Refiguring the Self: The Centre of Immigration Literature
The Chinese poetry on the walls of Angel Island immigration station shows that the legendry immigrants were denied to rise from “rags to riches”. The feeling of being denied to have a better life could be felt in the Chinese poetry.
“The Western styled buildings are lofty; but I have not the luck to live in them.
How was anyone to know that my dwelling place would be a prison?
Over a hundred poems are on the walls.
Looking at them, they are all pining at the delayed progress.
As long as I am imprisoned, how can I dare strive for supremacy?” (Nelson, 2000)
These poems on Angel Island make this place as the world between the two worlds, which is set outside the universe. The poets who are no longer staying in China and are unable to mainland of America have shown their alienation, grief, anxiety and displacement in such a way that it became a major theme of the poems.
“A flickering lamp keeps this body company.
I am like pear blossoms which have already fallen.
Pity the bare branches during the late spring” (Nelson, 2000).
Under the light of this impermanent world, the poet writes and compares his condition to the flowers of spring and fruits of autumn. The discrimination formed by Americans, Chinese became the social and legal “aliens”, who were not eligible for citizenship and were seen as unequal to their own community. The Angel Island detainees had became aware that their status would never rise as they are not even citizens or the immigrants and they just remain as “perpetual foreigners”.
The attempts of the Chinese immigrants to enter another culture lead to a vulnerable and psychological state of mind. They were aware that they had left the society in which they were raised and thus they felt that they were imposters in this new nation. Being uprooted from their own culture and land and being transplanted in an unknown place, one of the Angel Island poet had became aware of being separated from physical presence and inner self, as he wrote:
“The low building with three beams merely shelters the body.
It is unbearable to relate the stories accumulated on the Island slopes” (Nelson, 2000).
Some of the poets have tried to place their uncomfortable position of being imprisonment to a comforting frame:
“Gain or lose, how is one to know what is predestined?
Rich or poor, who is to say it is not the will of heaven?” (Gee, 1982)
However, there were others who knew that the injustice done to them was not their destiny. They called the unjust laws as “keli” and displayed their pain in such words:
“Even while they are tyrannical, they still claim to be humanitarian.
I should regret my taking the risks of coming in the first place.
America has power, but not justice.
In prison, we were victimized as if we were guilty.
Given no opportunity to explain, it was really brutal.” (Gee, 1982)