Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Enforced travel

I was interested in Alofa’s experience as an enforced traveler. Contrary to this character, I willfully left my island to go to the United States. I left with an open-minded spirit, ready to discover and explore everything : the language, the gastronomy, the landscape, the culture and the people. However, Alofa’s experience is rather oppressing. Travelling means that she has to lose her Samoan identity in order to be accepted. It starts when her aunt Fue decides to change her Samoan name as she did for herself. Her new name is Donna because ‘‘it’s a good name for a girl like her. And it’s easier for people to pronounce.’’ In other words, when travelling, one’s identity or more precisely one’s nationality becomes significant : it can be whether a strenght, whether a weakness.
I did not have to change my name when I came to the USA, but before I left, I was made aware that I would be a foreigner over there. As a matter of fact, I had to fill a lot of papers, pay the SEVIS fee, go to the American Embassy in Paris to get a visa, and answer a bunch of personal questions. And I remember, when I was doing some reasearch about how to get a visa, I came accross some information that caught my attention : the procedure to get a visa was made much more easier for European citizens than for Cubans, Syrians or Libyans. For instance, my rommate who is Chinese told me that she was denied a visa last year but finally she could get one this year and come to Loyola. Being a foreigner can be a double-edged sword : when I say that I’m from a French Speaking Island in the Caribbean, people usually smile and ask me questions about it because it conjures up exoticism, a paradisiac setting, sandy beaches. They pay attention to my accent…However, it is not always ‘‘advantageous’’. For example, I wanted to take my permit at the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland but I could not : why ? Because I did not have a second proof of residence in the United States. They did not want to accept a letter written by the school certifying that I live on campus. In other words, though I willfully planned to travel to the USA, I was forced to abide by certain regulations before entering the country.

In our preceding readings, we met with enforced travelers such as Edwards in ''The Dawn Treader'' or Foster in ''Black Rainbow.'' However, their travel proved to be beneficial because it had liberating effects : Edwards got rid of his dragonish traits because travel forced him to face himself and to become aware of his flaws, and Foster became a free moral agent. In ''They Who Do not Grieve'', enforced travel appears detrimental. Tausi, Alofa’s grand-mother who was taken to Giu Sila to live with her daughter Fue is not happy. This unhapiness results in the changing of the ‘‘geography of her face’’ in the sense that her growing sadness draws progressively on her face and finally leads to her death. Samoan identity is completely depised in Giu Sila even by Somoan themselves. Aunt Fue does not want to have anything to do with it. She forbids Alofa to speak Samoan to her cousins, she advises her not to marry an Islander and because she learns that she slept with Apa, she makes Alofa leave from her house. Alofa has to give priority to the English laguage in order to create a link with the outside world of Giu Sila and to survive. Without English, she cannot find a job and earn money. However, she resists in the sense that she ‘‘uses the English language only when it is necessary.’’
Samoan physical identity is in direct opposition with the beauty canon of Giu Sila. Enforced travel makes Alofa aware of her physical difference (flaws according to palagi people) and of the fact that she has to change her physical appearance in order to be like others. For example, when Apa aks her if he can paint her, she replies : ‘‘You think people would wanna look at me ? This bony neck ? These prunes for breasts ? And thick thighs, too ?’’ She tells him about those people who hand her pamphlets on beauty creams with white ladies on them. She also mentions the racist insults she suffers from. What sould be valued and consider as contributing to diversity is criticised and looked down upon .

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