From the Editors - Winter 2016
This issue’s theme is ‘Diaspora and Migration’. We at the Asia Literary Review chose it before immigration became one of the most explosive socio-political topics of the year. We set out simply to explore how the combining of cultures and ethnicities can shape or rattle personal identities, and to consider how the mingling of East and West have led to captivating and often disconcerting story lines. However, Brexit, Trump and heart-wrenching pictures of displaced refugees have raised the volume of debate about human migration to a fever pitch that reverberates from Tibet to Tijuana. Empathy has clashed against self-interest, idealism against subconscious bias, tradition against modernity. As much as we at the ALR and many others in the international writing community believe that human commonality can prevail over division, the world is clearly in no kumbaya mood of racial harmony.
Faced in the past with similar challenges, humanity has never tended to move backwards – at least, not for long. As much as global migration has led to thorny implications, reversing it (dare the ‘D’ word, ‘deportation’, be uttered?) is both impractical and deplorable. And actually building walls? Be serious. Periods in history blighted by the segregation of populations have been among the darkest. Looking ahead, races, religions and cultures are destined to continue to commingle as borders remain porous. But how peacefully or confrontationally that trend will progress is an unsettling question that lacks a clear answer.
Much of this issue of the ALR is devoted to examining the impact of migration on individuals’ emotions and psyches. ALR32 employs a broad definition of ‘immigrant’ to include diasporas, refugees and Western expatriates. The last group is too often excluded in the definition of the term. In reality, for Westerners seeking wealth, adventure and social freedoms, the exploitation of faraway lands and exotic colonies has long been irresistible. A similar traffic from the West to fast-growing Asian countries over the past few decades represents a relentless migratory force.
A number of the pieces in this issue deal with South Asians in Britain, by far the UK’s largest ethnic minority, constituting almost five per cent of the country’s population. It’s difficult to imagine British society without citizens ethnically linked to the subcontinent. Without them, the stew that is modern Britain would be insipid – porridge rather than rogan josh. South Asian contributions to British society are far too numerous to detail here. Yet, many South Asians continue to feel shackled by Otherness. The arresting portrait of the young girl on our cover (by ninety-four-year-old Coventrian photographer Maganbhai Patel) perfectly captures an individual bewildered by a world with so many unanswered questions. South Asians in Britain face a similar predicament – that of a people endowed with a rich cultural heritage who nonetheless still strive for identity and acceptance in their chosen home.
This volume also includes accounts of lives transplanted to and from China, bringing to light the complexities of a society that has been precariously juggling change and constraint. The ALR is especially pleased to present an interview with Madeleine Thien, the Canadian author whose acclaim has gone global in 2016 due to her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and winning Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award and Scotiabank Giller Award. Her novel, which weaves intricate portraits of Shanghainese families navigating the upheavals of modern China, is particularly noteworthy given that Madeleine is a writer in the Chinese diaspora with few personal ties to mainland China. Her work is an admirable testimony to the power of combining committed passion with meticulous research.
Stories of migration and diaspora are compelling because they provide the opportunity for each of us to peer both outwards and in. We are drawn to the inherent adventure of facing new challenges and experiences. As the stories unfold, none of us can help but ask fundamental questions of ourselves – what would I do, how would I cope? We cheer fulfilled hopes and mourn crushed dreams. These stories resonate at our core because there are bits of the Immigrant in every individual. None of us is wholly native to any one place; we are collected pieces from both here and there. Just because we choose to gather in groups based on perceived commonalities does not negate this universality. As a socially turbulent 2016 draws to a close, we at the ALR hope that people will strive occasionally to look out beyond the prevailing melée and keep sight of this enduring truth.