Without Joe, Loi would have never made it as far as she did. Joe is a Vietnamese boy trying to imitate Caucasian physical characteristics so that he may be accepted by the Amerasian Homecoming Program and finally get a chance to go to America to live his dream; of being in America, and living the American life. Joe is approximately 12 years old (p. 154), he lived in Saigon in a park called Amerasian Park, where many Amerasians, and desperate citizens looking for a chance to go to America stayed.
Since Joe has been living there almost all his life attempting to qualify for the Amerasian Homecoming Program, he has learnt to fend for himself, it is because of this fact that he is an important character in the story. Without Joe, Loi would have had been in much turmoil trying to understand the procedure set in place for the Amerasian Homecoming Program.
Loi would have had absolutely no sense of direction in a big city such as Saigon, but because of Joe, she visited many places. Perhaps the most important reason for Joe’s being in the story, is that if it were not for Joe, Loi, would have had no idea of a way for her to survive in the city, all she knew from the country was how to farm for rice, but because of Joe, she was able to survive the coming weeks she spent in Saigon.
After Joe’s encounter with a police officer, he and Loi established a (false) family relationship, seeing as how he could use her to get to America because of the fact that she was Amerasian, he decided to help her reach the Foreign Office and enter the Ameriasian Homecoming Program. Joe has a vast knowledge of the Amerasian Homecoming Program due to many (failed) attempts to qualify for the program. He escorted Loi to the Foreign Office, and guided her through most of the registration process.
He had even got his (supposed) friend Bob (also an Amerasian) to fill out the complicated forms for the Amerasian Homecoming Program. This is only one reason that made Joe an important character to the story, if he had not been around to get Loi to the Foreign Office, and get her help with filling out the forms, she might have given up on her goal, head back to her village, and forget about finding more information about her American father.
After Joe had taken Loi to the Foreign Office, Loi needed a place to stay, a place where she would not have had to face much discrimination, and where she would have had a sense of security. Joe did introduce her to such a place, called Amerasian Park, which was basically a park not too far from the Foreign Office, where many people (Amerasians included) who looked for an opportunity to go to America stayed. He also warned her about places dangerous to go, such as White Tiger Street.
White Tiger Street, as he described, was a place where only the most desperate people went, and going at night would be considered suicide, it was a street for where prostitutes worked, and where individuals looking for drugs for an abusive use went (opium, and other illicit drugs), if it were not for Joe, and if the circumstances were to an extreme, Loi might have ended up here (and she did, p. 209-213). Now without Joe, what would have Loi, an ordinary country girl, done in a big lively city such as Saigon, to survive?
She only knew how to farm for rice, and had absolutely no idea of a way to make a living to survive in a concrete jungle such as Saigon. This is where Joe played a necessary role in the story, he was the one who got money and food. He showed Loi how to scam others by selling half packs of cigarettes, he stole rice from a truck. He was even able to take Loi to the dreaded White Tiger Street, and scam an older man of his money without losing Loi.
Although the book does not describe every time that Joe has gone out to get money and food, it would only make sense that Loi depended on him for almost every day she spent in Saigon for him to help her get money and food. In conclusion, Joe was what you would describe as a lifeline for Loi, the key for her survival in Saigon. He, being a true street child, helped and taught Loi about the streets of Saigon, how to survive by scamming people for money, and robbing unsuspecting people of enough food to make it through a day.
He also showed her that even though life might have been hard back in the country, she did not have the worst conditions to deal with, and that some people live life situations where if they have food today, they should eat like emperors today, because today might be their last day. All of Joe’s good deeds did not go unpaid. After his adventure in Saigon, and after Loi found out the truth about her father, she gave her chance to go to America, to Joe, since his whole being in Saigon was for a chance to see America, and live the American life, whereas Loi only wanted to find out about her father.