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ThemeAnalysis: Asian-American Poets

Asian-American poets of the 1970s and especially of Chinese originwere visibly concerned about some common issues as indicated by theirliterary work. Most of them wrote poems to share their personalexperiences as immigrants. Modern Asian immigrants in the west andfrom others parts of the world can relate to these issues. Inparticular, the works of Diana Chang, Laureen Mar and Alan Chong Laucapture the theme of cultural linkage and heritage as discussedbelow.

Laureen Mar’s Chinatown addresses the assumptions onheritage and cultural link that immigrants of different generationsface in foreign countries. The writer writes the poem from herChinese perspective and narrates an everyday encounter in a narrativetone. When she encounters an older Chinese woman on the bus, shefeels a sense of belonging with the elderly woman but chooses to stayway. She identifies with the eating habits of the Chinese people andcan even guess what the elderly woman is carrying roast duck amongother items. The writer also interprets her walk down the aislethrough Chinese eyes though she is not ready to admit to the woman,she writes

Shesways down the aisle

asif she still carried wood buckets

ona bamboo pole through the village,

fromthe well to her house.

When the elderlywoman sits next to her, she wants to tell her that she also speaksChinese and inform her that the bus is an express one, but she doesnot. This clearly shows that the writer wants to belong with fellowChinese immigrants, but she has no idea how. Besides sharing thedifference or immigrant tag, they are different. Their Chineseheritage and cultural link is not enough to bring them together as itis. It is thus clear that though the two women in this poem share aheritage but at the time are different. Their difference in theircurrent locality as immigrants has clearly overwritten theirsimilarity as women with a Chinese heritage.

Diana Chang’s otherness also seeks to explain the‘otherness’ or ‘strangeness’ that immigrants have to endurein foreign lands. Their cultural link to Chinese heritage makes themdifferent in foreign lands. However, they are also different from thenative Chinese as they are already exposed to a different culture. Infact, by living in a new country, they have cut cultural links withtheir homelands and cultures. As such, Diana Chang feels that shecannot conclusively identify as an American or Chinese. To fit in,she changes her identity according to contexts and needs. She writes,

I ama thin edge I sit on

Ibegin to gray-white and black and in between.

Again she adds, “Ishuttle passportless within myself.” By being passportless, theauthor insinuates that she feels lost or is not grounded on anyculture notably the Chinese and the American culture. In short, sheis not sure about her cultural and heritage linkage.

The same issue of heritage link is also addressed by Alan Chong Lauin his poem my ship does not need a helmsman. In his poem, thewriter takes the character of a dying man in China town who longs tobe taken back to his motherland in China. He uses an emotional toneof regret indicating that Chinatown was never his homeland anddismisses an immigrant life metaphorically as without color or simplygray. The poem captures the gap between different generations ofimmigrants and the importance that older immigrants place on theirChinese heritage and cultural link. On the other hand, the youngergenerations are eager to be political activities and change the graylife.

Therefore, the three authors, through their poems discussed above,address cultural and heritage linkage issues as it relates to theirhomeland China and immigrant status in the west. Lau indicates thathe has not moved away from his Chinese cultural and heritage linkagewhile Chang and Mar indicate they are literally lost in taking anyform identity as Americans or Chinese. Thus, the different authorsdiverse views on their heritage cultural linkage in regards to theirChinese roots and as immigrants in America.


Stobaugh, James,Handbook for Literary Analysis Book I: How to Evaluate ProseFiction,

Drama, andPoetry, New York: Harvard, 2013. Print.