, but I heard about some of’em outside Coloma. You got to man your own claim otherwise you’ll be run outta here, right back to Manila.”

“Yeah boy, check out Coloma.”

They seemed a mixed lot, mostly poor men like him. Before settling down he spoke to a few others. He may have misunderstood, but apparently a cart could cost $10 or $50. Also, all the gold was in Centerville and Sutter Creek according to some, others said it was in Oregon. He wasn’t sure how far that was but it sounded promising.

Candles went out, men settled down, and floorboards creaked on rusted nails. He was embarrassed to have a cot when others were on the floor. He didn’t have much trouble getting comfortable on the cot, but within minutes the room started to smell with a blend of hot breath and homelessness. The smell of hair that’s been sweating under hats all day was fermenting with the body odors from every race in the room. The fug penetrated his nostrils. He covered his head with the blanket and dozed off dreaming of fresh breezes back home.

 

*

Laying on a large rock near the sea, legs knocking the water like pendulums, Tomás absorbs the ocean breeze. He hears his brother breathing. He knows they are chatting about ships from China, but can’t make out the words at first. He feels there’s an errand he forgot to finish which makes him nervous.

“What did you say?” Tomás asks.

“There’s gold in California.”

“Bing-bing told me too. Pepe, let’s do it. They say you can just pick it up out of the streams.”

“Tibay, don’t be a fool. And if so, how would you get there? You’ve never been to China, you’ve never been to Mindanao, not even Manila. How would you manage getting all the way to California by yourself?”

“What do I have here? Nothing. You have status here, a good job, and more,” They’re quiet; Tomás hears the sound of birds calling.

Maricela approaches. She is wearing a white bodice with flowing sleeves exposing her shoulders, and a long cream skirt with red stripes. The breeze blows her hair and hints of coconut oil waft into the air. She lifts her skirt and tip toes barefoot to Tomás. Her older sister is not there to escort her this time. Felipe is no longer there; they are alone. She looks beautiful, and angry. He tries to feel her hair, but she pushes his arms away.

“You want gold do you? What good would it do you? You’re role is errand boy and your place is to live in a hut with your mother. Your father died on his adventure and all he wanted to do was climb Banahaw Mountain. Success is not part of your destiny.”

“Lela –“

“Don’t call me that.”

“Maricela, why are you saying this to me? I will bring you the gold I find when I return and we will be rich! Your father will let me marry you. Then you can have anything you want.”

“Ay, your half-brother Pepe can offer more to me with his blood than you ever can. I want Pepe. You’ll probably get killed before you get there.” It begins to rain and a typhoon approaches. He feels something push him into the water. The ocean is hot like tears. She calls out to him that it’s different there, that he doesn’t know what will happen, that his mother is a whore.

“You’re a slave Tomás,” Her voice thunders from the shore and she fades into the blur of consciousness.

Tomás woke up under his blanket, breathing as if he were still in the water. He heard the breathing of the man next to him and at first forgot the dream. He was sweating. She had never spoken to him like that. Did Lela want Pepe? Is that why he couldn’t find her to say goodbye? Tomás had so little to offer. Her father was a landowner. He would have to work hard to win her over. It was possible to overcome this hurdle he hoped, if he did well in California.

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Four Sparrows, Chapter 2, Scenes 2+3

Felipe tipped him off about ships sailing east, allowing him to rendezvous with a ship that still had space. Would they take him with so little money? He could barely afford steerage with what he had, in addition to the coins Pepe provided. The ship had docked in Batangas Bay before sailing up to Manila. If it had gone to Manila first there wouldn’t be any room left.

Tomás had to work on the ship as they sailed across. He told himself he didn’t care as long as he got there. He didn’t have a cot either. He consented to it, as he consented to similar treatment by others. He was just a poor son of an indigenous widow. He didn’t want to risk not being able to go at all. Otherwise he’d never get what he wanted. He never spoke to the captain but received orders from one of the other men in charge. He was assigned various tasks depending on the mood of the sailors. Tomás stood out, not just because he was pure Tagalo, an indio, but also he was handsome. This caused some of the men to be harder on him while it swayed others to be more kind.

The clipper ship he sailed on was Chilean, according to her flag and its pulpy-gummed crew. She had been afloat only a few years, but looked old having slapped across the seas non-stop since her christening. Clipper ships were well established by 1850. The three masts with square rigging helped these vessels clip away at the time across the ocean.

The crew of fourteen was older but mainly from experience, many without family or obligations. They filled Tomás’ mind with stories from their Chilean homeland and rumors of California. Their Spanish was sprinkled with their regional accent, which he secretly struggled to understand.

All fifty passengers were men along with six pigs, a cow and the captain’s two dogs. The captain was a criollo, fighting to maintain his economic position. Regardless of his European culture and heritage, one needed to make a living somehow. Most others were Chinese or mestizos looking to expand their horizons to match that of their global parentage. Tomás was alone in this regard. He took this as a good sign. And his older brother was too busy rising up the ranks in Batangas Bay, due to his own newfound heritage.

Both crew and passengers had a lot of time to do nothing en route. They tied knots, sang songs, played with the dogs. One sailor named Vicente had a guitar, which Tomás never got to play. Other times, they’d watch an hourglass empty itself only to turn it over to count the hours of boredom. Rum was rationed. A saltwater bath was a highlight. It consisted of getting dropped overboard in calm waters.

Their trip had consisted of pork in brine with hardtack. Seasonings consisted of salt and sometimes ginger. They finished off the pigs faster than expected. At one point for some variety they broke into a small shipment of cinnamon they were transporting. They had eaten the cow a month ago, forcing its owner to sell it for food rather than hold onto it for milk.

They sailed east along the northern Pacific gyre but had to land in Acapulco before heading up to California. They carried indigo to sell in Acapulco in exchange for fresh supplies. As the journey across the Pacific approached its end, Tomás was assigned the task of watching for land from the rigging. Off shift, he’d hang out on deck searching for flotsam, seaweed or other signs of land. So he was the first to spot the shoreline. As they entered port they found a covey of windjammers crowding the coast.

There weren’t any other men from Tayabas as most had boarded in Manila. One of them was Miguel who befriended Tomás. When they stopped off in Acapulco, Miguel sought out his buddy Ronaldo who would gain passage for the last part of the journey. Tomás wanted to stay with them once they got to California. He was more comfortable in a group, and was uncertain how to succeed once there. He didn’t speak English – he didn’t know there were English speakers in California until the Chileans said so. He trailed behind Miguel.

Miguel called out to Ronaldo.

Before Ronaldo could respond, Tomás jumped in, “Hi Ronaldo. I’m Tibay.” Ronaldo looked at Tomás, then Miguel, and then back to Tomás.

“Where are you from?”

“Tayabas.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We’re going to California Miguel, under European control again. We can’t bring a darkie with us.”

“I’m no Negrito.”

“Still, Tibay, I wasn’t looking to share my profits.”

“But it’s better to be in a group. We don’t know what to expect,” Miguel said.

