Immigrants and their Children:
Second Generation Americans Split between Cultures
May 10, 2010
Junior Colloquium: Dick Cluster
Immigrants and their Children:
Second Generation Americans Split between Cultures
As the child of a French immigrant, I have always had a unique relationship with my mother that other friends could never quite relate to. Our struggle to understand each other and get along often seemed to go beyond the regular obstacles of a mother-daughter relationship. Bearing this in mind I was prompted to further explore other second-generation Americans’ experiences with their immigrant parents. One of the more important elements of this quest seemed to hinge on the language experience of second-generation Americans. Since this linguistic factor contributes to the immigrants’ relationship with their children, it will be useful to look at statistics on how second-generation children are raised linguistically. Additionally, looking at some fictional stories, we can gain an even deeper understanding into the emotional impact that this apparent or subtle language barrier can have. However, language is not the only determining factor. So too are the varying histories and customs that the immigrants bring with them. Several stories will be drawn from in order to see how the immigrants’ histories and memories impact their lives once in America. Finally, another factor that seems quite pertinent in immigrant families are the sacrifices and trials that most parents endure when uprooting their lives to come to America in hopes of giving their children, or potential children, a future that they could never have had otherwise. Through different stories we see that this sacrifice is almost never fully appreciated by the children, and can often be a point of contention, where parents want acknowledgment of it and instead only receive criticism for their inability to assimilate as their children have.
It is also discovered that there are three main scenarios that can result regarding the lingual path of second-generation Americans. The immigrants’ children will either be monolingual (speaking only English), bilingual speaking their parents’ tongue as well as English, or they can speak English with varying degrees of mastery of their parents’ native language. Whatever the level of mastery of the native language may be, there are large pressures that push their children to speak English. Consequently, within three or four generations, the family will usually become completely monolingual (Alba et al. 2002), with the exception of enclaves that foster the preservation of certain foreign languages (Portes and Schauffler 1994). In the past, immigrant families quickly assimilated linguistically, driven by a patriotic or quasi nationalistic concept that “American English both reflected and constituted the democratic and rational nature of the country…the acquisition and use of English was seen as the litmus test of citizenship” (Portes and Schauggler 642), and, because of this fact, bilingualism was actually seen negatively. However, it was later discovered that those who were bilingual would “enjoy a greater degree of cognitive flexibility and an enhanced ability to deal with abstract concepts than their monolingual peers. Instead of creating “confusion,” having two symbols for each object enhanced understanding” (643). Yet the large majority of third-generation Americans on, are English only speakers. Alba et al. argue that the two most prominent factors leading to monolingualism are the family situation and the communal context (478). The family situation could include, whether both parents are from the same country, whether the immigrants speak their native tongue at home, or whether or not other immigrant relatives live close enough to have an effect. The communal context refers mainly to whether or not the family lives in a bicultural region, for instance in Miami, Florida there is a large Cuban community.
Let us take a closer look at some specific findings of Alba et al. in “Only English by the Third Generation? Loss and Preservation of the Mother Tongue Among the Grandchildren of Contemporary Immigrants”. One question that they ask was what is the percentage of children (from ages 6-15) who spoke only English at home, by generation. If we look at Appendix A we discover some interesting findings. Among second-generation Americans, the percentages of people who spoke only English varied widely according to which country their parents emigrated from. For instance, the lowest percentage of monolingual second-generation Americans was among children from the Dominican who were 8.4% English only speakers, ranging all the way up to 67.7% of Japanese speaking only English by the second generation. However, when we look to the third generation, the statistics become more uniform. Each country included in the table shows around 90% of the children in this generation speaking only English. Cuban, Dominican and Mexican families have lower percentages of the third-generation speaking English only, and this could be explained partially due to enclaves of these cultures in various regions. However, in homes where the mother tongue is spoken, third-generation Americans have a slightly lower percentage of speaking English only, revealing that if the language is spoken in the home through generations, the mother tongue can hold on a little longer.
Alejandro Portes and Richard Schauffer’s study seems to be asking more complex questions regarding bilingualism versus monolingualism among future generations of immigrants. For instance, their study asked which language the future generations prefer to speak, using a sample of South Floridian Youths in 1992. They also ask what some of the determinants are that factor into the linguistic outcome of the immigrants’ children, as well as how this affects their academic achievements. To the question of preference, 85.8% of U.S. born second-generation Americans preferred to speak English and, out of the study’s entire sample, 81% of males and 79% of females preferred to speak English (Appendix B). In addition, according to Appendix B, by the second-generation only 27% of males and 33% of females spoke their parents’ native tongue well. This overwhelming preference to speak English instead of a native parental tongue led Portes and Schauffer to conclude that, “Even highly educated immigrant parents do not stand much of a chance of transmitting their language to their children. Their illusions of communicating with their children and grandchildren in their native language will come to naught for the most part” (659). They argue that most variables that could influence the staying power of the parental language cannot withstand the forces of assimilation. They also contend that this is only a loss in terms of academics and intelligence and that it will take policy change in the U.S. to ever significantly alter this fact.
