Acceptance: Chinese & American Born Perspectives in Poetry

Kelvin Yee 10/21/12 Skyline College English 110 Paper #2 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. or 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.

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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 persona her family would like her to portray. In contrast the struggle in Mar’s poem is about the inner workings of the intricate interactions between society and the immigrant population in America. These issues are deeply philosophical as there are many cultural dimensions rooted within them. These two distinguished poets have gone to great lengths to not only alert us to mounting issues in our society but they give us a map to navigate these turbulent waters as well.

The struggles presented in the poems are not merely that of being an outsider because they have a fervent underlying clash of cultures that exists within them. Take Tsui’s poem for example, she asserts that you should allow your individuality to shine through but at the same time be respectful of the differing societal views. The first evidence of this notion is established early on in her poem where the reader discovers the narrator’s individuality flourishing in the form of fashion because the reader is specifically informed that the narrator is dressed differently from the rest of the female attendees of the family function.

The narrator could have easily chosen to cause a raucous or simply refuse to attend the family function because her partner was not welcome at the event. Instead of pursuing either of these two scenarios she attends and “[sucks] on shrimp and squab” (Tsui 613) minding her own business while daydreaming of acceptance. This decision is very significant because the narrator demonstrates that she is still able to be respectful of the traditions of her family and culture while still allowing her individuality to thrive as much as possible given the circumstances.

Through all of this she is still very conscious of not only her perceived image but her family’s image as well. In contrast Mar’s poem proclaims that you should not go against tradition in the slightest bit, but instead encourages people to follow tradition with one key factor to keep in mind; do not overwork yourself until you lose sight of why you are working so hard in the first place. Chinese society places great value in a strong work ethic but the mother keeps working without questioning authority, also something Chinese society teaches, which can be viewed as either a positive or negative Chinese trait to have.

The mother ends up being overworked with a seemingly low prospect of climbing to a higher socioeconomic class without even realizing the disparity in the working conditions compared to the typical working conditions of native born Americans. Mar points out that many immigrants get taken advantage of because they are unfamiliar with what is proper and what is downright unscrupulous in hopes of Chinese immigrants realizing that virtues that are prized in Chinese culture may become a point of exploitation in cultures with dissimilar values.

Not only have these renowned poets given us instruments to aid us as we traverse challenging obstacles in multicultural lives, but they have done it in such manner that a reader of the poem can’t help but marvel at how they have used certain literary tools to reiterate their point without creating a feeling of alienation. Throughout both poems, both poets have given us subtle clues that are not immediately apparent but after careful reflection provide the reader with a revelation about the society that we live in.

Tsui’s use of repetition is meant to have the reader believe that the family function is fairly casual despite initial evidence to the contrary. Very early on the speaker in the poem uses an oxymoron stating that “it was not a very formal affair but all the women over twelve wore long gowns and a corsage, except for me. ” (Tsui 612) Clearly the event itself was a formal affair; otherwise the women over twelve would not have been in long gowns with a corsage. They could have simply been in a casual dress or pants for that matter. It was not a very formal affair” is repeated several times during the course of the poem in an attempt to create a feeling of casualness. This casualness is a key concept that is further developed by the lack of punctuation in the entirety of the poem. Making the poem have a casual atmosphere is yet another way to show respect while still inserting individuality because she is able to soothe a stressful topic. For traditional Chinese families having a gay child is a very serious matter.

In general Chinese society value sons more than daughters because the sons will continue the family name and it is assumed that sons will care for the parents in their old age. Since multiple cultures are working against Tsui it is only natural that she would endeavor to frame the issue in a softened manner. She points this out as not only a remedy for coming out but also as a guide to manage any tense situation in which there is are significant disadvantages. Mar utilizes a literary device known as enjambment to aid in emphasizing the irony in her poem.

By having her thoughts flow in a continuous manner the reader does not have an opportunity to immediately pick up on the irony since there is no break between her thoughts. This writing style allows suspense of the poet’s point to build up, creating an epiphany upon reflection of the poem at the end. This style of writing allows the author to blend thoughts together that individually would not be very substantial but when combined, form a very profound and thought provoking literary work.

Had Mar chosen to use an alternate style of writing she would have likely had to delve much deeper in her selection of words in order to convey her point with such an impact. Most rational people regardless of their cultural background would choose to portray their mother in a positive light. The narrator of Mar’s poem describes her mother as having hair as “coarse and wiry, [and] black as burnt scrub. ” (Mar 532) No one would intentionally depict their mother in such a horrible fashion unless there was something amiss however; the little details like this are not immediately processed with the enjambment.

Further analysis reveals additional evidence to suggest something is irrational. All the Chinese dialects are tonal languages like most Asian languages. Due to the pronouncing of certain tones in many Chinese dialects, many Westerners have viewed some of the dialects as being harsh and abrasive when in fact from the perspective of a native speaker, the dialogue is nothing more than a normal conversation. Mar specifically choses to have the narrator, a native speaker, describe Toisan Wah, a Chinese dialect, as being harsh.

Obviously this suggests that there is some dissatisfaction of the current situation just as the fact that the mother has immigrated to America for twenty four years, but the speaker in the poem specifically points out that English is the mother’s second language suggests additional discontent. After twenty four years it shouldn’t be necessary to explicitly communicate this detail despite being a fact. On the surface of these two poems a reader can get wealth of information to guide through balancing multiple diverging identities but it is perhaps after careful analysis that you can appreciate the true implications of the poems.

Both Tsui and Mar are activists but being that they come from a Chinese cultural background, though slightly differing views, they know how to express their opinions without being overbearing. Chinese culture is a high-context society meaning that there is a lot of emphasis put on the meanings of not what is said but rather what is implied whether it is in the form of writing style or nonverbal cues during physical interactions. A considerable wealth of knowledge can be lost without delving deeper to read in between the lines of our intricately elaborate network of intertwined cultures.

With globalization and acculturation happening at an increasingly unwavering rate, these two poets have prompted us to take heed not to lose sight of our culture, the very essence of our identities, in a robust but diplomatic approach to gain acceptance. Works Cited Mar, Laureen. “My Mother; Who Came from China, Where She Never Saw Snow. ” Barnet, Sylvan, William Burto and William E. Cain. A Little Literature. New York: Longman, 2007. 532-533. Poem. Tsui, Kitty. “A Chinese Banquet. ” Barnet, Sylvan, William Burto and William E. Cain. A Little Literature. New York: Longman, 2007. 612-614. Poem.

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