To be a True American Family
"Home is not necessarily positive for some people, and it is important to keep in mind that our memories of these places can be mixed and complex." Professor Brett Myhren
Every culture carries its own definition of family. What, then, is it to be a true American Family? In New Worlds of Literature, Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter has collected a selection of writing pieces according to their themes to observe multicultural lives of Americans. "Boiling pot" is a defining term of the immigration families in America, just as it is often used to describe the diversity of cultures in this country. Multiple generations live under the one roof with distinct perspective in life. These differences often create chasms in between the loved ones like we can observe in the case of Merle Woo and Ma in the "Letter to Ma". On the contrast, the conflicts towards the foreign country, however, could result more closeness and warmth within the family like we can observe from the reading "In the American Society."The chapter "Americans" in the text discusses more thoroughly about the individual's life depending on the cultural influences and ambitions based on the locale or community of the individual as Americans. The introduction to the chapter says, "No other way of life is exactly like ours; no two cultures have exactly the same customs, habits, rituals, and expectations. Making the adjustment can be painful or exciting --- or both" (Beaty and Hunter 720). Family is often the most intimate and inseparable relationships in the world, which could be the reason why "emotions in a family setting tend to be intense" (Beaty and Hunter 115) .
"I wasn't gonna let her get away this time" Waverly (Joy Luck Club, 1993)
"In the American Society"
by Gish Jen
Through the reading "In the American Society" by Gish Jen, the conflict within the family from China, settling in America can be observed in details. The narrator of the story is raised in "U---S---of---A!" with little influence from Chinese culture. Her father and mother reaches success as immigrants to the foreign country through their pancake house, but they hold on to their traditions which causes disagreements between the two. The narrator writes, "For in my father's mind, a family owed its head a degree of loyalty that left no room for dissent" (Jen 731). This highlights the distinctiveness of the ideals of the father and daughter due to the influences of traditions. The narrator is well aware of the separateness of his father's beliefs and of her own. Yet her father follows his daughter's words due to his overflowing love for her. Callie's sister says, "Or I bet Callie can say. He'll do anything Callie says" (Jen 734). This shows how the deep connection in between the two generations has overcome the beliefs and ideals held by the father. Callie's father and mother are heavily influenced by Chinese culture, for example giving money as a bonus to "take care" of his people, which is observed through Callie's Americanized eyes. As an observer, Callie has small disagreements with her father whereas her mother constantly repeats to Callie's father that "This is not China" (Jen 736). Nonetheless Callie's father goes extra steps to take care of "his people" which creates problem in the family. Like Callie's father's old habits, there are often some traditional values residing within the older generation whereas the younger generation have hard time accommodating with such belief; however, in the case of Callie's family, sisters had more heart and respect for their parents. The mixture of two generations create the unique flavor in the family. Each family is different and those differences define the term American family.
"Letter to Ma" by Merle Woo
Unlike the family depicted in the short piece of Gish Jen, Merle Woo depicts a picture of family with negative effects of integrated immigrant family. The narrator says, "After what seems like hours of talking, I realize it is not talking at all, but the filling up of time with sounds that say, "I am your daughter, you are my mother, and we are keeping each other company, and that is enough."" (Woo 160) The chasm between the generation creates a barrier of communication which blocks the transference of the deeper emotional connectivity. One is saying one thing and another is listening a different thing. This causes problems with including negative ideals to the descendants. The narrator describes, "You gave me physically, what you never had, but there was a spiritual, emotional legacy you passed down which was reinforced by society: self-contempt because of our race, our sex, our sexuality." (Woo 160) The narrator's mother was a true survivor who went through the obstacles and created a stable environment for the child to be educated and study in the country. But despite the positive influences it is easier for the children to take in only the negatives of the parents because of lack of insightful understanding. She considers her parents as "the heritage that is the exploited Yellow immigrant: Daddy and you) (Woo 161).
Gish Jen vs. Merle Woo
Compared to the narrator depicted by Woo, Callie, the narrator of Jen's short story, has more positive outlooks on the actions and choices made by her parents. Callie does not salute her parents for what they have done with their money, but rather obeys with them according to their ideals. The narrator in "Letter to Ma" is different in many ways including having to feel the necessity to teach and change her own mother with her own outlooks in life. She says, "Try to understand..." (Woo 163) and "to know what (she's) doing!" (Woo 160). This shows how the narrator wishes to make her parents adjusted to her perspective in life and feeling frustrated when her beliefs cannot get across. Mona and Callie, on the other hand, recognizes the great qualities of her dad like refusing to take orders and standing up for himself and his family. They hails their dad by exclaiming how "great"and "stupendous" (Jen 741). Both stories are written by the second generation immigrants in response to the witness of lives of their parents in America and how they choose to cope with such experiences. Woo rather focuses on the details of the memory when her father had folded his ego against the patriarchy figures while Jen cherishes the memory of her father standing up against the dehumanizing racial barriers. This difference in between them changes the tone and perspective of the response of the younger generation.Despite the differences, both are true American family. The broader theme of the textbook is how the individuals, especially the ones from minority household, thinks and experiences their lives here in America. The integration of different people from different places and period in time, creates the diversity and complexity which can easily define every homes of America.