Life has a way to turn a tragedy into a triumph.
In 1829, an inseparable duo came to America as entertainers. However, they did not find it funny when their boss ripped them off. In their synchronized minds, immigrants were free people. Free people should be free from exploitation. So, they sued their boss for breach of contract, as typical Americans would do in their situation.
They spoke no English. They knew next to nothing about English contract law practiced in America. They just had blind faith in the American justice system. Perseverance won them sympathizers.
America was already a land of law before the American Revolution. In a New England courtroom, John Adams defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre of 1770. No one ran him out of town for practicing law. He went on to get elected as the second American president in 1797.
Astute Chinese merchants such as Howqua (Wu Bingjian 伍秉鑑) paid attention to what Adams and men like him brought to the table. As early as in 1805, through their legal representatives in the U.S., they started suing their deadbeat American trade partners. Yes, Chinese preferred America to China when seeking protection of their legitimate interests. The pair of immigrants in our story, Chang and Eng Bunker, did just that.
The Bunkers’ actions spoke louder than words. For them, life was no laughing matter. Against all odds, they rose to their unimpressively full heights and fought a fully impressive fight, which lasted three years. Not only did they come out winning as plaintiffs, they ended up enjoying America the way unimaginable when they were “fresh off the boat.”
Chang and Eng Bunker, fused at their rib cages, were the so-called original Siamese Twins who were actually ethnic Chinese born in Thailand in 1811. Vindicated under the U.S. justice system, the conjoined twins ran their own roadshows and became their own bosses. As successful American businessmen, they lived comfortably, hunting games in the countryside and vacationing in Europe. Thanks to decades of American experience, they finally came across as fluent English speakers with an adopted English surname. They talked politics in their shows and voted in public. Well-off enough, they settled down on a 100-acre plantation, with slaves, in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. On top of that, they married Sarah and Adelaide Yates, two Southern sisters they had been courting together. In total, 21 children were born into the Bunker families. Slave-free after the Civil War, the Bunker twins continued to live their Southern gentlemen’s lives until they died, a few hours apart, in 1874.
--- Lingyang Jiang
The Bunker twins’ households (source: Wikipedia)