Mother Tongue

by Amy Tan
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At one point, Tan writes about being embarrassed about her mother. Discuss how and why parents’ identities and personalities are often a source of embarrassment or tension when people are young. Illustrate your observations with examples from Tan's essay, your own experience, or others you know.

Filipino-Americans often feel embarrassed by their parents because of how they look, talk and act. The parents' behaviors are often not in line with the values that the children have learned from school, friends and other adult mentors.

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In the early teen years, sons and daughters begin the inevitable process of detaching from their parents. From the parents's perspective, it can feel abrupt and wrenching. From the teens's prespective, it is a process that involves embracing values and behaviors of their parents while soundly rejecting others. It is...

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In the early teen years, sons and daughters begin the inevitable process of detaching from their parents. From the parents's perspective, it can feel abrupt and wrenching. From the teens's prespective, it is a process that involves embracing values and behaviors of their parents while soundly rejecting others. It is often painful and confusing for both parties, but it signals a healthy desire for the teen to develop his or her own, separate identity.

A source of conflict is often the teen's belief that they will be judged by others for their parents's behaviors and choices. A hypersensitivity to public perception is common. This is observable in "Mother Tongue" when Tan confesses:

...when I was growing up, my mother's "limited" English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say.

Tan's self-consciousness became entangled with her mother's identity. Tan was not a recent immigrant from China like her mother. She spoke English fluently and in an American manner, but she was not yet able to separate her identity from her mother's. Moreover, Tan, as a teen, was not able to separate her mother's intelligence from her lack of complete command of a second language.

When she was fifteen, Tan sat with her mother in her mother's stockbroker's office "red-faced and quiet" while her mother "was shouting at his boss in her impeccable broken English." Though her mother was expressing legitimate concerns about the handling of her finances, Tan was caught up in how her mother's lack of complete fluency made her, and by extension, her daughter, appear.

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