Exile as Inadequacy
Constantin Eretescu

In the 80?s, when I was editor of the American version of the newspaper The Struggle I met a Romanian from New York. He was about fifty years old, born somewhere in Bistriţa-Năsăud. He was recommending himself as a theater person and he was sending me dramatic reviews of the performances of Romanian artists who had gotten to the States. But his greatest desire was to get in the Guinness Book of Records. He had also discovered the means to do that. It was quite in handy. He just had to do it. He was to set the absolute world record at poetry declaiming. Said and done. He started recording poems. Most of them, if not all, were from Romanian authors. He was keeping a strict record and was comparing it to the successes of his forerunners, such as Caruso who had interpreted throughout his lifetime tons of songs. As a proof of his record he was sending copies of his tapes to the Library of Congress and to other cultural institutions. All these institutions, according to the Anglo-Saxon rule, were confirming the receiving of the tapes and were formally thanking him. He also sent me a few tapes. It was hard to listen to them, not only because they were done with a non-professional installation, but also because they were done in his extremely noisy apartment which was just above a subway tunnel. After the tapes, he sent me a file with copies of all the confirmation and thank you letters he had received. He was demanding me to publish them in the newspaper. We were in those years when the press in Romania was printing full pages of thank you and gratitude telegrams sent to Ceauşescu. No doubt that he had been inspired by that. Like any true artist he thought that he had the right to a similar treatment. Because I was unfair and unjust enough to point that to him, the reciting champion repudiated both the newspaper and me. Years passed and I am still wondering if our theater person managed to get in the book of records after all.

A dramatic, I dare call it, case of inadequacy affected a quarter of a century ago the entire ethnic group of the Hmong Immigrants. The Hmong population, originating in Asia, counts a few million people. They are a semi-nomadic group which migrates in the border region between Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. In the past three decades, about three and a half million returned and settled in China, the country they had left a century ago. They were a backward population who didn?t know writing and who practiced a primitive form of agriculture. During the Vietnam War, the American military commander used the Hmongs in order to keep an eye on the permanently changing position of the North Vietnamese troops. They were also used in order to recuperate the pilots of the choppers shot down by the enemies. The promise was that the ones who would suffer from this collaboration would be relocated in the United States. After losing the war, the Americans forgot about their promise. They were reminded of it by the exodus of the Hmongs who had started being persecuted by the victorious Vietnamese. That was why, years later, approximately a million Hmongs found a new home on the North American continent.  The problems occurred only after that. The newcomers hadn?t heard of electricity and they couldn?t figure out how to use the water installation. For a long time the rice was washed in the toilet can, the fridge was kept as a decorative object and nobody touched the light switches. At the same time, various group members could be seen hunting squirrels and pigeons or planting their vegetables in the parks and vacant lands of the city. The degree of alienation resulted from the cultural differences was so high that the social services workers thought that their adaptation to the general level of the American population was impossible. Things were very serious because, due to the fact that they were from a traditional society, the group cultivated respect for the elders. They were taking the decisions for everybody and they had to be obeyed. But it was precisely the elders who were against the new. Fortunately for them, things changed for the better once the new generation developed. With small changes, the state of initial inadjustability is still present in the elder.

In its various degrees, from eccentricity to lunacy, the state of inadequacy is not, God forbid, an absolute feature of the exile. We would be unjust towards the ones who remained behind, in the country. It is just that in exile it touches much more many people. Otherwise, people like them can be found in the country as well. In a book by Vintilă Mihăilescu(The Fascination of Difference) I find the following description of the apartment of the executive manager of the marketplace from a little mining village in Romania. We are talking about a newly-built block of flats. ?I entered a hallucinating room, in the shape of a cave from painted plaster. It had everything: stalactites, stalagmites and all. In a corner there was a bar shaped like a tree hollow, made out of brown plaster. On the ceiling there was a blue sky with bronze stars. On the table, on a plush doily, there was the picture of Alain Delon. The frame of the picture was fretwork with traditional models.?  This occurs frequently in the case of change of environment. Unprepared changes from the rural to the urban are usually accompanied by such confusion. The one who is in such a situation doesn?t have the instruments needed for the perception of the cultural difference. The behavioral inadequacies and the feeling that everyone is free to do anything derive from here. The quoted example is typical. It could also be interpreted in a Freudian manner as an unconscious aspiration to primary spaces, cave, and maternal uterus. There are not many differences of behavior between the peasants who become overnight inhabitants of large cities and those who leave their ethnic group and enter a foreign culture. This doesn?t happen in homogeneous groups and societies where individual behavior is permanently validated by the others.

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