From the very start of the memoir, Amy makes it clear that she is ashamed of her family’s food and customs. First of all, she uses very negative words such as “slimy,” “appalling,” and “rubbery white sponges” to describe the meal (136). Obviously the use of these words shows that she feels that this meal would in no way be appetizing to their guests. It is clear that Amy is terrified that Robert will be disgusted by this meal because of the way she describes it. In addition to her shame about the food, Amy is embarrassed by her family’s behavior at dinner when her “relatives licked the ends of their chopsticks and reached across the table, dipping them into the . . . plates of food” (137). This embarrasses Amy because most Americans consider it rude to reach across the table and unsanitary to dip eating utensils into food that is to be shared. In other words, Amy must feel that Robert thinks her family has no manners at all! Above all, Amy is ashamed when her “father leaned back and belched loudly, thanking [her] mother for her fine cooking” (137). Amy is obviously aware that in American culture, belching at the table is rude. Amy’s mortification is amplified when she looks at Robert and sees that he’s embarrassed as well. As one can see, Amy suffers great embarrassment at the Christmas Eve dinner because her Chinese culture is so different from that of the guests.
Although she is very embarrassed at dinner, years later Amy is able to understand the purpose behind her family’s behavior. One of the things her father did that initially embarrasses her is to offer her “the tender fish cheek” while announcing to the entire table that it was her favorite part of the fish. While she was embarrassed about this at the time, years later she came to realize that her father was offering this delicacy to her out of love because he knew it was her favorite. To elucidate, Amy’s father was trying to show Amy that she shouldn’t deny the things she loved; loving fish cheeks was a part of who she was, a part of her culture. Another thing Amy realizes yeas later is that for “Christmas Eve that year, [Amy’s mother] had chosen all [her] favorite foods (137). Just like with her father, Amy’s mother was showing her love for daughter by cooking a special menu just for Amy. Specifically, Amy’s mother gives her a fashionable mini-skirt after the dinner was over because she recognized that her daughter “wanted[ed] to be the same as American girls on the outside,” yet she still admonishes her that “inside [she] must always be Chinese” (137). Restated, Amy’s mother is telling her daughter that she must be very proud of being Chinese. In other words, she must not deny her culture because it is who she is. As a result of her family’s behavior, Amy is originally humiliated; however, she eventually learns that there was a purpose behind her family’s actions on that particular Christmas Eve.
In conclusion, author Amy Tan, in her memoir “Fish Cheeks,” illustrates how her family taught her to appreciate her culture. By refusing to conform to American culture and instead celebrating their Chinese culture, Amy’s family shows her that it is important to be proud of who you are. Amy may change what she looks like on the outside, but inside she will be undeniably and forever, Chinese.