In the American Society

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Gish Jen's In the American Society is, on the surface, an entertaining look into the workings of a Chinese American family making their way in America. The reader is introduced to the life of a Chinese American restaurant owner and his family through the eyes of his American-born daughter. When we examine the work in depth, however, we discover that Jen is addressing how traditional Chinese values work in American culture. She touches on the difference in gender roles, generation gaps between immigrants and their American-born children, and the hesitance of these immigrants to conform to the American way of life. To truly understand multicultural literature, one must first try to understand the cultural background of the author. In the case of this piece, we are examining the Chinese culture and Jen's experiences which shaped her writing. Gish Jen is a second-generation American. Her parents immigrated separately in the 1940's. Her mother came to America to go to graduate school and her father came as part of the war efforts during World War II. With the rise of Communism in China, both were forced to remain here and ended up building a life together and raising their 5 children as Americans. Because they came in the second of three "waves" of Chinese Immigration, their reasons for coming and the process of assimilating into the American way of life was very different than other Chinese immigrants. During the first wave, from 1849-1882, the reasons for immigrating were mainly economic. Thousands of poor young males came from China to labor in America. In 1882, however, the Chinese Exclusion act was passed, making it so the second wave of immigrants contained only diplomats, merchants, and students. Chinese immigrants were segregated from mainstream America and lived in Chinatowns with no diplomatic rights until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Along with this act came the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which allowed more Chinese to come...
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