I really enjoyed reading The Arrival, because it put into pictures what immigration can be like in a country. One aspect of this piece that I connected with was the main character’s entrance into the state. The “exams” that the immigrant went through and the line he had to stand in was very reminiscent of Ellis island to me. On Ellis island they had to complete similar “medical exams” in order to be deemed “fit” to enter a country.
Another part of the book that I liked was when the main character met a woman on a transportation ship. Although no words were spoken, I was able to follow her entrance into this country as a refugee. Getting stuck in a labor camp, but being able to flee for refugee status is something that many immigrants yearn to do. Obtaining refugee status can be a difficult process, particularly for immigrants that are already in a country illegally. I like how this book showed the different kinds of immigrants that there are. Through the main character we are able to understand that even though all these immigrants had different stories, they are able to connect in similar ways over the hardships of entering a new society. Immigrants share a common bond, because they understand the struggle of entering and adapting to a new community.
This book is unique because it tells the story of immigration in a way that most people can understand. Even within the novel, the main character initially communicates through pictures. Pictures are universal and through pictures, people from around the world can share stories and feel empathy for one another.
As I read a bit about Yu Guan Soon, I was shocked to find out that she would die so young, she would die at age 17. Before I read the passage about her, I was taken aback by the grainy picture next to the Soon’s name. I wondered, is this her? I wondered if I was staring at the revolutionary who I was about to read about; however, I couldn’t tell if that woman in the picture was her and I thought maybe that was the point. Maybe the point was to prove that this isn’t just Soon’s story, but it is the story of many young revolutionaries who fought against Japan and lost their lives. Maybe this picture wasn’t meant to give a face to the girl, but rather it was meant to give a face to the revolution.
As I read the passage about the struggles in Soon’s life, I was particularly struck by one line on page 32, “To other nations who are not witnesses, who are not subject to the same oppressions, they cannot know.” This line reminded me a lot about immigration and the obstacles that come along with it. This line relates to the idea that only the nations involved with internal conflict/war will understand the oppressions that are occurring. Only the Koreans and the Japanese understand the oppression occurring, all other citizens are outsiders and cannot understand.
In Soon’s story, Japan conquests Korea and although Soon is not an immigrant, she becomes marginalized as such. Her country is overtaken by Japan and now she is seen as foreign. This is similar to what we have read in GWG and even our own history in the USA with manifest destiny. In all these instances, a person’s land was conquered and changed before them. Their language was taken away and their way of living erased. They have to ascribe to the dominant culture. This experience mirrors that to an immigrant. These are not immigration stories, they are stories about marginalization, colonization, and betrayal; however, in many ways these people have been forced to live a life like an immigrant. They have become foreign and must assimilate to a land that was once theirs.
As I was reading George Washington Gomez this week one main thought kept popping into my head. I kept thinking about Gumersindo’s obsession for Gualinto to be free of hatred against white people, gringos, rinches. Gumersindo’s wish for his son seems to be unattainable due to Gualintos inevitable socialization. Throughout the book we learn that Gumersindo’s wish will never be true and on page 105 Gualinto specifically states how white people cannot be good.
Another section of the novel where we can see Gualinto’s response to living in a county ruled by white people is when Gualinto is hiding from the police after Filomeno’s murder. As the police officers arrived, Gualinto was too afraid to show himself. He was too afraid to present himself to these white men. He expected them to torture him for information or arrest him. Gualinto’s thoughts were striking to me, because the idea of police brutality and fear of law still rings true in present day America. In this scene, the police do not go after the perpetrators of the murder. They do not do much, because the man who died was not white. The book never elaborates on if the killers were caught, but this inability for marginalized people to receive justice continues to this day.
Many times throughout the story we see Gualinto’s fear of white men. Feliciano attempts to follow Gumersindo’s wish of raising Gualinto free of hatred; however, he fails. He fails because Gualinto is growing up in a society where Mexicans are constantly oppressed. Gualinto can’t grow up free of hatred, because he doesn’t know what that looks like or feels like. This feeling of otherness due to culture and race is all Gualinto knows.
What is an immigrant novel? As I read And China Has Hands I was constantly struck by the idea that I was reading two immigrant novels that were reflected through a great deal of irony. One story was Wong Wan-Lee’s and the other story was Pearl Chang’s, yet both immigrant stories were very different. Wong Wan-Lee’s immigrant story was one of someone who had just arrived to the United States. He came with the hopes of striking rich; however, his inability to assimilate to American culture and his overall marginalization as a Chinese man ultimately led to his demise. As I read And China Has Hands I felt as though some information about Wan-Lee’s experience was getting lost in translation. With further reflection, I thought this may be the point. Throughout the book Wan-Lee never gets a full understanding of the situations he is faced with. These situations range from personal (his relationship with Pearl-Chang) to business (his relationships with the loan sharks and possible mafia related men.) Wan-Lee took on the form of a traditional immigrant novel, talking about the strife and struggle he faced.
Although Pearl Chang is an American citizen, seeing that she was born in the South, I still read her story as though it were an immigrant novel. Even though she was biracial she felt a closer connection with her Chinese heritage due to her ability to speak the language. In fact, Pearl Chang tried to appear Chinese rather than Black to her community. This may be due to a variety of reasons, but one of them may have to do with the assimilation of Chinese people into white culture (as narrated by the novel.) Pearl Chang’s story was ironic because she was obsessed with fame and in the end of the novel the spotlight is on her, as Wan-Lee says in his final words. I find it ironic that movies are at the root of Pearl Chang’s story. The only things she knew about China and Chinese culture was through the cinema and she assumed these things to be true. Throughout the novel she makes references to the movies and she is shocked when Wan-Lee explains to her that her knowledge is not how Chinese life works. I still consider Pearl Chang’s story to be an immigrant narrative even though she is a US citizen, because she still suffers from the plight that immigrants faced at that.
As I read My Ántonia, one reoccurring theme I noticed was how vulnerable the Shimerdas became once they arrived to Black Hawk, Nebraska. Due to the Shimerda’s lack of support system in the United States, they were taken advantage of by the only townsperson who shared their common language, Peter Kraijek. Jim highlights that the Shimerda’s reliance on Kraijek became problematic. Even though Kraijek cheated the Shimerda’s out of a lot of money, they had to keep him around in order to survive in Nebraska. Without Kraijek’s help during the Shimerdas’ first few months, the Shimerdas would have had no land, no home, and no way to communicate with the village. Even though the Shimerdas were vulnerable, Jim demonstrated the family’s intelligence and perseverance. They desperately wanted to grow prosperous in the United States. Although this is a novel, vulnerability and lack of support is something that real immigrants still face in present day.
We eventually learn through Ántonia’s account that the Shimerdas came to America after Mrs. Shimerda begged her husband. The land was supposed to make her family rich and her daughters were meant to have many prospects for marriage(98.) However when the Shimerdas arrived in Nebraska they realized that the American Dream was more of an American Nightmare. This “nightmare” is what led to Mr. Shimerda’s depression and presumably his suicide. Even after Mr. Shimerda’s death, the family wore on. Through the creation of a new house and the tireless days ploughing the fields, I found that Mrs. Shimerda still believed in the American Dream.
The idea of the American Dream aligns with what we have been discussing in class these first few weeks. Through discussion and our readings (specifically Boysen) we explored the idea of immigrants coming to this land with the knowledge that they would fail, but with the hope that they would create a better future for their children. I believe that this can be one version of the American Dream. You start from nothing to eventually become rich with knowledge and resources. You start vulnerable and become powerful. Parents (such as Mrs. Shimerda and the late Mr. Shimerda) make sacrifices to eventually better the lives of their own children.