Immigrant Experiences

Jim Dodge: Rain on the river

In this poem, Jim Dodge effectively captures the life experiences of an immigrant weighed down by numerous problems. These vary from infirmity, discrimination to old age. The character in the poem apparently facing a colonoscopy operation at a hospital reflects their life and the struggles they have had to go through as they try to adapt to life in America. Life as an immigrant in America is no bed of roses as the writer contends in the poem. He decries his current state: sick, weak and helpless as he lies in the hospital bed.

But the reflections do not stop there. The persona makes references to other factors that generally define the life of an immigrant in America. This includes exploitation by the political clique who strives to retain power at the expense of the poor common man largely defined by the immigrant community. In the United States, immigrants live in constant fear of arrest by the law enforcing authorities, sometimes without reasonable grounds. All these tribulations appear to be captured in the poem. The writer uses the persona’s experience in the hospital theater to capture the average life of an immigrant. The deplorable hospital conditions compounded with negligence by the doctors embodied the attitude with which immigrants are treated in the United States.

Flower Drum Song from David Henry Hwang

The book is about a Chinese immigrant, Mei Li, who escapes from China to start a new life in San Francisco, USA. His decision is informed by growing communism that threatens to choke the liberty of the Chinese. When she arrives in San Francisco, she joins a theatre known as the Golden Pearl owned by another Chinese immigrant called Wang and which specializes in classical Chinese opera. As time goes by, she becomes enamored by Wang’s son Ta whom she admires. Ta, on the other hand seems to be interested in a different girl. He is clearly not interested in Mei whom he perceives to be less modern compared to Linda Low, the girl he loves. Linda Low is an overly charming lady who occasionally performs in the theater. She also strips at the night club.

Mei attracts the attention of Madame Liang who, having been influenced by the American ideals as a result of her long stay in America has become so disconnected from her Chinese roots that she is even willing to set up a full fledged night club. In fact, she converts the theatre to a night spot, the Club Shop Suey. This turns out to be a boost to Ta’s quest for acceptance in the American society and to Wang’s insatiable passion for performance. The story revolves around the problems faced by Immigrants from other countries as they struggle to settle in a new life in America. Always at the centre of this struggle is the identity crisis that most immigrants often have to grapple with. Such immigrants would always seek to gain acceptance in the larger American society and Li’s story is no exception.

Their Dogs came with them by Helena Maria Viramontes

In the novel Their Dogs came with them, Helena Maria Viramontes explores the experience of Spanish immigrants who came to America in the 1960s.  The setting of the story is the East Los Angeles neighborhoods occupied by Spanish immigrants. The author is keen to display the apparent disparity that exists in the lifestyles of the local Americans in the neighborhoods and their Spanish immigrant counterparts, their love-hate relationships and how their relationship ultimately affects their perception of the American society. The term dog is symbolically used to refer to the supposed problems that came with the inversion of the neighborhood by the Spanish immigrants. The story is about an orphan named Ermils who, having moved to America, find herself far away from her grandparents and another boy, Ben Brady. Ben is a boy of mixed parentage having been borne of a Mexican father and a British mother. These children together with other children in the neighborhoods are painted as struggling to adapt to the alien ways of the American society. The boy Ermila survives various misfortunes that greatly damage him. This includes being hit by a truck. Then there are the other two characters Tranquilina and Turtle nee Antonia. The story is a step by step account of the lives of these four characters. Their experience in America varies at the beginning but finally appears to intersect.

Ermila is transferred to the grandparents by a social services agency where she becomes a burden to the old couple. He appears to be more interested in charting his own destiny out in the streets than towing the grandparents’ line. Turtle is brought up in an environment that sees her get initiated into a life of violence with his immediate family including her parents constantly fighting. Her father particularly fights with her uncle with her mother often joining in the fights.  Ben’s case is even sadder. He progressively degenerates from a bright and promising boy to a victim of violence aggravated by a heart rendering mental condition. All the four characters ultimately fall and their lives are devastated by their various experiences.

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