Chinese and American Cultures
Chinese-Americans authors Amy Tan and Gish Jen have both grappled with the idea of mixed identity in America. For them, a generational problem develops over time, and cultural displacement occurs as family lines expand. While this is not the problem in and of itself, indeed, it is natural for current culture to gain foothold over distant culture, it serves as the backdrop for the disorientation that occurs between generations. In their novels, Tan and Jen pinpoint the cause of this unbalance in the active dismissal of Chinese mothers by their Chinese-American children.
In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan calls close attention to the idea of unrealization and forgetfulness. Through these two factors, Tan attempts to explain displacement on the pasts of both mothers and daughters. The daughters, we find, are lost and wandering, and the mothers themselves seem paralyzed by secret pasts of pain and sacrifice. For them, the past is a tenuous, ghostly thing that goes undigested for some time. For many of them, it is not ever talked about. The death of Suyuan Woo is attributed to this:
“ ‘ She had a new idea in her head,’ said my father. ‘But before it could come out of her mouth, the thought grew too big and burst. It must have been a very bad idea.’
“The doctor said she died of a cerebral aneurysm. And her friends at the Joy Luck Club said she died just like a rabbit: quickly and with unfinished business left behind” (Tan 19).
Suyuan had a secret that she had kept from her daughter, Jing-Mei her entire life: two sisters that had been left behind while she fled from China. While it cannot be said that this was what caused her to have an aneurysm, the symbolism of having unfinished business, and unfinished thoughts in her head is too strong to go unrecognized. Suyuan had many secrets she had yet to tell her daughter. This was expensive to both Suyuan because she could now never tell her daughter about her life and to Jing-Mei because she would never know her mother completely.
For all of the aunties, the past was a thing better not talked about because of the amount of loss and pain they had endured. Like all survivors of tragedy, the past was not a subject they reflected upon, but chose instead to move as far away from as possible. The result was their pasts inflating to legendary proportions and influencing them for the worse by going unrecognized. Because they never took the lessons offered from their pasts, they went could not share them with their daughters, drawing a farther line of separation between them. For the daughters, China became a fantasy- land, a place that was not a part of them. Because of this tenuousness, the daughters did not have the real China, nor a fully realized Chinese-side of them. The aunties watched in dismay as their daughters began to lose their ethnicities and stumble through a new, un-Chinese world.
Ying-Ying St. Clair is an excellent example of this separation. In “The...