New Accents, Ouyang Yu
Throughout his New Accents, Ouyang Yu reflects cynically on his encounters with Chinese immigrants in the 1990s. He moves from recalling their mispronunciations with a tone of light-hearted jest, ‘Neechosen Street’ (instead of Nicholson) to doing so with more resentment and frustration, as encapsulated by the ironic mispronunciation of ‘English’ as ‘Anguish’ – anguish is exactly what the poet knows the Chinese immigrants must feel because of their circumstances, and it is what he feels for them too.
The poem ends with Yu confessing that he too was a victim of mispronunciation: he lost his place in a Master of Arts at university because of his difficulty with English. He believes this to be not just a loss for himself, but for the university too, which speaks to his awareness of the value migrants such as himself have in Australian society, as well as just how high the stakes are for those who emigrate from foreign countries.
Indeed, while Yu speaks of the Chinese immigrants with a tone of frustration, it is important to consider how much of this is shaped by his own personal circumstances. It is probable that he is projecting his own bitterness and the pain he experienced during his immigration process onto those whom he encounters.
Cultural assumptions examined
The turbulent process and equally disorienting consequences of assimilation
Yu’s poem represents his struggle to grapple with the often traumatic and distressing process and consequences of assimilation. He rejects the token multiculturalism of Australia, and instead explores the constant ‘othering’ migrants are subject to. He resentfully reflects on the way in which migrants are deprived of opportunities because of their disadvantage, but at the same time are burdened with prejudiced expectations that ensure they will fail, or at the very least struggle even more intensely.