Gish Jen’s story “Who’s Irish?” takes places during a period when a grandmother, who immigrated from China, is providing childcare for her daughter’s young daughter. The story is told in first-person perspective, with the grandmother as the narrator. She conveys the communications and cultural gaps that exist between her and the child’s parents, both of whom were born and raised in the United States. One outstanding feature of the grandmother’s attitude is her emphasis on boundaries and discipline. This stands in marked contrast to the mother and father, who are permissive and encourage the child to explore and learn by experimentation.
Although a significant incident occurs when the grandmother snaps and spanks the girl, which is absolutely forbidden, the key event is more ambiguous. As the narrator is watching her granddaughter at the park one day, the little girl temporarily disappears. She does not come to any harm, but the grandmother is alarmed when she discovers her hiding in a hole. From her perspective, extending a stick into the hole to reach the child makes sense. To the parents, it looks like she is poking the girl with the intent of injuring her. The grandmother’s perspective is crucial to understanding this incident, as it is clear that she did not mean to hurt the girl.