The first daughter we meet in Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club is Jing-Mei, daughter of Suyan. Jing-Mei is recovering from the recent, very sudden death of her mother. Her grief is compounded by the regret she feels at disappointing her mother, whose criticism made her feel that she never lived up to expectations by not finishing her college degree, not marrying, and drifting through life. At the opening of the novel, Jing-Mei seems forlorn and lost.
What saves her is the continuity of the Joy Luck Club. Her mother met three other Chinese women soon after coming to San Francisco, and they and their husbands formed a close friendship cemented by regular mah jong games. They are her “Aunties,” not by blood but by years of history.
“Auntie, Uncle,” I say repeatedly, nodding to each person there. I have always called these old family friends Auntie and Uncle.
They are the structure that keeps her grounded and her connection to her past. They are also a bridge to the future, as they ask her to take her mother’s place at the mah jong table going forward. Jing-Mei will ensure that tradition goes on.
How can we play with just three people? Like a table with three legs, no balance. When Auntie Ying’s husband died, she asked her brother to join. Your father asked you. So it’s decided.
Jing-Mei’s foundation also extends beyond the circle of her “Aunties” to her mother’s homeland. Although she once rejected her Chinese identity, claiming that she was completely American, her mother argued that a person’s heritage is powerful.
Once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese. “Someday you will see,” said my mother. “It is in your blood, waiting to be let go.”
Jing-Mei truly connects with her Chinese roots as she travels to China to achieve her mother's dream of finding the twin daughters Suyan left behind there. She describes meeting them at the airport.
I look at their faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood ... The flash of the Polaroid goes off and my father hands me the snapshot ... And although we don’t speak, I know we all see it: Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish.
She will assume the responsibility of telling the twins all about their mother—her life story, her dreams, how she never forgot them. Meeting her Chinese sisters fortifies Jing-Mei's bond with her mother and her Chinese heritage.