Who is Maria Lewitt? What particular ideas does her poem "Smugglers" communicate about and through its representation of the Australian immigrant experience?

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Maria Lewitt’s Polish-Jewish heritage cannot be divorced from her work as an author, and her poem “Smugglers” reflects the history of one who herself emigrated from her native Poland, where she was fortunate to survive the horrors of Nazi occupation and the Holocaust.  Part of a mass migration that fled Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, Lewitt emigrated to Australia and began life anew.  “Smugglers,” however, while reflecting her own experiences as an immigrant in a new country, represents the immigrant experience writ large.  Especially as a first-generation immigrant, the experiences associated with the process of leaving one’s country of birth to begin a new life abroad is colored by the uncertainties that greet each new immigrant and by the prejudices they face while attempting to assimilate into their new communities.  As Lewitt writes early in “Smugglers,”

“We smuggled in

Values and slanted opinions.” 

The author is noting that immigrants bring with them the values, traditions, and perceptions that were shaped in a far different culture.  For a Polish and Yiddish-speaking immigrant from Eastern Europe, especially in the years immediately following the destruction of her country and the genocide of her fellow Jews, transitioning to an English-speaking island nation in the South Pacific could not have been easy.  In most countries, immigrants are looked down upon and treated with suspicion if not outright contempt.  They are often viewed as contaminating the culture native to the country in which they have newly arrived.  It is in that context that Lewitt ends her poem with the following:

“We were left alone

 And wherever we go,

 We leave a trail

 Of unsuspected contraband,

 Sometimes polluting, sometimes enriching

 Our adopted Home.”

The use of the ‘smuggling’ metaphor to denote the immigrant experience is intended to convey the resentments felt by immigrants suspected of bringing with them alien ideas as well as substances (i.e., drugs).  Lewitt takes pains, however, to note that immigrants bring positive as well as negative influences, and that being treated as anonymous cargo entering a port, while dehumanizing, is simply part of the process.

lsumner's profile pic

lsumner | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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In Maria Lewitt's poem "Smugglers," the author communicates the feelings associated with being an immigrant arriving to a new country. These feelings are relevant to many immigrants and their experiences, not just to the "Australian experience" posed in the student's original question. No doubt, the author considers the new immigration experience as a dispassionate welcoming. As a new immigrant, the speaker communicates how efficient yet impersonal her passing into a new country is:

We were met
By brisk efficiency
Passport, Landing Permit.
Vaccination. Chest X-Ray
Name. Nationality.
And yes,-
Anything to declare?

Clearly, the speaker is comparing how arriving into a new country is like going through a security checkpoint in an airport. There is no friendly interaction. It is a mechanical process. No one is welcoming the new immigrant. It is a cold and indifferent passage.

The speaker then continues to communicate her experience at the insensitive checkpoint: 

Nothing was confiscated.
We were free to go.
Our bodies bent
Under the heavy cargo
Of our past
We smuggled in
Values and slanted opinions

The speaker expresses the idea of how her life has been shaped by her homeland--made her who she is as a person. She was taught values and opinions from her homeland, and now she is "smuggling" these values and opinions into her new country. Truly, she is going to miss her homeland, but she is taking a part of it with her into the new country that she has adopted as it has adopted her.

"Memories of distant people" is what she is bringing to her new country. She is missing people from her homeland. "Fading cities and lost sunsets" provide the reader with the idea that the speaker will forget some things from her homeland.

The last stanza expresses how people in the new country are indifferent to her background. She explains how she will be leaving a trail as she shares how her culture and background have shaped how she will interact with people in her new country. For the most part, the speaker insists that people in her new country do not really care about the immigration of foreigners: 

Nobody asked, nobody cared.
We were left alone.
And wherever we go
We leave a trail
Of unsuspected contraband.
Sometimes polluting, sometimes enriching
Our adopted Home

Sources:
mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Although the immigrants come to the new country, they ¨smuggle¨ in their past, their heritage, and their crises.

We smuggled in
Values and slanted opinions.

People are always a part of the land they have lived in, the God that they have worshiped, and the customs that they have held.  So, when they enter another country, some can not relate to them, nor can they easily assimilate into the new culture.

W. Somerset Waugham said that no one can understand someone unless he is that person; unless he has sung the same songs, believed in the same wives' tales, and shared other experiences. This is the dilemma of the immigrant. He is a foreigner not just in nationality; he is foreign to the culture, the little wives 'tales, the customs and the food that one eats, and no so on.

Assimilation into a foreign country is always difficult. People coming into a new land are examined and looked at askance. For, they must prove that they are not going to be a problem:

We were left alone
And wherever we go,
We leave a trail
Of unsuspected contraband,
Sometimes polluting, sometimes enriching
Our adopted Home.

When one is not part of a culture, he/she is looked at with some suspicion. In her poem Lewitt writes of the alienation of a person leaving her country for another, a strange land where the immigrants are treated as less than worthy compared to the citizens.

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