"Hey, Sabrina, are you Japanese or Chinese?" I asked. Her reply, as it seems to be for many minority groups, is, "Neither, I'm Chinese-American." So, besides her American accent and a hyphenated ending on her answer to the SAT questionnaire about her ethnic background, what is the difference? In Amy Tan's enjoyable novel, The Joy Luck Club, about the relationships and experiences of four Chinese mothers and four Chinese-American daughters, I found out the answer to this question. The difference in upbringing of those women born during the first quarter of this century in China, and their daughters born in the American atmosphere of California, is a difference that does not exactly take a scientist to see.
From the beginning of the novel, you hear Suyuan Woo tell the story of "The Joy Luck Club," a group started by some Chinese women during World War II, where "we feasted, we laughed, we played games, lost and won, we told the best stories. In addition, each week, we could hope to be lucky. That hope was our only joy." (p. 12) Really, this was their only joy. The mothers grew up during perilous times in China. They all were taught, "to desire nothing, to swallow other people's misery, to eat [their] own bitterness." (p. 241) Though not many of them grew up terribly poor, they all had a certain respect for their elders, and for life itself. These Chinese mothers were all taught to be honorable, to the point of sacrificing their own lives to keep any family members' promise. Instead of their daughters, who "can promise to come to dinner, but if she wants to watch a favorite movie on TV, she no longer has a promise" (p. 42), "To Chinese people, fourteen carats isn't real gold . . . [my bracelets] must be twenty-four carats, pure inside and out." (p. 42).
Towards the end of the book, there is a definite line between the differences of the two generations. Lindo Jong, whose daughter, Waverly, doesn't even know four Chinese words, describes the complete difference and incompatibility of the two worlds she tried to connect for her daughter, American circumstances and Chinese character.