Belonging is a natural human instinct of how we define ourselves in the world we are living in. Our belonging to or connections with people, places and groups enable us to develop an unique characteristics in our personalities. Our perception of belonging is influenced by the personal, cultural, historical and social context of our surroundings. Identity, community, society’s attitude, relationships and culture are aspects of belonging that contribute to broaden or deepen our sense of Belonging or Not Belonging.
The sense of not belonging felt by individual can be evolved to become a sense of belonging by factors of the aspects of belonging through experiencing physical or inner journey and vice versa. Identity is defined as the distinct characteristics of an individual possessed by which a person is recognized or known as. Individual who possesses a strong and unique personal or cultural identity will intensify their sense of belonging or not belonging.
In the novel, the China Coin, by Allan Baillie, explores how personal and cultural identity of the protagonist, Leah Waters, could be changed from alienation of not belonging to acceptance of belonging by experiencing physical and inner journeys. In the beginning of the novel, Leah senses alienation and distanced toward China as she identify herself as an Australian instead of a Chinese. The monologue from Leah’s mind, ‘Couldn’t the woman see? She was not Chinese, not even an ABC – Australian born Chinese. Joan was Chinese, but Dad, David Waters, had been English. Didn’t it show?
’ suggested that Leah identify herself that she does not belong as a Chinese. A similar situation is also described in the film Avatar, directed by James Cameron, when the protagonist, Jake Sully, who was a disabled person that chosen for a mining operation in a distanced planet. Jake said, ‘so, here I am… they offer me the gig because I could link with the avatar which is insanely expensive’. This reveal that Jake felt isolated and discriminated in the same sense as Leah towards China. The sense of not belonging will create a barrier that further prevents the willingness to belong in a new area.
Leah’s sense of identity however gradually changed from not belonging to belonging, as it is shown in her monologue “No, you’re not Chinese, but you’re not not Chinese,” this suggested that Leah has recognized her identity as a Chinese and is willing to accept her multicultural identity. Relationship is the critical factor that can escalate the sense of belonging as it allows interaction between people which will increase their communication which in turns increase their understanding and this lead to an increase in the sense of belonging.
In “China Coin”, the half ancient Chinese coin represents a separated relationship to Leah and Joan’s family. Throughout their journey, Leah and Joan expanded their relationship with the Ji family. Leah in particular changed her sense of belonging during her interaction with Swallow. Swallow said, “it’s all right, now you got a sister,” and Leah relied, “You? Yeah, thanks kid. ” This suggested that relationship grew between Leah and Swallow through their conversation and this strengthen Leah’s sense of belonging.
When Leah and Joan left the Good Field village, Leah said, “Will we ever see them again? ” and “Yes. We’re family,” shows that this is a milestone where Leah as she sense belonging when she relate herself to the Ji family as her own family. Community acceptance and Society’s attitude are important factor which correspond to each other which magnify the sense of belonging. Community acceptance is being welcomed to be part of a family or group and society’s attitudes are the believes sees by individual.
Community acceptance towards Leah and Joan is shown when they found the Good Field village. “Grandfather … wrapped his arms about Joan. ‘Welcome back, Sister. ’” This is a touching scene that demonstrates Chinese community is welcoming towards their relatives which escalate their sense of belonging. A further example of community acceptance is when Joan had an accident and Leah was left alone. Ke, the son of the Zhu family, recognized Leah as a family member from the letter from Joan’s father and offered hospitality.
“Leah should stay in my family’s house. She is my family. ” This contributes to increase Leah’s sense of belonging as Ke assisted her when she was helpless because of Joan’s accident. The discriminative society attitudes directed toward Leah and Joan as foreign Chinese, however, restricted their growth of sense of belonging. The biased comment from the women on the train, “You Oversea Chinese do not know anything, just how to make money and get fat,” signal and deepen the barrier to belong in a new community when discriminative attitudes rumoured.
A powerful example of the combination of community acceptance and cultural understanding that highlighted the emotional sense of belonging is that Jake Sully, the protagonist in the film Avatar, chose to belong to the alien natives, the Omaticaya, to against invading human when he himself is a human because he developed his sense of belonging as he learn the culture of the Omaticaya through understanding and challenges and he realize the deceiving tricks exercised by the human. Jake was accepted in the Omaticaya community as he said in his last video log, “…I’m not gonna be coming back…I don’t want to be late for my own party.
It’s my birthday after all. This is Jake Sully signing off. ” The community acceptances and cultural understandings are emphasized when Jake said, “It’s my birthday after all” with the conjunction monologue stating that, “the Na’vi say, ‘every person is born twice, the second time is when you earned your place among the people, forever’. ” The sense of belonging is highlighted when Jake’s soul at the end was permanently transferred to his avatar via the spiritual ceremony conducted by the Omaticaya.
With the use of extreme close up camera shot, it shows Jake belong to the Omaticaya community now as he opening his eye in his avatar body. In conclusion, during our lifetime, our sense of identity, the surrounding community, society’s attitude, the complex interaction of relationship and our culture will alter our sense of belonging or not belonging as we would experience physical or inner journey. It is critical and essential that we understand our sense of belonging or not belonging thoroughly in order to define ourselves in the world we are living in.
Courtney from Study Moose
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