Ronaldo hesitated, “Okay, fine.”

Tomás took the opportunity to ask more questions. “So don’t the Spanish rule California?”

“The rebels of New Spain, wrested control away from the Spanish,” Ronaldo sighed.

Tomás didn’t know what to make of this. How would anyone succeed by destroying a government? How would they protect themselves? “You mean the natives rebelled?”

“No, the criollos and mestizos. Then the Americans took it, but they have failed to put a government in place for now.

“That makes the opportunity even better,” Miguel added.

“And they speak English?”

“Yes, Tibay, they speak English.”

“Oh.” Tomás was patient, convinced his loyalty and skill would win Ronaldo’s trust.

In addition to Ronaldo, the ship picked up three Americans, who said they had crashed in Acapulco while coming up from Valparaiso. Having replenished supplies and nearing their destination, the crew broke open the stores of rum and scotch still remaining. The trip had taken over three months, including the stops they made. Antsy, drunk and some red-faced, they sang and fought for fun as they slapped up the California coast.

The ship reached San Francisco in August of 1850. They anchored while Tomás slept; he had drunk too much. He rarely drank and hadn’t built up any resistance. He passed out at some point after celebrating their imminent arrival. It was after the ship was abandoned that Tomás even opened his eyes.

He could hear the water lapping against the boat. No one bothered to wake him, but he wasn’t surprised based on the eagerness of his shipmates.

“I’m sorry for being drunk,” he said aloud to Heaven. He grabbed his few belongings and put them into his abaca bag. This was it, the moment he was waiting for all his life. Now he had something he could conquer.

He recalled the moment he left months earlier. His mother was there to see him off along with his younger sister and two cousins. His mother embraced him. She patted his face. She made sure he had the small peanut cakes she made for him. Finally, she gave a last ditch effort to change his mind.

“Tibay don’t leave. I gave birth to you the same moment the sun rose on the horizon. So I knew from that moment, you were meant to stay with me because you bring light to my life. That’s why we christened you Tomás Apoy. Fame and riches is one thing, but they will not bring you peace, justice, or happiness.” She then made a reference to both her and her husband’s past. It was the most direct she would be about these tragedies. “Self-worth will lead to true happiness, which an assault or even death cannot destroy.”

“Thank you Mama. I love you too,” he replied, distracted by his own anticipation and the hugs of his little cousins. Despite the expectations that he stay with his family, he believed this venture, if profitable, would help them as well. This was his one chance he told himself. San Francisco was to be his battleground.

The ship creaked as he climbed on deck. The shimmer of the moon and the lights on shore began to draw out details of his figure. He wore brown pants, which were a little too short and tied at the waist with a thin rope. He wore a beige barong shirt, which was white once. The shirt wasn’t tucked into his pants; to do so was illegal back home. His sleeves were rolled up onto his forearms. He had a slim but muscular build, easy for someone nineteen years old. The light reflecting off the water illuminated his sleek black hair and dark face. His nose was straight but soft and rounded at the end. He was agile and resilient. His square shoulders and fit frame made him look taller than he was.

He took a deep breath of cold air, and watched his breath turn to fog as he exhaled. The sea smelled different. The water was murky from the mix of mud and sand. He could see the town on shore, bustling through the night, just like Miguel had foretold.

He heard music from various directions now buzzing amidst a background of shouts, laughter, and people not seen but heard. He stepped off the plank and paused on the pier, or rather the series of boards used at low tide. He looked on either side and saw over a hundred ships huddled in the cove. Most were abandoned, but a few seemed to be serving as various sorts of business down the way, the kinds that usually take place at night.

The ships varied in design, but what really distinguished each were the leftover flags from their ports of origin, flapping in the wind. His gaze went from mast to mast. He knew the former flag of New Spain, a red jagged crisscross on a white background. Then he eyed the American flag, stars and stripes. Next to that was a Chinese vessel, with a bright red triangular flag, though they had no standard flag from what he had seen. It was flying on top of a multiple battened sail typical of Chinese junks back home. Further down he spotted another flag from Chile with its red bottom and blue and white top. Then a few flags he didn’t know so well, a tricolor of blue, white, and red, and others he couldn’t make out in the dark. The ships seemed to go on forever into the foggy distance.

“The whole world’s here,” he whispered.

Distracted by attempts to make out the sights on shore and the other piers, he didn’t see the man approach from the side. The man had a full beard and wore an oilcloth hat, that’s all Tomás saw in the blink of an eye.

“How about it Chileno!” the man shouted and hit Tomás over the head, knocking him into the shoal. The man smelled of liquor and heat. He took the small bit of coin Tomás had in his bag, and made off in the night. Tomás was left in the muck, not unconscious, but dazed.

“What was that about?” he said to the night. He recalled the warnings from shipmates on the voyage. He just never thought his first night in San Francisco would start like this, or that he looked Chilean. The blow made him realize he was hung-over. Once he got his bearings again he knew there would be no way to recover the money.

“Wait until Miguel hears I’ve already sustained an attack,” he told himself. He laughed out loud, a coping mechanism.

Money was hard to come by back home. He had proved himself useful to government officials, and he figured it would work with Miguel and Ronaldo too. He was called Tibay after all, durable.

He got up and went ashore to find his shipmates. They must have disembarked shortly before him because he found them at the first place he looked. He entered the makeshift saloon. The smell of alcohol and turpentine lamps excited his nostrils. The bar was built out of splintered wood with rope and layers of denim sails. It was warm from the plethora of men.

“Hey Vicente, why did you all leave without waking me?”

“You seemed content where you were,” the Chilean muffed. The sailors were always blunt with him.

“Are you trying to poke fun at me again? I’ve been wanting this for months, for years.”

“For years huh?”

Tomás had grown weary of this, but he knew how to suppress his anger. He noticed a fresh cut over Vicente’s eye and didn’t think much of it at the time; injuries were common over the course of their journey.

Vicente pulled him aside. “How well did you know the three Americans who boarded in Acapulco?” His eyes were looking for hesitation.

“I didn’t. What do you mean?” he asked. Vicente waited, looking him over. “I was trying to learn English from them. That’s all. Why?” Tomás repeated.

“Never mind. Just stay away.” Vicente seemed satisfied with his answer. “Now the real adventure begins,” he said turning around.

“Where are you going?”

“You got here with us, but we’re on different paths. I don’t survive based blindly on the approval of those in charge. You thrive when controlled by others, like a Chinaman’s herb garden.” Tomás didn’t argue. Vicente told him Miguel and Ronaldo planned to return to the ship later. Tomás decided to sleep on the ship and wait for them. He would bury himself under used blankets and sleep in the fog-chilled harbor.

Tomás was trustworthy, physically strong, full of endurance. His best skill became obvious on the ship. He was good with his hands. On the turbulent seas he turned to working knots for the sails. He’d dream of gold nuggets lopping down the rivers into his hands. Now docked in San Francisco Bay, he tried to think of his family instead; thoughts of gold made it hard to sleep. He thought of splurging for gifts for his little sister like he did back home, when he could. She didn’t remember their father and he wanted to be there for her. Her name was Maria but everyone called her Mimi.

