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Amy Tan and the Limitations of Immigrants: A Critical Analysis of Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue

When Amy Tan wrote Mother Tongue, not only did she write about growing up with an immigrant family, she also wrote about the hardships and obstacles that were put in their path as well. The life of her mother being made more difficult because of the way she spoke English. Chinese or immigrants of any kind are discriminated against not only because of their culture but because of the way they speak, mainly if they speak broken English. Amy Tan and her Mother are prime examples of immigrant limitation and immigrant stereotyping. The article’s theme of immigrant discriminations are demonstrated through the way that immigrants are treated, stereotypes that immigrants or races have, and the misconceptions of the knowledge that immigrants have.
Tan’s mother is introduced to us as she talks about the comparison of the language she uses with her mother and husband compared to how she would talk to someone else. This language would be described as “broken” English. Immigrants are often perceived as unintelligent when speaking this way when in all reality it is the exact opposite. Though it may sound like they are speaking nonsense to any random person, they not only are able to communicate with each other, they are also able to comprehend what someone is saying, whether it be “broken” English or fluent English. For example, as Tan grows up she would often witness her mother reading the Forbes report and listening to the Wall Street Week without any type of trouble at all. She would, “converse daily with her stockbroker,” as well as “reads Shirley Maclaire’s books with ease” (Tan, 2006). Thus, disproving the theory that sees’ immigrants that speak “broken” English as unintelligent. Someone who speaks English as a second language can completely understand anything someone who speaks fluent English can, otherwise they would not be very independent when moving to a new country.
This sort of stereotyping often leads to many misconceptions about immigrants and their certain race. People who are immigrants or simply speak English as a second language are not only deemed as unintelligent, most of the time they are treated differently than others. The lives of immigrants are often made harder than a fluent English-speaking citizen. There could be many reasons why whether it be that they are seen as unintelligent or even because the person has a racial bias against them but, this issue makes it harder for them to conduct business, or even receive adequate services. Tan describes that she was, in fact, ashamed of the way her Mother spoke English for quite some time. She writes that she “believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say” (Tan, 2006). She states that she has experiential judgments that made her believe so, saying that establishments often “did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or acted as if they did not hear her” (Tan, 2006). Since the article is not based on hearsay, it proves how some if not most immigrants are treated. From the author’s experience, it is clear that immigrants are often treated badly.
Yes, there are a few stereotypes when it comes to immigrants. Particularly there are many stereotypes that Chinese immigrants or even Chinese American’s face, whether it be about what business’s they run (restaurants, beauty supply stores), what they eat (cat, dog, etc.), their love life, or certain skills that they have (ping-pong, martial arts, etc.). One of the most popular stereotypes about Chinese people is based on their education. It is said that Chinese people are excessively gifted at math.
Of course, this being the stereotype most commonly heard by the American population, surely enough the educator’s of these Chinese American students, as well as children of Chinese immigrants have heard this as well. Because of this stereotype, not only Chinese immigrants but most students of Chinese descent are often pushed into doing things that fall within their stereotype, preventing them from branching out as an individual. The author speaks about how Asian American students do better in Math tests and not English tests, leading her to believe that they also have grown up in homes when the English were spoken would be described as “broken” or “limited”. She also writes, “And perhaps they also have teachers who are steering them away from writing and into math and science, which is what happened to me” (Tan, 2006). It seems like the author described teachers pushing their Asian students into classes that fall into their skill set or stereotypes simply because they believe that they would do better on one subject than anything else.
Though life for anyone can be hard, the life of an immigrant is just as hard, if not more. The struggles of an immigrant are real. Most of the time they are treated poorly, stereotyped, and seem as unintelligent because they came from another country and do not speak English fluently. Mother Tongue sums these issues up perfectly. The lives of Amy Tan and her Mother are the perfect examples for expressing these three issues that come up when speaking about immigration. The writing was able to give us a look into the day-to-day life of the Chinese immigrant. Fortunately, we live in newer times, meaning things of this sort may not be that much of an issue anymore, but there surely are many cases that are similar to this piece of writing.
Works Cited
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Read 56.4 (2006): 20. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.

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