Canada is known for its democratic attitude towards immigrants who make the bulk of its population. However, here the cultures clash and affect even those who were born in Canada but whose ancestors were of different origin (Watkins, Ho, & Butler, 2017). ‘Being Canadian’ by Denise Chong and ‘Why My Mother Can’t Speak English’ by Garry Engkent have their authors looking back on past experience. Both essays address the issue of self-identification of Chinese Canadian citizens who share their inner conflicts with the public, though in a different manner.
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‘Being Canadian’ by Denise Chong is a personal essay in which the author speculates on what it means to be Canadian. The author provides its audience with historical analysis accompanied by her flashbacks. Denise concludes: “I didn’t get to choose my ancestors, but I can try to leave the world a better place for the generations that follow” (Chong, 1995, p. 2). The essay takes a form of a critical memoir that is intended to uphold a certain idea of identity of the immigrants’ descendants in Canada.
The main idea of ‘Why My Mother Can’t Speak English’ by Garry Engkent is that one does not have to cling to their heritage becoming unable to embrace culture of a new country. In this way, the author’s voice is in consonance with Chong. The author’s mother did not learn English “because she feared that learning English would change her Chinese soul” (Engkent, 1991, p. 74). However, despite her fears, Garry’s mother has found acceptance and open-mindedness.
The first story is written in an inspirational tone by the person who is proud and critical when describing what it means to be Canadian. She is rather Canadian by her birth than Chinese, by the origin of her grandparents (Chong, 2014). At the same time, the general mood of the writing is clear and affirmative, as she conveys respect for her Chinese heritage and ancestors. The author is seeking for a uniting idea, a symbol, or a myth that could be shared by all Canadian citizens regardless of their race, origin, or age.
Engkent presents his story in a more informal style than his opponent. He does not lead the audience anywhere with the help of exceptional oratory mastery. What he does is narrate a story, as if not his but someone else’s. He uses vivid descriptions to depict his family life and his relationship with parents, with the help of epithets of feelings, such as grief-stricken, indignant, painful, tender, and others (Engkent, 1991). He sounds forlorn when he describes the inner conflict between his identity as a Canadian and his Chinese heritage.
Chong (1995) is critical and sarcastic when she speaks about the Canadian flag that is used outside Canada on travelers’ backpacks. She is hopeful when she speaks about responsibility of citizenship, and heroes that might be found within. Another peculiarity of the text is a tendency to generalize, speaking on behalf of all Canadians: “It is what we as Canadians choose to have in common with each other” (Chong, 1995, p. 3). The essay sounds like an inspirational speech to be given from a platform.
In Engkent’s work, several Chinese terms, such as fan gwei, lai-shi, gum san, noi yiren, are used without translations. They give the audience the feeling of authenticity and demonstrate the strong attachment of Gary’s mother to her heritage. The focus on human feelings is an effective rhetorical instrument employed by the author (Wink, 2015). The essay speaks to people’s hearts, so it has a stronger impact.
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The internal search for one’s identity is a cornerstone of Canadian society. Some lament not being able to understand their parents, who preserved their original culture in a cocoon of fear and doubts, while others look forward with hope. Some are concentrated on their experiences and feelings, while others call for actions and translate opinions feeling rightful and at home. All in all, both these approaches can influence society on different levels – either emotional or pragmatical.
Chong, D. (1995). Being Canadian. The Globe and Mail, p. A29.
Chong, D. (2014). The past is now: Grandchild of a concubine [Video file]. Web.
Engkent, G. (1991). Why my mother can’t speak English. In B. Lee & J. Wong-Chu (Eds.), Many-mouthed birds: Contemporary writing by Chinese Canadians (pp. 9-16). Vancouver, Canada: Douglas & McIntyre.
Watkins, M., Ho, C., & Butler, R. (2017). Asian migration and education cultures in the Anglo-sphere. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43(14), 2283-2299. Web.
Wink, K. A. (2015). Rhetorical strategies for composition: Cracking an academic code. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.