The poems in Contemporary Asian Australian Poets explore the hyphenated and variegated ways of being Asian Australian and demonstrate how language is used to express complexities and subtleties of identity and culture. Ouyang Yu’s “The Double Man” and Eileen Chong’s “My Hakka Grandma” demonstrate the complexities and subtleties of cultural effects on identity through the deliberate choice of language conventions, forms, and structures, emphasising that language has the power to both reflect and shape individual and collective identity. It is evident that culture is intrinsic to the expression of identity, and this is fundamental to one’s selfhood, and their affiliation with the world around them. Yu employs a representation of selfhood, affiliation, and heritage to explore the complex nature of identity within his poem. Similarly, Chong’s poem communicates how a strong relationship with, and an affiliation to, culture shapes individual identity. Conversely, EE Tiang Hong explores the concept that our identities are made up of more than traditionally accepted cultural identifiers. Thus, the poems explore the ways in which complexities and subtleties shape an individual’s identity.
Yu employs a representation of selfhood, affiliation, and heritage to explore the complex nature of identity. “The Double Man” expresses the concept that individual identity can be shaped by the influences of more than one culture. But Yu’s poetry is also often concerned with how identity is a complex and ambivalent commodity, a minefield of self-annunciation and contradiction The poem’s title parallels the poet’s proclamation of identity in the metaphor in the poem’s opening lines “my name is/ a crystallisation of two cultures, conveying the concept that Yu’s identity is a combination of his Chinese and Australian cultures. Additionally, the irony in the anaphora “when I go to china I say I’m returning to my home country, when I go to Australia I say I’m returning to my home country”. This invites the responder to reflect on the complexities and subtilties of personal identities and how these are formed and reformed by cultures.
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Likewise, Yu explores the notion that an individual’s identity is grounded in their heritage, continuing the idea that culture shapes individual identity. This is illustrated in the pun “our motherlands have one thing in common they both lost “M” reinforcing the idea that Yu has no “motherland”, only “otherlands” and his identity is composed of an affiliation to both countries and to neither. Yu explores the complexity of individual identity through their affiliation to their heritage and family. Personally, being a bi-cultural is a tremendously beneficial trait as it makes us more flexible and creative in our thinking. Unfortunately, bi-cultural people may experience their upbringing as the collision of multiple worlds. They may sometimes face criticism for stepping outside the bounds of what’s normally acceptable in their heritage culture.
Similarly, Chong’s poem “My Hakka Grandmother’’ communicates how a strong relationship with, and an affiliation to, culture shapes individual identity. The use of “Hakka” in the poem’s title represents Chong’s cultural and ancestral origin. Through powerfully descriptive imagery and a wishful tone “If time could unwind for you, yet be still for me, we would run through the fields,” explores the links between family and place, expressing Chong’s desire to reunite with her grandmother and share their cultural heritage. In the final stanza, the alliteration and enjambment “I wonder where our bloodline begins,” stresses the importance of Chong’s “bloodline” emphasising her curiosity about her ancestral and cultural background and conveying how language has the power to reflect the complexities and subtleties of our individual and collective identity. Chong communicates the importance of knowing and having an affiliation to your cultural origins and people as an essential element in shaping our individual identity. Many Middle Eastern cultures believe that knowing our ancestral, bloodline, background and our origins is very important and play a huge role in our lives and it is important to know our culture fundamentals and essentials.
Conversely, EE Tiang Hong explores the concept that our identities are made up of more than traditionally accepted cultural identifiers. “Some New Perspectives” challenges our preconceived ideas of what influences a person’s identity. The title immediately prompts us to consider new understandings of what makes up a person’s identity. In the opening lines, the listing and hyphen “Race, language, religion, birthplace- the categories do not satisfy:” emphasises the inability of stereotypical, cultural categories to express the complexities and nuances of our individual identity. The use of enjambment emphasises the oxymoron, “I am more or less than your images,’’ which reinforces the idea that individuals are more than just categories of culture, they possess a story beyond their physical appearance. Hong explores the notion that culture shapes our identity through exposing the unconventional associations with selfhood.
An individuals’ affiliation to their culture, influences their experiences in life with people, countries, and therefore their identity. The poems in Contemporary Asian Australian Poets explore these concepts through the poets’ personal experiences of being Asian Australian and convey their journey to accept their own culture and heritage, shaping their identity. It is through deliberate choice of language conventions, forms, and structures that express the complexities and subtleties of identity, which Ouyang Yu, Eileen Chong, and EE Tiang Hong that the responder is further enlightened to what really shapes your own identity.