Considering these quantitative findings, let us now look at some fictional accounts to examine language and other factors that influence immigrants’ relationship with their American raised children. First, let us look at language in various stories involving immigrants’ families in the U.S. If we assume that the statistics stated above could be applied to American families in general, then we could assume when reading these stories, that most second-generation Americans do not speak their parents’ native language fluently.
A common thread in these stories was the way in which the immigrant parents, no matter how well they knew English, could never fully impart to their children their thoughts or successfully communicate on the same wavelength. This boundary is one that would not be felt to the same degree in homogenously English speaking families and plays into this unique relationship I’m exploring. In addition to this, it seems that the presence of another language seems to have an impact as well on the children. If English is their second language, then their process of assimilation can play into their relationship with their parents. Will the children abandon their mother language for the cause of fitting in? Whether or not they retain their first language the statistics previously examined suggest that they will certainly prioritize English as more important to learn and speak.
In a short story called “The Unforgetting” by Lan Samantha Chang, a Chinese couple and their child move to Iowa in pursuit of a better life. The three of them seem to remain very distant from each other and the story at times implies that this is partially influenced by the parents’ experience with language as well as their son, Charles’s, experience with assimilation. Charles’s teacher notices that he is behind in his vocabulary, and thus in his learning, because he is not yet fluent in English. She suggests to his parents that they not speak Chinese at home (Spack and Zamel 87). When Charles’s father, Ming, becomes aware of this, he worries that Charles “might get lost between his two languages” and so, “in the next few months, he gradually stopped speaking Chinese. Since they did not test him, Ming never knew how long it took for all of those words to be forgotten” (88). Whether or not their family spoke English in their home, Charles would have eventually learned to speak English fluently. So why was it encouraged by the teacher to abandon Chinese in the home? This could be a reflection of patriotism whereby the act of speaking English is perceived as more nationalistic or as an affirmation of citizenship. In addition, the outdated idea that a child will become confused between the two languages appeared in this passage as well. Another way in which this story addresses immigrant families’ relationship with language, is in a passage when the mother, Sansan, thinks about the loss that comes when communicating in English. She reflects on the fact that “over and, over, they reached for certain words that had no equivalents in English (93)…in English, Sansan seemed to hide from her more complicated thoughts. Her English world was limited to the clipped and casual rhythm of daily plans” (94). This limitation that comes with what can be lost in translation had a great impact on the depth of her ability to communicate with her son. If she was so limited, and could not express more nuanced, complex and significant thoughts, this could inhibit her from forming a relationship with her son that may have been deeper if communicating in her native tongue.
In another story, written by Jhumpa Lahiri called “Hell-Heaven”, a daughter named Usha narrates about her continuous struggle with her mother as she grows up. Language manifests itself as a determining factor in their relationship. For instance, Usha greatly admires an American named Deborah, who is like an aunt to her and functions as a foil to Usha’s mother. She muses, “Deborah and I spoke freely in English, a language which, by that age, I expressed myself more easily than Bengali, which I was required to speak at home” (Lahiri 69). Though Usha does not directly say that she prefers to speak English it seems implied in this story, just by the mere fact that she highlights that she and Deborah speak in English—adding to the list of reasons why she feels closer to Deborah than to her mother. Her use of the word required also suggests that she has no volition to speak Bengali. Later, in the story Usha’s preference for English appears when she is talking about Deborah and her Indian husband, “with their two identical little girls who barely looked Bengali and spoke only English and were being raised so differently from me” (75). In this story, Usha resists Bengali culture and consciously chooses American culture over it, and language is just one of the aspects that factors into this strong rejection of the Bengali culture.. Thus, perhaps one of the reasons that second-generation Americans shed their mother tongue or resist bilingualism is because it represents a piece of their parents’ culture that they are trying to escape—most likely prompted by the strong desire to fit in. Finally, Usha may see her mother’s lacking English as a reason to respect her less, as when her mother gossips about an Indian friend who has, in her eyes, abandoned his Bengali roots: “ “He used to be so different. I don’t understand how a person can change so suddenly. It’s just hell-heaven, the difference,” she would say, always saying the English words for her self-concocted, backward metaphor” (69). It is apparent that Usha uses language to enforce the divide between her mother and herself, picking out her errors perhaps to suggest greater character flaws in her mother.
