Study Guide

Immigrant Blues Foreignness and 'The Other'

By Li-Young Lee

Foreignness and 'The Other'

It's called "Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation." (8-9)

Immigrants live in a place where they are not locals, but foreigners (at least at first). However, these lines tell us that there aren't just issues of nationality. This poem is not talking about, say, British or Swiss families trying to adjust to life in America. There are also racial tensions and concerns – the immigrants are an obvious racial minority in the country to which they've come.

It's called "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons," (10)

This line reminds us that foreignness is a two-way street. Not only are immigrants foreign to the place they've moved to, but the place is also foreign to <em>them</em>. They've had to leave the country and culture in which they would have been at home, and in their new home they're faced with differences in language, culture, and custom. So it's totally understandable that all these struggles might have some psychological impact.

<em>Am I inside you?</em> I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart. (24-26)

So now we're moving from social concerns to an intimate relationship between two people, two lovers. The weird thing is, the idea of foreignness is still coming into play. After all, even though we think of sex as a sort of physical union, people don't actually <em>merge</em> together. We still have distinct, separate bodies and thoughts and feelings. No matter how long we know each other, or how intimate we are, we're still in some way foreign to each other, and this seems to bother our speaker a bit.

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