9 May 2023 at 3:34:00 am
International Christian University
May Ouma is a British-Kenyan doctoral student based in Tokyo, Japan. She holds a BA in English & Creative Writing, and an MA in English & American Literature. Ouma's research interests focus on literature, cultural competency and language acquisition.
Waring culture, home and belonging in 'The Heartsick Diaspora'
culture, diapora, multiculturalism, home
Home as we understand it is a place you are born, grow up in, eventually leave and long to return to. It is assumed that everyone has a place that they should call home and questions such as “where are you from?” are plentiful in daily interactions. This question when posed to ethnic minorities and multinational individuals hold a greater weight. It echos with undertones of “where are you really from?”, a suggestion that although they inhabiting the same spaces and experiences, they do not truly belong. Possession of more than one cultural identity can therefore become the source of tension and longing within multicultural persons.
For many, the problem of belonging comes as a result of immigration by choice rather than force. That it was a choice does not lessen the vigour of the dissention, nor the loss of a place one can call “home”. Must the rejection of one culture to fit another persist, or can these warring cultures inhabit the same body and find belonging and a home?
In Elaine Chiew’s short story collection ‘The Heartsick Diaspora’ we are introduced to the stories of South Asian characters and their emigration, identity, and family ties in the diaspora. The stories take place in the UK, Singapore and the US and feature stories of Japanese occupation; Singaporean sisters in New York; a Tiger Mother in Belgravia; and Samsui women in Singapore. As the characters negotiate unfamiliar worlds, raise children in other countries or are introduced to languages they don’t speak, there are reoccurring themes of belonging, or lack thereof, that arise. Throughout the novel there are countless more instances from various characters in their quest for belonging and the question of home therefore becomes not simply a matter of location or even the language we use to describe it, but a state of being. The ways in which these multicultural characters navigate these experiences, whether they do or do not assimilate to the cultures they inhabit is paramount to understanding the ways in which they view home.