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Asian American Literature
The need for America to value the Native Speakers of Languages other than English. The recently arrived immigrants face a language barrier which is only the part of the many difficulties they endure in US. Many of them are offended by the cultural aspects of America which they do not understand. Even the second generation immigrants cannot be accepted into the American mainstream. They are considered to be outsiders as their skin color is darker and their facial features do not reflect a lighter skinned Americans. Chang-Rae Lee indicates that the non-white Americans cannot help but see themselves inferior to the white Americans. In the Native Speaker, Henry attempts to remove himself of his immigrant identity through voyeurism. As a result, he becomes a traitor to other immigrants. Lee does not write about a character who is condemned to live a lie. A transformation in Henry occurs as he learns to see himself as an individual and not as an American. As he learns to value his cultural background, he can appreciate other immigrants and empathize with their hardships. The phrase .America for Americans x reveals the mainstream attitude toward the non-white immigrants. Most of the recently arrived immigrants are people of color. They are easily distinguished from other Americans because of their different appearance, language and culture. Lee portrays many of these immigrant groups becoming a scapegoat to the unhappy Americans. The people who call themselves the .Americans x protest against John Kwang s system of helping the immigrants. They blame the immigrants of their joblessness and financial difficulties. The government blames Kwang for corruption in his dealings with the illegal aliens. A closer look at the American hostility toward the .illegal aliens x indicates that non-whites are not accepted as Americans. The list of people who have participated in the ggeh are immigrants of various backgrounds and immigrant status. However, the mainstream media understands every one of the people in the list as participating in the political corruption. The American mainstream fails to accept cultural values of the immigrants. The idea of the ggeh overlooks the legality of the immigrant status. Kwang has been exercising the fatherly concern over the immigrants in helping them financially. It is a cooperative effort which requires trust and common interest of building immigrant communities. One cannot ignore the aspect of political interest in Kwang s campaign to help the immigrants. However, one questions the venues of opportunities that the immigrants have without the help from other immigrants. The acceptance of the Korean culture would have made the ggeh appear as an ethical system which enables immigrants to help each other out. This cultural aspect is ignored by the American mainstream and ggeh is viewed as a part of the corruption in the immigrant communities. Racism acts as an instrument which destroys the efforts of the immigrant communities to gain a financial standing in America. Lee discusses the ways in which the immigrants have tried to be accepted in America. The political empowerment has failed for the immigrants as a result of their powerlessness in the mainstream. Economically, the Koreans have tried to gain stability through the system of ggeh. Ggeh is a system of acquiring a large sum of money through the contribution of smaller amount from many people. Henry s father has used the ggeh in order to buy his first grocery store. Then he becomes the owner of several stores and earns enough money to live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in America. Henry s family learn that they are extremely uncomfortable in the wealthy eighborhood. They feel that they are intruding on their white neighbors. Recollecting his mother s fear of offending the white neighbors, Henry states, .what s she afraid of, what could be so bad that we had to be that careful of what people thought of us, as if we ought to mince delicately about in pained feet through our immaculate neighborhood x(52). In their effort to be part of the .immaculate neighborhood x they try to stay away from the eyes of their neighbors. Clearly, Henry s parents do not fit in with their neighbors as they need to take great pains to act as though they do not exist. Lee questions the idea of success as a way to gain acceptance in America. Henry s parents have not gained acceptance in their neighborhood as their cultural values are not understood by the mainstream. They succeed economically at the cost of losing the friends who understand them. As the first generation of Korean immigrants bought expensive houses, they have moved away from each other. They have sacrificed the relationships that has made them endure the hardships of early immigrant experience. While they have enjoyed the picnics and soccer games during their early immigrant years, their increasing wealth has made them hide behind the closed doors of their big houses and stores. Many immigrants have not only sacrificed relationships with friends, they have created hostile relationships with other ethnic groups. Henry s father is an example of someone who places too much emphasis on earning money. Many of his customers are spoken of in contempt, especially when they are ethnic minorities. Henry explains his father s encounters with African Americans as an indication of selfishness. He states, .[father] felt nothing for them. Not even pity. To him a black face meant inconvenience, or trouble, or the threat of death. He never met any blacks who measured up to his idea of decency x(186). The African Americans can only serve as a means to gain profit. They are not as respected as the white Americans by Henry s father. The practice of racism is outlined as Henry s father excuses a white woman from taking a bite out of an apple before hiding it on the stacks because she is a good customer, in contrast to his behavior toward blacks who are always up to .funny business. x Henry s father inherits the ideas of materialism and takes advantage of the group of people most disfavored in the American mainstream.

Lee reflects that Henry s father has lost his friends and lives a lonely life because of his materialistic goals. Furthermore, he is not liked by other ethnic minorities as a result of disrespecting them. He not only looks down on them, he finds them in contempt. He feels threatened by the low social and economic status of some of the ethnic minorities. Lee states that many Korean store owners are responsible for the conflict between the African Americans and the Korean Americans. They are responsible for stereotyping certain ethnic minorities as threatening. The store owners need to realize that they have earned money through the contributions of the ethnic minorities. In his attempt to become an American, Henry s father has imitated America s contempt for the socially and economically disadvantaged. Under such upbringing, Henry grows up to be a man who despises his Korean influence. He wishes to be a .native x of America. The American citizenship and proficiency in English language do not make him an American. The metaphor of voyeurism describes his state of denial, the struggle to forget his past. Henry participates in the community as an actor. He fills the role of .acquaintances, casual friends. Sometimes lovers, social drinkers, embracers of children x as a spy. Therefore, he lies about his identity and betrays the people who come to trust him. He is a .stranger/follower/traitor/spy x according to his wife(5). The reason for the reluctance to open up to people is much more complicated than relating it only as a self defense mechanism. Henry s life as a...
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Asian American Literature. EssayMania.com. Retrieved on 12 Oct, 2010 from