Area of Study- Belonging

Belonging is an essential part of the human experience. Belonging to a community can be empowering or disempowering. Peter Skrzynecki uses the medium of poetry in ???Migrant Chronicle??? to explore the painful process of belonging to a new alien community, and the negative and positive consequences. ???Migrant Hostel??? represents the first stage of the resettlement process and the disempowering feelings associated with trying to belong. ???10 Mary Street??? and ???Feliks Skrzynecki??? celebrate empowerment of establishing a family home. Shaun Tan??™s Graphical novel ???The Arrival??? looks at one man??™s journey for acceptance in an alien community. While ???All at sea in a leaky boat???, a feature article from the Sydney Morning Herald, deals with the disempowering racism that leaves all migrants feeling alienated and inadequate.
???Migrant Hostel??? is a significant stage of the migrant journey, where the Skrzynecki family spend two years in a hostel closely resembling a military camp. The use of the word ???Hostel??? in the title creates an image of acceptance and security. A ???Hostel??? is usually a place where one is looked after, however this is juxtaposed with negative images of dislocation and alienation in the poem. The migrants are caught in a no-man??™s land, cut-off from their old culture and separated from the new community. The ???barrier at the main gate??? is symbolic of their separation in a physical sense. The gate is likened to a ???finger/pointed in shame or reprimand??? which is symbolic of the community??™s racism towards the migrants. This also adds to the social and mental separation felt by migrants. Skrzynecki has used ???Migrant Hostel??? to show how not belonging to a community can be disempowering and generate feelings of dislocation and worthlessness.
Skrzynecki uses imagery to portray how isolation can be disempowering. Images like ???busloads??? and ???arrivals and sudden departures??? create a sense of confusion and anonymity. The bird imagery created in the simile ???like a homing pigeon/circling to gain its bearings??? creates a sense of dizziness or disorientation, which contributes to the confusion felt by migrants. The repetition of the bird imagery ???like birds of passage??? is symbolic of being caged and locked up like a bird, powerless. It also hints at the migrants underlying need to move on and be free. The feelings of disorientation and being caged suggest how being cut off from the community leaves the Skrzynecki family and other migrants feeling powerless.
???All at sea in a leaky boat??? supports ???Migrant Hostel???, further exploring how racism and segregation can leave people feeling alienated and inadequate. The image of ???Behind big metal gates??? creates a sense of dislocation for the asylum seekers, physically removed from the broader society. The ???Boat people??? are offered accommodation at the ???welcome centre??? where they are ???locked in their hundreds in hot, concrete segregated yards.??? The positive image of a ???welcome centre??? is juxtaposed with harsh reality. This harsh reality is also accompanied with the racist views of the community, where the mayor claims that he ???is not racist, but??? that ???the stench of Negro flesh stinks even when it is washed???. This derogatory quote delivered by a spokesman for society reflects the attitudes towards the Africans who are ???fleeing war, persecution and famine???. This article highlights the struggle undertaken by asylum seekers seeking a new beginning. Exploring how dislocation and discrimination can leave this minority feeling inadequate and disempowered.
???The Arrival??? echoes the frustration felt by the new comers in ???Migrant Hostel??? and ???All at sea in a leaky boat???. The protagonist feels lost, insecure and powerless upon arrival to an alien community, without the family unit left behind in Europe. The scene of arrival uses imagery to portray the insecurity and loss of identity felt by the man as he steps off a huge steam boat into a line of shadowed faces. The snake like line slithering into the horizon coupled with the shadowed faces is symbolic of the loss of identity felt by the new comers. Tan has used this image alone to illustrate how dislocation to the community can render a man feeling powerless. Another technique used by Tan is the size of the panels, which can slow down or speed up the pace of the novel generating different moods. As the persona disembarks from the ship six small panels speed up the scene, this variation in speed is symbolic of the attitudes of the clerks processing their paper work. These images also display the body language suggesting feelings of fear and uncertainty. Tan has used pace and body language to create the notion that being alienated from a community can leave on feeling unimportant and powerless.
However, as the man progresses through his journey the seemingly migrant community empathises with the man??™s difficulty with the language. He is led to a block of apartments by a helpful passer-by where a smiling lady hands him a key. The key is symbolic of ownership and joining the community in a physical sense while the imagery of a smiling lady and the helpful community reflect the social acceptance felt by the protagonist. This scene generates feelings of empowerment upon being accepted into a once alien community.
Similarly to ???The Arrival???, ???10 Mary Street??? uses the symbolism of a key to create a sense of ownership and pride. The arrivals and departures in this poem create a sense of security in an unchanging routine for ???nineteen years???. This is in contrast to the negative image of busy arrivals and departures of ???Migrant Hostel???. The simile ???like/A dozen Puffing Billies??? is symbolic of the tight knit Polish community the family creates with friends inside the home. As they had ???heated discussion??? and drank ???raw vodka??? they kept the polish community alive. This shows how the Skrzynecki??™s have created feelings of acceptance in their own excluded community, and how not belonging to the wider Australian community can be empowering.
???Feliks Skrzynecki??? is a paean, in honour to Skrzynecki??™s father. The poem presents a still life image of Feliks sitting, smoking with his dog ???watching street lights and starts come on???. This image shows a man at ease, empowered and as Skrzynecki admits ???happy as I have never been???. The third stanza concentrates on how the second generation migrants are drawn out into the new community. Feliks watched in silence as his son was ???pegging??? his ???tents further and further south of Hadrian??™s Wall???. This strong visual metaphor illustrates the powerless father as his son is inevitably moves out into the community.
These texts each effectively explore different views on how belonging or not belonging to a community can be powering or disempowering to an individual or family. Each poem represents a different step in the migration process and reflects the associated feelings of empowerment and disempowerment that come with each circumstance.