Asians and Asian-American children assimilating into American culture was a theme shown throughout multiple readings this semester. It was addressed directly in the works of American Born Chinese, a story about a young Chinese boy growing up in America and dealing with being one of the only Asian students in his class, and No No Boy a story about a Japanese man who was sent off to spend two years in an internment camp during World War Two after the bombings on Pearl Harbor and served an additional two years in a prison after. The theme was also addressed loosely in the works of Two Kinds, a story about a Chinese girl growing up in America and wanting to break free of her mothers’ expectations for her life, and Cannery Row, story about a Chinese shop owner living in California sometime in the early 1900s and his interactions with the local community. I believe Asians & Asian-Americans assimilating into American culture had advantages and disadvantages and I believe that the four pieces of work previously mentioned symbolize the theme of cultural assimilation in both a positive and negative light.Order now
As mentioned before, two works addressed the theme of assimilating into American Culture directly throughout their stories. These two stories were American Born Chinese authored by Gene Luen Yang and No No Boy authored by John Okada. American Born Chinese directly addresses the theme of assimilating into American culture throughout the entire story and as early as page 27 where the main character of Jin Wang is talking to a Chinese herbalist’s wife and she asks him in mandarin Chinese, “So little friend, what do you plan to become when you grow up?” to which Jin Wang responds “…Well…….I…I want to be a Transformer!” showing American culture having an effect on him. I say American culture because while the transformer toy line originated from Japan, it started being produced and popularized in America in the 1980s which appears to be when the story was set judging from the fashion featured in the story, the toys featured in the story, and the car they are driving in the initial pages of the reading.
American cultures influence and Jin Wang’s assimilation into American culture continues onward on page 30 when Jin Wang is being introduced to his class for the first time. Jin Wang isn’t showing signs of assimilating into American culture here so much as American culture is being exposed to him in the form of stereotypes and casual racism for lack of a better term. As Jin Wang is being introduced to the class, his teacher mispronounces his name entirely changing it from Jin Wang to Jing Jang, which he corrects, and says he is from China, which he also corrects saying he is from San Francisco. The stereotypes and casual racism continue into page 31 when a fellow student says openly “My momma says Chinese people eat dogs.” And the teacher instead of disputing that says “Now be nice, Timmy. I’m sure Jin doesn’t do that! In fact, Jin’s family probably stopped that sort of thing as soon as they came to the United States!” and as this is going on Jin Wang discovers he isn’t the only Asian in the class, but there is only one other Asian student, so he is still very much a minority.
The theme within the book continues on page 34 where Jin Wang meets a boy named Peter who essentially just bullies him and is clearly problematic and continues the idea of casual racism which I argue is American culture especially in older years such as the 1980s when this story seems to take place as society was less aware of it and the problems it posed compared to how aware we are of social issues like casual racism and stereotypes in 2018. Jin Wang and Peter become “friends” and I put friends in quotes because it really isn’t friendship it’s more so Jin Wang seeking to not be alone and he begins truly assimilating into American culture here as he hangs out with Peter more and they play various games together such as “Kill The Pill”, “Crack The Whip”, and “Let’s Be Jews” which play into the casual racism theme I am talking about being so present in American culture. Jin Wang hanging out with Peter and playing these games is what I see as the beginning act of him assimilating into American culture in a negative way, and you can see the effects it has on him very quickly after this passage as on page 36 when another Asian student is introduced to the class named Wei-Chen.
The teacher goes through the same dialogue as when the teacher introduced Jin Wang and I believe this brings up the memory for him when he was introduced and the negative feelings that he likely had to having the teacher mispronounce his name, hearing the teacher say he was from China when he isn’t, and hearing a stereotypical remark from a classmate. Jin Wang says on the bottom of the page “Something made me want to beat him up.” and I believe that is because of him hanging with Peter brought him into the negative aspects of American culture such as the casual racism, and combined with his own personal feelings of his introduction to the class made him initially dislike Wei-Chen purely on the basis of his race. I believe this racism within Jin Wang is brought about mostly from his attempt to assimilate into the American culture around him, and it affects him throughout the story notably towards the end of the story when on page 191 he says to Wei-Chen after kissing Wei-Chen’s girlfriend, “Maybe I think she can do better than an F.O.B like you.” This quote highlights the racism built within Jin Wang. The final scene within the story on pages 195-198 where Jin-Wang basically turns into a white boy shows that he was trying to be as American as possible throughout the story because the Chinese herbalist’s wife tells him much earlier, “It’s easy to become anything you wish so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.” It is at this point that I believe Jin Wang sacrificed his soul to fully assimilate into American culture and become Danny.
