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The Transition From Chinese to Americanized Culture

Updated August 10, 2022

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The Transition From Chinese to Americanized Culture essay

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In the book “Rose” by Li-Young Lee, the author structures the poem in a past-present narrative to illustrate his refugee upbringing and search of identity in a new land with a different culture. Throughout the book of poems, the author’s theme presents to the reader the complex relationship between family members in relation to immigration through his concrete memories. In my heart and mind, I suspect that Lee believes that one can re-create his or her own identity by remembering the past with an open mind. In his case, as a Chinese-American who battled with alienation and disconnection throughout his childhood, to an adult with instilled memories of his experiences with others, in particular his father and the Chinese heritage. His self-exploration through his memories is the basis for his identity formation in the present moment.

Lee’s relationships and relations are presented in Rose by his cultural loss, refugee upbringing and memories of his father. Throughout the book of poems, Lee portrays the shift from Chinese culture to an Americanized point of view. His loss of Chinese language as he grew older indicates his relationship with cultural loss. For instance, in one of poems he begins by depicting that it is difficult to carry “the weight of sweetness” (Weight of Sweetness 1) to express his struggling relationship between the two cultures. In another example, Lee remembers an incident from his middle school days. This incident consists of him being punished by his teacher for confusing the word ‘persimmon’ (Persimmons 6) with the word ‘precision’ (Persimmons 7).

The teacher did not care that English is his second language and forced him to stand in the corner for confusing the words. Since he was attending school in America, he struggled heavily with balancing his Chinese roots with his Americanized surroundings and eventually let go piece by piece to adapt to his environment. Although Lee faced many difficulties throughout his childhood as a kid of different culture, his heritage has also provided him with particular values that he cherishes. As an adult, the author tries to retain the Chinese knowledge that his father strictly enforced. As he speaks to his father who is now blind, the author depicts Lee’s uneasiness with Chinese dialect to show his cultural loss over the years. The symbolic imagery of the Chinese fruit in Persimmons link the relations between family values of Chinese culture between the father and son and highlights the importance of the fruit in Chinese culture. This is seen when the father describes the persimmons as having a “ripe weight” (Persimmons 88) because it indicates that one has to wait and grow older to realize the cultural values’ importance in an individual who resides in foreign land.

That is the sweetness of his relationship with cultural loss, in which only through his experiences can he become wise like a fruit becomes sweet with age. The relationship between Lee and his father is illustrated consistently throughout Rose. Many of his poems directly state “my father” while others indirectly reference his father through the memories that he experienced. The poem titled “The Gift” presents to the reader an event that took place in Lee’s early life that has stuck with him ever since and affected his identity. The display of his father in his writing is important because it tells us that he looks up to his father as a role model. In the poem, the author states “To pull the metal splinter from my palm / my father recited a story in a low voice. / I watched his lovely face and not the blade / Before the story ended, he’d removed / the iron silver I thought I’d die from” (The Gift 1-5). Lee’s father influenced him by the way that he handled the situation, which was through distracting him to pull out the splinter, so he would not notice.

Lee’s observation of his father allowed him to do the same for his wife in the present. This is seen when the author states “Had you followed that boy / you would have arrived here, / where I bend over my wife’s right hand” (The Gift 18-20) and goes to say “Watch as I lift the splinter out” (The Gift 23). The moral of the story is that through his relations with his father, and the events that took place in his past, ultimately allowed him to become wiser in the present. For instance, in the poem “Persimmons” the author describes the impact a person can have on your life as whole when he states “Some things never leave a person: / scent of the hair of one you love, / the texture of persimmons,” (Persimmons 85-88). By using simple language, the author is expressing the idea that people leave impressions on others and impact each other’s lives by the experiences they go through together. In continuation, the past and the given wisdom that is attached to the experiences that one goes through in life is captured further in Lee’s poetry.

Through the articulation of his identity as a Chinese-American with social and racial contexts of America, the relationship between a person’s race and the society they reside in is also portrayed. He does not exactly fit in with the norm of his surroundings, on both ends. He is not fully Chinese because he has not been raised whole-fully in that culture and he is not fully American either because although he lives in America, he holds a different perception due to his Chinese roots. This emotional reality of his disconnection with his Chinese culture and in result his family is illustrated in one of his poems, “I Ask My Mother to Sing” when Lee states “I’ve never been in Peking, or the summer Palace” (I Ask My Mother to Sing, 5) and goes on to say “But I love to hear it sung” (I Ask My Mother to Sing, 9).

The speaker’s inability to relate to the Chinese heritage is because his memories is different from that of the mother’s and grandmother’s in this poem. He does not share their Chinese upbringing in true fashion but rather only has fragmented pieces past down in the song. This relationship between different culture’s does initially cause one to become lost but ultimately the bi-cultural heritage and refugee upbringing enables one to escape closed minded and one-sided beliefs and values. For example, in his poem “Epistle,” Lee portrays a memory of growing up as a refugee when he writes “But there is wisdom / in the hour in which a boy / sits in his room listening / to the sound of weeping / coming from some other room / of his father’s house, / and that boy was me, and he / listening without understand, and was soon frightened” (Epistle 10-17).

At the time, he did not understand much of what was going around him but as he grew older, he could go back to his memories and observe the lessons within his memories. In conclusion, the author’s use of narrative and personal experiences is the foundation for the deeper meaning in the book. Lee’s identity re-creation in the present lies on the foundation of his memories. Those memories consisting of relationship and relations with respect to his cultural loss, refugee upbringing and father. ‘My’ feelings and reaction to Rose is rooted in Lee’s past-present narrative and symbolic imagery. This is because I feel he does a great job at presenting two different perceptions through his literature – Chinese and American point of view from two different timelines – the past and present. I also really enjoyed reading his poetry due to the symbolic references in his poems, from the peach in “Weight of Sweetness” to the apple in “Persimmons” because it enhanced the deeper meaning of his poetry for me.

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The Transition From Chinese to Americanized Culture. (2022, Aug 10). Retrieved from