Over the course of hundreds of years, immigrants from numerous countries have sought out to search for a better life in a new place. Many have come over to America with hopes and dreams that they wish to accomplish, but along the way they have also discovered the bitter reality of the immigrant experience and hardships that they must overcome on their journey to America. Based on the readings of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, and Elva Trevino’s Barefoot Heart, the immigrant experience is seen through the eyes of the main characters.
All of the authors offer a different perspective from each character as to how the immigrant experience is like, what they have to encounter, and the hardships that come along the way. One thing that ties them all together is their experience as an immigrant. It is the dream of every immigrant, to live a worry free life in a new country, although what comes along with the experience is having to adapt to new surroundings, overcoming the typical stereotypes, clash between two cultures and financial issues.
One of the ways which the immigrant experience is displayed is through the main characters learning how to adapt to new surroundings. In the story, The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan shows the four Chinese mothers struggling to adapt to this change in scenery. When one of the mothers, Suyuan Woo, came over to America in 1949 after losing everything she had back in China, she didn’t let regrets hold her back. As her daughter, Jing-Mei Woo quotes, “[b]ut she never looked back with regret. There were so many ways for things to get better” (Tan 141).
From this quote, it shows how Suyuan Woo looks forward to the future and to the change that she is about to face once she’s here in America. She also believes and has the hopes of being able to achieve anything in America. With the progression of an immigrant’s journey, the growth as an individual also occurs. Like Ying-Ying St. Clair stated, “[b]ut now that I am old, moving every year closer to the end of my life, I also feel closer to the beginning” (Tan 83). As they age, they also experience a whole new life in a new place which offers them a new beginning, letting them start over on a clean slate.
Although, having to adapt to change can never be too promising or something to look forward to, which is why many times an immigrant would fight to let go to what they have to hold on a better and brighter future in a new country. As Esperanza describes her neighbor, “[s]he still sighs for her pink house, and then I think she cries. I would” (Cisneros 77). Although she is being given a new beginning in a new country, having to adapt to a change in scenery will never come easy. Sometimes, the change that takes place happens in the people that they meet along the way. I don’t have any friends except Cathy who is only my friend till Tuesday” (Cisneros 14). Here, Esperanza deals with having to make new friends as her current ones depart. Along the experience, immigrants are bound to meet numerous of people who will come and go in their lives as they continue to settle down. Often times, immigrants also have to adapt to the change that occurs in themselves, as seen through Elva’s own experience, “[i] experienced my heart and soul being transported to the other side of the world while my small body remained at the migrant camp” (Hart 96).
As their journey continues, immigrants get accustomed to the life that they are supposed to live while they still feel attached to the memories that remind them of where they came from, their home. Many times, they fight to hold on as much as they fight to let go of the things that remind them of where they came from. Another part that comes along with the immigrant experience is having to overcome the typical stereotypes. Many times people make assumptions as to what their abilities are, what their position in the social class is, and also their career.
While Lindo Jong tells the story of her first job at a fortune cookie factory, one of her co-workers, An-mei Hsu, tell her, “[t]hey are fortunes. American people think Chinese people write these sayings. But we never say such things! ” (Tan 299). As Lindo analyzes her first job that she took part in when first arriving in America, it shows that many times the assumptions that people make about someone of a different race is never really true.
It may be seen to be a certain way on the movie screens but the truth of the matter is that any assumption made about anyone’s culture will never be correct because they all come from different backgrounds. The first thing that people often notice about immigrants are primarily their looks, assuming that they are all of the same kind, “[s]he said it was so unfortunate the way the rest of the world was, how unpopular the Vietnam War was” (Tan 125). Although what many people don’t understand is that there are many different ethnicities that lie behind the title of being Asian, as well s being Mexican. They all may seem to appear the same but most misinterpret the culture of an immigrant. When a certain race is known to have a substandard background, people would be quick to judge the person of that race. In this case, Esperanza describes, “[t]hose who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake” (Cisneros 28).
Judgments coming from others about her neighborhood assuming that it’s a dangerous area infested with criminals and impoverished people show that many people are quick to judge when it comes to the appearance of a person or place. “[a]ll brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight” (Cisneros 28). Based off of their judgments, people may be the ones who are afraid of the immigrants, but the truth of the matter is that that isn’t always the case.
Many times, people of a certain race would be discriminated against due to others who have given a bad impression of who they believe the immigrants to be. Even if it isn’t true in most cases, people tend to believe what they hear and let that sway their judgment instead, like Elva said, “[t]hey said he couldn’t have possibly have drawn the poster. It was too good…This Mexican kid was a liar” (Hart 154). Due to their position in the social class, people become too quick to judge as they fail to recognize the true potential that is hidden behind the faces of these immigrants.