Michiko Kakutani comments on language and translation of a different sort in Lahiri’s stories when he posits, “Their children too are often emotional outsiders: having grown up translating the mysteries of the United States for their relatives, they are fluent navigators of both Bengali and American culture but completely at home in neither; they always experience themselves as standing slightly apart, given more to melancholy observation than wholehearted participation” (Kakutani 2008). What begins as merely lingual translation, can morph into the great feat of translating cultural ideas. In this way, in Lahiri’s stories, language translation serves to represent an act that goes beyond translating words. The children in Lahiri’s stories are “Often cast in the role of facilitator or fixer, they are accustomed to serving as their parents’ go-betweens” (Kakutani 2008).
The novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan, is about a Chinese immigrant woman named LuLing and her daughter Ruth and their dysfunctional relationship. In this story, language plays a large role in how they interact. LuLing is dependent on her daughter because she never mastered English. She can speak English, but she pays little attention to grammar, which hinders how she communicates her ideas. In a part of the novel when Ruth takes LuLing to the doctors to inquire about her mother’s deteriorating memory, we see just how dependent LuLing has become on her daughter over the years in aiding her to clarify her thoughts. Ruth acts as a translator for her mother, sometimes only translating her English into a more coherent form. The doctor asks her mother basic questions to test her memory and in the following excerpt he asks her who the last five presidents were:
“Last five year still Clinton.” Her mother had not even understood the question! Of course she hadn’t. She had always depended on Ruth to tell her what people meant, to give her what they said from another angle. “Reverse order,” means “go backward,” she would have told LuLing. If Dr. Huey could ask that same question in fluent Mandarin, it would be no problem for LuLing to give the right answer. “This president, that president,” her mother would have said without hesitation, “no difference, all liar. No tax before election, more tax after. No crime before, more crime after. And always don’t cut welfare. I come this country, I don’t get welfare. What so fair? No fair. Only make people lazy to work!” (65)
The fact that Ruth always concerned herself in helping her mother to communicate with people, may have further enabled her mother to remain at the same level of mediocre English, never being forced to improve. This in turn bound her mother to Ruth, wrapping the two of them into a codependent vicious cycle. The text also illustrates how idiosyncratic LuLing is, and Ruth not only needs to translate her words but also her thoughts. Though Ruth loves her mother very dearly, these factors play into why Ruth seems to lack respect for her mother at times. It’s as if she uses her mother’s reliance on her to her advantage, sometimes using it as leverage or holding back and censoring what she wants her mother to hear.
Lisa Dunick reflects on the ways in which Tan uses language in her work to address cultural barriers between the Chinese immigrant mothers and their daughters in her stories. Tan uses talk-story, which relies heavily on dialog, to demonstrate language dynamics. “Tan emphasizes her conscious desire to give validity to the voice of those who speak “broken” or non-standardized Englishes in her novels…Most importantly, she says that she “wanted to capture what language ability tests can never reveal: her [mother’s] intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts” (Dunick 10). In other words Tan is attempting to capture or represent all that can be missed when her own mother would speak in broken English. In writing these novels, she is honoring her own mother and acting as a translator just as the daughters in her stories do. Tan is essentially showing the reader what can be omitted when one tries to communicate in a language that is not their mother tongue.
Now that we have examined the language complexities that arise within immigrant families, we can move on to the histories and memories that play into, and can hinder, immigrants’ relationships with their children. In “The Unforgetting”, Ming and Sansan struggle with how their memories and yearning for the customs of their homeland inhibit them from fully enjoying their life in the U.S. and further inhibit them from ever fully connecting with their son. Sansan inquires of her husband, “ “How will we make the space in our minds for everything we need to learn here?” Without a pause, he answered her, “We will forget.”” (Spack and Zamel 86). And then later on in the story when Ming begins to perceive the chasm that lies between him and his son, he ponders “the world of his past had grown every day larger and more vivid until it pressed against his mind, beautiful and shining. And he wondered if perhaps this world had pushed his own son out of his house—if they had lost their son because of their stubborn inability to forget” (95). Because Ming and Sansan are holding on to their past with such fervor, the new memories and new customs pale in comparison. These memories are inhibitors for building new ones with their son. Thus, he probably never sees his parents when they are truly happy. He may even blame himself for their unhappiness, knowing that they sacrificed their history for a new history in America.
