How we cite our quotes:
People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue. (1-3)
Yikes! Right off the bat, we're faced with the threat of death. And right away we find out that immigration of the "Wouldn't it be lovely to move to Prague?" variety is not what our speaker is talking about. This is fleeing; this is survival – not just a fun, grand adventure for the heck of it.
In fact, Li-Young Lee's father actually experienced this threat of death. Hear a little more about it from Lee himself.
It's called "Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation." (8-9)
"Survival Strategies" reemphasizes the idea that immigration is, or can be, a question of life or death. The struggle to stay alive is at the heart of this story, this experience our speaker's talking about. But where exactly does the threat of death come from? Political forces? Social forces? An immigrant's own overwhelming sadness?
But what does he know about inside and outside,
my father who was spared nothing
in spite of the languages he used? (14-16)
Though we get nothing of the specifics, there's something pretty ominous about that "spared nothing." It definitely suggests a sort of violence and suffering, and we're reminded of that threat of death from the first line. This father has seen some serious troubles, that's for sure.