By Gish Jen
Response By Gretel Dougherty
Who’s Irish by Gish Jen is a story about immigrants, about differences in culture and about how sometimes it is hard to make change. A mother and her child in America run into constant conflict with the Grandmother of the family, who tries to impose the Chinese family dynamics she grew up with onto the parenting techniques of her daughter. This causes stress and tension within the family, and an overarching question of which culture is better? The story shows that many immigrants feel pressured to assimilate completely into American society rather than preserving parts of their culture.
The differences between the characters in the story highlight the necessity of integrating both new culture and old. America can only be diverse if people work to keep their heritage, but in preserving heritage it is important to be open to other points of view. The mother had chosen to assimilate into American society and adopt parenting techniques that corresponded to those used in the new country. The grandmother was still holding on to the culture she was a part of back in China. Since America was a new place, the mother was convinced it was necessary for the grandmother to change her approach towards the world. However, they were in disagreement. In Asian cultures, the parents are more respected as elders than friends, which is different than in many American families. The grandmother opened her own Chinese restaurant and maintained her perceived role in society diligently. She clearly didn’t have a good frame of reference for the ways that other parenting styles manifest, seeing as her daughter’s Irish husband didn’t have a successful family. It is natural that she would be worried for the success of her brown granddaughter, but she proved to be overly stubborn in her ways. The grandmother clearly looked down on people who did not approach the world similarly, even when it was her own daughter. This caused extreme family tension. The grandmother’s refusal to respect or even tolerate her daughter’s more Americanised views ultimately ended their relationship. While preserving culture is important, people must also work together and respect each other to achieve a common goal of peace and harmony within diversity.
America is still thought of as a place where anyone and everyone can be accepted and can achieve success if they work hard. Sophie’s grandmother’s restaurant is a prime example of this. Many people coming to the US, especially those who are seeking success rather than safety, do preserve their background culture. However, coming into the US is set to become increasingly harder in the next few years. Even though America is meant to be a place where many cultures can coexist peacefully, recent events regarding our current president show that may no longer be the case. Many more relationships could face the same end as that of the mother and grandmother, simply because of closed mindedness. In an ideal world, no one would feel pressured by society to get rid of their heritage in order to be safe, but that does happen. America needs to work even harder these days to accept people no matter their background, to contribute to a country of diversity with liberty and justice for all.