Most of our readings so far have been primary sources – diaries or letters. The Island reading was still a primary source, but in a very different way since it took the form of poetry. The poetry covered a wide range of topics including the voyage Chinese immigrants experienced, their arrival, their detention, their longing for their homes, and their hatred and desire for vengeance against the white “barbarians” that imprisoned them on Angel Island. The most common theme found within the poems was definitely poverty, which is also something these poems have in common with the rest of our readings. The poems also discussed their families and occasionally the poets would talk about their regrets and how they wished they had never come. All of these topics are important, but I think the most interesting theme to me is the politics of the time, and how the immigrants viewed the relationship between China and the United States. Poem number 68 demonstrates this especially well: “But the powers still have not yet recognized China / Primary because foreign debts were piling up / The foreigners pushed to control finances and to seize power.” I also think it’s interesting to see how some of the poems even foreshadow the revolution and economic buildup in China, like in poem 73: “I have ten thousand hopes that the revolutionary armies will complete their victory” and in poem 86: “One day after we have united to make our nation strong, / We will then reciprocate in kind to America.” Finally, I think the saddest poems were the ones that discussed the health and medical treatment of the immigrants. A good example of this is poem 96 where the author writes, “They stab the ear to test the blood, and in addition they examine the excrement / If there is even a shadow of hookworms, one must be transferred to undergo a cure … / Imprisoned in the hospital, I was miserable with grief and sorrow.” The depth of the poems definitely made me wish we had poetry like this for all the immigrant groups we’ve already studied and will study, but I appreciate how uniquely Chinese the poetry is too.
I completely agree with your comment about how while our sources and readings have been primary sources and personal effects such as letters and diaries but these poems were a different kind of source. I think that these poems really showed the impact of these conditions on the immigrants and showed their culture through the poems that were noted as being written in Classical Chinese style poetry.