I was very eager to read (examine? look at?) this text, and it was just as thought provoking as I anticipated. Two aspects of the book that I found very interesting was how the main character was presented, and the modes of communication present in the text. I thought that the overall style of the book was very fascinating. While it’s presented in the form of a wordless graphic novel, it definitely does not take on many of the tropes of that form and uses an artistic style that’s somewhat elevated for this medium. Typically, graphic novels use a very cartoony style, and often when the subject matter of that book is more serious, that cartoony-ness is more amplified (like Persepolis, or Palestine, or Maus). However, Tan uses a very realistic style that’s even more detailed—and at times even photo-realistic—when depicting actual people. Typically, these political/historical/memoir-type graphic novels will use a less detailed, cartoony style so that the reader is put into the place of that character. This is, in part, because humans have a natural tendency to personally connect with abstracted representation of humans (to an extent). I think Tan’s purpose in drawing these characters—and specifically the main character—more realistically is in part to respect the story of the protagonist. Thus, it’s almost a more ethical approach to portray the characters as they were so that their personal journey is recognized and told. Additionally, in taking a consistently realistic approach to drawing these characters, Tan is able to make the additional characters more diverse and thus respect the multiplicity of immigrant narratives.
Additionally, I found that the modes of communication in the book were truly fascinating. Leaving this as a wordless graphic novel was such a great approach since so much of new immigration really is an art of communicating without words. Thus, the reader is immersed into the immigrant experience (again, without having to be immersed in the immigrant experience via cartoonish characters). Furthermore, there is also a presumed method of interpreting the panels that is not necessarily implicit in the text. I might be cheating just a little bit because we actually talked about a spread from this particular book in one of my other classes, but there are many instances where the reader doesn’t necessarily have to read the text from left to right—how we read English. Thus, the fluidity of the panels can perhaps connect with the fluidity of communication—and how this fluidity may not always be construction in effectively…well…communicating. When there are no word to set up the parameters of a situation, like in graphic novel without words or in a new immigrant experience, this sort of nebulousness of other modes of communication can often result in miscommunication.
When I first started reading Dictee, I was immediately taken aback by the complicated and largely fragmented form the novel took place. It did not seem like any other novel I was familiar with, and thus I had an initial struggle interpreting not only the plot and meaning of the novel, but the overall point of the novel as well. As I continued to read the poem, I decided to stop reading the poem as a traditional novel (which even flipping through the novel, it becomes immediately apparent that this is not the case), and started to read the book as a sort of long-form prose-poem. In reading the book in such a way, I was able to decipher a lot more meaning form the book itself. Prose-poetry in essence is fragmented, disjointed, and at times quite unclear—all things that could be said about many immigrant experiences, and certainly could be said about the immigrant experience Cha presents.
In presenting the book as sort of a fragmented prose-poem, the book also highlights the fragmentation of language that is inherent in translation. This concept is most developed in the moments when Cha includes poems that are written in both English and French. However, the English version will often add lines that were not in the original French (or at least presumed original in that the French is often presented before the English) that will slightly alter the meaning of the poem. Thus, Cha emphasizes that meaning is often lost in translation just because of the nature of translating from one language to another. When one loses the ability to talk in their native tongue, they also often lose the ability to convey an intended meaning—especially when a language is new to that speaker. Thus, these moments of fragmentation—both in the presentation of Cha’s language and in fragmentation of meaning in mistranslated poems—Cha is, in a way, able to simulate the immigrant experience of language and meaning.
When reflecting back on the themes of the George Washington Gomez, one moment in particular stood out to me because it addressed so many aspects of the novel at once—El Colorado’s speech to Gualinto (250-252) after the knife fight in which he insists that Gualinto goes to college. In this single speech, Paredes addresses the role of masculinity in Mexi-Texan culture, the realities of immigrant (or at least borderland) life, the American Dream and its potential fallacy, and draws in connections to the previsioning of Gualinto’s life.
I think one of the most immediately apparent aspects of this passage is its sort of frank and dismal portrayal of El Colorado’s life—which could then potentially be used as an example of what life is like for immigrants in his situation. In this speech, he discusses very real and visceral moments of his life. For example, he mentions times when he needed to support his mother and sister, his family’s frequent hunger and their lack of access to food, and when he needed to learn how to delouse himself in order to go to school. Once these harsh conditions are established, Colorado goes on to talk about how he kept working and going to school despite the challenges present in his personal life. I found this moment in his speech particularly interesting because it seems to follow the quintessential narrative of the “American Dream”. Here, Colorado must go to school and try as hard as he can to succeed, and although he hasn’t yet achieved great success, he’s on the path of achieving that dream. The presence of the American Dream narrative becomes strikingly clear when he outlines his future plans to Gualinto—”I’m gonna get my high school by studying nights. And then I’ll go to the Jonesville business college and become a real accountant, not just an assistant bookkeeper.” Thus, as Colorado expresses this deep desire to fulfill the American Dream, Paredes establishes a quintessential narrative that follows our society’s notions of what is possible for people.
What I then thought was kind of odd about this speech is the fact that it begins with Colorado telling Gualinto to go to school because Gualinto is the one who will be successful and help the town. This point stood out to me at first because it’s a reiteration of the theme that Gualinto will grow up to be an important person who will help his people—but this time it is coming from someone outside of his family. However, the more I thought about this ending, the more I pondered Colorado’s understandings of his own personal goals. To me, it seems that if he has these grand ideas of becoming an important and successful person, wouldn’t he want to be the person to lead the people and help the town? He even states that Gualinto needs to be their “point person.” Perhaps there is a connection between Gualinto’s access to resources vs. Colorado’s lack of access to resources. Perhaps there’s no connection and he just isn’t interested in leading the town. But I couldn’t help but make a connection between Colorado’s establishment of his dream and his vision of the future leadership of the town.