Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.
Being Asian — or Asian American, or Chinese, or Chinese American? — meant something, even if she wasn’t fresh off the boat or an activist like Kay. It meant saving, it meant over-compensating. Having to be smarter, tougher, more practical. The fear of good things running out. It mean never being completely at ease. It meant constant guilt toward your parents. It meant feeling vaguely ashamed, even if you didn’t know why, even if your family was no means poor or unaccomplished or spectacularly dysfunctional. (24-25)
Well, I’m certainly not ashamed of myself or my family. But I do feel some of these things. And I’m sure other Asian Americans do as well. Others don’t.
That’s the thing. It’s hard to encapsulate the experience of an entire group of people. Because groups are made up of individuals, and individuals are all so different. We’re not all going to agree. There are Tiger Moms, Paper Tigers, or Not a Tiger At Alls.
But to find where we stand, it’s often helpful to see where everyone else is. So it’s worth talking about, even if we disagree. It’s worth understanding others in order to understand ourselves.
One of the things I liked about this book was that each of the 6 main characters had a unique view point about themselves and their heritage. I could see bits of myself in all of them.
It occurred to Irene that Americans these days hungered to write tell-all memoirs, chart family trees, even trace their DNA — not to illuminate the future, but to revel in the past. Everyone wanted to find and display their link to some shameful history, some buried tragedy, thinking somehow it made them special, when really, what could be more ordinary? She supposed in this young, rich country, people felt too light and free. They wanted weight; wanted to feel themselves tethered more solidly. (95)
Beautifully put, and (I think) fairly true. I’m not saying every memoirist is an exhibitionist — not even close — but I’m thinking more about the online culture. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook. We put our lives on display. We think it makes us special. But really, if everyone’s doing it…
Ironic, coming from me, no? Well, the flip side is that, just like in real life, on the internet you make a group of friends, and you get to know them, and then you do care about what they’re saying, and you do think they’re special.
As for memoirs, what I think is worse than everyone wanting to air out their dirty laundry for 15 minutes of fame and fortune is that the public is so willing to buy it.
(Again, I am NOT saying this is true of every memoirist. I’m mostly thinking of celebrities who sensationalize their pasts in order to make a quick buck. Judgmental of me? Yup. Sorry, I guess that’s my inner cynic showing through.)
In Chinese, there were only good or bad kids, no good or bad mothers. (83)
No one had the right to do whatever they wanted. No one should. Progress didn’t mean having it all. Everything in life was a trade-off. Nothing was spared from this, not children, not anything. (208)
My generation in particular has such an entitlement problem. We were told we could do and have anything we wanted — but we conveniently forgot the part about having to work really freaking hard to get it. There’s a big difference between being privileged and being spoiled. I do my best to stay on the right side of that line.
Also, as a feminist, this quote reminds me that feminism isn’t about getting everything. It’s about getting choices. And sometimes those choices are hard.
I don’t have accompanying thoughts for these last few lines. I just thought they were lovely and true.
Enough of drawing lines between strength and weakness, great and ordinary, themselves and other women. They’d drawn lines until they’d drawn themselves into cages. (267)
“You think you know China, but you don’t know the first thing about being Chinese. It’s about family. Jia” — Irene slashed the air with it — “family, house, home. In Chinese, it’s all one word.” (276)
Once one set of needs is satisfied, the next starts to clamor. (276)