One year he taught her to make her very own parol. He attached the translucent paper to bamboo sticks, forming a three-dimensional star. Inside they attached a tin holder for the candle. He bought tassels from a Chinese merchant to hang from each of the points. As they worked on it, he explained how he paid for it with money he earned running secret errands for the Spanish. Mimi was so proud as she got to carry the parol on her way to Simbang Gabi, the pre-dawn masses during Advent.

It would continue to be lit each night up to the Epiphany. She would never have trouble rising early for Christmas masses again. Even after the parol wore out and new parols were made, the memories would be there. That was important to Tomás. He felt bad to leave her, but his quest for gold would make it all worth it. Tomás clung to this thought because his trust in his shipmates was in doubt. They were mestizos, at least half Spanish, and they treated him differently. He was determined to make it, alone if needed.

 

*

In the morning Tomás woke up shaking, even his hair was cold. His head was hurting from where the robber hit him, or the alcohol, he wasn’t sure. He was alone and felt duped again. He opened his bag and accounted for his remaining belongings. He felt the thick lock of Maricela’s black hair, tied with ribbons to keep it bound. He saw his father’s pocketknife used for whittling wood and ivory statuettes. It must have been missed in the night. At the bottom was the small wooden de bulto statue, but that’s all. This meant the robber got the two coveted reales he managed to sock away.

He wished his attacker took the knife and left the reales. The whittling knife was more handle than blade. He didn’t know until he was en route from Acapulco that it was another three or four days from San Francisco to the various gold fields. He looked at his father’s knife, dropped it back in the bag, and left to find Miguel and Ronaldo.

The pier was more bustling compared to the night before. Scows were unloading cargo across the murky water from ships sunk at their moorings. The fog lingered while the sunlight glared its way through the misty sky. Wild mint quivered in the breeze releasing its planty scent.

He heard the gold fields were in a place called Mariposa, but he needed directions. He headed to the main plaza, Portsmouth, just a couple of blocks up on Washington and Kearney Streets. There was no sign of anyone from his ship. Tomás entered one of the dining halls and noticed a Chilean. It was good to find someone who spoke Spanish. Tomás asked if he had seen any of his shipmates.

“You’re a Chino,” the Chilean said. All Pacific Islanders and Asians were labeled Chino in the emerging Latin American nations. Tomás was confused; first he was taken for a Chilean and now Chinese?

“Um, I’m Tagalo.”

“My name’s Jacinto, Tagalo.”

“No, my name is Tomás. I’m an Indio.” He gave his formal name in front of whites. Some thought nicknames were deceptive.

“Oh, Tomás, okay.” Jacinto had calloused hands, a thick black mustache, a fair face, and an oilcloth hat. A cigarillo rested in his mouth, faint smoke floated above their heads.

“I’m looking for my friends who were with a group of Chileans that disembarked last night.”

“Oh those Chileans caused a bit of a raucous at the El Dorado and some of them were shot.”

“Ha? Were they killed?”

“Only three, three Chileans. I don’t know about the rest of them. They weren’t welcome in Little Chile. We didn’t want to be the brunt of the retaliation.” Tomás knew they were a rambunctious group of sailors. There had been fights on the ship. None of them had died until now. Tomás looked down, distracted by the smell of food in front of Jacinto. His mouth salivated and it must have showed.

“Waiter, a meal for my friend here.” Jacinto pulled out a small cloth purse from his coat and broke off an equivalent of an eighth, about a dollar and fifty cents. Tomás was starving and couldn’t say no to his generosity, even if it obligated him in some way.

“Thank you. Whatever you feel is sufficient is more than enough for me.”

“Steward, give my friend here the roast rabbit stew and coffee”, Jacinto ordered in English and handed over the gold bit. In a short while the food arrived. Tomás ate it all while trying to hold a conversation.

“Never had this before. I love it. What is it?”

“Rabbit stew with buttered potatoes and carrot greens.”

“It’s delicious.”

“Good, ‘cause you’ll have to get used to stews if you’re headed to the hills to look for gold. But if you just stay here in San Francisco you’ll get more variety, French food and the like.”

While Tomás licked the shallow wooden bowl, people began shouting outside. At first no one took notice, but the sound of an angry animal got people’s attention. Soon, everyone was looking out onto the plaza. A wild bull had broken free and a number of vaqueros were attempting to kill it off. The bull kicked a cart, obliterating it to pieces. Eyes widened. The animal was encouraged by the emotion. The vaqueros lanced the bull with their lariats. Tomás was captivated.

“Does this happen often?” Tomás leaned out the window next to Jacinto.

“It’s never the same show twice in this place. Last week they hung a man. The week before, a sick horse went mad and pulverized its master before anyone could save him. People just stared until there was no way of recognizing who the horse’s owner was. You wouldn’t have been able to eat your lunch then.”

The men lassoed the bull by the horns and feet, tripping it to the ground. People cheered and Tomás did as well. They dragged off the injured bull to be slaughtered. He wondered if life was like this in Manila.

“They’ll charge extra to feast on that bull.” This was too tempting for Tomás. He decided to explore San Francisco awhile and just hope to run into Miguel and Ronaldo on the way. Hope was his best ally.

Jacinto didn’t require anything in return for the meal except to heed some words of advice.

“Things are different here Tomás. You know how things work where you’re from, well things are a little extreme here, and people die very easily.” He leaned in a bit, “These Yankees, some are fair to a fault, but others will kill you if you have something they want, be it a claim, your gold, your pride, or your life.”

Tomás believed him. He knew how things worked, how his father tried to resist, and what happened to his own mother. Tomás didn’t say anything about being robbed. Jacinto told him to forget about any injustices he endures.

“The white Americans were always proven right in the courts of law in California.” Tomás listened as he watched men gamble. The tables were full of men from around the globe and gold was everywhere.

“So all the white men are called Yankees here?”

“The white Americans are Yankees. And they’re rude – they travel on holidays and wear their hats in church. At least, at least the Yankees stopped the Hounds. Those men were the worst, setting out to destroy my people entirely. Last year the Hounds, after parading around to the beat of fife and drum, they ravaged us horribly, assaulting our women, burning our homes and killing our neighbors. The Americans formed a committee because even they were outraged, and they raised money for us to rebuild. Nice people, one of the few good memories I have of this place.”

Tomás wondered why he stayed if he was so unhappy, but he didn’t want to pry. He figured Jacinto, though generous, wasn’t so smart. Of course the courts aren’t equal. How could they be when there’s only one court. The courts are the Yankee’s law and that doesn’t concern him. If anything, government creates rights, and that wasn’t bad at all. Back in Chile it may have made a difference to Jacinto; maybe that’s why he was so disgruntled in California. Tomás knew better. He didn’t need the court system any more than a civet cat needed gills to run and splash along the water’s shore.