The other work directly addressing the theme of assimilation into American culture was the story No-No Boy by John Okada. In No-No Boy a man by the name of Ichiro had been sent to an internment camp during World War Two some time after the bombings of Pearl Harbor for two years, and after having done two years in the camp he served an additional two years in prison. The story addresses the theme of assimilating into American culture directly in that Ichiro having spent time in internment camps has to deal with the fact that while he might be American himself, his own fellow Americans might not view him as one. Ichiro must deal with direct racism as a consequence of being a Japanese-American and assimilating into American-Culture after the bombings on Pearl Harbor. The book showcases what I am on talking about on the very first pages, specifically pages two, three, four and five. Ichiro is walking down the street when he runs into a man wearing a military uniform calling him “Itchy” and tries to run away but the man catches up to him. The man’s name was Eto and he continues talking to Ichiro and eventually asks him some questions and loses his friendliness and starts treating Ichiro with racism. He says, “no-no boy, huh?” and continues with his aggressions calling Ichiro a “Rotten bastard.”. Ichiro continues down the street and encounters more racism from a group of black men who call him a “Jap” and tell him to go back to Tokyo. This is the type of racism and general attitudes Ichiro must deal with as a consequence of attempting to assimilate back into American culture after serving time in Japanese internment camps and prison.
Two works this semester addressed the theme of assimilating into American culture in a much less direct way. The first work to address it indirectly was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. In the story, a Chinese shop keep named Lee Chong lives in a town called Cannery Row in California during what I assume to be early 1900’s and no later than the 1940s when the story was released, interacts with his community. The way John Steinbeck addressed the theme of assimilating into American culture in Cannery Row is that Lee Chong is very well respected within his community. He takes care of his community and they take care of him. I believe that sense of family within a community is a positive side of American culture that isn’t well represented in the other stories we read this semester.
An example of this is found in the story on page 8 when Lee Chong discovers Horace Abbeville had killed himself, Lee Chong makes sure that any of Horace’s offspring regardless of who their mother was would never go without having a stick of spearmint gum again. Another big example is how Lee Chong owns a building in short distance from the shop, and a group of boys offer to move in and take care of the building on page 10 of the book. Lee initially feels threatened by their proposal but later decides to allow them to move in. It wasn’t exactly a great act of kindness as it seems more like a mob-boss strong-arming their way into getting what they want, but the group ended up being loyal customers of Lee Chong’s store, protected him when problems occurred, and of course took care of the building. It was these acts that I believe represented the theme of assimilating into American culture in Cannery Row because while it isn’t as direct as American Born Chinese or No-No Boy, it shows a sense of family within a community that I believe is very much engrained into American culture.
The final work to address the theme of assimilating into American culture this semester was Two Kinds by Amy Tan. In this story the title Two Kinds refers to a moment in the story wherein the main character Jing-Mei’s mother says on page 5, “Only two kinds of daughters, those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!’ This quote is important because it highlights how the story indirectly addresses the theme of assimilating into American Culture. The daughter Jing-Mei wants to break free of her mothers’ expectations and to live her own life, which I see as an American thing to do. American culture is all about following your dreams, being yourself and being free. Those three things are all what Jing-Mei wishes to do which is much to no avail for her mother. I believe American culture’s influence is why Jing-Mei decides to act the way she does towards her mother and why she has the desire to live her own life.
These four works, American Born Chinese, No-No Boy, Cannery Row, and Two Kinds all had the theme of assimilating into American culture addressed throughout them in different ways as expressed above. I believe the story that highlighted this theme the best as American Born Chinese as it gives you the clearest indication of the American attitude towards Asian-Americans, and the influence American culture has on the main character of Jin Wang. I believe Asians & Asian-Americans assimilating into American culture had advantages and disadvantages and I believe that the four pieces of work previously mentioned symbolize the theme of cultural assimilation in different ways, directly or indirectly as well as positive aspects and negative aspects.
- Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Penguin Books, 2016. (Two Kinds)
- Steinbeck, John. Cannery Row. Penguin, 2017.
- Yang, Gene Luen, and Lark Pien. American Born Chinese. Square Fish, 2009.
- Okada, John, and Karen Tei Yamashita. No-No Boy. Penguin Books, 2019.