Mother Tongue, by Amy Tan

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Despite growing up amidst a language deemed as “broken” and “fractured”, Amy Tan’s love for language allowed her to embrace the variations of English that surrounded her. In her short essay “Mother Tongue”, Tan discusses the internal conflict she had with the English learned from her mother to that of the English in her education. Sharing her experiences as an adolescent posing to be her mother for respect, Tan develops a frustration at the difficulty of not being taken seriously due to one’s inability to speak the way society expects. Disallowing others to prove their misconceptions of her, Tan exerted herself in excelling at English throughout school. She felt a need to rebel against the proverbial view that writing is not a strong suit of someone who grew up learning English in an immigrant family. Attempting to prove her mastery of the English language, Tan discovered her writing did not show who she truly was. She was an Asian-American, not just Asian, not just American, but that she belonged in both demographics. Disregarding the idea that her mother’s English could be something of a social deficit, a learning limitation, Tan expanded and cultivated her writing style to incorporate both the language she learned in school, as well as the variation of it spoken by her mother. Tan learned that in order to satisfy herself, she needed to acknowledge both of her “Englishes” (Tan 128). The measure of a person is rarely calculated by the limitations and obstacles that surround the individual, but more so how he or she was able to persevere. Growing up with a mother whose English skills were at a bare minimum, many would consider this to be my Achilles heel in furthering my education. Just as Tan said, “I [too] happen to be rebell... ... middle of paper ... ease, and now is a successful businesswoman in her own right. Just as Tan’s mother did, “my mother has long realized the limitations of her English” (Tan 130). Somehow these limitations did not hinder her. She recognized who she is and that is the way that she was made to be and there was going to be no one or no thing that could change that. Tan’s essay does more than just illuminate the trouble with language variations; her essay features a story of perseverance, a story of making a “problem” harmonize into a “normal” life. Almost like a how-to, Tan’s essay describes an obstacle and what it takes to go above and beyond. Mirroring Tan, I have been able to assimilate “the [world] that helped shape the way I saw things” and the world that I had to conform to (Tan 129). Life is a struggle, but what makes it worth it is the climb, not what is on the other side.

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