Researched Essay

Timothy Dalton



Dear Timothy Dalton,

I’m submitting my essay, “Threads of Identity: Amy Tan’s Exploration of Language and Resilience,” for consideration at CUNY. This essay delves into the connections between identity and language in Amy Tan’s literary works.

I explore how Tan’s encounters with racism, especially the mockery she faced for speaking “broken English,” influenced her storytelling. Navigating through her experiences, we reflect on her essay “Mother Tongue” and her memoir “Where the Past Begins.” The essay also includes insights from scholarly articles, broadening the analysis to include cultural representation and challenges faced by the author.

This essay is a testament to Amy Tan’s personal connection to her Chinese heritage and her commitment to universal themes through her experiences. I believe it aligns with the interests of CUNY, providing a nuanced exploration of identity and language politics.

I am aware of the need to refine my wording and avoid repetition. Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to the opportunity to contribute to CUNY.


JaeBria Robinson-Herbert

Amy Tan, a renowned author celebrated for her insightful exploration of cultural complexities, particularly delves into the intricate intersections of identity and racism in her works. Born into a world marked by diverse influences, Tan’s personal encounters with racism during her formative years shaped not only her worldview but also laid the foundation for narratives that resonate with readers globally. This essay aims to unravel the threads of identity and racism in Tan’s literature, drawing connections between her real-life experiences and the vivid characters she crafts within the pages of her novels and stories.

As a young person, Amy Tan faced tough times because of how people teased her for the way she spoke, calling it “broken English.” In a world that didn’t appreciate different languages and cultures, Tan had to deal with hurtful comments from others, leaving a lasting impact on how she saw herself and those around her. This challenging period in her life wasn’t just a distant memory – it significantly shaped her understanding of who she was and how she communicated. It became a crucial chapter in her life, laying the foundation for the intricate stories she would later tell in her books. The strong emotions from these experiences are woven into the pages of her novels, serving as proof of her strength in navigating the complex world of identity against a backdrop of cultural bias. Tan’s encounters with racism weren’t just isolated incidents; they became the driving force behind her lifelong exploration of how language, culture, and identity come together in a society that sometimes struggles to embrace diversity.

Amy Tan’s childhood was marked by poignant instances of racism, notably the mockery she endured for speaking in what some deemed “broken English.” Growing up in a society that often failed to appreciate linguistic and cultural diversity, Tan faced derision that left an indelible mark on her perception of self and others. The taunts and ridicule she encountered for expressing herself in a manner reflective of her cultural background became a crucible for her understanding of identity and language.

“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan explores the complexities of language and its impact on one’s identity. Tan reflects on her experiences with her mother’s limited English proficiency and how it shaped their communication. The essay highlights the power dynamics associated with language, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and valuing diverse linguistic abilities. Amy Tan’s encounters with mockery for her unique use of English not only shaped her personal narrative but also laid the groundwork for her essay “Mother Tongue.” In this reflective piece, Tan delves into the nuances of language and the impact of societal judgments on one’s sense of self-worth. Drawing from her own experiences, “Mother Tongue” becomes a canvas where Tan unravels the complexities of identity forged in the crucible of linguistic diversity and prejudice. The essay serves as a testament to the power of personal narrative, urging readers to reconsider their perceptions of language and identity.

A pivotal aspect of Tan’s encounters with racism centered on the mockery she endured for speaking what some considered “broken English.” As she vividly recounts, “I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly, her thoughts were imperfect.” This formative experience in her youth became a defining factor in shaping her understanding of identity and language.

Tan’s experiences, particularly the derision she faced for her unique use of English, became the creative impetus for her essay “Mother Tongue.” In this reflective piece, Tan delves into the intricacies of language and the societal judgments that influence one’s sense of self-worth. As she eloquently states in “Mother Tongue,” “I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language—the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth.” The essay becomes a profound exploration of identity forged amidst linguistic diversity and the far-reaching impact of prejudice.

“Amy Tan’s The Chinese Siamese Cat: Chinoiserie and Ethnic Stereotypes” by Sheng-mei Ma explores the themes of Chinoiserie and ethnic stereotypes in Amy Tan’s work. The author likely delves into how Tan addresses and challenges these stereotypes in her writing, examining the nuances of cultural representation. Additionally, delving into “Amy Tan’s The Chinese Siamese Cat: Chinoiserie and Ethnic Stereotypes” enhances our understanding of Tan’s response to ethnic stereotypes. The analysis underscores that, “Tan skillfully challenges ethnic stereotypes by turning them into a source of empowerment, reclaiming narratives and weaving them into the fabric of her stories.” This approach further enriches her exploration of identity, demonstrating her resilience in the face of racial prejudice.

Amy Tan’s candid revelation, “I have to write for personal reasons, and they often have to do with something that’s come up in my life, and my life somehow seems to be about the fact that I’m Chinese,” taken from the YouTube video “———-“ encapsulates the heart of her literary endeavors. This introspective statement underscores the deeply personal nature of Tan’s writing, revealing a narrative tethered to her identity as a Chinese individual. In the context of this essay, it serves as a guiding beacon, emphasizing that Tan’s exploration of themes like language, racism, and resilience is not merely an intellectual pursuit but an intimate reflection of her lived experiences. The quote crystallizes the intricate connection between the personal and the literary, echoing the sentiments that echo through her novels and essays. Just as Tan weaves her own story into her works, this essay navigates the threads of identity, language politics, and cultural nuances, mirroring the intimate interplay between personal narratives and the broader exploration of universal themes.

In conclusion, Amy Tan’s writing is like a rich tapestry that reveals her exploration of identity, language, and resilience. From the tough times she faced due to racism in her youth, especially the teasing she endured for her “broken English,” transforming into  the complex emotions she shared in her reflective pieces like “Mother Tongue” and the memoir “Where the Past Begins,” Tan’s journey becomes a mirror reflecting common struggles we all go through. Her experiences with prejudice weren’t just personal challenges; they fueled stories that connect different cultures and challenge stereotypes. When we look at her work through scholarly views and critical analyses, we get a deeper understanding of how she skillfully tackles ethnic stereotypes, transforming them into sources of strength.