In the Land of the Free Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

After discovering that she is pregnant, Lae Choo, the dutiful, obedient wife of Hom Hing, returns from California to China so that her child will be born in her homeland. While she awaits the birth of their first son, her husband’s aged parents fall ill. A good Confucian wife, Lae Choo remains to care for them. After the death of both parents, she returns to San Francisco with her young son. At the immigration desk, Lae Choo and Hom Hing have a problem. They filed their immigration papers before the birth of their child, so their baby does not have proper certification. The first customs officer says that he cannot allow the boy to go ashore. “There is nothing in the papers that you have shown us—your wife’s papers and your own—having any bearing on the child.” Because of bureaucratic red tape, the immigration authorities keep the infant, telling Lae Choo and Hom Hing to return the next day to learn the disposition of his case.

The parents are confident that the authorities will return their child, but after five months the child is still in the care of the missionaries with whom the immigration authorities have placed him. In desperation, Hom Hing hires a lawyer, James Clancey, to petition the immigration service for the release of their son. Unsuccessful in this attempt, the lawyer asks for five hundred dollars to go to Washington, D.C., to petition the government personally. Hom Hing does not have the money, but Lae Choo offers her jewelry instead. “See my jade earrings—my gold buttons—my hair pins—my comb of pearl and my rings—one, two, three, four, five rings; very good—all same much money. . . . You take and bring me paper for my Little One.”

Another five months pass before Clancey succeeds. At last able to regain her son, the joyful mother goes directly to the mission to bring him home. After so much time away from her, however, the child runs back to the white missionaries. “Go ’way, go ’way!” he says to his mother.