Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Faces

“For she was simply fed up with the layers people clothed themselves in…the facades people wore on their faces and how they pass on such facades to their children.” (151)

In They Who Do Not Grieve, Sia Figiel warns about people who hide themselves under false faces. She describes Mrs. Winterson, a woman who won’t allow company until she has “put on her face,” both simply applying make-up, and also a way of hiding her true face. She also describes Martin, who pretends to be able to speak the Samoan language only to insult the ladies to whom he is speaking. While Sia Figiel doesn’t condone that readers hide their true selves, the portrayal of characters that hide their true nature has some important implications with regard to our discussions of travel.

The first thing to note is that travel offers the opportunity to be something we may not necessarily be. Several characters in this novel travel from their native island to America or New Zealand in order to make better lives for themselves by being something different than what they would be had they remained home. Aunts Fue and Ela are the most clear cut examples of this. They both take on entirely new identities when they move out of their home country. They change their mannerisms, language, clothing, and even their names. They look for new jobs and receive educations that would not be possible where they are from. Without traveling to a new place they would never have this opportunity to take on new identities. Living in America, we are no strangers to immigrants moving in to take on new identities and find new opportunities for themselves. Many of our families have origins in European countries. Even today this immigration continues at a large rate. Over the years I have noticed the change that immigration has caused in my own neighborhood as the influx of Chinese and Arab immigrants has skyrocketed. They come to escape the worries of their home countries and make better lives for themselves and their children. They come to take on new faces: to find new opportunities, to be new people, and to allow their children to be new people.

Although immigrants may be given an opportunity for a fresh start when they travel to a new country, it is nearly impossible to hide the fact that they are immigrants. That which is essential to who they are will truly remain. Though they may learn to speak a new language, their original one will always remain in their memory. Furthermore, most people will continue to have an accent even in speaking the new language. The accent prevents people from hiding their true language, one of the true symbols of who a person truly is. There is also no hiding the distinguishing look of a person’s race or ethnicity. Ethnicity, along with language, is another thing that binds people together. Our ethnicity is something that defines us as people. To say that we are of a certain race, we are saying something about who we are. We acknowledge the customs, traditions, language, and history that comes along with being of that race.

While it may often be desired to escape from one life and make a new one by traveling somewhere new, it is also a double edge sword because of the fact that there are certain things which we can never get rid of. After spending several years in America, Aunt Ela looked at herself in the mirror one day and did not recognize the woman she saw there (92). By remembering the person that she used to be, that which is essential to herself, she realizes that she must return to her origins. She tells Martin that she must return to Somoa to speak her own language and see her family and the other villagers, people of her own race. While Figiel recognizes and advocates travel as a way to broaden one’s own opportunities, she also presents it as a warning not to lose that which makes us who we are.

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