Writing as cultural negotiation: Suneeta Peres da Costa and Alice Pung
Mina Pereira, the narrator of Suneeta Peres da Costa's novel Homework, is born with feelers on top of her head:small protuberances, or antennae, which grow bogger at times of emotional stress. 'She might be a little bit sensitive, thats all' (Peres da Costa, 1999:5), her parents explain, defending their daughter against insensitive strangers accusing her of being an alien, and extraterrestrial, a mutant. Mina is sensitive, as is the young protagonist of Alice Pung's autobiographical narrative Unpolished Gem, sensitive to their difference as reflected in the eyes and behaviour of schoolmates and friends, sensitive, in particular, to cultural conflicts and competing demands arising as they navigate the gulf between their family and the wider Australian society. The extraordinarily sensitive cultural feelers which are the birthright of migrant children give them the ability to negotiate the treacherous terrain which separates their home from the wider world and this to act as go-betweens between their parents and mainstream society. Tracing the process of socialization as cultural negotiation in these two stories about growing up Asian in Australia I argue that the young authors also negotiate conventions of lifewrtiting, migrant writing, coming-of-age narratives and women's writing to accommodate their particular sense of belonging - and not belonging - within the literary and cultural traditions which form past of their complex inheritance.