Memory appears as a factor in Usha and her mother’s relationship as well in “Hell-Heaven”. Her mother falls in love with an Indian man Pranab Kaku, Deborah’s future husband in fact, and one of the reasons she loves him is because they are from the same neighborhood in Calcutta. Her mother was able to recount memories to him about her life in Calcutta. “Pranab Kaku listened to these stories with interest, absorbing the vanishing details of her past. He did not turn a deaf ear to her nostalgia, like my father, or listen uncomprehending, like me” (Lahiri 66). Her mother was desperate to reminisce about her past and the experiences that formed her, but these histories and stories were lost on her daughter. Usha unknowingly may have been neglecting her mother’s very being by showing a lack of interest in her roots, reinforcing the already existing gap between them. And again, her mother seems unable to form new memories in the new place because of an unwillingness to relinquish the past.
In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Ruth, from childhood on, had a very tumultuous relationship with LuLing that may have resulted from her mother’s tendency to dwell on the past. However, in this story LuLing’s past haunts her, not because of idealistic memories that represent a place and time that she longs for, but rather, because she feels great guilt, that she cannot relinquish, remaining from her earlier life in China. LuLing suffers from Alzheimer’s but, some years before the disease began to wreak havoc on her memories, she wrote down her history. She gives the pages to Ruth. ““Just some old things about my family,” she had said, with the kind of awkward nonchalance that meant the pages were important. “My story, begin little-girl time. I write for myself, but maybe you read, than you see how I grow up, come to this country.”” (Tan 12). The pages are in Chinese and Ruth must translate them in order to understand, which she never gets around to doing. LuLing comments on this saying, “Too busy for mother,” LuLing complained. “Never too busy go see movie, go away, go see friend” (14). Like Usha, Ruth’s disinterest in her mother’s history seems to be an obstruction between them. If Ruth had known the origins of her mother’s idiosyncrasies perhaps they would have understood each other better, allowing for a more enjoyable relationship. When Ruth finally does read her mother’s story, she says “It feels like I’ve found the magic thread to mend a torn-up quilt. It’s wonderful and sad at the same time….She should have told me these things years ago. It would have made such a difference—” (322-333). We see that this history from LuLing’s life in China is a substantial factor in determining her relationship with Ruth. If Ruth had known earlier she may have been able to connect with her mother more deeply. This history was present in Ruth and LuLing’s lives, yet it was ignored, like an elephant in the room. It determined aspects of their relationship. For instance, LuLing imparts her superstition and guilt onto her daughter because of her history, and this guilt and superstition is partially how the two navigate their relationship with each other. Like how LuLing believes that Ruth can divine the future and speak with ghosts when Ruth draws answers to LuLing’s inquiries in sand with chopsticks. Ruth has used this behavior pattern her whole life to steer her mother toward decisions that were to Ruth’s benefit. Also, the impact of LuLing’s story is highlighted by the loss of her memory. As she forgets her story she becomes happier and lighter. “Happy. Ruth pondered the word. Until recently, she had not known what that might encompass in LuLing’s case…LuLing had let go of most worries and irritations” such as, “the sense that a curse loomed over her life and disaster awaited her if she was not constantly on guard” (357). It’s as if her memory loss released her from her history—the one that prevented her from being happy and prevented her from having a healthy relationship with her daughter. The entire novel speaks to the effects that immigrants’ stories can have on their relationship with their children. The parent may resent the child for their lack of interest and the child may be uninterested, as if acknowledging the story is an acknowledgment of a culture they are trying to evade. Dunick offers insight into this disinterest:
Throughout her texts, Chinese-born mothers attempt to perpetuate these cultural memories in the stories told to their American-born daughters, but often with mixed results. For the daughters, these talk-stories do not represent a stable text but depend solely on the mothers' memories. Thus, the mothers' continual revision of their stories often signals an erasure or loss of China as referent for the American-born listeners (6).
Perhaps since Ruth doubts her mother in general, she is reluctant to listen to her stories, questioning their validity. Dunick argues that The Bonesetter’s Daughter is more multidimensional than Tan’s other books because of its use of written story as opposed to talk-story. LuLing is finally successful in communicating with Ruth, but it is only when she is in her last years, and it’s through the medium of writing. After Ruth reads her story and understands her mother’s history, the two are able to reconcile—the history no longer serving as an obstacle, but now as a bridge.
