In 1993, a freighter called the Golden Venture ran aground just outside New York City.
Onboard were nearly 300 people who were being smuggled into the U.S. from China. Some paid upwards of $30,000 for passage on the ship, fleeing from political persecution.
After the crash, 10 people drowned trying to reach land. Many who made it were detained in U.S. prisons for years, waiting for political asylum.
Shengqiao Chen (L) was one of those survivors. He sat down for StoryCorps, with his friend Zehao Zhou (R). They met while Sheng was in prison; Zehao was his translator.
Click here for the transcript.
Zehao Zhou (ZZ): You knew that was America?
SC: They told us, "This is United States."
Archival Audio: The freight ship that carried them ran aground off the coast of Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. Some people actually jumped from the ship to try to swim to shore.
SC: The water was very cold.
ZZ: How long did you swim, do you remember?
SC: You can't really swim. The waves move you back. And I passed out.
ZZ: You passed out?
SC: And then a couple of my friends carried me out of the water.
Archival Audio: About 200 people were treated for exhaustion and exposure.
SC: When I woke up--I was in the hospital. I had my hand handcuffed on the bed.
ZZ: You were in the hospital bed handcuffed?
ZZ: Then you were sent to a detention center.
Archival Audio: Immigration officials shipped off 110 of the illegal aliens to a prison in North Pennsylvania this morning.
SC: I think the most difficult time is after six months, and you don't know what your future is going to be.
ZZ: Your mother thought you were dead, and she set up a family shrine for you.
ZZ: I have 20 letters that you wrote me while you were detained. The letters described all the, you know, suicidal thoughts, attempts, people giving up.
Remember we had the vigils outside the prison?
SC: I remember. Every Sunday when you guys were outside, we would watch you through the window. A lot of us would tear up because there's still good people in the world who have a kindness heart [sic].
ZZ: You have lived longer in American than in China, correct?
ZZ: When you came, you were only 18 years old, and you went through so much. But is it worth it?
SC: I told my mom, I said that, "I will either die or I will arrive to the United States." After 20 years, I feel like I'm a part of this country, you know? I would do it again.
ZZ: You would do it again?
SC: I would definitely do it again.