I think that pets in the narratives of immigration are extremely meaningful because they allow the immigrant character to think about his/her human condition. Being outside the hegemonic culture is also being outside what’s been defined as “normal”. I consider that pets and non-human beings are a strategy for representing the immigrant as an in-between condition that does not feet completely into the human category. Consequently, pets in immigrant narratives allow the reader to place the question about what’s missing in the immigrant performance in order to be perceived as a human being by the hegemonic culture. For example, dogs in The good Ana don’t have a proper house, they are always moving to provisional places, as the protagonist does. For this text, being a human is a synonym of having a home, a private place where you can live, love and die according to your own ethical system. Another example is the cat in And China has hands. The protagonist makes a comparison between his cat and Pear Chang trying to know who is more intelligent. For this text, being human is fitting into a notion of what’s “pure” in Chinese culture.
In The arrival, there is a defense of a speechless empathy that is linked with the idea of a pet. The protagonist meets immigrants that narrate their story even though they don’t share the same language. Affection and empathy transcended the boundaries of language. I think this is a way of arguing that, even though a speechless being is “less human” than somebody who is able to speak a language, it does not interfere with the capacity of recognizing and empathizing with the immigrant-other.
I think that this idea is extremely meaningful in a book that also represents displacement as a consequence of human extermination. The giants with big vacuums, the corps in the soldier’s history, even the act of separating “damaged” pieces at the factory, are showing that a fixed notion of what’s human can be used to eliminate anyone that does not feet the category. This is the logic that supports national discourses based on racial differences that lead to genocides. If this is not a man (paraphrasing Primo Levi’s writings about the Holocaust) then it doesn’t belong to public space and civic rights. The arrival introduces non-human figures and proposes the immigrant as an in-between stage in order to negotiate the limits of what’s human and what’s not. The practice of empathy goes beyond the limits of the human because of the representation of the pets and beyond the limits language. In this sense, this book can be read as a defense of the immigrant’s role in a new society.