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Asianstudies: Cultural and Identity issues among Chinese immigrants

The themes of identify and culture are well represented in severalpoems by Chinese poets. The issues of identity and culture conflictmay not be unique to Chinese immigrants but all immigrants wheretheir ancestral culture differs largely with the culture of theforeign country. Three poems “otherness” by Diana Chang,Strawberries” by Eric Chock and “Aerogrammes” by Russell Leongall demonstrate that Chinese immigrants face conflict in culture andidentity matters.

In “Otherness”,Diana Chang addresses culture and identity conflict facing Chineseimmigrants in an interesting way. As a Chinese-American, Chang writesfrom a personal point of view in regards to the identity crisisfacing immigrants in the US and other countries. She understands wellthat immigrants feel like strangers in both in foreign countries andtheir home countries. In America, the immigrants are strangers andthe natives are eager to highlight the differences with otherAmericans. While these immigrants maybe assimilated into Americanculture, they are expected to choose a side, either their ancestralculture or the foreign culture.

Chang contends thatshe is just different and does not need to choose side but ratheracknowledge that there is a difference between her as an immigrantand others born in America. This is well captured by the first linesof her poem that read

Are you Chinese

Are you American?

Am fascinated

By simply being“fascinated” she indicates that she is just different and doesnot wish to take an ethnic or national identity. However, while shemay understand her “otherness” in the context of the Americanculture, others may misinterpret and misunderstand her identity andculture.

The theme of identity features strongly in Eric Chock’s“Strawberries” by Eric Chock but rather in a contradictory mannerto that of Chang. While Chang feels that identity has much to do withnationality or ethnicity, Chock perceives identity as more to do withsocial class or status in the poem “Strawberries.” Chock seeks todistance himself from any form of identity categorization based onsocial class or lifestyle. Chock does not ascribe to the identitycategorization based on ethnic background. He cites the case ofstrawberries that go a lot before they become available to finalconsumers. However, consumers need not necessarily perceive or judgethe quality of strawberries based on their origins but rather theirquality as strawberries alone. As such, Chinese immigrants should beunderstood by others as just human beings. It is thus clear that theauthor uses the case of strawberries metaphorically to argue for thecase of Chinese immigrants or Chinese Americans in general.

Again, in Russell Leong’s “Aerogrammes”, the issue of identityis clearly highlighted. Leong writes about his experiences with hisdistant Chinese relatives. He indicates that while immigrants in theUS are treated and expected to assume Chinese identity and culture,people back in China perceive them as foreign and American. In thispoem the author identifies more with the American culture representedby Marlboros and a city life in LA. However, American may perceivehim in Chinese. Through the aerogrammes, it is clear the relativesback in China believe the author is an American culturally. Theyadvise him against Americanizing the locals through Marlboros and isencouraged to marry a Chinese village girl whom he has barely knowsto make him more Chinese. Thus, it is clear that Chinese immigrantsface identity crisis.

The three poets have clearly demonstrated through their work that thecultural and identity conflict are recurring issues among Chineseimmigrants. They are expected to display competing cultures andidentity to fit into different consists. Westerners may expectChinese Americans to assume Chinese identity and culture yet they mayhave very little knowledge on Chinese culture or way of life. Thus,the three poets cover the themes of identity and culture in theirworks as issues Chinese immigrants in the 1970s faced and modernimmigrants continue to face.