|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Poem Immigration Languages Multiculturalism Personal experience|
The poem "My Chinese" by Athena Chu is a personal and relatable piece of literature that expounds on the experiences of Chinese Americans, especially the second generation Asians in Western society. The poem evokes or showcases Chu's lost ability to communicate with her mother tongues after years of assimilation or trying to fit in as an American. Therefore, the author showcases the deep connection between literacy and identity or self-formation. The two concepts are intertwined and eclipsed in each other because it is through knowledge and the comprehension of the surrounding that a person forms an identity. Therefore, Chu uses repetition and metaphors to reference the broad aspects of her life as a Chinese woman living in the US. Therefore, literacy promotes the formulation of identity, yet questioning one's perception of self-formation based on upbringing and life's experiences. In other words, literacy helps to question the core aspects of identity or self-formation.
Literacy is essential to analyze the meaning of self-worth and identity. Chu is Chinese yet she has forgotten the Chinese language. After years of living in America and assimilating to the American culture, language, and lifestyle, Chu is not sure if she is Chinese anymore. She has lost fluency in her mother tongue. Language is an integral aspect that speaks out one's culture. The loss of her ability to fluently speak Chinese is alarming because it means that she has forgotten her roots despite being educated and aware of her roots. The metaphor "my Chinese is a ghost lodged in my throat" indicates that Athena Chu is haunted by her ancestry. Ghost spirits are perceived to haunt people and make their lives miserable or living nightmares. Therefore, Chu relates her forgotten origin and especially her deteriorating fluency in Chinese as a central idea of what it means to be a second generation Asian in America. Living in the west implies that Asian Americans adopt the dominant culture and only tiny fragments of their origin remain. Furthermore, by proclaiming that her Chinese is "A dried up flower I tore from the ground long ago, rootless," Chu means that being of Chinese culture does not matter in a land where certain ethnicities are considered minority. Therefore, Chu has lost her cultural practices which are no longer viewed acceptable in the American landscape.
The Chinese played a central role in the modernization of America during the 1800s, yet their contribution remained unappreciated and unwelcomed in centuries later. Athena Chu is literate and understands the role of Chinese immigrants in American history. Her experience as a Chinese woman in the US reminds her of the painful past of Chinese immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigration into the US. Furthermore, Chu remembers the Yellow Peril hysteria nurtured by racist white supremacy in which Asians were discriminated, tortured and viewed as inferior races. Despite assimilating and following the American way of life, Chu is troubled by the past and must live as though it never happened. As a result, she states "...my Chinese doesn't think it belongs here sometimes" to illustrate the anger she feels when she lives the American lifestyle, yet viewed as a second-class citizen. With this regard, the poet tries to create the terrifying experiences of Asian Americans who have to deal with all types of stereotypes and racist remarks. However, the central theme in the poem reflects the Chinese experiences of the racist and indiscriminate being referred to as chink. Chink is the racially profiling of Asians as Chinese people or Asians who look like the Chinese. Therefore, when the poet claims "Chink as in the weakness in armor" she deeply reflects the disconnect of being Chinese in the larger American society due to racism and discrimination.
Being literate entails knowing the right from wrong, and justice from injustice. Most of the times the minority group face injustices and when reported, nothing is done to address the wrongdoing. In the poem, Chu contemplates how her "Chinese settles for less than what it deserves sometimes." For instance, perhaps the Chinese do not like being referred to as Chink, but they settle for it nevertheless due to social circumstances. In the same sense, Chu is literate to understand the Chinese negative experiences in the US but she cannot find the strength or courage to stand up for her fellow Chinese people. "My Chinese is reaching for words, but only finding air." Literary, in a family reunion, Chu understands the Chinese language but she cannot respond to it because she has lost fluency and forgotten most of it. However, in a deeper sense, it means that she cannot be at a position to stand for her people for the fear of repulsion from the greater American culture. That is why the author does not know whether she is white enough to be fully accepted as an American. She has gone through the American system of education, adopted the American lifestyle and yet people see her as a Chinese American rather than just American. These are the issues that show the deep connection between literacy and self-formation. Since the world has rejected to accept her the way she is, her Chinese decomposes in a tombstone. Its only by digging the tomb can all the Chinese experiences be revealed and showcased.
In conclusion, the poem "My Chinese" spreads a strong message of what it means to be perceived as a minority in the country of birth. Second-generation Chinese experience personal and social struggle as they contend with the dominant American culture. They are still viewed as second-class citizens even after shedding their Chinese heritage and the loss of their cultural lingual. Such is the reality the author sheds to light in her poem revealing the intertwined connection between education and self-formation. The poet reveals personal struggles that question her identity despite living the American way of life and yet she has not been accepted the way she wants.
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