Even if you can’t speak or read mandarin, you can appreciate the beauty of language in
Chinese characters as art. Hal Y Zhang’s poetry collection, Amnesia, is beautiful on the page. She combines Chinese characters with English words, forcing the reader to consider the tension between languages and cultures.
In “spittle thieves,” Zhang confronts negative connotations of China and things Chinese head-on when she describes the face of racism and stereotype:
but mostly I think of kowtow and shanghai and brainwash, as if
we only know how to deceive and lick boots and
make fake tchotchkes and be oppressed and
swarm your tourist sites like ants and
steal your ideas and jobs and
breathe smoke and
kick each other
The pressures of assimilation run deep. To what extent do we forget our mother tongues when we immigrate to a new country? How much of ourselves, our culture, our language, can we retain?
The gulf between the generations can feel insurmountable as a consequence. In “[loss in pictography]“ Zhang describes those who choose “…to run from fortunes on foot. to leave your house job family for a new country. make new children who cannot understand.” In this way, we risk alienation from our own families as well.
The tension between languages and cultures is exquisitely illustrated in Zhang’s poem, “Amnesia.” Just one word. Six lines. But it says it all.