Representation of Self and Communication in The Arrival

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.

Themes and Motifs Present in El Colorado’s Speech

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.

 

Gringo Territory

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.

A Question of Authenticity

In reading the first half of Tsiang and China Has Hands, I was struck by the negative tone and language used to describe the people and lifestyle in America. Americans are often referred to as ‘foreign devils’, savage-like creatures with no understanding of or appreciation for authentic Chinese culture. The narrator, whose identity is unclear, portrays the American as manipulative, with their only intention to take advantage of inferior immigrants. For example, the narrator describes Wong Wan-Lee’s dream of returning to his original place of work if he ever becomes successful and bossing around the people who had once been his demanding superiors. This situation is described as the perfect revenge, which shows his disgruntled and bitter attitude toward the structure of social hierarchy in America.

Furthermore, throughout the novel, there is a recurring theme of authenticity of culture. In many scenes, readers sense a struggle between Wong Wan-Lee’s desire to maintain authentic Chinese culture and the reality of ‘Americanized’ Chinese traditions. In a discussion about food, Wong Wan-Lee claims, “We Chinese eat not Chop Suey. We Chinese eat no Chow Mein. We eat genuine Chinese food” (100). On the Chinese New Year, after Wong Wan-Lee leaves the club intended to be a haven for the ‘real Chinese’ from the swarms of Americans crowded in Chinatown to witness a cultural experience, Wong Wan-Lee comments on the swarms of tourists crowded around a building advertised as a Chinese Temple, but was really a Metropolitan Museum of Oriental Art in Chinatown. Throughout the novel, there is also a tension between American born Chinese people and Chinese immigrants. An interesting question that this novel provokes is: how can foreign cultures be vibrant in America but not be somewhat influenced or changed by American society? Isn’t it inherent that traditions will be ‘Americanized’ if practiced in America?

My Ántonia

I’m really enjoying this narrative so far. There are a few scenes within the story that have caught my attention. The first time I notice Jim acting hostile towards the Shimerda family is when Mrs. Shimerda pleads with his grandmother to gift her a kitchen pot. “I thought it weak-minded of grandmother to give the pot to her.. She was a conceited, boastful old thing, and even misfortune could not humble her. I was so annoyed that I felt coldly even toward Ántonia and listened unsympathetically when she told me her father was not well” (Cather, 98). Ántonia expresses her concern for her father and Jim goes on to say, “People who don’t like this country ought to stay at home. We don’t make them come here” (98). This is the first time I notice Jim acting aggressive and annoyed towards his dear friend. Despite wanting to believe that Jim, his grandparents (The Burdens), Jake Marpole, and Otto Fuchs are utterly saintlike people for their hospitality and care towards the Shimerdas (from the very beginning), you are reminded that they still regard them as immigrants and don’t fully accept them in their society. “They ain’t the same Jimmy, These foreigners ain’t the same. You can’t trust ’em to be fair” (120).  Often regarded as ‘the foreigners’ or ‘the Bohemians’, the Shimerdas are looked down upon as insignificant beings. It isn’t until later on in the story once Jim has grown up a bit that he explains his thoughts on the attitudes of his fellow townspeople. Although foreigners could have been very well respected in their home country, he concludes that the townspeople saw no difference, being that “All foreigners were ignorant people who couldn’t speak English” (158).  (On a side note, even a drunk tramp who jumped into a thrashing machine said, “My God! So it’s Norwegian’s now, is it? I thought this was Americy” (145). I’m not sure what to think about ‘americy’ and what it means? Randomly on pg. 170, Jim says, “Her warm, sweet face, her kind arms, and the true heart in her; she was, oh, she was still my Ántonia!” I believe this is the first time I see ‘my Antonia’ written out not just in the title. Another interesting passage, different from the ones above, is where Jim describes his neighbor Mr. Harling and the apparent power he holds over his family and wife. “Mr.Harling had a desk in his bedroom… in which no one else ever sat… Mrs. Harling paid no heed to any one else if he was there… his wife made coffee for him at any hour of the night he happened to want it”. Jim further says, “Mr. Harling, therefore, seemed to me autocratic and imperial in his ways. He walked, talked, put on his gloves, shook hands, like a man who felt he has power” (134). I know this passage holds significance and I look forward to discussing it in class.