Go Home!

Author:   Buchanan, R. H. (Ed.)
Publisher:   Feminist Press
Reviewer:   Sharlene Chen

Buchanan, R. H. (Ed.). (2018). Go Home!. Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 320 pages, ISBN - 1936932016

“Go Home!” is an inclusive collection of experiences of immigration and diaspora. The book contains essays, short stories and poems written by thirty-one Asian diaspora writers, powerfully holding volume up on the feeling of being away from “home”. Some pieces reflect on White supremacy discrimination on the basis of color, while others explore the notion of home, which is often a hardship endured by people who are away from their cultural origins and are on the move. This collection expands the definition of “home,” and sets forth several elements that form the idea, including identity, emotion, tradition, the sense of taste and so on. As a Chinese-American who grew up in Taiwan and is currently living in London, each short work depicts a subtle sense or emotion of an immigrant’s experience which I highly relate to but could never find the right words to express. This book sets off as an outstanding introductory for those who do not have an immigration experience to explore this common and critical issue. As migration is a natural human behaviour, it would be particularly emotive for readers who themselves are immigrants.

The politics of identity is rooted in the branding of oneself and determines how a person exists in the social world. Amitava Kumar, one of the authors in this book, questions himself on “when it was that I stopped thinking of myself as a new immigrant” in the essay, “Love Poems for the Border Patrol,” presenting the dynamic nature of identity. The essay further mirrors many immigrants’ frustration concerning their identities, the fundamental: Who am I? Where should I call home? It is possible for an immigrant to develop a feeling of one’s identity being blurred by losing the ability or environment in which they can use their mother tongue or having a lifestyle distant from one’s culture of birth. Entangled with identity, the concept of home become particularly confusing, it and makes an immigrant even more vulnerable to the fear of belonging nowhere.

Home keeps people in or out and defines whether a person is considered part of the whole. Being away from home sometimes make people feel like an outsider; being considered a refugee in many American’s eyes, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan “knew inarticulately that she was an outsider.” What exactly does it feel like to be an “outsider?” People inevitably feel more alert, uncomfortable, and often are more aware of the surroundings when they’re outside of their “homes” which often seems like double torture as they are reminded by locals that they’re outsiders. In Muhammad Amirul bin Muhamad’s word, it’s “delicate”. This delicacy is based on a series of factors an immigrant may be forced to tolerate, which can include language barrier, fragility, fear of the unknown, which often results in a loss of courage and confidence to speak, communicate, etc. or to be true to oneself. 

It’s a harsh reality that outsiders experience as they seek to satisfy their craving for acceptance and understanding from others. In “Esmeralda”, a short story written by Mia Alvar a migrant cleaner desperately looks for connections between herself and the splendid city, despite living and working in the city for nineteen years. Another author, Fariha Róisín, speaks of her experience as a Muslim and the experience of realizing that she is Muslim. There was no religion class based on her beliefs that she could be assigned to in school and she was foreign to Christian Hymns. She had encountered men with inequitable assumptions of women and had been offended by French authorities who clearly misinterpreted her religion. Being in a place where people did not understand her culture, Róisín’s identity was invalidated, which made her wonder whether she should look for understanding from others. 

Chang-Rae Lee illustrates the mixed feelings of confusion, frustration, shamefulness, and fearlessness of her mother as a first-generation immigrant in “The Faintest Echo of Our Language.” The language barrier, political alienation, and social estrangement had constructed contradictions inside her when she was raising Lee in the United States. For instance, her pride of being a Korean, demanded her to teach her son to hold on to his Korean origin, and to never forget where his “home” truly is. But, concurrently, she taught Lee the importance of learning English without which he could have never become a “true American.” His mother’s story depicts the struggle that a lot of immigrants endure, as well as how they contrive to handle the disparity between the culture of their hosting countries, and their unbreakable linkages with their origins.

Mohja Kahf‘s poem, “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears,” reveals the tension and conflict between Muslim religious rituals and American culture, which the latter considers inappropriate, unhygienic, and even “a contamination of American standards”. The young American Muslim woman as a multicultural actor in this poem was stuck in the middle of two ethnical identities, witnessing how the lack of understanding, stereotype, and disrespect took effect, and how minorities suffer from discredit. The poem provides an excellent example of the way many Americans see Muslims, that creates a climate of hostility which Muslims must often experience. The experience of Muslim women being harassed for wearing hijab in the Western world is also mentioned in “Meet a Muslim.” These women may come across discrimination, sexual harassment, abuse, or even murder only because of the way they represent themselves –respecting and complying with their religious regulations and customs. Being at a place where one’s ethnical identity is not commonly recognized and accepted can be tormenting to immigrants, negatively impacting their ability to prosper. 

“East or West?” this was the question Esmé Weijun Wang had been asked by a flight attendant during an in-flight catering service, as if her choice of food would define who she was or wanted to be. Food is often a prominent cultural indicator, so it’s fair to say that an immigrant’s origin can be traced back by his/her palate. Raised by her Taiwanese parents in Michigan, Esmé regards the taste of Taiwanese cuisine as the taste of home. For people in the diaspora, the culinary experiences of their cultures of origin are memories in which are rooted their sense of identity. Food can also act as a barrier, reminding people that they do not fit in, or that they are away from what they are familiar with. In “The Words Honey and Moon,” a newly-wed man was uncomfortable eating American food in a restaurant during his honeymoon. The frozen and canned vegetables, as well as the oversweet orange sherbet with artificial coloring that his wife ordered, shocked his taste bud, and spurred feelings of being unsettled and remote. 

The literary works in this book guide readers through the moving, nuanced, and exceptional experiences of immigrants. Although it seems like there is a pattern in the experience of being a part of a scattered population, these short works show that it varies from story to story, from person to person. Most works center on the searching of home and the sense of belonging, where readers are able to find traces of how these authors dug into their memories, identity, and feelings throughout the writing. Others do not seem as relevant to the overarching topic set in this anthology, which is a bit harder to connect with. The editor included works centering on various topics, which to some extent scattered the focal point of this book. The topic of the book could have been better highlighted had the selection of works been more focused. Nonetheless, the collection put together several remarkable pieces and left readers, especially those with experiences of migration, with many thought-provoking questions. To an immigrant, what does “home” refers to after land-crossing? How can we create a more inclusive society where every individual of any background can belong? And, most importantly, how can we empower immigrants to find their voices?

Sharlene Chen, Student of International Conflict Studies, King's College, London

E-mail: [email protected]


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