Seventeen year old Huang Fu-Wen has been sent to America to avoid possible arrest in China, bringing with him a secret he must keep to himself or face permanent exile or execution. He takes a train from San Francisco to New Jersey with 51 hostile Chinese men. The Chinese workers do not trust Fu-Wen because he is not from their native province. One of them verbally assaults him. The group’s foreman, Charlie Ming, breaks up the argument and questions Fu-Wen about his English speaking ability. Charlie then advises Fu-Wen to go by the name A-Wen and assures him his English abilities will get him a more responsible position at the steam laundry where they will work. Doubts about the wisdom of his father sending him away fill A-wen’s mind.
Isolated, frustrated, and confused by the situation, A-Wen fights to win the cooperation of an Irish boy he works with and the respect of his countrymen without revealing his secret. He must succeed if his is ever to return home safely.