Mark Keppel High School

Immigration & literature: Sun Yung Shin’s perspective

Following my previous article, here is another author’s perspective on how immigration affects literature. Sun Yung Shin is the author of “Unbearable Splendor,” a collection of essays and poems that captures her thoughts on immigration.

Q: How do you think “Unbearable Splendor” represents the struggles of immigration?

A: I tried to explore the politics of hospitality—the notion of who is labeled a foreigner, a stranger, and what that does to both the host and the guest.

Q: How do you think writing your story helped you get your message across?

A: I used figures that others might know (e.g Antigone, the Minotaur, robots and replicants) to get across the message that what is “human” has blurry edges and what is “normal” is always constructed, always cultural.

Q: What do you hope readers can get from reading “Unbearable Splendor”?

A: I hope that readers will gain an understanding of the complexity of the ways we create strangers our of fear and xenophobia and hatred of the Other. I think I was also exploring patriarchy, civil war, crime and punishment, displacement, migration, and other themes.

Q: How do you think immigration is portrayed in literature, and what kind of effect do you think the two have on each other?

A: In terms of American literature, specifically, just to limit the question, I would just say that immigration narratives have not included me as an adoptee, so I have been interested in contributing my perspective on the how transnational adoption is at the intersection of many confluences of genealogy, kinship, reproductive (in)justice, societal values around citizenship, gender, economics, politics, memory, and intimacy.

Q: Do you think literature is an effective way to share stories on immigration? Why or why not?

A: Yes. I think literature and art reaches people in complex, surprising, individual, and collective ways. Art brings people together through its beauty or startling magnetism. Literature allows us to enter into subjectivities and times and places we might never know otherwise, and expands our imaginations of what is possible in the human condition and human relations.

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