“You can find lodging easily for the night in Little Chile.”

“Thank you, sir.” Little Chile was located on top of the hill just northeast of the plaza, on Broad Way. Tomás thanked him again and decided to be on his way and explore the city.

Walking along the plaza he saw gambling hall after gambling hall. He had never gambled himself, but had seen others on the ship making bets, dealing cards, and rolling dice. The games he saw here were different in the details, but the gist of it was the same. He was amazed at the antes put up with each game, an ounce of gold, four ounces of gold, six ounces. That could have bought him forty meals. He continued exploring other dining halls and saloons, then west to the customs house. Further north in Little Chile he saw a Catholic church. He entered, but did not see Miguel or Ronaldo.

The church was small and simple. The light dusted through the windows onto makeshift pews. A crucifix hung above a wooden altar. The church had no apse, transept, or even a tabernacle, meaning it was a box with no designated place for Christ. If it weren’t for the animated cross, it could have been a Protestant church, not that he had ever seen one. He stopped to pray. It was the closest thing to home. He thanked Christ for His sacrifice and favors. It made his problems seems small.

.

.

.

Tomás continued past some bagnios and more gambling halls, south to Sacramento Street where he saw the Chinese part of town and a Presbyterian Church, then back up to the plaza.

The city was growing like a happy youth, energetic but ill proportioned. Almost no grading of the streets had occurred and the population expanded by the hundreds each day. Improvised homes sat on earthy crests adjacent to other plots twenty feet below. The hills looked like an angry giant had stomped up plots of earth. Despite his meandering, he couldn’t find anyone from his ship, and he didn’t have any money to get to the gold fields on his own.

Turning a corner he stumbled upon a scuffle and saw a Mexican man hurled from the entrance of a dining hall.

“Get out of here or I’ll kill you!” an Irish man shouted. The Mexican got up and ran past Tomás.

Frankie Sheehan eyed Tomás. “You, you want to make some money?” Tomás didn’t understand him. Frankie repeated in broken Spanish. He needed someone to serve and sweep in his dining hall.

“Sí señor”, Tomás replied. He never said no to a white man. Frankie gestured for Tomás to follow and showed him what he wanted done. He was feeling lucky already. He could earn enough to get across the bay and over to Mariposa. Perhaps Miguel and Ronaldo had gone ahead after their scuffle the night before. He would find them, he was certain.

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Four Sparrows, Chapter 2, Scene 1

Clipper ShipChapter Two: Conformity

Tomás Apoy was the kind of person who always gave others the benefit of the doubt. He was an aspiring hunter, a pious Catholic, an errand boy, and a colonial subject to the Spanish crown.

Tomás believed in earning your place. He wasn’t educated, but he knew other things; the shortest route to town, how to fall out of a tree, and how much ink it took to write a letter, not that he could write.

On holy days he would go exploring after mass, or just lounge under a mahogany grove. Free from errands, he thought of new adventures, and how to have fun without getting in trouble.

As he gazed up through the trees he caught a glimpse of something, flying overhead. He got up quick. He didn’t think, he just ran, trailing it from below.

His best friend, Bing-bing, was exploring as well and noticed Tomás when he paused near a clearing. He called out to him by his nickname. “Tibay.”

“Shh.”

“Tibay, what are you doing?”

“Che!” Tomás demanded he be quiet. Bing-bing complied. He returned his attention to the skies.

Bing-bing came closer and looked up in the same general direction. “Psst?”

“Oy, isn’t it obvious?” he whispered.

“What —?”

“The banog eagle.” Tomás crouched among the grasses before he could speak again. He pulled Bing-bing down too. He pointed with his lips. “I see it, there on the left.” The eagle had perched itself in a mahogany tree.

Bing-bing didn’t bother to look. “You’re still trying to catch one? We’ve tried for years. Remember – ”

“Shhh,” Tomás pleaded, but Bing-bing stood and waved his arms in the air to disrupt the hunt. The eagle twisted its head, spotting them.

Tomás tried to restrain him, grabbing his arms. They wrestled. Bing-bing began to mimic the call of the eagle to drive it away. It worked. Tomás tried to be angry, but Bing-bing’s antics were more funny than annoying.

“You’re ridiculous,” Tomás sounded stern, but his round eyes made it hard to look angry, even when he knit his brow.

“You can’t do it alone,” Bing-bing said. Tomás pushed him playfully to the ground and walked away. He got up and trailed behind. He made more noises, some of which sounded like an eagle.

Tomás never said, but he was rehearsing for battle. Young men of their background weren’t supposed to have great destinies, but Tomás still dreamt of conquering something. Was this a way of coping with his father’s death? Tomás worked hard to avoid his father’s mistakes. Maybe it was his ancestors calling.

Until he knew for certain, he fought with nature. He had the scars to prove it, not many, but enough. The most visible one, behind his left shoulder, was from falling out of a tree during a hunt. Tomás was eager to battle the wild. To control the wild meant you weren’t wild; it meant the opposite. Self-control kept you tame, and out of trouble.

When he was fourteen, he rescued a high-ranking bureaucrat’s daughter from drowning. The vessel had docked nearby due to an early monsoon, and she had fallen while disembarking. The receding waves pulled her below the surface. He was reprimanded for touching a Spanish woman, yet his gallantry was rewarded, and soon he was running errands for the local governor. This was the first sense of legitimacy he could remember. It was also the first time he had touched a woman of pure Spanish descent. There weren’t many of these women, but Spain had exported governors to the Spanish East Indies for centuries, and one or two brought their wives and daughters.

Tomás appeared wild to the Spaniards because he could climb every kind of tree. His love of the outdoors kept his skin a dark brown. The dangerous and impossible attracted him, whether it was the civet cats roaming the shoreline at night, or the banog eagles soaring above the canopy of trees. It provided balance to an otherwise passive tightly controlled community.

His boyhood dream of working on the Spanish Galleons was soiled because their proliferation ended by the 1840s. Fewer ships sailed through the Philippines in his lifetime. The silver from Potosí was depleted and South America was becoming independent from Spain. So there was less incentive for merchants to trade between the New World and Manila. Besides, the Chinese had dominated trade in the South Pacific for centuries and the competition remained stiff.

Tomás and Bing-bing hunted less now too. They were becoming men and had to find more work. They had too much time to lie about in their sitio and childhood was no longer an excuse.

“So, what will you do, continue running errands for the gobernadorcillo?”

“They don’t use me regularly,” Tomás said.

“There’s jobs in logging, you’d like that, and it’s steady.”

“Perhaps.” Tomás looked out towards the water.

“I’m fishing more with cousins. You could work with us.”

“Logging sounds better.”

“Or you can cart goods, travel around.”

“Hmm, not my first choice, you know that.”

“Then go to Acapulco perhaps?”

“So I can cart goods there instead?”

“Well, what about the gold mines?”

Tomás sat up, “What gold mines?”

“They say there’s gold in northern Mexico. They say there’s lots of it and you don’t even need to go underground to find it.” News of gold had spread quickly from Manila down to the province of Tayabas.

