“A Pair of Tickets” by Amy Tan explores the relationship of ethnic, identity, heritage and place and setting. According to Oxford dictionary, self-identity is the recognition of one’s potential and qualities as an individual especially in relation to social context. June May the protagonist in this story, denies herself as a Chinese. She was raised in San Francisco as a Chinese-American. Her mother grew up in China and immigrated to America whereas June May born in America and grew with American culture. Jane May has not been raised in China and never had been able to relate to the Chinese way of life or felt Chinese. As she sees the relationships and the style of life, she is able to have a look at the way her both parents had been raised and why they thought and felt different than she did when she was growing. After June May’s mother passes away, June May tries to find her true roots and origin.
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Initially, Jane May has trouble accepting herself as Chinese despite her Chinese blood identity. She did not understand what her mother meant when her mother said “once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chineseâ€¦ It is in your blood, waiting to be let go” (Tan 218).She often felt embarrassed by her mother’s behavior. June May was born in America and goes to American school. She starts to claim herself as a part of American by making friends with Caucasian. As educated under American culture, she thinks in an American way. Therefore, she wants to be more associated with her Caucasian friends. Ethnic minority members have actually learned and acquired Western values and patterns in their behavior. The ways in which people express their emotions and interpret the facial expressions and bodily gestures of others are instances of such psychological features (Fong 265).She denies her Chinese identity as she does not want to be an outsider in a foreign country and wants to be more associated with Americans in Americans way. She does not want to follow her mother by being Chinese as it embarrassed her by “haggling with store owners, pecking her mouth with a toothpick in public, being colour blind to the fact that lemon yellow and pale pink are not good combination for winter clothes”(Tan 218). She feel embarrassed by doing so in public as people will look down at her and does not want to be stereotyped by Americans. She does not admit herself as Chinese. Since June May is primarily ignorant of Chinese culture, she assumes that the stereotypical behaviors that her mother sometimes expressed are representative of what it means by being a Chinese.
June May begins to accept the reality of her being a Chinese when she travelled to China with her father. At China she start to realize how her mother’s past influenced her present life. She also realizes that her family history is in China. The story begins when June May enters Shenzhen, China and she starts to feel her cultural identity changing, “I feel different. I can feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with familiar old pain. And I think, my mother was right. I am becoming Chinese” (Tan 217). Upon arrival, she becomes nervous and try to assimilate there is a conflict because her thoughts seem to go back and forth between being Chinese and continually questioning heritage. She begins to realize her mother was right because her mother was reflecting how much her family had to go through and leaving her life in China to go to America. According to Harold Bloom who cites Ben Xu wrote “She once associated with being a Chinese, when she was unable to understand what her mother said that a person born Chinese cannot help but feel and think Chinese(Bloom 55).Jing Mei begins to understand the other side of her mother, and the strength of her soul on the way to Guangzhou.”.. their mother-their mother was coming, whereas my mother was dead.”(Tan 220).Jane May even saw her father crying as he has so much history in China. She was surprised with her father’s reaction as she understands what does family attachment means. This view is evident in line “And I can’t help myself. I also have misty eyes, as if I had seen this a long time ago” (Tan 218). She felt the difference once she entered the city because she realized she did not accept herself as a Chinese. She realized that she did not embrace her culture when she was growing up as she told herself at the age of fifteen that she was American.
Once Jane May and her father disembark from the train, they must wait in the line to be processed through customs. That incident reminds Jane May of her waiting for a bus in San Francisco. She remarks “I am in China, I remind myself” (Tan 222). This shows that she still reaching back for a sense of familiarity. She has not reached the place where she has fully embraced her roots. She questions herself whether the customs officers will believe that her passport is truly hers as she is heavily make up in the picture. For that day, she is without make up and perhaps they will think she is a true Chinese and it is a forged passport. “I wonder if the customs people will question whether I’m the same person in the passport photo. In this picture, my chin length is swept back and artfully styled. I am wearing false eyelashes, eye shadow, and lip liner” (Tan 222). As quickly that thought comes to mind, Jane May dismisses it because she rationalizes, within her own mind, that her height is much taller than most Chinese women. “I stand five-foot-six, and my head pokes above the crowd so that I am eye level only with other tourists” (Tan 222). She is complicated with her past and her current life. It is clearly shown when Jane May was completely westernized; throughout her life in America and Jane May’s mother did her best to instill in her the identity of a Chinese. Jane May only a few minutes later introduce herself to her family by her Chinese name, Jing Mei although her passport reveals her American name of June May. This marks the beginning of her acceptance of her true identity as a Chinese woman. She still struggles to accept all these strange encounters.
There is another indication of Jing Mei’s American upbringing and her lack of being current on Chinese modernization and culture when she visits the hotel. “The taxi stops and I assume we’ve arrived, but then I peer out at what looks like a grander version of the Hyatt Regency”. “This is communist China?”(Tan 226). She exclaims! Americans culture tends to instill in its citizens a mindset about other cultures particularly those to which are antagonistic and Jing Mei is the example of how we sometimes think we are the only ones who have certain things or certain experiences. When she sees things are very similar, she begins to accept all the things that represent Chinese culture. Strangely enough, she begins to envision her first Chinese meal of a big banquet with one of those soups steaming out of a carved winter melon, chicken wrapped in clay, pecking duck, the works. However it is ironically hamburgers, French fries and apple pie, the stereotypical American dinner ( Tan 227).
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Jing Mei discovered herself more when her father shares a time of intimate story telling about Suyuan’s (Jing Mei’s mother) heartbreaking journey from China to America during Japanese invasion and how her mother was forced to leave behind her twin daughters back at China due to her sickness and also starvation. Finally, Jing Mei discovered the meaning of her mother’s name, ‘Suyuan’ which means long cherished love. After Jing Mei gradually understands her mother and about her sisters, she gains respect towards her mother as she learns the battle her mother has fought to get to America and she slowly realizes how important it is for herself to meet her half sisters, Chwun Yu and Chwun Hwa. When Jing Mei arrived at Shanghai, Jing Mei met her twin sisters. It is cherished wish that her mother dreamt of Jing Mei eventually meets up with her half sisters and realizes that they all resemble their mother.
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