Mother Tongue By Amy Tan Essay

1312 words - 5 pages

Identity and Culture
Amy Tan’s ,“Mother Tongue” and Maxine Kingston’s essay, “No Name Woman” represent a balance in cultures when obtaining an identity in American culture.  As first generation Chinese-Americans both Tan and Kingston faced many obstacles. Obstacles in language and appearance while balancing two cultures. Overcoming these obstacles that were faced and preserving heritage both women gained an identity as a successful American.
In the work of Amy Tan’s “Mother’s Tongue” she provides a look into how she adapted her language to assimilate into American culture. She made changes to her language because her mother heavily relied on her for translation. She was the voice of her mother, relaying information in standard English to those who were unable to understand her mother’s broken english. She tells about her mother’s broken english and its impact on her communication to those outside their culture. Her mothers broken english limited others’ perception of her intelligence, and even her own perception of her mother was scewed: Tan said, “I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mothers ‘limited’ English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say.” (419) The use of standard english was a critical component to Tan’s assimilation into American culture. Standard English was an element she acquired to help her mother but more importantly is was an element that helped in her gain success as a writer. Tan changed her ‘Englishes’ (family talk) to include standard English that she had learnt in school and through books, the forms of English that she did not use at home with her mother. (417-418) Tan realized the change in her language one day when she was giving a presentation to colleagues: “The talk was going along well enough, until I remembered one major difference that made the whole talk sound wrong.  My mother was in the room. And it was perhaps the first time she had heard me give a lengthy speech using the kind of English I have never used with her.”(417) Overcoming the barrier between languages she spoke aided Tan in building a bridge between cultures. She changed her language to assimilate into American culture while also keeping familial culture. A piece of heritage that uses a language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk. Tan grew up with this language and she still uses it with her mother, husband and in her books. (418) Another method to find identity in a new host society is through appearance. In the essay, “No Name Woman” by Maxine Kingston ideals in appearance were passed from generation to generation. Altering ideals when creating identity is noticed in Kingston’s essay. A long held tradition in many Chinese families is that many generations live under the same roof and this can cause a conflict in ideals. Conflicting ideals between generations is shown as Tan tells how the...

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