Writing in Context-Pung & Witness - Year12VCE
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Writing in Context
Growing Up Asian in Australia & Witness Mrs Novak 2011
Alice Pung: Growing Up Asian in Australia
We were called 'power points'. This is back in the early 90s, when Bill Gates was beginning to make his fortunes, so I thought, 'That's awesome, we're probably just slightly more dweeby than most people and all these kids probably think we're going to end up doing PowerPoint presentations or being Microsoft magnates...'
And then one of my friends said, 'You know, Alice, they're not complimenting you, that's an insult. Have you looked at an Australian power point socket?' And I said, 'Yeah,' and they said, 'Well, doesn't it look like a sort of face?'
And I had a look at it and I couldn't understand. They saw two sloping lines down and one in the middle, they saw a face, but the power point socket was white and that's...
The pieces in this anthology – like Asian-Australians are so diverse, and the beauty of the book is that it shatters all stereotypes people may have about Asian-Australians…
What moved me was the resilience of our writers, their creativity, humour, quirk and insight – sometimes against severe racism, personal illness, familial pressures and pressure from society to conform… Pung: http://alicepung.com
I wanted to bring out the common humanity of our authors, so that any reader could pick up the book and be amused, amazed, moved and heartened. Pung: http://alicepung.com
All the writers in this anthology explore the idea of being both Asian and Australian. Many write of the struggle to reconcile their two cultures, while others describe feeling excluded from one or even both cultures.
While some celebrate the richness of the different elements of their identity, many of the writers have found establishing a solid sense of Asian-Australian identity to be a painful process.
The anthology shows how a sense of being different can profoundly affect a child, causing loneliness, confusion and very often a desire to deny their own culture. Sometimes, racism and cruelty intensify the misery.
The writers present the difficulty of coping with family expectations, and with parents who cannot comprehend their problems of identity and belonging.
For some writers, assuming an Asian-Australian identity has brought estrangement from the family and made it more difficult to establish a sense of belonging.
Some Important Questions Does growing up Asian in Australia mean combining the best of both cultures, or does it mean losing something important? How much heritage must be lost in the process of assimilating? Are family fracture and cultural alienation necessary by-products of becoming Australian?
Many of the writers tell of seeing a stranger’s face in the mirror. Feeling Australian while looking Asian creates a destabilising sense of dissociation from the self.
Parental demands sometimes seem harsh to young people immersed in an easygoing Australian world.
Parents’ efforts to distance their children from Australian culture can lead to crises in family relationships.
Without the means of expressing yourself and being understood, you remain in the shadows of your adopted country, unable to belong.
Learning how to navigate Australian culture is just as important as learning the language when it comes to finding a sense of belonging.
A judgemental society makes it hard for someone from a minority culture to feel accepted.
An independent identity sometimes comes at a profound cost, such as the loss of one’s birth culture. Some young Asian-Australians describe feeling ‘culturally bipolar’.
For some of the writers, their appearance does not match their sense of who they really are. This strange disconnection is expressed by those who feel most at home in Australia: often third- or fourthgeneration AsianAustralians or the children of blended Anglo-Asian families.
Determining who we are and where we belong as adults is influenced by both our past and our present, by what we already know and what we yearn for.
Finding peers and partners who affirm us is a vital part of this. It is not only Asian-Australians who feel uncertainty and confusion during the adolescent journey towards selfdetermination.
Witness: Peter Weir In Witness (1985) Weir provides the film audience with a window onto the world of the Amish in America.
An Anabaptist Christian denomination particular to North America, the Amish are a devout, peaceful people.
They keep themselves separate from the rest of society, believing that worldliness in the form of such modern developments as cars, tractors, electricity and telephones will distract them from devotion to God and living a simple life.
Predominantly farmers, the Amish preserve traditional ways, wear plain, old-fashioned clothing and have a strong, supportive community spirit. This unites them and creates an intense sense of belonging.
Witness presents two contrasting worlds – gentle Amish farm life and the seedy world of big city crime and crime fighters.
Weir’s film explores what it means to belong to these groups. He shows the moral certainty and strong bonds that come from belonging to a group which is different from the mainstream.
Weir explores the role that choice plays in determining identity. It becomes clear in the film that to be a member of a group is a powerful determinant of your sense of self.
Most people define their identity by the social group (or groups) to which they belong. The Amish have resolutely chosen to separate themselves from mainstream American society and there is great support and acceptance for those who belong.
John Book, his sister Elaine and the police officers, Carter and Schaeffer, are all products of a modern, complex world which requires them to come into daily contact with violence and corruption.
The film depicts the clash of these two cultures and also shows that a growing understanding between people from different cultures can force a painful evaluation of one’s own values, beliefs and sense of self.
The groups we belong to show us and the world who we are. We develop a stronger sense of self when surrounded by people who understand and support us.
John Book desires to do the right thing. Book’s passion for justice is a fundamental part of his identity and is expressed in the career he has chosen. Book’s strong moral ethic is shared by Eli. The Amish community and its beliefs shape his identity and give his life meaning.
The experience of belonging to a family transcends culture and Weir shows, especially through the character of Samuel, that it is a social group which helps to form the individual’s identity at crucial moments.
It is not easy to gain acceptance into an exclusive group. Book and his hosts both understand that he is putting his real identity, purpose and police officer’s ways on hold for a while. Only his carpentry skills, which the Amish regard as useful, win him acceptance among the men.
Some Interesting Questions
What happens when your sense of self becomes destabilised? When people enter an unfamiliar culture they often begin to question their own beliefs and customs.
How difficult would it be to adopt another culture permanently and how would it affect your own identity? Do we freely choose who we become?
The film plays with the possibility that Book could live his life among the Amish. In the end, the power of their established identities is stronger than their desire to be together. It is a measure of Book’s greater worldliness and experience of life that he knows their love is impossible.
Writing in Context So – what, exactly, do you need to do?
You need to write an extended piece that demonstrates knowledge & understanding of both the Context (Identity & Belonging) and the texts (Witness & Pung).
Context: Identity + & Belonging
You can write in an expository, persuasive or creative style. You must demonstrate direct links with one, or both, of the texts studied. Your writing must fulfil the requirements of the criteria.