The next part of the essay will focus on the trials and sacrifices of these immigrants for their children, and how they can go unappreciated and ignored. The parents in these stories often so badly want a certain life for their child, and have a path in mind on how to help their children obtain that goal. This often results in the child feeling trapped by their parent’s narrow expectation, and thus they resist it. And in turn, the parents perceive this resistance as ungratefulness for their sacrifices. In “The Unforgetting” Ming thinks about some of the things that he left behind when he left China including some of his dreams, such as his dream to earn a Ph.D. He scolds himself for dwelling on these memories “It was for Charles that Ming had taken his job in Iowa and bought his house, because he had believed, since Charles was born, that he could make a new life in America” (89). As the gap between Charles and his parents begins to reveal itself, Ming attempts to grasp onto his relationship with his son. One night Ming goes up to offer Charles some Chinese food that Sansan had made, but Charles refuses it and then closes his door in his father’s face, proceeding to lock it. “The image of the door disturbed him, as if Charles had access to another world inside that room, as if he might disappear at will, might float from their second-story windows and vanish into the shimmering, yellow Iowa Light”(93). Ming is haunted by his son locking the door, later having a nightmare about it. The locked door serves as a symbol of the divide that Ming and Charles have between them, resulting from their ambivalence over cultures. Ming’s desperate attempts to salvage his relationship with Charles end up pushing Charles even further away. Finally, the family breaks apart when Charles gets accepted into Harvard. Ming cannot understand why his son would want to go to a school far away instead of going to one of the in-state Iowa schools, taking it as a lack of appreciation for his sacrifices. The father is so fixated on what he desires for his son that he loses sight of what his son desires for himself. Ming and Sansan discuss this. “What did you expect?” she asked, “Sons in this country leave their parents and make their own homes, with their women.” Her voice was tense, accusatory” (96). She revisits this when she says, “Isn’t this what you wanted for him? That he should become like them?” (97). Ming seems to feel ambivalence. On the one hand he sacrificed in order that his son could have a better life, but on the other he does not want his son to have such a life at the price of completely rejecting his roots. The story accentuates the difficulty second-generation children have reconciling the two cultures—at some point they will be forced to choose, and usually they choose the American way.
In “Hell-Heaven” Usha’s mother sacrificed her happiness in order to establish a better life and offer her daughter what she could not have. She leaves all of her family, lives with an absent husband and is under-stimulated in her role as a housewife. Usha’s mother is so unhappy with her life in the U.S. that she almost takes her own life at one point in the novel. Yet, Usha merely looks down upon her mother for this. “I began to pity my mother; the older I got, the more I saw what a desolate life she led…I learned to scream back, telling her that she was pathetic, that she knew nothing about me, and it was clear to us both that I had stopped needing her, definitively and abruptly” (77). In this case, it is as if her mother’s sacrifices were so severe that they were at the expense of her identity and they disabled her and Usha from being able to make a connection. And just as how Ming attempts to impose his cultural beliefs onto Charles, and this is met with total rejection, so too are Usha’s mother’s. Her mother feels that she is owed Usha’s compliance in recompense for her own trials. Michiko Kakutani comments on this when he stated, “Like many children of immigrants Ms. Lahiri’s characters are acutely aware of their parents’ expectations; that they get into an Ivy League school, go to med school or grad school, marry someone from a good Bengali family.” He builds on this when he commented, “Ms. Lahiri shows how some of these children learn to sidestep, even defy their parents’ wishes. But she also shows how haunted they remain by the burden of their families’ dreams and their awareness of their role in the generational process of Americanization” (Kakutani 2008). In other words, the expectations that come with the parents’ sacrifices, end up being a heavy burden on their children—sometimes too heavy to carry, leading to the breakdown in their relationships.
In another short story called “English as a Second Language,” by Lucy Honig, a woman named Maria Perez, a Guatemalan immigrant, had to flee to the U.S. and raise her five children alone in a new country not speaking a word of English. In this story she is being honored by the mayor of New York City for learning to read and write at age 45 in both English and in Spanish. He begins to innumerate her accomplishments saying, “At the age of 45, while working as a chambermaid and sending her children through school, Maria herself started school for the first time. In night courses she learned to read and write…This meant Maria was going to school five nights a week! Still she worked as many as 60 hours cleaning rooms at the Plaza Hotel” (137). This is clear story of sacrifice by an immigrant parent for her children. She was working a low prestige job just to feed and educate her children while trying to educate herself with the scraps of hours left over. She was successful in her feat, “her son is now a junior in high school, her youngest daughter attends the State University, and her oldest daughter, who we are proud to have with us today, is in her second year of law school on a scholarship” (137). After she goes home and is watching the award ceremony on T.V., her son comments, ““Mama, look, your eyes were closed there, too,” chided Jorge, sitting on the floor in front of the television set…. “Turn if off!” she yelled to Jorge. “Off! This minute!””(140). Arguably the author chose to include this moment between Maria and her son to show the lack of appreciation from her son. She has made these huge sacrifices to give her children a better life than the life of violent surroundings that they had in Guatemala. Yet, instead of being proud of his mother, Jorge picks out a little flaw about her, unable to grasp the meaning of the ceremony, unable to be proud of her. This is a clear illustration of how second-generation children never seem to fully appreciate their parents’ trials, especially when they are young.
