Study Guide

Immigrant Blues Identity

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People have been trying to kill me since I was born,It's the same old story from the previous century
about my father and me.

The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son. (4-7)

Here we see our speaker identified as both father and son, so in a way, he's been on both sides of this conversation about learning a new language. By comparing his experience to that of the man and the boy from the start of the poem, he also seems to identify his experience with that of all immigrants: whether it's in this century or the past one, it's "the same old story."

Fun fact: Li-Young Lee's father actually did say these words to his son! (Source.)

It's called "Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation."

It's called "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons," (8-10)

These story names read like stuffy, boring titles of academic articles. But they seem to play a really important role in the poem, because they help the speaker try to explain the identity issues that immigrants face. It might be that our speaker is more comfortable using academic English than colloquial English. But here's the problem: that academic language just can't convey the emotions he's feeling.

And me, confused about the flesh and soul,
who asked once into a telephone,
<em>Am I inside you? </em>(17-19)

Now we're getting down to the good stuff. Our speaker is pondering the most basic question of all – what does it mean to be a human? Is there a difference between body and soul? And what in the world do these questions have to do with being an immigrant? Seriously, we're really asking!

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

Again we've got some separation going on. Instead of flesh and soul (17), here the speaker calls it body and heart. And again our speaker is not just wondering about himself, but about his relationship with this woman. How are these two people connected? How are they separate? And just why exactly is our speaker so darn worried about all of this?

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