Study Guide

Immigrant Blues Language and Communication

By Li-Young Lee

Language and Communication

a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue. (2-3)

Notice that the man doesn't just "explain." He's "<em>trying</em> to explain," which suggests that maybe he's not doing such a great job. Already, we've got some sort of communication gap. If the son hasn't experienced what the father has been through, maybe he just can't understand. So even as the father urges his son to learn a second language, he's already bumping up against the limits of communication, even within a language in which they are both fluent.

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

As if "Survival Strategies and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation" wasn't enough, our speaker has to give the immigrant experience yet another name. Is he trying to more accurately describe what's going on? Or is he just naming another aspect of the experience? In any case, these are much more boring than his father's opening statement. They are super academic and don't really hit the emotional nerve our speaker is probably looking for. Which of these do you think more accurately describes the immigrant experience?

<em>Practice until you feel
the language inside you</em>, says the man. (12-13)

On the one hand, we've all heard similar things: you've got to internalize the knowledge, you've got to know it so well it's like a part of you (like the back of your hand). But maybe taking the foreign language inside also mirrors the hope of many immigrants to be taken inside the foreign culture as a whole. So the language becomes assimilated into your body, just as you become assimilated into the culture.

called "I Want to Sing but I Don't Know Any Songs." (34)

Wanting to sing seems like a desire to express something, right? And not knowing any songs, well, that suggests that our speaker (and those in a similar position) just can't quite express whatever it is that he wants to. It's a sad ending to a sad poem. Our speaker just can't quite find the words.

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