“Immigrant” in your Own Land

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.

Embassytown and Derrida’s Of Hospitality

It is useful to think of language and power as being deeply and complicatedly intertwined in China Mielville’s Embassytown. In the text, language is central to the characters’ identities, as well as the power that comes alongside it. Hosts, while at first appear as the more dominant and/or powerful social class in the text, are also left tremendously vulnerable, as they can only speak “Language” and are highly dependent on the Ambassadors to translate Language into language, so that if need be they can communicate with, and perhaps more importantly control, Terre, or the humans. The Language or language one speaks in the text comes to be a defining factor for the characters both personally and collectively. For example, Avice’s affiliation with being a simile, which is at first almost entirely apathetic or nonexistent, comes to gradually identify with a “simile” or perhaps more widely a “figure of speech” collective. More broadly, as the plot unfolds, we see that the stability of Embassytown as we once knew it breaks down entirely once the Hosts begin to access language and one could argue take it hostage as they appropriate it for lying. Thus, one could argue that the entire social hierarchy and stability of Mielville’s fictional world relies almost exclusively on maintaining this balance of access to language and therefore power.

As I tried to briefly introduce last class, I think it would be a useful exercise to try and map the idea of language and power within the context of Jacques Derrida’s Of Hospitality. Derrida situates the idea of language and foreignness within the paradigm of hospitality. More specifically, he deconstructs the idea of hospitality into the absolute Law of hospitality and the laws of hospitality. To summarize briefly, the Law of hospitality is the absolute ideal form of hospitality, one that makes the Host unconditionally hospitable to the guest. In this ideal state of hospitality there are no laws to which the host/guest relationship is bound. The paradox, however, lies in the fact that in order to achieve the Law of Hospitality one must follow the laws, or rules, of hospitality that inevitably govern it, thus rendering the Law of Hospitality ultimately unattainable.

In order to think of the Law of Hospitality in the context of Embassytown, we would be forced to identify the hosts (with a lowercase h) and the guests in the social hierarchy that defines the space. I would argue, and I hope Derrida would agree, that while at first the Hosts would appear to be the hosts (as the colonizers and characters in the positions of power), it is ironically the Terre who possess the power in language and are hosting the Hosts. Derrida states, “The foreigner who, inept at speaking the language, always risks being without defense before the law of the country that welcomes or expels him…He has to ask for hospitality in a language which by definition is not his own, the one imposed on him by the master of the house, the host…This personage imposes on him translation into their own language, and that’s the first act of violence. That is where the question of hospitality begins: must we ask the foreigner to understand us, to speak our language, in all the senses of this term…?” (Derrida, 13). In the context of Embassytown, we should ask ourselves who is really “imposing language” and therefore inhabiting the role of the host? In the text Scile posits to Avice, “We’ve always known the Hosts need you, right? You and the rest of you” (Pg. 141). It would be interesting to try and work out how this power dynamic plays out against the backdrop of Derrida’s Law/laws of hospitality. Could the Law of hospitality ever be achieved in Embassytown and how? Perhaps the breakdown of Embassytown’s social structure can be attributed to a breach in the laws of hospitality on the part of the Hosts? On the part of the humans? Furthermore, we could think of Embassytown as being a space inhabited by locals and foreigners. How does language define who is a local and who is a foreigner? And how does possessiveness (either necessarily or unnecessarily) over these titles prevent the possibility for absolute Hospitality?

Growing up as Guálinto

While reading Part 1 and 2 of George Washington Gómez, I was captivated by the relationship between Feliciano and his nephew, Guálinto. Feliciano serves as a father-figure, mentor, and teacher for this young child, and it seems as though Guálinto takes many cues from his uncle about how a Texas Mexican man should conduct himself in an Anglo-American dominated environment. There is a clear and tangible debate over the owners of the Texas land, and which community of residents came first. Furthermore, there is a sentiment of inferiority amongst the Texas Mexicans, as if the optimism and golden opportunities promised in the new world do not extend to them. These feelings eventually take a toll on one’s psyche, and readers see instances of violence and emotional breakdown in Guálinto (for example: when he pretends the plants and vegetables outside are the bodies of rinches). Feliciano exclaims, “Just wait till I grow up! Just wait till I’m a man! I’ll get out land back. Shoot them down like dogs. I’ll kill all the Gringos and the rinches too, and drive them away from here” (103). However, Feliciano was charged with the duty of raising Guálinto into a peaceful man and not sharing the truth about his father’s gory death, so the struggle becomes, how does an elder teach the next generation to peacefully advocate for his identity without knowing the truth about his past? If violence is all around and minority inequality is not solved by unarmed protest, isn’t violence the only way to survive? How is that communicated to a child? I’m interested to see how this story develops over the course of the novel.