Being American to Jin meant being able to speak English or the language of the people and not speaking Chinese when in America. In the book, American born Chinese, Jin tells the new Chinese boy Wei-Chen Sun, in school to speak Chinese because he is in America (Gene Yuang) 37. It also meant not having any Chinese friends because once associated with them, one was viewed as a Chinese too. His friend in school Peter was an American even though he was a bully and older (Gene Yuang, 34). We see him resenting the new Chinese kid as compared to how he readily welcomes the bully as his friend. He tells Wei-Chen he does not need friends because he has them already and points to a group of boys who were playing (Gene Yuang, 38). To him, abandoning his culture as a Chinese and embracing the American culture like playing basketball or carrying sandwich for lunch showed how American one was. In the book, the bully asks Jin to give him his sandwich or kick his butt (Gene Yuang, 34). Earlier in the book, Jin is laughed at for carrying food (dumplings) that is traditionally Chinese (Gene Yuang, 32).
For Ruth being American means having a name that is American. In the book, the color of water, the writer who is his son James, realizes that his mother’s name was Ruchel which had a Yiddish origin. Even her parents had tried to change her name by changing it to Rachel when they moved to America. She went ahead to change her name completely to Ruth and never referred herself by another name except Ruth. She thought it was more American sounding than her name Ruchel or Rachel (McBride, 160, 2). To Ruth, being American meant being able to own land in America without being discriminated against. She narrates that when she became to America and was in her adolescent years, the people selling land or those owning it specified that the land was reserved for “white Anglo-Saxon protestants only” (McBride, 62, 4). For her, being American meant belonging to a religion that was widely accepted in America. In the book, it is found that she was uncomfortable being a Jew in an American school because other kids hated Jews. They would ask her, “Hey Ruth, when did you start being a dirty Jew?” (McBride, 62, 3). It is also found that the Jewish school was not counted as a school by the Americans and any qualifications in that school mattered little to them (McBride, 62, 3).
The definitions of being American brought forward by the two characters do not portray my definition of being American. To me, being American means being born in American or raised in America and adhering to and respecting the American constitution and laws. Also, anyone within the boundaries of America or governed by the American law, is an American.
James resolves his identity crisis by running away. He was ready to move from New York because he kept running into his friends who were getting into trouble often (McBride, 137, 2). In the course of time, he realized that everyone was the same, just human. The people of France were poor and starving yet they were white (McBride, 64, 3). He also realizes that discrimination was not against the mixed people only. He states that the white man’s world was also imperfect and that it had more problems than his own because they also lived under discrimination along religious, class and luck line (McBride, 205).
Ruth changed her religion by getting saved into becoming a Christian. She joined metropolitan church and later became the church secretary (McBride, 184, 2). She also married a black preacher after she got saved. In the book, she threatens to leave if the preacher wouldn’t marry her who in turn tells her she does not have to and proposes to marry her instead (McBride, 184,3).
In the book, American Born Chinese, a character known as Jin tries to resolve his personal identity crisis by dating girls who were not Chinese. He dated Suzy after dating Amelia. He also stops eating his Chinese food so as to look more American. He eventually overcomes the racial barrier by making a Chinese friend while the real cousin of Wen rejected him and moved to another school (Gene Yuang, 26). In my opinion, Jin used the best method of overcoming his inhibitions about being Chinese. He realized that what he wanted to be was more important than who other people thought he was. His love of transformers saw him bond with Wen who turned out to be his best friend. He was no longer ashamed to be with him because what he wanted to be was more important than what he was at the moment, an American born Chinese.
The two authors try to bring the vision of an America with no discrimination along racial or religious lines. To the writers American does not mean abandoning one’s cultures but embracing each culture and race in the changing society. Their appeal is to the American born American to accept and tolerate other American born as another race. They also put forward the theme of immigrants by use of characters such as Chen and Ruth. Running away from one’s culture s does not make one American. They seem to appeal to the immigrants to be proud of their origin so that others can appreciate them too.
Gene Yuang brings out the theme of segregation of society into color preferences. He narrates that the apartment into which they moved had other boys who were all Chinese and came to play Jin and watch cartoon (Gene Yuang, 26). He also brings out the theme of losing oneself in order to become what one wants. The herbalist wife tells Jin that he can become anything he wants if he was prepared to lose his sole (Gene Yuang, 28). This means that he has to forget himself and his culture or of the people in the society and just follow his heart in achieving his dreams.
Gene rebukes the Americans for their ignorance on matters concerning other races. The two teachers seems to conform to social bias when they assume that Chinese people only come from china and nowhere else despite the fact that Jin comes from san Francisco and Wen –Chen comes from tai wan.