Ethnicity is an important factor in the “Half and Half” chapter of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. This chapter is told from the perspective of Rose Hsu Jordan, daughter of An-mei Hsu, an ethnic Chinese woman originally from mainland China but now living in the United States. Rose’s father, George Hsu, is also ethnic Chinese. Rose, however, has herself married a white American, Ted Jordan, despite the wishes of her own mother and also despite the wishes of Jordan’s parents. The story thus emphasizes the importance of ethnicity repeatedly.
Initially, before their marriage, Rose had found Ted attractive precisely because he was not Chinese and differed, both in manners and appearance, from most of the ethnic Chinese young men she knew. Rose’s mother, however, had cautioned her daughter against dating someone of a different ethnicity:
"He is American," warned my mother, as if I had been too blind to notice. A waigoren."
"I'm American too," I said. "And it's not as if I'm going to marry him or something."
This is an important passage, because it indicates Rose’s sense that even though she is the daughter of ethnic Chinese, she has grown up as a Chinese-American. However, her assumption that she is mostly an American is challenged later by Ted’s wealthy mother, who does not want Ted to marry at this point in her life, and who certainly does not want him to marry an Asian:
She assured me she had nothing whatsoever against minorities; she and her husband, who owned a chain of office-supply stores, personally knew many fine people who were Oriental, Spanish, and even black.
Later, after Rose and Ted do marry, Ted reveals himself to be domineering and manipulative, and as the chapter opens, Rose is contemplating a divorce. Her mother, however, partly in response to the values of her own Chinese culture, urges her daughter to try to save the marriage. Paradoxically, the same values that led the mother to be suspicious of Ted in the beginning now make her advise her daughter not to divorce him. Ironically, the same sense of being an “American” that had led Rose to date Ted at all now makes her much more willing than her mother to consider the possibility of divorce.
In this way and others, then, ethnicity plays an important role in the story.