Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Racism, Assimilation, & Immigration

I think it's very interesting that Wendt writes about a cross-cultural, interracial relationship in his work, Sons for the Return Home. I liked to think of the relationship between the Samoan boy and the Papalagi girl as a metaphor of the struggles that post colonial countries and European colonizing countries would face if they came to enter a loving relationship with one another. As we can see from the romantic relationship in the book, there are a lot of issues that would have to be worked out in order for them to sustain their relationship. This is both within and outside their relationship, their different cultural backgrounds threaten their bond. The Samoan boy has a lot of hatred and contempt in his heart for all white people, and he has his reasons, he reminds his parents, "have you forgotten all the humiliations we've had to suffer since we've been here? Have you forgotten how they treated my brother? He only spent a year at that school and he wanted to leave. they called him a 'dirty coconut Islander', and when he beat up the kids who called him that, the Principal [...] called him in front of the whole school and called him 'a brainless Islander who should be deported back to the Islands. Have you forgotten that?" (Wendt Kindle location 199). The Samoan boy has never forgotten the violence done to him, his family, and his people in New Zealand. He intends to hold all white people responsible for the hurt done to him and other Samoans. Until he falls in love with a white girl, perhaps, in his mind, one of the most treacherous things he could do. In many ways, he reminds me of Okonkwo's extreme cultural loyalty; the Samoan boy will not assimilate. As the story develops, and certainly after his return home, he balances his view of white people, when he becomes more aware of himself and the reality that he isn't just Samoan. He is a the result of two worlds in contact with one another.

I think that this reading of the novel pairs well with Wendt's, Nuana, which I did read before reading his novel, and to be frank, read like the complete opposite. However, it seems like the Samoan boy does come to see things as Wendt does by the end of the novel, perhaps not as profoundly though. Wendt's radical position that colonization has reared some good in addition to its negative, is centered around his refusal "to support the outmoded and racist theories, such as the fatal impact theory, which underpin most colonial literature about us. According to these theories and views, we, the indigenous, have been hapless victims and losers in the process of cultural contact and interaction; our cultures have been ‘diluted’ and ‘corrupted’; we have even ‘lost’ them. All cultures are becoming, changing in order to survive, absorbing foreign influences, continuing, growing" (Wendt 3). I hear what Wendt is communicating, and I feel that I can relate to it well.
As a first generation African American, many times both black and white American will assume things about where me and my family come from that are simply untrue, and often times, absurdly insulting. And yet, the thing that gets to me the most is this idea that Africa is some poor place in need of saving. I don't like to think of my homeland or my culture as some lost land or pathetic loser. For this reason, I found myself relating very well to the Samoan boy who took pride in his homeland and his culture. I also felt that Wendt really was taping onto something that all people in the diaspora can relate to, this idea that one's culture is becoming diluted. I think my one qualm with Wendt is I still don't know where, or if he even believes that this concern is a legitimate one. It is a fact that we have lost languages, cultures, and even ethnic groups in the world, and I kind of felt as if he wasn't bing sensitive enough to that reality.

I can't help but think of a conversation I had with a French woman where we were talking about school systems, and I explained to her that although my maternal and grandfather spoke fluent Susu, the languages of their respective homelands, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Krio, Temne, and even some religious Arabic. They were forced to learn both English and French if they wanted to advance themselves in their own native homelands because that was the only way to advance. They had to have some way of communicating and keeping up with the foreign powers still at work in their 'Independent" countries. Forced assimilation of a culture isn't the same thing as a culture organically growing.

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