Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In the special dedications for the poems in Expounding the Doubtful Points, Lum says that “Translations” is “for Jeffrey Paul Chan in appreciation of his letter to the editor, New York Review of Books, April 28, 1977.” Chan’s letter was written as an explanatory corrective to a review (significantly entitled “Ghosts”) by Diane Johnson in which Johnson discussed Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976). The thrust of his critique is that Johnson “knows nothing about Chinese-American society” (which he demonstrates with considerable historical support) and that her contention that “Chinese-Americans are a notably unassimilated culture” is nonsense. Contrary to her claim that “generations go nameless,” Chan explains that to comply with immigration regulations many Chinese American families give their children both an American and a Chinese name in a subversion of the “white Christian missionary invention of the double name system to break down the hold of Chinese language and culture on converts.” In other words, the question of identity is contested on linguistic grounds since the entire history and heritage of a people is threatened with extinction if ancestors become amorphous, ghostlike entities.

Lum’s goal in “Translations” is to explore the complex nature of the assimilation process in terms of his understanding of his “ethnic self” as “first...

(The entire section is 493 words.)