World Literature in English, Spring, '98

Students' Final Take-Home Exams
Spring, 1998


 Of all the texts about Indian, Caribbean, African (in "Rain Child") and Chinese diasporas, choose two to talk about their characters' cultural position/identity, and all the factors that cause such identity/position.
Connie Tseng
Johnny Lo
Joy

 
(Connie Tseng:) 
The life of Diaspora can be full of insecurity, especially when the immigrant country has unstable policy towards the immigrant. In Digging up the Mountains, as an Indian Diaspora, Hari strives to root by making friends with government officers. The sense of insecurity fuels him to grab every chance that can comfort his sensible hearts. He wants to be identified as them; he wants to root into the country like the mountain roots into the ground. However, as the society becomes unstable, he becomes the sacrifice of his officer friends and the target of radicals.

Hari has sense of belongings to the island, but they do not identify with him. His security bases on a very fragile surface. When he was a child, his tag of Diaspora is clear and big. He must have been hurt and despised because of it; his bitter response to his parents¡¦ house leaks us the information. His childhood experience tells him that to be identified is the source of his security. Naturally, Hari does everything to grab it. However, he eventually has to go back to his parents¡¦ house to take the revolver that is the only thing for him to keep safe now. Hari is forced to go to America and give up all his property. At last, he strives so hard for nothing.

Unlike Hari, in Canadian Experience we have a Barbados Diaspora who wants to go home inside. People¡¦s staring, joblessness, namelessness and every piece of glasses remind him his unfitness and immigrant identity. ¡§The name of this house in Barbados is Edgehill House. His present residence has no name¡¨ (60). Being unemployed means having no Canadian experience. No matter how long he stays there, with the missing to Barbados and no sense of belongingness he can never fit in the society. Therefore, every time he looks at the mirror, he sees a face that wants to go home, a black face that can never compare with whites. He is too shameful to go home and too tired to stay. Under the condition of being stuck in Toronto, he chooses death to free him self and to go home. He is like the old man in Salaam Bombay, who sees death as his only chance to go back to Africa.

Johnny Lo
"Security" is an example that shows the confusion of Mr. Ramgoolam toward his Identity. The text starts with him living in a Caribbean island with no problem in living. He has everything he needs, although he always feels insecure. The insecurity that he has comes from the island and his mythical Indian Caribbean background. Alike "Canadian Experience", the protagonist of the story do not have confidence and security once he goes to Canada, because it appeared to him much more difficult in finding a job and something that can identify himself with others.

Security is an important issue that involves in both stories. Mr. Ramgoolam sends his two sons to Canada, because he wants to be in a place where he can find security. The problem is that having security is not the same than having identity. In the Caribbean island, although security is hard to find within the big amount of political, social and economical problems, within the Caribbean area, still he is living in a place that has always represent his second identity since childhood. It is ironical though that he goes to Canada just because he read some comments from his son's letter, he wants to live in the house he bough in 

Canada, and he wants to live in a secure country, etc. Once he appears in Canada, he regrets about it, so his players toward Indian gods, the habit of watching Indian programs (he does not know Indy), and the habit of listening to Indian radio program have became the imaginary representation of his identity within the "cold country". Since he is confused with his Caribbean and Indian background, he starts then to find security and identity from his ancestors, by celebrating Hinduism. He regrets that he has come to Canada, because he can not own money to accomplish his own desire as in the island. He becomes more insecure, 
because there is no a real position with him anymore. 

Living in the same "cold country" like Mr. Ramgoolam, the protagonist of "Canadian Experience" experiences the "coldness" from Canada and the insecurity within his lonely heart. Loneliness has 
conquered him over when he does not get to know anybody, but an ugly actress with cold sores all over her body. The hope for him to find a job is the hope for him to find security within his position. Finding a job is difficult for him, because he has to suffer from the perspective of being a Caribbean, a black, a person with limited education, and someone who is out of his country to find more opportunities in Canada. He lies then to a company about his educational background, and when he got accepted for an interview, he does not dare to face it. The poor suit he has on or the identity of him being a dark skin Caribbean might have caused it.

The cause of being scare to go to a job interview and to face his Caribbean identity is the insecurity he carries inside. The protagonist dies at the end, he still could not find security within loneliness. The story is a tragedy, and is one of the few that show no hope within Canadian immigrants. 

