Immigration can be a painful and to a certain extent puzzling experience for those who leave behind a culture, which was starkly different from the one, they encountered upon immigration. We have heard and read numerous tales of immigration and related problems and thus there have been numerous books on the subject and some of them have left an indelible impression on reader's mind. Two such books, which we shall discuss in this paper are "The woman warrior" and "How Garcia Girls lost their accents" written by Maxine Kingston and Julia Alvarez respectively. In the first novel, which is part fiction and part autobiography, author has described her experience as an immigrant in the United States with reference to her native culture and its restrictions. In the second novel, we come across immigration problems of a Latin American family. While ethnicity, racism and cultural differences are the main themes in both books, they have been highlighted with the help of ghosts.
In How Garcia Girls lost their accents, we encounter ghosts in the form of cultural values and traditions and also in the shape of white race. When Garcia family came to the United States after being exiled from their own country, they encountered serious problems as white people would make fund of their accents and everything Latin. Julia Alvarez has thus has skillfully highlighted the feelings of confusion that most immigrant children go through when their peers reject them. These white children were viewed as ghosts that would want to stop Latin Americans from becoming a part of American society. "Here they were trying to fit in America among Americans; they needed help figuring out who they were, why the Irish kids whose grandparents had been micks were calling the spics." (p.138). Ghosts also appear in the shape of old cultural values which hamstringed the assimilation process. Some people would stick with their old cultures and social values like Alvarez's own parents. For example talking about her work and her own immigrant background, Julia Alvarez says that her parents could never get rid of their roots and the mind-set that it had created. Jerry Berrios, in his article for The Arizona Republic (1998) writes about Julia Alvarez and her immigrant background, which provided impetus for the book under discussion. He writes, "Her [Alvarez's] parents kept immigrant habits. Alvarez's father, a successful doctor, would pinch pennies by turning off lights at home and buying ties at thrift shops."
The other book, Woman Warrior has given a more detailed account of psychological and racial ghosts that immigrants encounter when they enter an alien land with starkly different cultural values and social beliefs. "Woman Warrior" is divided into five long chapters and the dominant theme in the novel has been explained with the use of the term 'ghosts'. It is very important to understand what ghosts represent in the novel because this helps in understanding the psyche and problems of immigrants in a much better manner. Chinese families that moved to United States were not only affected by the culture which was absolutely different form theirs, but they also suffered from lack of friends in a land where people usually viewed them as strangers and never really paid any attention to them. Ghosts in this novel change forms at various stages. There were racial ghosts, historical and cultural ghosts and some psychological ones too. Racial 'Ghosts' for example, were white Americans who refused to take immigrants seriously and were completely indifferent to them. In the beginning of the novel it is the ghosts of a culture she had left behind that haunted the author the most.
The novel is interspersed with instances of anger and confusion that author felt welling up inside her when she encountered these ghosts. The author was not only disturbed by the immigration problems that her family faced with they moved to the United States, but she has also expressed anger against her own traditional culture. In the final chapter for example, Kingston compares Chinese traditions to America culture and reader learns that ghosts represent more than one thing in the novel.
Kingston writes in the final chapter "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe": "From the configurations of food my mother set out, we kids had to infer the holidays. She did not whip us up with holiday anticipation or explain. You only remembered that perhaps a year ago you had eaten monk's food, or that there was meat, and it was a meat holiday...How can Chinese keep any traditions at all? They don't even make you pay attention, slipping in a ceremony and clearing the table before the children notice specialness. The adults get mad, evasive, and shut you up if you ask. You get no warning you shouldn't wear a white ribbon in your hair until they hit you and give you a sideways glare for the rest of the day... But I think that if you don't figure it out, it's all right. Then you can grow up bothered by neither 'ghosts nor deities.' 'Gods you avoid won't hurt you.' I don't see how they kept up a continuous culture for five thousand years." (284)
The above passage makes it clear that while to the author's mother, 'ghosts' represented an alien culture, to the author herself, ghosts were all things that acted as obstacles in the path of freedom and independence. For example, in the first chapter, the author talks about an aunt whose name was never mentioned by family members. This woman had become a 'No name Woman' because she had committed a sin, which was considered unpardonable in Chinese culture. Thus historically, ghosts were all those people who raided the house of her aunt when the news of her illegitimate pregnancy became public. It is very interesting to notice the changing meaning and shape of ghosts in the novel but their significance cannot be ignored because the author's childhood was marred by the presence of these ghosts. 'Ghosts' consistently make an appearance throughout the novel and each time they bring along some truly enlightening information about the author and her childhood. It is in the very first chapter that the author encounters ghost for the first time. This is when her mother finally tells her about her aunt and author concludes that 'ghosts' are people who stifle freedom or made life difficult for those who sought independence.
The villagers broke in the front and the back doors at the same time, even though we had not locked the doors against them. Their knives dripped with the blood of our animals. They smeared blood on the doors and walls. One woman swung a chicken, whose throat she had slit, splattering blood in red arcs about her. We stood together in the middle of our house, in the family hall with the pictures and tables of the ancestors around us, and looked straight ahead." (page. 12)
The Chinese culture and its absurd traditions turned into ghosts that kept on haunting the author until she found her voice when she migrated to the United States and realized that being a woman was not something to be ashamed of. At various occasions in the novel, author examples that being a girl was a huge cause of embarrassment to her when she was young. "There is no profit in raising girls. Better to raise geese than girls."(54) Kingston realized at an early age that 'gender' was something that Chinese people took very seriously because to them only males were anything to be proud of. Kingston compares these values to the ones she encountered when she moved to the land of opportunity. This culture of complete freedom helped her get rid of many old 'ghosts' as she found a voice and turned into a powerful spokeswoman for women of her culture. It was while she was growing up in the United States that she realized how ridicules some of her cultural values were and thus raised her voice against ill treatment of women in her native land. "The Chinese word for the female I (meant) slave" (100)
From her cultural ghosts, the author moves to psychological ghosts and develops some fictional ghosts. Ghosts that were not exactly enemies of freedom but were figures that fought against injustice. Since these ghosts were imaginary figures and resided only in the author's mind, their impact on the story is limited. One such ghost was that of swords-woman who would often appear in author's dreams and symbolized suppressed desire of the writer to seek justice and equality for women. "When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talking-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves. We could be heroines, swordswomen. Even if she had to rage across all China, a swordswoman got even with anybody who hurt her family. Perhaps women were once so dangerous that they had to have their feet bound. It was a woman who invented white…