“That sounds great Bing-bing. Ay, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Bing-bing just shrugged. He wasn’t intrigued by it, but he knew Tomás would be, that he would find out soon enough, that he might leave.

Tomás stood up. If he couldn’t explore the world on a galleon carrying silver, he would sail to Mexico for gold.

Bing-bing told him what little he knew. “So much gold, the land is hilly. Every hill is a pile of gold covered with a thin layer of dirt and grass. No more daydreaming for you.”

“But, that’s… tell me more.”

“That’s all I know. Come on let’s ask Pepe.” Tomás felt his adrenaline surge. They ran to his brother Felipe since he was well connected, working in the local port.

“It seems to be true,” he told them.

“So maybe they’ll replenish the galleons kuya, trading across the Pacific?”

“I hope so. We’ll see. Now’s your chance Tibay,” Felipe added. Tomás didn’t hesitate in making a decision. He was going. “The land with all the gold is called California,” Felipe added.

“Thanks Pepe.”

Tomás would brave a journey across the ocean to a foreign land, and strike it rich. And what better way to express his filial loyalty, than to risk it all to help provide for his relatives. He began to dream of the gold, the glory, and the newfound respect it would give him. It may even win the heart of Lela.

Maricela was his childhood sweetheart, or at least he thought of her that way. As a girl, friends called her Lela. She was considered a Mestizo de Sangley on account of her Chinese grandfather. She was the darling of the region; even the Spanish were enamored with her. She knew better though, for the Spanish usually had their stint in government and then moved on to something better. Or they were already married. She could be someone’s mistress with temporary privilege, but would risk losing her family’s status as landowners. Another mestizo might be the best opportunity for a husband. Then there was Tomás, who had always been around when she needed praise.

Tomás never ventured away from home before. It was foreigners who came to them. In addition to the sun-colored Chinese were the fair Spanish, the pale Dutchmen, sometimes a dark Indonesian. Their languages were different; their ways were different. He knew it could be difficult navigating in another world. The Spanish had established territories in New Spain though, so it should allow for an easy transition, once he got there. He spoke Spanish fluently. Bing-bing and his other friends wouldn’t dare do something so bold. All the better, he thought.

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Four Sparrows, Chapter 1, Final Scene

Jungdo witnessed how the barbarians mixed up dates. Instead of ordering time by the year, month, and day, they couldn’t make up their minds. Some ordered it by month, day, and year; the French ones wrote day, month, and then year. He didn’t mind the presence of whites, but their lack of standard dating and similar discrepancies added to his belief in their inferior culture. He frequented his own cultural institutions to avoid such confusion. This consisted of theaters and brothels.

After a productive week selling goods, he was earning enough to send remittances to his wife and son. Jungdo rewarded himself by going for a rest at a nearby brothel. A cold wind was blowing, but he loved the strong chi that came with it. Paper lanterns swayed at the brothel’s entrance and welcomed visitors. Madam Ah Toy noticed him, and she let him meander inside.

The thin walls were decorated with watercolor paintings from Jin Ping Mei to celebrate the sexual excess from this forbidden novel. Incense wafted around the brothel giving it a sheltered dimness. Men peered in to each nook until they found an available girl.

Ah Toy had gained notoriety among both the Chinese and the Americans as one of the most beautiful prostitutes. She was taller than most, standing out from other girls. She was moving away from selling herself to selling others instead. She managed the brothel, though she didn’t own it outright.

Jungdo liked his women with snow-white skin and dark brown eyes. Then he found Mei, a perfect match for his fantasies. She was sylphlike and petite. Her breasts were small white buds. Her hair floated in the night breeze as she sat on a silk pillow, exuding serenity. She wore a see-through shawl and nothing else. The moon illuminated the corner in which she sat. She glowed.

She stood and greeted him. “You’re father would like me too. Now you can have me.”

Ah Toy approached. Her voice was soft but forceful. “Welcome to the Silk Pillow. She’s untouched. You can be her first.”

“You don’t need to lie to me madam. She is perfect in her true form.” Jungdo paid Ah Toy, acquired Mei’s arm and led her to the bed, laying her down on a caramel-colored blanket.

Ah Toy shrugged and went to cajole the next man. Her long hair swung as she turned away.

Jungdo and Mei spoke, and with a few words he could tell she was also from Guangzhou. He liked the purity of that. He kissed her firmly everywhere on her body and then stopped to take off his clothes. With a joyful vigor, he had sex with her. Their bodies slapped together, Ah Toy could hear them beyond the confines of the cubby. Sex was fun for him. Intermittently he would pause to smell her skin before starting again. His hands pinched her pert breasts. She made noises when he asked for it but otherwise remained quiet. She tried to maintain an obedient look of gratitude until he finished. He thought to himself, yangde fangheng – masculine virtues flourish at present. He took a deep breath after he finished with her.

He left Mei on the bed, dressed himself, and thanked Ah Toy on his way out. The night was a thick blue and the strong breeze felt refreshing. Then Jungdo and Kan headed for the fight club to place some bets. Despite the intermingling of peoples at the fight clubs, they enjoyed themselves. It was a pleasure to see the barbarians hurt each other so brutally. Jungdo liked the owner Richard Barlow; he was a shrewd businessman but civil. If only more of them could behave that way he thought. It almost gave him hope. They disappeared amidst the throngs of men. Amateur fighters bloodied each other and drunken men tried to predict the winners.

Back at the Silk Pillow, Mei took some precious seconds to wrap the blanket around her, still warm. It was a way to soften the goose bumps returning to her arms and legs. She would have just a minute after Jungdo left to comb her hair for the next man. There really wasn’t time to wash.

The room was bare except for the bed, the washbowl, and a few shawls on the ground. She had a strict quota to fill. If she dawdled too long, she would go deeper in debt and may be beaten. It was hard enough when patrons got rough, but Ah Toy could be worse, and she couldn’t afford any more scars.

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Four Sparrows, Chapter 1, Scene 4

A twenty-dollar tax for being Chinese was significant with unpredictable profits buried in the ground and rivers. Jungdo decided to provide supplies for new arrivals instead. He knew that job well. It was a lucrative alternative to mining for gold. The barbarians didn’t view that as a threat from what little he had observed. He could work as a middleman in San Francisco and not have to manage a fleet at all. Jungdo and Kan discussed the details their second night on the road.

“More miners are arriving each day, without proper equipment. Even non-Chinese would buy from us they are all so stricken with gold fever,” Kan said.

“I agree. With our contacts, no one can stop us. Mining supplies, staples, oh and novelty items.” They could import what they needed and return the ship to China filled with other goods.

“Maybe sea-otter skins,” Kan suggested, but those were already rare. “Or hides and tallow from the local ranches. And Manila still needs candles. The Yankees like cinnamon and pepper.”

“Yankees?” Jungdo asked.

“Yes, the pale ones call themselves Yankees.”

