by Li-Young Lee
Immigrant Blues Theme of Foreignness and 'The Other'
Throughout "Immigrant Blues," our speaker keeps naming and renaming the immigrant experience. He gives it a grand total of six titles, and the fact that no single name seems to quite capture it suggests that this is pretty complicated stuff he's dealing with. Not only is his experience outside the norm of his country's culture, but it also seems to be outside the ability of any language to convey it. We might also consider our speaker's confusion about body and soul, and about his connection to his lover, as springing from a sense of being foreign even to himself and the woman he loves.
Questions About Foreignness and 'The Other'
- Why do you think our speaker never gives any specific details of his personal story, in terms of which country his family is from, or the struggles they went through?
- Is it strange that the common concerns of immigrants seem to bring them closer together, to unite them in "the same old story?" Is there a way that being foreign can actually be a way of belonging?
- When the father expresses the goal of fluency in a foreign language, he uses the idea of feeling it inside. So when our speaker asks the woman if he's inside of her, does that mean he thinks of himself as somehow foreign to her? What would that mean in terms of his relationships with others?
- Is there a way our speaker might be able to get past his foreignness or otherness? Could he even come to embrace it?
Chew on This
When our speaker declares that certain experiences or conversations are "the same old story," he is, in a way, making them less foreign. Things are foreign when they are new or unfamiliar. So if this story is old, then the experiences in that story are familiar and therefore not foreign at all.
Our speaker even feels disconnected from those who share a similar background, like his father and his son, because his status as an immigrant alienates him from everyone.