Acceptance: Chinese & American Born Chinese Perspectives in Poetry
The United States is a place where people can have diverging views on how to describe the diverse nation. The country in fact does not have an official language because of the myriad of distinct ethnicities residing within the country. With all this diversity it is only natural for people to struggle with which cultural norm to follow. Of the many immigrants that have journeyed to the U.S. for a better life, Chinese immigrants perhaps have been discriminated against the most because at one point they were considered an alien incapable of assimilating which lead to laws preventing their immigration and naturalization during our nation’s not too distant history. From a Chinese perspective, appearance is everything and by default that means acceptance as well. Chinese immigrants often will develop opposing personas since the United States is predominantly an individualistic society whereas Chinese society is predominantly a collectivist culture. This imbalance in values has caused some Asian-Americans to become baffled over how to discover their true identity. While achieving acceptance while balancing multiple identities is not an easy feat to accomplish, authors Kitty Tsui and Laureen Mar have used poetry in similar and dissimilar ways to support people who are endeavoring to navigate through diverse and conflicting identities, through their poems: A Chinese Banquet and My Mother; Who Came From China, Where She Never Saw Snow. Both authors are activists that use poetry as well as other literary mediums to reach a broader audience. Tsui was born in Hong Kong and she is a lesbian with a loving partner so she is very familiar with longing for acceptance since she is a minority within a minority. Mar is of Chinese descent born in the United States at a time when discrimination against Chinese and Asians in general was still vastly prevalent throughout the nation. The two authors use their intellect to enlighten as many people as they are able to reach with their literary works. The protagonist in Tsui’s poem is arguably modeled after her where she is striving to be accepted for being gay by her family. The protagonist attempts to come out to her mother “but she will not listen, she shakes her head.” (Tsui 613) This avoidance can become very problematic due to the conflicting societal teachings and will only perpetuate the alienation. When there is disapproval in Chinese families often a distance will start to build as children and parents start alienating one another. This largely stems from Chinese children being taught not to question authority while Western society is teaching almost the exact opposite. The main character in Mar’s poem is a Chinese immigrant mother that succumbs to a cycle of monotonous despair without even realizing it. The mother appears to be content doing the same job day in and day out for relatively low wages as she has been sewing sleeves onto ski jackets over and over again for twenty four years. She must work to support her family and because “she earns money by each piece, on a good day, thirty dollars” (Mar 533), thirty dollars that could easily be ten if she slows the pace. Being an immigrant with limited knowledge of the English language, she is not left with many options in terms of rising above her socioeconomic class but she cannot afford to slow down to take English lessons. Like many immigrants the mother gets caught in a catch 22 and over time loses sight of the goal of providing a better future for her and her family after all, she could have stayed in China to do this job. Both poems emphasize the struggles that someone goes through while both being and feeling like an outsider which only illustrates how important it is to bring conflicting viewpoints into equilibrium. Tsui’s poem illustrates the narrator grappling with her own persona as well as the...
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