Jungdo counted off a list of imports: “Shovels, buckets, shoes, cloth, paper, silk, jade, porcelain.”

Kan added a number of items to the list. “Betel nuts, lychees, oranges, longan fruit, rice, tea…” They drifted off to sleep.

Jungdo missed the silk cloth upon which he would sleep. He missed reading the local paper. He dreamed of the newspaper articles and could hear the words. He imagined the ads that convinced him to go:

 

Trade is expanding along former Spanish routes. Pressures are growing to keep markets open for the sale of drugs.

 

Come to Gold Mountain, No Mandarins or soldiers, large houses!

He drifted in and out of sleep, waking to contemplate the visions before dozing off again. He dreams of his first wife Mei-Xing. She is perfect, but then she is swept away by the flooding river. He can’t reach her, surrounded by children he is yet to have.

Now he is on the Yangtze River, leading three cargo junks. Two squads of men with ropes tow the junk ships from both sides of the river. They pass a wupan boat and the water rolls it out of harms way. Drums beat, and a girl’s cry joins the cacophony. Jungdo turns to look at the crying child. He is back on land.

His first wife Mei-Xing is holding the hand of their seven-year-old daughter. A merchant takes the girl by the arm and walks away. Her little blue dress disappears behind a building.

“Liling? Liling?” He says, and wakes himself.

His dreams were turbulent as they sailed across the Pacific, but he thought they would settle down back on land. He breathed heavy.

Jungdo had dreamed of his first wife before, but not about selling his daughter. Jungdo always dreamed about his wife dying in different ways. She suffered a thousand deaths in his memory. In reality, she had died giving birth to a stillborn son.

He didn’t plan to sell his daughter into servitude, but they needed the money. Things got much worse a few months later when his wife died during the childbirth. He tried to find Liling, but she’d been sold again to a farmer further inland.

He rubbed his face to wipe away these thoughts. How he missed her gentle smile. Liling had her mother’s face, and her hair had a wave to it when it was long, also like her mother.

“Ai- yah.” he said to himself. He tried to focus on his new wife, Mei-Xing’s younger sister. She had given birth to a healthy baby boy. He planned to return when his son was old enough to remember him.

Once in San Francisco they visited the Sanyi Huiguan. They were given an advance on the business and the supplies they would need.

“See what honest labor and mutual respect can bring you? Why can’t the barbarians behave with the same honor? It’s a disgrace to their families.” He made Kan repeat it to him – “Lijie” – social harmony.

Jungdo was given the keys to a vacant business. He found an auspicious place in the back for some ancestral items, incense, tangerine peel, ginger, and hay.

His homage to his community had immediate benefits. He heard about a small vessel that crashed at the presidio before coming into the bay. He rented a cart and horse, and made two trips without attracting attention. The survivors must have abandoned their non-essential belongings.

They salvaged a variety of mining supplies, random tubs of butter and a billiard table. They also grabbed nautical supplies including some rope and a sextant, billhooks, and crowbars. Jungdo was not wasteful and he figured salvaging these items for his own use was fair given the attack up in the mining camps. The sandy soil made the trek difficult, but that’s what Kan was for. They used the billiard table as a stand for other items, not knowing what it was or its potential value.

“Kan this is a great find. It could bring instant notoriety to the business.”

“We received a lot of attention in the gold country too,” Kan said, panting.

“No Kan, this will look good to the huiguan.” Kan seemed ignorant of the sacrifice that comes with success. Jungdo decided to add nightly readings from Lao Tzu to help him learn the value of inner circles.

He picked up a round pan. “This will attract a more amiable swath of miners. Put these pans in the window at an angle. They will reflect light inside and illuminate all we have.” His business was on the corner of Sacramento and Montgomery Streets. It was just outside Little China by the water, opposite the Niantic Warehouse, a converted ship.

For Jungdo everything was immediate yet tentative. It was a way for him to keep control of the situation. A blend of logic, greed, and luck, he was a natural when it came to making a profit.

He paid enough for products to secure more quantity than quality. That’s all that was needed. Yet some wouldn’t sell to Chinese. Did they think he was some sort of slave? The Cantonese word they tried to pronounce was coolie, but that meant hired hand. He was neither slave nor laborer. He thought for a moment about the daughter he sold, the last reminder of his first wife. Things were good now, they were. He had money, a new wife, and a son.

He was happy, he told himself. “Masculine virtues flourish at present.”

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Four Sparrows, Chapter 1, Scene 3

The phenotype of California was changing fast. Small businesses rallied against the foreign miner’s tax because many Californios couldn’t afford $20 per month and relocated to Mexico. Fewer miners meant less demand for products in the various commercial corridors. A subsequent rash of murders continued to poison the mood. The foreign tax was modified in August 1850 to $20 for four months of mining rights. The tax remained so Americans would have access to American resources. Yet in practice it could included the foreign whites in this plan of prosperity. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy as whites gained the upper hand economically and others struggled.

The tranquil times of California had ended. The first recorded hanging had occurred in January of 1849 in Hangtown, formerly known as Dry Diggings. Two Frenchmen and a Chilean were accused of robbing and trying to kill a Mexican. None of them knew English so all three of them were hung. Neither Kan nor Jungdo knew of these facts, but news of their own success began to spread beyond the Mokelumne River and into the town’s gambling halls.

To any decent American, it was questionable why any outsider would come to their country and take their resources. That was the type of thing Europeans did to oppress the Thirteen Colonies. Yankees wouldn’t tolerate that type of oppression and thievery from anyone, not from Europeans, Mexicans, Chinese, even Pacific Islanders; hence the tax.

Ed Smith and Abe Harley, two of these Americans, wanted to oust all foreigners. They traveled the camps to sway others to their cause. They joined forces with one Jeb Belial. As an ex-soldier, Jeb had some legitimacy. He had completed the one-year of service required of a volunteer. Ed and Abe seemed to have lots of information about who was what, and what was wrong from camp to camp. This made the job easier. Gold deposits were on the decline while the population continued to grow.

They entered a saloon, sprinkling their speech with slurs. These three men were racist, always had been. They defined their race very narrowly; skin color was only part of it. If they had faith they weren’t true to it.

“We heard of a few who didn’t pay their miner’s tax.”

“Well is it a tax per claim or per person now?”

“If it’s one man per claim then it’s per man, if that’s what you would call them.” They twisted the truth for their own agenda.

Others complained, encouraged by drink, “They drag their feet, trying to be coy.”

“So?”

“Well, they wear their slave clothes and pigtails –“

“Indebted to their coolie masters!”

“They work seven days a week!”

“That’s not allowed!”

“We can’t let these celestials take what should be ours!” Ed shouted.

Then Abe added his two bits, “California’s for free labor, for the American!” They stumbled out of the Hotel de France into the dark street.

“For Yankees not the Frank or the Chink!” A swarm of them gathered on the street. They headed up past Chili Junction to China Camp.

