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The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream

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There are two genera (Channa, Parachanna) containing 34 species (31 Channa and three Parachanna), although the diversity is much greater and several undescribed species, particularly from India — for example, Channa sp. 'lal cheng' and Channa sp. 'Kerala five stripe'— have already reached the aquarium trade. Oxygen tolerance

A Book of the Year: Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, and Washington PostReads like a mashup of The Godfather and Chinatown, complete with gun battles, a ruthless kingpin and a mountain of cash. Except that it’s all true.”— Time

New York’s established Cantonese community saw the Fujianese as strivers and peasants. The Fujianese dialect is incomprehensible to Cantonese and Mandarin speakers, so the fledgling community was doubly isolated—a ghetto within a ghetto. East Broadway became known as “Fuzhou Street,” and the Chinatown shorthand for new arrivals was “eighteen-thousand-dollar men,” after the snakehead rate in the eighties. Some of the Cantonese disapproval stemmed from the fact that the influx of Fujianese coincided with a rise in violent crime in the neighborhood. Chinatown had long been home to street gangs, which managed illegal gambling and massage parlors and extorted money from local businesses. But during the eighties a new kind of gang emerged which was conspicuously more violent. Keefe prefaces The Snakehead with a “dramatis personae” listing fifty-five individuals who figure in his account, many of whom have both Chinese and Americanized names. These include Chinatown gang members, organized crime figures, snakeheads, INS officials, detainees, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, seamen, and immigration attorneys. Among them is Sister Ping, one of the most successful and well-known snakeheads, who had two clients aboard the Golden Venture. As the organizers of the Golden Venture fled or were arrested, about half of the ship’s passengers were deported; others were held in I.N.S. detention facilities across the country. The majority of the detainees, including Michael Chen, ended up in York, Pennsylvania. The passengers were under the impression that they would not be held long; they had heard that it was not difficult for Chinese migrants to obtain asylum in America. But the Golden Venture scandal had embarrassed the Clinton Administration—critics charged that America’s policy on asylum had become a magnet for illegal Chinese—and all but a few passengers had their claims denied.Snakeheads have what we call a suprabranchial organ,' explains Ralf. 'This is an organ that they use to breathe air. It is situated in a big cavity above the gill arches so that it is well supplied with blood as this is where the gas exchange happens.

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