Friday, April 27, 2007

We all have pictures, we immigrants
"I had lived all my life an American away from America. Then I returned, a sort of immigrant among immigrants, except that I came to my native land. But it was as new to me as though I came from Sweden or from Italy or Greece. I knew almost as little what to expect before I landed.

"But we all have pictures, we immigrants, of what the America is to which we come. They must be pleasant pictures, or we would not have come. People do not easily leave all they know unless they hope for something much better. Now I had my picture of America, too. It was made up of visual images of my mother's much loved country home, of which she told me many stories, of a land of great plenty and ease, from which came money for the poor Chinese, because all Americans were rich and Christian.

"It would not have occurred to me that there were illiterate Americans, or unwashed or poor Americans, or criminals. As I grew older and understood better inevitable human nature this picture was modified and reason did indeed compel me to understand that heaven existed nowhere.

"But still something of this early picture persisted. Believed, for instance, that in leaving China I was leaving forever the sight of hungry people whom I was powerless to feed. I thought I was leaving behind the sight of wasting floods and dried and sun-baked, treeless lands, swept by dusty winds. I thought I was coming to a country which had organized itself into economic plenty and moral clarity. I had heard all my life that America was rich, and I did not think of these riches as being selfishly gained or used.

"Money was poured generously out of America into China for famine relief, for Christian propaganda, for many and endless causes. Americans, then, though they were rich were generous, interested in a world culture, international-minded. I longed to meet my countrymen, whose idealism seemed almost fantastic to the materialistic philosophy of China."

On Discovering America
Pearl S. Buck
June 1937
Nobel-prize winning author
born Hillsboro, WV


Originally blogged at Appalachian History


the Contrary Goddess said...

I think in many ways Buck's The Good Earth captures the spirit of Appalachia better than so many books written about Appalachia. It takes generations to be native, anywhere. And there are far worse things than being poor, like maybe being wastefully rich. All that captured in Buck's work.

"Well, now, then, when a man had a piece of wheat bread and a stalk of garlic he considered himself well fed." Which may not be an exact quote as it is from memory but we could use more people who considered themselves well fed on a pone of corn bread and pot of beans again. I'll take mine with that stalk of green garlic that is always growing in the garden.

CS said...

I read "The Good Earth" in high school and was taken with the rich descriptions of life, and then read every other book by Pearl Buck in our little school library. She really does speak to a universal experience.

Ron's Thots said...

Pearl buck visited my High School in Fairlea, WV when I was in the 10th Grade. Can you imagine 1100 students remaining still for an hour in a hot gym while this elderly lady spoke? We were all spellbound by her words. She had so many wonderful stories that she shared with us. I cannot remember the details of the stories as much as I remember the grace of the storyteller.