Saturday, June 6, 2009

Another Reader's Vertigo

Note: In response to the post "The Vertigo of Foreign-born Chinese," reader aliaeb left the following thought-provoking comment. I'm posting it in its own right because cultural identity is such an important issue, across cultures and worth further discussion. Xujun


aliaeb said...

By now, this is an old discussion, but I've only just gotten to it. American politics and post-colonial orientalism set aside (these are topics I might not be very good at discussing), I find the issue of cultural/national identity an utterly confounding, endlessly engaging one. As the inconclusive questions posed at the end of Drifting Leaf's letter imply, there is no answer to the "who am I" of a migrating world citizen born of immigrants. Consider, for one, the excellent and inconclusive novels written by so many Chinese authors who now live abroad or in exile in Paris, Berlin, London and the United States (高行健,趙振開,馬建,哈金). These authors all explore issues of cultural identity, memory and loss, but none say anything affirmative with regard to these issues. I myself am an American with a very mixed European background (which is very typical, right?). I think I've failed, however, at fully identifying with any one cultural heritage, including that of American nationalism. I have studied Chinese language, history and culture for a quarter of my life now, and live abroad in Taiwan with no definite plans to return home. Additionally, my partner is from Hong Kong, and I feel very strongly inclined to start speaking Cantonese in addition to Mandarin. I worry, though, about who I will become. My partner doesn't celebrate any holidays, and I worry about my future children being bereft of either a Christmas or a Chinese New Year. If they are born in Hong Kong, will they be Chinese? Will I be called an expatriate or an immigrant? Are our Children destined to be even more confused than we are with regard to their identities? These are important questions to ask, as world citizens are growing ever more mobile, and our understandings of ourselves ever more complex. I apologize for leaving such a long comment so late in the game, but these are questions I ask myself every single day, and it was a relief and a strange satisfaction to read such a thoughtful letter by someone dealing with the same confusion.


Matthew said...

And it certainly isn't a question that only applies to overseas Chinese. A good book to read that deals with the subject of cultural identity is Circle K Cycles by Karen Tei Yamashita. There's also a little bit of it in Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon. (I could probably think of a few more given the time.)

Certainly gives us interesting perspectives now that we're more mobile and relatively free to live/work anywhere.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Thanks for the book recommendations, Matt. Now I'm interested in reading them!