As Mr. Wang would later recount to his friends, he stepped between the officials and his wife. A scuffle ensued, Mr. Wang’s wife escaped, and the officials hauled Mr. Wang, the son of poor rice farmers, to a jail where he was held for several days and severely beaten, his friends said.
The confrontation was apparently a turning point in Mr. Wang’s life, which had already been marked by poverty and hardship. Within months, his wife still pregnant, he would set off alone for the United States with the aid of smugglers, taking a chance that a better life awaited him — and eventually his family.
But on March 12, three years after his arrival in New York City, his aspirations were dashed in a sudden crash of steel and asphalt on Interstate 95 in the Bronx. Mr. Wang, who had been working as a restaurant deliveryman, was one of the 15 passengers who died when their bus overturned and was sliced open by a sign post as they were returning to New York’s Chinatown from a casino in Connecticut.
There were a few threads that tied these victims together. Many were first-generation, working-class immigrants, many were Chinese, and many were seeking some kind of solace and hope, however illusory, in the parallel universe of the Mohegan Sun casino. This is a portrait of one of those victims.
From interviews with Mr. Wang’s friends, relatives and co-workers, both in the city and in China, a profile emerged of a man who was guided by a deep devotion to his family and who lived a life of continual struggle, embodying many of the hallmarks of the immigrant experience among the latest Chinese newcomers to New York.
Mr. Wang grew up in Gui’an, a rural village in a mountainous region of Fujian Province; he dropped out of school when he was about 13 to join his relatives in the rice paddies.
“He told jokes, even on the hardest days,” his older sister, Wang Wenzhen, recalled in a telephone interview from the family’s home in Gui’an. “But he was also an introverted, reserved person; didn’t share his true feelings.”
As a young man, Mr. Wang never talked about career plans, his sister said. “We are in a very backward village,” she explained. “All they can think about is making more money. What else can we dare to wish for?”
She added: “I am sure he had his own dream, but he never talked about it. He knew that’s impossible.”
His father died of a stomach ailment when Mr. Wang was 19, tipping the family deeper into poverty. Mr. Wang left home in search of better work to help support the family and, through his 20s and 30s, chased opportunities for work in Fujian Province, mostly manual labor. For several years he drove a taxi, often taking the night shift so he could help with household chores during the day and take his mother, who was chronically ill, to the hospital, Ms. Wang said.
He was a perfectionist. “Whatever he did,” Ms. Wang said, “he wanted to make sure every detail was fine.”
Work and Love Struggles
During those years, he saw many friends and neighbors leave for the United States, often with the help of smugglers. Over the past two decades, hundreds of thousands of young people from villages in Fujian have made the trip; many headed for New York City. But according to Ms. Wang and several of his friends, Mr. Wang never talked about taking the journey himself.
Mr. Wang struggled not only with work but also with love. As his friends successfully found mates, married and started families, Mr. Wang, a thin man with close-set eyes and a crop of thick black hair, met failure. His sister blamed the family’s economic straits.
“Nobody wanted to pick him,” she said. “Which girl would want to marry into poverty?”
When he was about 30 — old to be a bachelor by the standards of his village — he married Lin Yaofang and they had a baby, a girl. When Ms. Lin became pregnant again, in violation of the country’s one-child policy, the authorities made her get an abortion, relatives and friends said.
When word of her third pregnancy reached the government, he later told friends, officials went to their house to take Ms. Lin away, leading to Mr. Wang’s detention and beating. The account could not be verified with the Chinese authorities.
His decision to try his luck in New York came quietly and suddenly. He did not share his deliberations with many relatives or friends. Only when he had made up his mind did he turn to the rest of the family: he needed their help raising $75,000 to pay smugglers for his passage.