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In the American Society

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Gish Jen’s In the American Society is, on the surface, an entertaining look into the workings of a Chinese American family making their way in America. The reader is introduced to the life of a Chinese American restaurant owner and his family through the eyes of his American-born daughter. When we examine the work in depth, however, we discover that Jen is addressing how traditional Chinese values work in American culture. She touches on the difference in gender roles, generation gaps between immigrants and their American-born children, and the hesitance of these immigrants to conform to the American way of life.
To truly understand multicultural literature, one must first try to understand the cultural background of the author. In the case of this piece, we are examining the Chinese culture and Jen’s experiences which shaped her writing. Gish Jen is a second-generation American. Her parents immigrated separately in the 1940’s. Her mother came to America to go to graduate school and her father came as part of the war efforts during World War II. With the rise of Communism in China, both were forced to remain here and ended up building a life together and raising their 5 children as Americans. Because they came in the second of three “waves” of Chinese Immigration, their reasons for coming and the process of assimilating into the American way of life was very different than other Chinese immigrants.
During the first wave, from 1849-1882, the reasons for immigrating were mainly economic. Thousands of poor young males came from China to labor in America. In 1882, however, the Chinese Exclusion act was passed, making it so the second wave of immigrants contained only diplomats, merchants, and students. Chinese immigrants were segregated from mainstream America and lived in Chinatowns with no diplomatic rights until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Along with this act came the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which allowed more Chinese to come to America to be with their families. This was also the time where equality was being demanded by many young Chinese Americans. We are currently in the third wave of Chinese immigration. At this point, most of the people coming over are either select well-educated Chinese or those looking to escape repression and political instability in their homeland.
Chinese culture is rich with tradition and values, which pai...

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...e water, Mr. Chang put that pride above his better judgment by throwing both the shirt and the suit coat in the water.
This story is an allegory of life for many Chinese Americans. Many came to America for the opportunity to lead a better life. Entrepreneurship is a big part of that American dream. The Changs’ owning a pancake house represents so many of the Chinese people that own their own restaurants upon coming to America. Mr. Chang’s hesitance to Americanize and his idea that “to embrace what he embraced was love” also represents the views of many Chinese immigrants. Jen’s own parents maintained some of their own ideas of how she should live her life. They didn’t believe that writing was an honorable thing for a woman to do and didn’t support her in her decision until her picture and story was run on the front page of a Chinese newspaper and “their people” accepted it.

Works Cited

Chinese Immigration to the United States. Accessed 03/27/2005.

Lauter, Paul. The Health Anthology of American Literature. Accessed 03/20/2005.

Moyers, Bill. Public Affairs Television "Becoming American: Personal Journeys"
Interview with Gish Jen. 2003. Accessed 03/23/2005.

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