‘Unable to think in my mother’s tongue’: immigrant daughters in Alice Pung’s 'Unpolished Gem' and Hsu-Ming Teo’s 'Behind the Moon'

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Healy, Alice
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This paper explores ‘the immigrant’s story in translation’ through the various instances of language spoken between parents and children. It analyses the experience of immigrant daughters in two ‘Asian-Australian’ texts – Alice Pung’s recent memoir Unpolished Gem and Hsu-Ming Teo’s Behind the Moon. I position these texts in the context of the reception of literature labelled ‘Asian-Australian’ in the market, exploring Hsu-Ming Teo’s critique of such positioning. Centrally, the paper examines language in all the traditions and moral understandings that language applies, the transformative speech acts between parent and child, and the creative exploration of English as a spectre re-enforcing ‘white nationalism’.The experience of first generation Chinese Australians, in particular Chinese-Singaporeans, Chinese-Malaysians and Chinese-Cambodians, are explored in a reading of this novel and memoir. The point of connection between them is the very different languages between the generations, to the extent that the daughters think in different languages to their mothers, hence a shift in perceiving the world (and society) around them.
Peer-reviewed article