The Complexities of Migration and Geographical Identity

Alyse Blachly

In Chapter 4, Machida explores how geography has become integral in our views of belonging and identity when categorizing self and other. However, because of how migration and globalization has become defining of this era—with migration being called the “world historical event of late modernity,” it becomes a much more complex issue. I found it interesting that while she points to artists’ depictions of hybridity, comingling, and change, Machida recognizes the strength of geographical origin. First, everyone comes from somewhere or at least a group of successive somewhere that defines where they are coming from. One’s geographical origin and present inhabitance provide them with a unique experience from which they view the world. However, one’s geographical origins can also be confining. If you resemble any likeness to the group of people associated with your geographical origin, then you will be perceived as part of that group. People of Asian heritages, will therefore constantly be set apart as other and identified by contexts of race and cultural views. This is how geography becomes akin and confused with culture and race, and often leads to stereotypes and misconceptions. In this chapter Machida talks about the complexities that migration, movement, and the expansion of non-Western presence throughout the West, has on this concept of geography-based identity.

One artist, Ming Fay, points out the problematic nature of a homogenous reading of geographical identity. He brings a very Taoist inspired way of looking at the complexities of multiculturalism and hybridity.  He talks about the problematic nature of people thinking he is Chinese and automatically thinking they know who he is. “Yes I’m Chinese,” he says, “but I’ve been in New York longer than I have been in China. So this is who I am” (200). So in pointing to his own hybridity, he challenges our ways of thinking about people and cultures in separate boxes. Fay’s work brings up another issue that I’ve been thinking about with throughout this class. Should we view the world as a “unitary place” or as many distinct places? On the one hand, it would seem better to view the world as a unitary place, ridding notions of the “other” and stereotypical views of East. However, in thinking about social memory and keeping one’s culture and ancestral stories it seems both impossible and unethical to erase these lines of distinction that cause you to remember your own history.

It would seem to Fay, that while he recognizes the distinct cultures that exist, the increasingly globalization and mixing of cultures inevitably results in new emerging cultures—hybrids. Through his work, he depicts images of flowers, seeds, and nature but creates large sculptural hybrids that are not distinctly one or the other. Another artist, David Chung chooses to focus on both the mixing of cultures and the parts in which they intersect and contact each other. His work, done mostly in charcoal as well as mixed media pieces, show the ever-changing nature of urban America. Particularly fascinating is the walk through exhibit in which you can walk through walls of the installation that are completely covered with scenery and images of urban America. Standing in front of these walls are figures like the Captain Crunch captain and an Amazon-like woman with TV monitors placed inside them. I found it interesting that he chose to portray the mixing and conflicting of cultures and migrants in this mixed media way, portraying his theme in his work and process. The video shown on these monitors show the experience of an El Salvadoran restaurant worker, showing the “bombardment by messages from the new American culture as well as his own traditional values.” I think this shows the difficulties and complexities of being an immigrant/migrant in a new place. Yes, the US is depicted as a melting pot, but it is much more than deciding to either view the world as one unitary place or as discrete places. When you migrate to another land, there are so many competing ideals, images, and views that it becomes difficult to establish your own unique identity while keeping your identity and values associated with your origin. By showing the hybridity and the conflict, these artists show that migration and geographical identity are so much more complex than a simple Western view of migration.

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