As men gathered by the saloons, Jungdo and Kan rested from a long day, too far to hear the rumble in town. They gazed into their campfire. Things were going their way and Jungdo wondered if serendipity was the currency in California. For example, they had just bought a mule from a Yosemite Indian for two hats, which they happened to find in the chaparral. The Yosemite had bought the mule from the Comanche for a beaded necklace. The Comanche stole the mule from a Mexican rancher further south. The rancher got it from the Catholic Church to help him carry supplies.

Jungdo glanced over and saw sparrows flitting about, stealing crumbs from their dinner. He didn’t mind; they had eaten bread that night instead of rice and he wasn’t going to have any more of it. Kan didn’t mind the sparrows either, but some of the miners thought sparrows were a nuisance.

“I’m glad we’re finding gold in this barbarian land after these followers of the dead god invaded our land, forcing their ways on us.” He said this despite the fact that the American presence in China was minimal compared to European nations. Jungdo didn’t quite know the difference.

“We’re still gambling by their rules.”

“Yes, and yet it becomes obvious whose culture is supreme.” Jungdo stared into the fire. He heard the sparrows fly away. It warned him, he turned.

Henry Chan, a miner in their camp who had converted to Christianity, heard the swarm of men first. He ran to alert his fellow miners.

“Ai-yah! Get up. Get up!” Henry shouted. The swarm was advancing, at least a dozen whites and a couple of Californios, most with tools or a knife, yelling epithets. A quick surge of adrenaline made time slow down. It was clear what was about to happen. He glanced at Kan. At least he will learn the truth of this barbarian culture, he thought, unlike Henry. Then time sped up. They jumped to their feet.

One of the ghosts ignited a torch from the campfire and lit their rickety tent. Another kicked the fire, spreading flames. They surrounded the camp.

“Get’em!”

“Please stop. God asks you,” Henry pleaded. A white man pushed him down and ran over him. “Gau meng ah!” he yelled for help.

“Get over here coolie Chinks!” Ed hit Jungdo with a stick and he stumbled to the ground. Jungdo crashed onto some supplies. He swung around and slapped Ed with a broken piece of pottery, leaving a deep cut in his face. Kan was nearby. They took flight. Abe grabbed one of the Chinese by his braid and cut his throat. Abe was soaked in the blood of his victim. Jungdo thought to turn around, but instincts took over. They flew off into the darkness.

The mob didn’t pursue them. He sensed death as he ran, the spirits wafting out of beaten bodies, trapped in the barbarian country. His soul can’t be trapped on this side of the ocean. That was the fear that drove him. As he fled, he saw someone taking off with their mule.

Henry, Jungdo and Kan found each other as they hid in the dirt. Watching the flames consume their tents, they waited in silence until the men were gone. Jungdo could taste the earth as he lay there. He had to savor the dirt to avoid coughing; he didn’t want them to find him again. He let his drool moisten the dirt in his mouth and then spit it out quietly. They kept their heads down.

They woke the next morning and found two other Chinese miners from their camp. They viewed the remains, but there was nothing left to salvage. Fellow miners had been killed and burned in the fire. They buried what pieces remained.

They knew it would be futile, even detrimental, to avenge themselves against a miscellaneous mob of outsiders. Justice would be painful. They took a back road out of Mokelumne Hill.

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Four Sparrows. Chapter 1, Scene 2

Jungdo and Kan arrived three days later in Mokelumne Hill and found lodging with fellow Chinese miners. The gold country was hilly, and even the grass was golden. Creeks weaved around the foothills and through the valleys where miners coagulated. They staked their claims that afternoon, paid the foreign miner’s tax and got to work. They weren’t aware of how they were being treated at first; everything was so different.

It was a migrant slave-owner from Texas who proposed the Miner’s Tax in spring 1850 just before their arrival. It was passed and signed into law by Governor Burnett. As non-whites began to find gold, steps were taken to prevent it, and the word foreigner became more closely associated with non-white. The Irish and French floated betwixt and between the definitions of white and foreigner. The Americans weren’t sure yet what to make of the Chinese. The most recent census labeled them under the white race.

Jungdo and Kan panned about eight ounces of gold in that first day. They used the river water to swish the ocher mud out of their pans. Their luck continued with persistence, and fourteen-hour days. They worked every day of the week and prospered while others grumbled at their presence.

“They call us celestials. It’s not just those lacking pallor; the overcooked ones seem to loathe us too,” Kan said.

“They call us lots of things, but mind yourself, to them it’s not a compliment. They don’t realize that hard work leads to success. They try to make us out to be the uncivilized ones, but it’s they who have no honor, no reciprocity, no endurance.”

“You speak with certainty,” Kan said.

“Their only traditions are their abused god and their own greed. Who would worship a dead god? Confucius himself said it is pointless to even try to understand god. It’s better we don’t associate with them. Don’t be seduced by foreign ways.” Their fellow miners were in agreement for the most part, though a few were opening up to Western culture.

They panned for gold wearing long brimmed hats to shield themselves from the heat of the sun. They squatted at the edge of the river and swished the dirt in the pan, letting the water wash out the silt and leave gold on the bottom. Their feet grew cold and their backs grew hot.

Back home in Middle Kingdom Jungdo had a vast network for his export business. He had contacts up in Shandong to purchase granite blocks, which he’d sell to the Spanish in Manila. He coordinated with the silk industry in his native Guangzhou to sell books of raw silk and lacquer furniture to British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. In fact he himself had come to California on a French merchant ship carrying silk he had sold to the captain. He could have booked passage across the Pacific on his own, but proving he was able to honor his word and pay his debt to Chan was worth the extra step.

Kan’s older brother was overseeing the investments back home while they explored opportunities in this new world. Their fellow Chinese miners weren’t as well off. Many were farmers who lost crops in recent floods. Others lost their land due to taxes, imposed after the Opium War.

Immersed in the rhythm of the work, they were startled when a pair of white miners walked through their claim. Jungdo looked up at them, his line of sight limited by his hat.

“What are you lookin’ at Chinaman?” The white man bent down and blew smoke in Jungdo’s face. Jungdo wasn’t going to let smoke destroy him and he stayed very still. The men waited to see if Jungdo or Kan would do anything. Kan stood up from the water, making eye contact.

“Bai hoi, Kan,” Jungdo said with sharp eyes, telling him to stand aside. The men walked on to wherever they were headed.

“Hengfu says there’s no protection here. Don’t ruin this for me.” Jungdo spoke in swift breaths from under his hat.

“I didn’t want you to get hurt,” Kan said, though he was more interested in testing their ability to defend themselves in California.

“It doesn’t matter why they do what they do. They are ghosts. We must focus on how we will get what we want.” Jungdo hoped this venture would be a quick way to build wealth. He said he would prefer to stay home and have many children. His international trade sounded prosperous, but was always in flux.

“Kan, you know why we’re here?”

“Yes, to expand our trade networks,” he cupped more water into his pan, “and see more of the world while we’re at it.”

“The business is barely making a profit! Traveling by sea, the costs add up.”

