My daughter wanted to go to China for her second honeymoon, but now she is afraid.
"What if I blend in so well they think I'm one of them?" Waverly asked me. "What if they don't let me
come back to the United States?"
"When you go to China," I told her, "you don't even need to open your mouth. They already know you are
"What are you talking about?" she asked. My daughter likes to speak back. She likes to question
what I say.
"Aii-ya," I said. Even if you put on their clothes, even if you take off your makeup and hide your
fancy jewelry, they know. They know just watching the way you walk, the way you carry your face.
They know you do not belong."
My daughter did not look pleased when I told her this, that she didn't look Chinese. She had a sour
American look on her face. Oh, maybe ten years ago, she would have clapped her hands - hurray! - as if
this were good news. But now she wants to be Chinese, it is so fashionable. And I know it is too late.
All those years I tried to teach her! She followed my Chinese ways only until she learned how to walk
out the door by herself and go to school. So now the only Chinese words she
can say are sh-sh, houche, chr fan, and gwan deng shweijyau. How can she talk to people in China with
these words? Pee-pee, choo-choo train, eat, close light sleep. How can she think she can blend in?
Only her skin and her hair are Chinese. Inside - she is all American-made.
It's my fault she is this way. I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances
and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix?
I taught her how American circumstances work. lf you are born poor here, it's no lasting shame. You are
first in line for a scholarship. lf the roof crashes on your head, no need to cry over this bad luck.
You can sue anybody, make the landlord fix it. You do not have to sit like a Buddha under a tree
letting pigeons drop their dirty business on your head. You can buy an umbrella. Or go inside a Catholic
church. In America, nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gives you.
She learned these things, but I couldn't teach her about Chinese character. How to obey parents and
listen to your mother's mind. How not to show your own thoughts, to put your feelings behind your face
so you can take advantage of hidden opportunities. Why easy things are not worth pursuing. How to know
your own worth and polish it, never flashing it around like a cheap ring. Why Chinese thinking is best.
No, this kind of thinking didn't stick to her. She was too busy chewing gum, blowing bubbles bigger than
her cheeks. Only that kind of thinking stuck.
"Finish your coffee," I told her yesterday. "Don't throw your blessings away."
"Don't be so old-fashioned, Ma," she told me, finishing her coffee down the sink. "I'm my own person."
And I think, How can she be her own person? When did I give her up?
Level: GK Abi
to blend in - to fit in perfectly
to speak back - to contradict, to protest
to pursue - to go after, to aim for
to flash around - to show off
blessings - advantages, gifts
1. Outline what the mother means by "American circumstances and Chinese character".
2. Explain the concept of the Melting Pot in the light of the text and its title.
3. Examine how the daughter is characterized.
4. Compare the daughter's attitude towards America with that of any other protagonist from the
texts you read in class.
Source: Tan, Amy (1991): The Joy Luck Club. New York, Vintage Books, pp.253-254.