Ultimately, this essay was an exploration into the experiences of second-generation Americans with their immigrant parents, spurring from a desire to place my own relationship with my French mother in a greater context. I found that my mother and I had a very challenging relationship that arose in high school, and it always seemed when I compared it to other mother-daughter relationships, that there was a unique dynamic that came out of our cultural and lingual differences that my friends and their parents did not have. My exploration demonstrated that indeed I was right. Some of my own hold ups included a compulsive need to correct my mother’s grammar and misuse of expressions, which always wore her down and made her feel inferior. Yet, at the same time I was missing that, in fact, she has greater knowledge than I do because of her bilingualism. In addition, I never gave my mother the full respect she deserved for her adventurous move to the U.S. leaving all of her French family behind, going to an American university, and starting a family here. Jhumpa Lahiri writes a very pertinent excerpt in her first collection of short stories, Interpretation of Maladies, about how admirable it is to successfully start a new life in new lands. A father thinks about his son and says:
Whenever he is discouraged, I tell him that if I can survive on three continents, then there is no obstacle he cannot conquer. While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination (311).
It seems as well, that these stories suggest that the children will, in most cases, reject their parents’ culture, or at least experience great difficulty attempting to reconcile the two cultures, maybe never fully fitting into one or the other. However, sometimes later in life the child may try to recapture or explore the culture on their own. These stories and statistics elucidate just how strong the forces of assimilation are, where second-generation American’s prefer English to their parents’ mother tongue and often by choosing English as their preferred language they are also choosing American culture over their parents’ culture. This gravitational pull by assimilation is such that, as we discovered through the statistics, the mother tongue rarely survives through the third-generation of an immigrant family. In my own case, French did not even fully survive through the second-generation. My mother never spoke it when I was growing up, but as I’ve become an adult and have a desire to delve into French culture, I have made it my own goal to become fluent in French, a task that has proved quite daunting at times. Though I have learned that I was not alone in my struggle to get along with my mother in high school, due to cultural differences, I have learned that now that I am an adult, it is time to show my mother the appreciation she deserves, for moving to a new land, starting a new life, learning a second language, and always doing all in her power to give my siblings and I the best life she could.
Alba, Richard, John Logan, Amy Lutz, and Brian Stults. “Only English by the Third Generation. Loss and Preservation of the Mother Tongue Among the Grandchildren of Contemporary Immigrants.” Demography. Aug. 2002: 472.
Portes, Alejandro and Richard Schauffler. “Language and the Second Generation: Bilingualism Yesterday and Today.” International Migration Review. 38.4 (1994): 649.
I. Works Cited
Alba, Richard, John Logan, Amy Lutz, and Brian Stults. “Only English by the Third Generation. Loss and Preservation of the Mother Tongue Among the Grandchildren of Contemporary Immigrants.” Demography. Aug. 2002: 467-484.
Alba, et al. were comparing the current wave of Asian immigration to the European waves of immigration as documented in the 1940 and 1970 censuses, to see if the language resiliency of the immigrants’ mother tongue is more or less uniform in all three times periods. Their essay was useful to me not because of their comparison of the current Asian immigration to the past European waves of immigration, but rather, because I was able to pull from their statistics basic questions about language resiliency through generations. They ultimately argue that the mother tongue on average is weeded out by the third generation regardless of the various factors that comprise each family’s language experience, and this was the fact that interested me.
Chang, Lan Samantha. “The Unforgetting.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 85-99.
A Chinese family moves to Iowa to give a better life to their son. The father, mother and son seem to grow further and further apart from each other as they each learn to cope with culture shock and assimilation. This story was useful because it touched upon all of the themes I wanted to explore, such as language difficulties, and the immigrant parents’ histories, memories, and sacrifices, and their child’s inability to appreciate them.
Dunick, Lisa M.S. “The Silencing Effect of Canonicity: Authorship and the Written Word in Amy Tan’s Novels.” Melus. 31.2. (2006), 3-20.
This article discussed how reviews of Amy Tan’s works often pin her writing style as a talk-story one, whereby the mothers in her stories convey their histories to their daughters through dialog. Dunick argues that there is another layer that is often missing, which is that her work also uses literacy and written word to transfer histories from mother to daughter. This article was useful since one of my themes was about how an immigrant’s history plays a large role in her relationship with her child.
Honig, Lucy. “English as a Second Language.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 132-144.
This story is about a mother who emigrates to the U.S. from Guatemala as a single mother with five children. While working a full time job she learns to read in write for the first time in her life and imparts her passion for education to her children. This story was pertinent because the mother makes huge sacrifices and must endure many trials to achieve what she did and to ensure a safe and successful life for her children, which is quite applicable to one of my themes of how the immigrant’s sacrifices factor into their relationship with their children.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Wonder Bread and Curry: Mingling Cultures, Conflicted Hearts.” The New York Times (2008), http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/04/books/04Book.html?_r=1, accessed on May 13, 2010.
Kakutani reviews Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, summarizing all of the stories and discussing how her stories talk about immigration and relationships and the role that children play as functioning as a cultural bridges between their parents and American culture. This article was very useful because it added to my themes involving history and sacrifices and the role that these play in the immigrant families. This article was useful in talking about broader topics in Lahiri’s work, but offered little on the chosen story “Hell-Heaven” itself.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Hell-Heaven.” Unaccustomed Earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (2008), 60-83.
This story is about a mother-daughter relationship and their cultural struggle with each other. The mother wants her daughter to remain culturally Bengali while the daughter yearns to be American but cannot fully fit herself into either culture. This story was useful because it touched upon all three of the themes I was exploring in my essay.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “The Third and Final Continent.” Interpretations of Maladies. Maine: Thorndike Press (2004), 273-311.
This is a story about a man who moves from India to Cambridge Massachusetts, and his experience living with an old woman. The story isn’t particularly pertinent to my essay because it does not focus on the immigrant’s relationship with his son. However, the quote I used in my conclusion was very useful, in addressing the feat of moving to another country and establishing a life there.
Portes, Alejandro and Richard Schauffler. “Language and the Second Generation: Bilingualism Yesterday and Today.” International Migration Review. 38.4 (1994): 640-661.
Portes and Schauffler also looked at language resiliency through generations. However, they go further to ask what language second-generation American’s prefer to speak and they also seek to understand whether the bicultural enclaves that have popped up in certain regions are exceptions to the average immigrant family’s experience or if these enclaves would follow the same pattern. They also asked some more nuanced questions such as how bilingualism affects intelligence and whether various determinants break the norm of the third-generation being monolingual. I found this essay most helpful in its inquiry into the question of preference of language by the second-generation Americans.
Tan, Amy. The Bonesetter’s Daughter. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.
This book is about an immigrant Chinese mother and her daughter who live in San Francisco. The two have a dysfunctional relationship, which is partially a result of the mother’s history and hardships from her life in China. Her daughter does not discover her mother’s story until her mother is struck with Alzheimer’s and it is only through writing that the daughter finally appreciates her mother’s trials. At the end of the book the two are finally able to forgive each other for the pain they caused in the other, perhaps because the story finally came to the surface. This book touches upon all of the themes I was exploring but was particularly helpful in informing the theme of the immigrant parent’s history affecting their relationship with their child.
II. Other Works Consulted
Brett, Lily. “What Do You Know About Friends?” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 157-164.
This story is about an immigrant woman in Australia. She was very intelligent and accomplished academically back in her home country of Germany, but when she enrolls in classes at a university in Melbourne she does quite poorly. Being out of her comfort zone and receiving her first bad grade she drops out. This story is not applicable to my essay because she is an adult, it takes place in Australia and it does not discuss parent-child relations.
“Colonial Encounters.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 13-60.
“Colonial Encounters” is an entire section of the book comprised of four stories by four different authors. This section of the book discusses learning English in an Anglophone colony. This was not particularly relevant to my topic because the stories are in countries other than the U.S. and they do not really touch upon parent-child relations.
Hull, Akasha. “Uncommon Language.” The Women’s Review of Books. 18.9, (2001), 13.
This was a brief critique of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, that argued that Tan crafts the mothers in her stories better than she does the daughters, but Hull still thinks the novel is strong. This review was too brief to be usable in my essay but offered an interesting critique of Tan’s novels.
Jimenez, Francisco. “Inside Out.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 66-72.
This story is about a boy who is thrown into an English school when his family moves to the U.S. and how he did not know a word of English and his struggle to adapt. The story was not relevant because it primarily took place in the classroom and did not touch upon parent-child relations.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. Maine: Thorndike Press (2004), 11-272.
Except for the quotation that I used from the last story, I did not use any of the stories from this collection simply because I already chose one of Lahiri’s stories from Unaccustomed Earth, and I did not think it would be necessary to include more than one of her stories since they often have similar themes. However, there are some stories in this book that touched upon some of the themes I was analyzing, though none of them touched upon all three of the themes simultaneously.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Part One.” Unaccustomed Earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (2008), 3-222.
This first part of Lahiri’s book did have some other stories that related to my themes, but in “Part One” “Hell-Heaven” related to all three of my themes, and perhaps I also gravitated toward it because it explores a mother-daughter relationship where the other stories do not, talking instead about a parent-child relationship, an interracial relationship, a sibling relationship and a love triangle.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Part Two: Hema and Kaushik.” Unaccustomed Earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (2008), 223-333.
Part two of the book is about Hema and Kaushik two childhood friends both from Bengali immigrant families. As children Hema had a crush on Kaushik but he was indifferent to her. When they meet many years later as adults, they find their similar upbringing links them. These stories at times touched upon my themes, but ultimately there were more aptly fitting stories in Lahiri’s body of work.
Lam, Andrew. “Show and Tell.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 73-84.
This story is about an American boy who takes a Vietnamese boy under his wing in school. The Vietnamese boy barely speaks English and is picked on, but the two forge an endearing relationship. Again, it is not particularly useful in addressing parent-child relations.
Lorre, Christine. “The Canon as Dialectical Process: A Study of Three Recent Chinese American Narratives.” The French Journal of American Studies, 110 (2006) 78-96.
This article discussed three different Asian American authors and their works, one of which was Lan Samantha Chang. It was useful in giving me some background on Chang but it did not offer me any insight into “The Unforgetting”, nor did it offer insight into my subject. I looked at it hoping to get a critical perspective on “The Unforgetting” but there was little available on Chang, thus I never ended up finding a work on Chang to use.
Mohr, Nicholasa. “The English Lesson.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 116-131.
This story is about a teacher and her experience teaching a classroom of ESL students all from different countries. It does not touch upon the themes being explored in my essay, but rather, looks at how adults learn and how where they come from informs the way in which they do so.
“Private Lessons.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 165- 213.
This section of the book is a compilation of five stories, which discuss the intimate relationship that arises between a teacher and his student, when tutoring English. These stories were inapplicable to my topic of immigrant parents and their children.
Rosten, Leo. “The Rather Baffling Case of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 102-115.
This amusing story is one of my favorite stories in this collection. It’s about a woman who teaches ESL students, and the funny misunderstandings that arise on a daily basis due to errors when first learning a second language. The teacher wonders throughout the story about one particular student Hyman Kaplan, who seems un-teachable. The teacher cannot pin point the root of his errors, since there was no pattern to his misunderstandings and grammar mistakes in English. Sadly, there was no way for me to fit this into my essay given that it does not discuss any of my themes.
Schillinger, Liesl. “American Children.” The New York Times. Apr. 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/books/review/Schillinger3-t.html, accessed on May 13, 2010.
This was an interesting review that favored Unaccustomed Earth, but it summarized the book more than it critiqued it, not offering much useful insight. Anything that I may have pulled out of this review for my essay was also said in the other review that I chose to use by Kakutani.
Wiebe, Rudy. “Speaking Saskatchewan.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 62-65.
This very short story is about young boy who does not want to give up speaking German for English, and how he sees the world in terms of the German language. The story focuses on a snapshot of the boy’s life to convey his reluctance to speak English. It did not address child-parent relations thus was not useful.
Zaldivar, Raquel Puig. “Nothing in Our Hands but Age.” Language Lessons: Stories for Teaching and Learning English. Eds. Ruth Spack and Vivian Zamel. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2008), 145-156.
This is the story about an elderly Cuban couple who leave their educated wealthy lives in Cuba because of political suppression that ended up being the cause for the imprisonment of their daughter. She will be released from prison the year that they come to the U.S. They are starting their lives all over again in the U.S. so that they can be established and offer their daughter a secure place to live, when she gets out. This story was useful in discussing the sacrifices of the couple for their daughter. However, since the daughter herself was not present in the story and in the dialog, it was lacking some of the parent-child dynamic that I’m exploring. In addition, the daughter is an adult in Cuba, so the story does not touch upon the struggle of a youth trying to reconcile two cultures.