One of the many struggles of an immigrant is being able to overcome the typical stereotype label that people give them, even if they know that what others assume is not right, many will be quick to judge. The clash between two cultures uprises as a struggle that the main characters in the stories have to mediate. Being able to hold on to your culture while you are acquainted with another one usually becomes very difficult, especially nowadays when the American culture seems to dominate over our roots. As Lindo Jong says herself, “[i]t’s my fault she is this way.
I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix? ” (Tan 289). As she raised her daughter, Waverly, in America, the American culture seem to have overcome the Chinese culture, Lindo’s roots. The relationship between this pair is troubled by the way that Lindo, who wanted to be like her own mother, is hurt by what she sees as Waverly not wanting to be at all like her mother. In China, these women were taught that to become a woman it was an honor to become like her mother.
In American society, the goal is to become our own person, and to blame mother for whatever is wrong with us. As the American culture begins to grow, many times, the child born in America will begin losing sight in their culture, wishing to be more American than whom they really are. “Her name is June. They all go by their American names” (Tan 37). As they grow up, they often times become more adapted to the culture of the decade rather than ones that their parents grew up with back in their homeland.
Many immigrants also have a hard time coming to terms with a new culture, especially for their children. Which is shown through Esperanza’s neighbor, Mamacita, “[n]o speak English, she says to the child who is singing in the language that sounds like tin. No, no, no as if she can’t believe her ears” (Cisneros 78). She refuses to accept the fact that her child is not following in her footsteps with her cultural background, which is why she ends up being so upset when she sees that he’s speaking English.
Breaking the barriers of what used to be, and what is the norm, the cross cultures often times interfere with the belief of those descendants of their homeland. “[a]nd then to break her heart forever, the baby boy who has begun to talk, starts to sing to the Pepsi commercial” (Cisneros 78). Instead of being held back by their culture, the experiences that come along the way also help shape the immigrant as they grow up in a different country. “[m]y experiences had shown me that I didn’t have to be the person that growing up in Pearsall circumscribed me to be. I had choices” (Hart 206).
Due to the collision of cultures, sometimes it brings out the greater part in people as they strive to be better than just the average immigrant, instead they strive to build a better and greater life for themselves. Many immigrants fear losing one of the few things that they were able to take along with them, which is their cultural background. Many times, starting a beginning somewhere new can never offer you everything that you ask for, money being one of them. As for immigrants, the struggle to find a job is very tedious because many times, jobs that are offered never compensate more than an average salary income.
Through the experience of Lindo Jong, she too realizes that it is never easy as she expects, “[i] found a terrible job paying me seventy-five cents an hour” (Tan 297). Trying to balance on a less than average salary, immigrants have a hard time making enough money to support their families, let alone themselves half of the time. “So my mother was right about my hardships. This job in the cookie factory was one of the worst” (Tan 298). As difficult as it already is to find a job, finding one that would be pleasant and pays well will never end up in the same ends of the spectrum.
Although the job wasn’t what she expected it to be, she had to find a way to make money because for many immigrants, the struggle to make money was an issue big enough by itself. One of the other situations that come along with the financial issues for an immigrant is being able to find a stable home. Like Esperanza says, “[t]hey always told us that one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn’t have to move each year” (Cisneros 4). To be financially stabled for an immigrant was never too occurring as they struggled to make a living off of what they could.
With the lack of money that many immigrants dealt with, it sometimes leads to the juvenile and unmotivated lifestyle to do well, “[y]ou want to know why I quit school? Because I didn’t have nice clothes” (Cisneros 91). Due to this situation, many immigrants fail to proceed with their ability to do well because most of the time, they are degraded by their looks and their culture which leads to the juvenile life that they grow up being the leader of. While some are given the opportunity to work in factories, others immigrants make a living by doing labor work out in the fields. […] our house would be the one-room, stop-sign-shaped building” (Hart 8). Those who worked out in the fields would many times follow wherever their work takes them, moving from place to place. Most of the times, it was difficult to save enough money to buy a home of their own due to always having to migrate from one place to another, their part-time homes were very limited in space. With the many struggles that they must deal with, financial issues being one of them, the chances of being able to stay stationary in a home never was too promising, especially for many immigrants.
Altogether, the struggles an immigrant to experiences; adapting to new surroundings, overcoming the typical stereotypes, clash between two cultures and financial issues, all contribute to the ultimate immigrant experience. Through all of these tribulations, the main characters in the stories by Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros, and Elva Trevino Hart portray these struggles which play a part in their journey as an immigrant. Although it’s a difficult journey, in the end, they are able to give themselves a greater life in a new country where hopes and dreams are bound to happen.