What are the themes in the poem "My Country and My People" by Lee Tzu Pheng?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Pheng offers an ironic and somewhat critical take on her country, Singapore, and her people, many of them immigrants. She tries, in this poem, to understand what her homeland means to her. Her theme is that we can make a homeland in a changing environment out of what we have been given if we cultivate a generosity of heart.

She notes that Singapore has been a place in rapid change, without a fixed identity, "neither here nor there." Pheng has grown up under the shadow of China, has been taught that westerners are "devils," and yet has been taught to read their books. It is hard for her to know exactly who she is or what it means to be from Singapore. When she goes back to her parents' home, she says

I had no land to till;
only a duck that would not lay.

Pheng was born into what was supposed to be a better period of history than her parents' time—and it is—but, as she notes, these benefits come with a price. For example, the highways running through her country caused the "great" trees to be cut down and replaced by little ones, while the buffalo had to be "impound[ed]" so as not to impede the cars. New housing has sprung up everywhere, due to an exploding population, but it consists of tiny "mini-flats."

Despite a sense of conflicting identities and environmental damage in her new, fast-growing Singapore, Pheng ends the poem on a note of hope. She has carefully tended her humanity to "make a hundred flowers bloom" and thus developed a sense of kinship with her people:

my people, and my country,
are you, and you my home.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team