“Indonesian pirates keep threatening our cargo,” Kan added, to concede to Jungdo’s point.

“These barbarians, are limiting our opportunities. Discovering a cache of gold to take home would tip the scales in our favor.” Jungdo looked behind him and saw the pair of men down river still looking at him. Justice would be painful.

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Four Sparrows: A Tale of Race and Survival in the California Gold Rush. Chapter 1, Scene 1

Here’s a sneak peak at my book. Below is the opening scene, hopefully a nice teaser. Ask for the book at your local bookstore, or hop on to Amazon to order your copy.

Happy reading!

Digitized for "Picture This: California Perspectives on American History," a project of the Oakland Museum of California Museum Technology Initiative for Educational Outreach IMLS Grant, July 1, 2010 – June 31, 2011.

San Francisco in 1850. Ships and such. Reproduction of original image, artist unknown.

Chapter One: Destination

They sailed past the Farallon Islands and he saw a whale break the surface. Jungdo waited, but it didn’t return. He rubbed his face, tired of the long journey, but relieved. His books said to expect these islands, and now he knew they were close.

During the voyage, they played games to distract from the monotony. Jungdo stretched out on a bundle of silk and watched Kan shoot French dice against the ship’s bulkhead. After three more hours, they reached land. Jungdo got up and looked out the porthole when they felt the ship tap the pier. Seagulls circled in the dark sky and fog obscured the hills. He could see the flowery flag of May-gwohk. According to his books, May-gwohk was the official name for America. He put on his skullcap and slippers.

Jungdo wore black pants and a blue shirt with red embroidery. He had an auburn face and airy brow. His second cousin Kan travelled with him. Kan was fifteen, half Jungdo’s age, and he wore similar clothes, but without embellishment. Their queues were black and heavy.

Kan shoved their belongings into Jungdo’s trunk and they heard glass break. They removed the ritual items from the broken glass jar and wrapped them in calico cloth. Jungdo breathed heavy at the burden of Kan’s exuberance.

“These are the gifts,” Jungdo said aloud. He grabbed Kan’s sleeve and hit him in the face. No other words were spoken.

They finished packing. Jungdo disembarked with a canvas bag over his shoulder. Kan followed, with the trunk on his back and a bag around his arm.

The wind picked up when they stepped on shore. They scanned the pier with square inquisitive eyes. They saw a lantern approach and sway with the tempo of the wind. Through the fog they began to see the figure of a man.

An agent from the Chinese business guild had come to meet them. He confirmed their full names, Fung Jungdo and Fung Kantau, and bowed to them. Jungdo and Kan gave a short bow in reply. The agent helped to carry Jungdo’s trunk. They headed to the guild’s headquarters, a restaurant on Sacramento Street, three blocks from the bay.

The president of the business guild, Chan Hengfu, was expecting them. He had secured safe passage for them across the sea. Wooden lions guarded the door as they entered and ornate benches traced the perimeter of the main hall. Light glowed from a room in the back, where their host was seated on the far side of a round table.

“Welcome to Gold Mountain,” Chan said. Jungdo debated whether to kowtow, with three kneelings and nine prostrations, but of course that would be too much; he must be tired from the voyage. Jungdo was many things: a father, a Han descendant, a widower and a husband. This business guild, the Sanyi Huiguan, was full of wealthier Chinese, but he was now part of this class. So he provided a polite bow and thoughtful words.

“May the prosperous light fill a thousand leagues; may the auspicious air pervade mankind.” They both smiled slightly, this was not their first meeting. This night was due to years of networking built over tea and other drinks. It was the relationships that provided opportunity more than coinage. Chan was highly regarded back home for his success in business and respect for the community. This was true currency. They sat and discussed plans to go to the gold country.

“Things aren’t as told in those books. This land is not made of gold, among other things. And its official name is The United States of America.” Jungdo tried to repeat it.

“These barbarian tongues are disordered.”

“You will adapt. A man named Woodworth is the Vice-Consul of the San Francisco port. We’ll submit the ship manifest to him before you go to Calaveras County. We already paid the customs house.”

“You’re well-prepared for us. We appreciate this.” Jungdo signaled to Kan who produced a gift in calico cloth of five small items. To represent Guangdong province, there was preserved tangerine peel, aged ginger, and hay. To round off the offering, Jungdo had included fresh bamboo and a stylized jade treasure dragon. All of this was full of symbolism, which was not lost on Chan.

“You in turn are truly thoughtful and generous. I look forward to seeing our ventures become as profitable as our relationship is strong.”

“As do I.”

“The mayor of San Francisco is named Geary and he is friendly to us. However be warned, the gold rivers have little law and less protection then even this hub of barbarism.” They talked business for another hour, discussing a variety of topics. Chan reminded them to keep their expressions blank so as not to antagonize the barbarians.

“Are they so easily manipulated?”

“Well, they are not called barbarians because they are pale.” They laughed.

Jungdo paid Chan for his assistance and joined the huiguan that night. A meal of broth and spare ribs was provided to them, along with some rice. They finished their meal with tong sui, a warm loose custard with red bean and taro. They had cots prepared for them. In a matter of hours, Jungdo not only repaid his debt, but also joined the huiguan, obtained food and shelter, and put a plan in place to find gold in the flowery flag country of May-gwohk, now called the United States.

This venture was filled with opportunity, yet he was not sure if his arrival in San Francisco was a beginning or an end. Change was the only constant. “Birth is death,” he told himself; they came together like wind and weather.

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Four Sparrows, book launch!

Nancy L. Roddick, age 19

My mom, Nancy Luscia Roddick, age 19

It’s been a long time since my last blog post. Since 2013 many things have happened. The most impactful was the sharp decline and death of my mother in August 2014 due to Alzheimer’s. This past weekend we finally buried her ashes with a brief committal service at the grave site. I think a part of me was waiting to finish that before completing other things.

In January I decided to self-publish my book using CreateSpace.com, part of Amazon. My novel crosses the genres of Ethnic Lit, Historical Americana, Film Noir, and Literary Fiction. A description from the back cover:

In 1850, Tomás travels from the Philippines to strike it rich in the California gold rush as a subconscious way to overcome racial barriers. In his struggle to gain legitimacy he progresses through various stages of racial identity development. He is not alone in this regard. John, an American, has remained in California after the Mexican War to police the camps. Cath has arrived from Ireland to escape her own experience with oppression. Jungdo, from China, suppresses a painful past brought on by his own cultural hegemony. All fight for legitimacy in an effort to continue their own way of life, at the risk of not living at all.

So April 12th my book titled Four Sparrows became available on CreateSpace.com for purchase! If you were intrigued by the previous blog post on Filipinos in the Gold Rush or are interested in seeing dynamics of racial identity development set in an exciting drama of the Gold Rush, you will enjoy this full-length novel.

A link above will take you to a list of bookstores and purchasing options. Happy reading! I hope it adds value to your day.

Posted in Ancestry & Genealogy, Gender & Sexuality, General Stuff, Race & Ethnicity, Religion & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments