The essay is about the reflections of the author, Caroline Hwang about her identity and dual culture as an American and her ethnicity as a daughter of Korean immigrants. She started her anecdote with her trip to the dry cleaning store wherein she met a woman who is also of Korean ethnicity. She tried to identify herself as a fellow American-Korean by doing some customary Korean greeting through a slight bow of her head. Failing to get recognition through this, she introduced herself hoping her surname would produce the intended effect of interest and recognition.
This too failed because she was unable to pronounce her name right – which in traditional Korean would sound something like “Fxuang”. This failure to identify herself to a fellow American-Korean triggered a series of flashback and reflections on her identity as an individual that has to contend with two cultures. These two cultures presented her with a lot of opportunities for growth but it also made her feel that she is not fully assimilated or “accepted” in either one. During these reflections, she recalled the brief history of how her parents came to America two years before she was born.
Upon her birth, she has come to be the embodiment of her parent’s aspirations and dreams. What she does with her future bears heavily on her shoulders because she felt torn between being “herself” and doing the things she wanted to do and her parents’ expectations of what she should do. A direct manifestation of this is her choice of major upon entering college. Her parents wanted her to be a lawyer whereas she wanted to be a writer. The plight of the first generation children of immigrants were also fully captured with her statement:
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“I identify with Americans, but Americans do not identify with me. ” With the above statement, she has summarized in a single statement a lingering dilemma and sentiment of most immigrants irregardless of race or color. Dark colored immigrants have a harder time fully assimilating into American society and getting “lost” in a crowd. Somehow, people of color – whether yellow, brown or black, cannot seem to fully blend in a still predominantly “white” society. Caroline also went further by disclosing the internal conflict which plagued her parents while raising her.
She felt the conflict when they would try to raise her in a democratic and liberal American society while constantly reminding her to be true to her Korean heritage. The values of these two cultures are sometimes complementary, but they could also be so contrasting and different. A specific example of this is her love life. Somehow, Caroline took it upon herself to just mingle with “acceptable” choices like other Korean-American men. She had never even tried to venture or attempt to have a love life outside the Korean-American community because she knew this would be unacceptable to her parents.
She knew deep inside that her parents expect her to give them a grandchild that looks like them. Summary: A Daughter’s Story by Nguyen Louie This essay tells of the author’s life experiences growing up with liberal immigrant parents and her perceptions (as a child) and realizations (as an adult) of her mother’s child rearing ways. Throughout the essay, the author would vacillate between past recollections and current iteration of her principles and beliefs. Nguyen Louie is the first born child of Asian immigrants and raised in a very liberal environment – the Berkeley campus community in the 1960s.
Having activist parents enhanced the early maturation of Nguyen. She presented details of her youth growing up with parents who are always gone but who also presented her with opportunities to make choices of her own. At first, she resented the fact that her mother has other priorities in her schedule other than her own daughter’s birthday – the author being born two days before International Women’s day. The author was jealous and questioning of her mom’s priorities and activities outside the house. Those early years reflected her notion of a traditional mother who would usually stay at home and care for her family – especially the children.
Her jealousy was further sparked when she had a baby brother at the age of six (6). But later on, she realized, at the tender age of 11 years old that she, as a child, could also make a difference. Her mother tutored her to speak in a convention of several hundred people to raise funds for a child center in Angola. This exposure to her mother’s work and community involvement was a big eye opener for the author. She began to understand and value her mother for who she is and for the principles and beliefs that she represents and actively work for.
Another anecdote she recalls is that of her trip to Cuba. She was adamantly against it at first but later on, the entire trip and experience galvanized her resolve to be pro-active as her parents were. While in school, she started activities in the campus within her own group of Asian Americans. She took pride in the fact that although her parents helped her to be more “socially aware”, she now spawns social awareness activities out of her parent’s realm and she does it on her own. Nguyen Louie wrote: “I am a Chinese-Korean-American young woman.
Being a feminist is an integral part of who I am, but it is not all that I am. ” Nguyen Louie makes a declaration of her heritage and her identity. She shows no remorse or apology for who she is. In fact, you could feel the pride and confidence that exudes from the statement. Only a person who is self assured can issue such a declaration – unapologetic and so aware of who she is and where she wants to go with it. Summary: Culture as a Two-Way Street by Kevin Janda In his essay, Kevin traced how his family has assimilated or not assimilated into American culture.
Kevin is a second generation American Indian. He is an American Indian who has fully embraced the two cultures to which he was born into. Kevin begins his essay by recalling briefly the history of how his grandparents and his parents came to the USA before he was born. Like so many immigrants, they came to America with very little money in their pockets and have a lot of hope for a bright future for their transplanted family. Kevin also recalls how his grandparents and parents remained conservative and has imbibed in him some intrinsic Indian values and native language.
They also made sure he is exposed to Indian culture and music through the television as a medium of staying connected to their Indian culture. Growing up, Kevin remembers watching Indian love stories and musical numbers wherein Indian women are in their traditional costumes – fully covered. Through the years, this has also changed. He recalled how the costumes and clothes of women have changed. More recently, scantily clad Indian women were shown dancing in TV. This has elicited a negative response and reaction from his grandmother, who remains to be conservative.
Kevin further recalls that even the themes of the shows that depict marriage have changed. From the traditional “fixed” or pre-arranged betrothals, the theme has changed to a more marriage for love format and inter-cultural marriages. This change has transcended his family’s home and culture. Kevin states in his essay that he knows that his parents would allow him to marry by choice. However, he does remember that his classmates used to ask him during class sessions discussing Indian culture and history if he would be willing to undergo an arranged marriage - as was the custom for conservative and traditional Indians.
Towards the end of the essay, Kevin states that: “As we are moving further away from the original immigrants, we are moving further away from our roots, but we can never lose our past. ” This statement is the embodiment of the whole essay itself. It expresses the painful truth that although the original immigrants wishes to imbibe and ingrain in their offspring the traditional customs, language and values, they can only do so much amidst the more pervasive environment and influences outside the home like the school, the peers of their children and the media.
Ultimately, their children will move and gravitate towards the bigger societal norms and influences outside the home.
BRIDGING THE CULTURE
All of the three essays – “The Good Daughter” by Caroline Hwang, “A Daughter’s Story” by Nguyen Louie, and Kevin Janda’s “Culture as a Two-Way Street – depicted stories of immigrant families, their assimilation or non-assimilation into the larger mainstream society, their families’ reaction to living with two cultures and how they made it work or how they presented resistance to the cultural differences between their own and the American culture.
Gauging by the presentation of the essays and the statements made by the authors, the strongest sign of “successful” assimilation - one that displays no remorse or apology for her ethnicity is that of Nguyen Louie’s “A Daughter’s Story”. All three essays tell of varying degrees of immigrant families as they struggle toward assimilation into American society while maintaining traditional ethnic values within their family. Each story depicted different manifestations of these struggles in their day to day lives.
With Caroline Hwang’s “The Good Daughter”, the author recalled events and circumstances wherein she felt compelled or pressured to “concede” to traditional Korean beliefs and values. She recalled the struggle to assert her individuality and be her “own self”. She made an example of her coursework in college wherein her parents wanted her to be a lawyer while she wanted to be a writer. She also (un)consciously obliged an unspoken “rule” that she marry within the Korean-American community by not even dating other men outside the accepted “realm”.
As stated in the summary for “The Good Daughter”, Caroline summarized in one statement what her sentiments are with regards her identity of two cultures: “I identify with Americans, but Americans do not identify with me. ” Although Caroline was born in the USA, her physical traits are of course inherited from her Korean parents. This makes her feel segregated and she felt it is a hindrance to her “full immersion” in American society and culture.
Meanwhile, Kevin Janda in his essay “Culture as a Two-Way Street” also recollected details of his parents’ coming to America and of their attempts at keeping the traditional beliefs of their Indian heritage. They were apparently somewhat successful with Kevin – him being able to speak two languages easily. He is also comfortable with his identity and his ethnicity. He values his heritage while enjoying the opportunities for personal growth as an immigrant in America.
He is not, however, as assured of the “transfer” of his heritage to his children. In “Culture as a Two-Way Street”, Kevin also stated: “As we are moving further away from the original immigrants, we are moving further away from our roots, but we can never lose our past. ” The statement is proven true by the fact that Kevin’s younger brother is not as exposed and as fluid in their native language as Kevin is. So, with Kevin’s family situation, they did not even have to wait for the next generation for Kevin’s statement to be proven true.
Kevin’s younger brother’s inability to speak their native language and his failure to immerse himself or his parent’s “failure” to expose the younger brother with their native Indian culture with the same depth of appreciation and “ease” that Kevin has, the hard truth remains with Kevin’s statement. On the other hand, Nguyen Louie was more emphatic in her statements and convictions. She recollects memories of her childhood as a child of a first generation immigrant.
But her parents’ own activism and idealism that greatly influenced her as a child and as an adult shines through her statements. Nguyen was definite in her statement: “I am a Chinese-Korean-American young woman. Being feminist is an integral part of who I am, but it is not all that I am. ” In Nguyen’s statement, she clearly defined herself, without hesitation or apology, and instead, with a hint of pride and promise of what she still is to become. There is definitely a sense of assuredness and purpose of who she is and still to become.
She hints with certainty that her identity is no secret nor does she intend to hide it. Instead, it was made like an announcement for all to hear - and heed. Although all three recollections of Caroline, Kevin and Nguyen have similarities in terms of theme and characteristics of being children of immigrant parents, the similarities stop there. Nguyen went more in-depth with regards the questions she had as a child and while growing up being raised by very progressive thinking and liberal parents.
Her recollections centered more on the relationship she had and she felt she missed with her mother. Nguyen had traditional expectations of her mother. She thought that her mother’s presence should have been readily available for her - being the only daughter in the family - and for the first six years - being the only child. Hence, the realizations of Nguyen differed from Caroline and Kevin since hers departed from the theme of “feeling lost” or that of having a “cultural identity crisis”. Nguyen’s story and recollections never bordered on any form of the latter.
Of the three authors, she was culturally “sure-footed”. In closing, although all three essays were written by second generation of immigrant American families, Nguyen Louie’s essay dealt with more intimate issues between her and her mother, not so much making an issue of her being an immigrant and of glaring differences between her and her peers. Nguyen’s parents’ awareness and activism brought forth bigger issues for Nguyen to be involved with thereby transcending other issues like cultural assimilation and differences.
In fact, the very fact that Nguyen is different or that the color of her skin is different didn’t seem to matter – but only as a vehicle to effect changes – like jumping on the chance to conduct peer meetings to raise issues of race harassment at school. Being different should not be an end or an excuse for failure. On the contrary, like Nguyen, it should be used as a chance to pursue greater heights of success and as a vehicle for proactive change.
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