Two core values of Americans are freedom and self-determination, and both Jing-mei and her mother are committed to them. Jing-mei's mother, an immigrant, valued freedom enough to come to America after losing everything in China. She believed that in the free country of America "you could be anything you wanted to be." As a young girl, Jing-mei had aspirations: becoming a child star like Shirley Temple, or becoming an intellectual prodigy who could recite facts or do complicated math in her head, and for awhile, she went along with her mother's urging to be a self-made star in some field.
Many Americans value fame; our national preoccupation with celebrities is undeniable. Jing-mei's mother brings home magazines with stories about children who have become famous for their precociousness. Jing-mei admires the way "the fluffy skirt of her white dress cascaded to the floor like petals of a large carnation" when she watches a young Chinese pianist perform on the Ed Sullivan show. Later, at her own piano recital, she wears "a white dress, layered with sheets of lace..." and "as [she] sat down, [she] envisioned people jumping to their feet and Ed Sullivan rushing up to introduce [her] to everyone on TV." Both Jing-mei and her mother, who insisted on piano lessons, yearned for her fame.