The background of the characters within the two stories causes their insecurity toward their position and identity that they should followed. The sense of belongings is important within the two, it shows the reason why they become less happier when they reach or immigrate to another country. They do not feel secure anywhere they go, because they can not see a something where they can hold on for their hope, identity, 
position and security.


Joy
In the story Dancing,¡¨ we can see the difficulty of Sheila in adjusting to the life in Toronto. She has just arrived but she was feeling already this sense of not belonging to this place in spite of the presence of her brother and sister. The sad thing is she could not go home because theres nothing or no one to go back to, as her properties were all sold or thrown away. As she is dancing at the end, we can see that maybe she just integrate herself to the group where other compatriots are and go on living. The reason for the extremely closed or antagonistic behavior of the West Indians against white people in Canada is not given in this story. As migrants and different in race, in reality, we know that there is really discrimination, thats why they group together and are threatened sometimes unreasonably, by the white people. In this story, however, the reaction is extreme since there is no way of accepting the good things in that place where they are living and they outrightly branded all Canadians as racialist or simply bad and that everything from home (Trinidad) is good or better and bigger. We also have discussed of the black people as having the attitude.¡¨ Im not sure if they are planning to go back to their home country. Most of the time, the temporary¡¨ lasts for how many generations. They themselves (except Sheila) say they are West Indians, just like when they are at home, and have tried to preserve their own identity by grouping together and doing what they said they used to do in Trinidad or other Caribbean countries. Both personal, national and cultural identity are all West Indians, even though if they are in Toronto. But I guess they are just forced to react extremely because they are afraid being strangers in this place. Besides, when Syl told Sheila that we are only getting our own, this is an allusion to the times when the white people got what they wanted from the natives or even today, when the economy of Caribbean countries are dominated and partially owned by Canadian corporations. Still I think if they are really all-out Trinidadian, they should try to earn money and then go home and try to build their own economy. I say this although Im aware that this problem of migration is not as simple as that, or defining who is really an all-out¡¨ Trinidadian or whatever, as the case maybe. Sheila, as of this moment in the story, is the one who is really a Trinidadian by heart in the sense that she can see the reality of Trinidad against the imagination of those who have left the country for a long time. At the same time she has to learn a lot especially in terms of equality of work for white and black people (her feeling shame because white men were digging a hole in the street¡¨). The whites are also threatened by the presence of the strangers, and it is but natural that they are cautious. Real integration or assimilation or racial, cultural harmony, or whatever is the name given is not really happening in reality. According to the secondary sources, it is even getting worst since now these different groups have really lived together in certain areas, forced by circumstances or by laws of the host country which discriminate them.

In contrast, in The Concubines Children, we see one of the main characters, Winnie, as being happy to be in Canada as she tried to compare herself with her sisters in Mainland China. She can be called a Chinese Canadian. I think her position now and her identity are greatly influence by her experiences which were negative especially with her parents. By herself alone, I guess she would just like to forget her Chinese ancestry because of the difficulties she underwent. Her father is a sojourner, whose desire is all for the family he has left behind in China. Her mother, the concubine, is a woman who was a victim to both society and even by her own family, and who was not loved at all. The characters in this story just want to go to Canada because of the opportunities are better there and because China was not stable politically also at that time. This is what we call as the push and pull of migration. In all these we can see the various reasons why people migrate, and the common thing is really for money since at home, the opportunity is less or as what the old adage goes: to look for a greener pasture.¡¨ We are aware though, that the other pasture is not always greener.¡¨ As to their cultural identity, it depends largely on their background experience when they were at home or when they just arrived at the new place, or how much they can assimilate from the new culture and how much they will retain from their home culture. It is a fact though, that however painful the past was, there is always that longing to go back to ones roots, even only in memory or in imagination, or by having close contact with compatriots, or really going back to their home country albeit not staying there for good.

In general, migration is a complicated phenomenon and with the globalization of economy and labor it could not be helped. From the stories weve read, there is always a risk if one chooses to go abroad for whatever reason one might have. We are also aware of the positive and negative experiences of immigrants. No doubt that with the presence of immigrants around the world, there is a kind of cultural exchange that is happening and both the immigrants and the host country are being benefited. Sometimes the problem is when both could only see the negative side/effect of this exchange, or if one feels that his/her culture is inferior or superior than the other.