In Amy Tan's "A Pair of Tickets," how does the meaning of "Chinese" evolve in the story?June May's change relates to her comment, "the part of me that is Chinese."
At the start of Amy Tan's "A Pair of Tickets," Jing-mei, the narrator, is on a train crossing into Shenzhen, China, when she experiences a peculiar feeling: "I am becoming Chinese." Jing-mei is Chinese American; her parents were born in China, and she has relatives in China still, but she grew up in the United States. At least part of her has always been Chinese, but it is only now that Jing-mei begins to feel Chinese. This introduces the idea that culture and identity are complex concepts.
Jing-mei's mother always told her that she was Chinese whether she felt that way or not. As a girl who grew up in the US, she feels as American as her classmates. After her mother tells her she cannot avoid her Chinese heritage, Jing-mei worries that she will start to exhibit stereotypical Chinese traits and seems to fear these will make her less unique, will reduce her to a label and nothing more. Her mother is right about Jing-mei connecting to her Chinese roots; it simply takes her until her adult life to fully embrace and recognize that part of her identity. In the story, it takes her physically visiting China to set this process into motion.
In "A Pair of Tickets," Jing-mei goes to China to meet her sisters, babies her mother had to abandon on the roadside before she immigrated to the US. The babies lived, though, and try to make contact with the family. But their mother is now dead, and Jing-mei reflects, "I am on a train, carrying with me her dreams of coming home." Jing-mei approaches the trip with trepidation, worried her sisters will not like her or will blame her for their mother's death.
When Jing-mei meets her sisters, though, embrace her warmly. Eventually, Jing-mei feels a strong bond with them and, by extension, with her mother. She begins to ask them to speak in Chinese to her; she begins to understand what she represented to her mother. Overall, Jing-mei develops a stronger sense of self and a greater appreciation for her family and her cultural origins. Jing-mei eventually concludes that "the part of me that is Chinese" is "my family."
At the beginning of "A Pair of Tickets" by Amy Tan, in Jing-mei's mind, "Chinese" denotes something undesirable. Much of this comes from growing up in the United States where she was part of a minority class, and her differences not only stood out, but separated her from the masses.
Jing-mei's trip to China is a road to discovery: not only with regard to her mother and other relatives, but also to who she is culturally.
As Jing-mei learns about her mother (Suyuan) and her difficult—near tragic—life experiences, she starts to see her mother in a new light based upon the circumstances in which Suyuan was living in China as a younger woman.
When Jing-mei arrives in China, her preconceived notions about "Communist China" are swept aside. There is a great deal there that mirrors the Western culture that she is accustomed to. In addition, she is no longer an outsider: she looks like everyone else and feels comfortable in her own skin.
Being Chinese is who she is, and the label no longer bothers her as she meets family members (her great-aunt and the twins) and realizes she is a part of a Chinese family—which brings her a new sense of belonging. This knowledge frees Jing-mei from feeling isolated (“It is so obvious…After all these years, it can finally be let go.”); she accepts her heritage, no longer as something that separates her from others, but as something that unites her with others.