To analyze the quote more fully, we need to put it into the context of the story and the novel. The quote actually references an earlier conversation between the narrator of the story—Jing-Mei Woo—and her deceased mother, Suyuan. As the story is told, Jing is sitting on a train that is crossing the Hong Kong border as it enters Shenzhen, China. This journey is significant and symbolic. As well as crossing into China, Jing-Mei is also crossing into the world of her mother, who came to the United States as a Chinese immigrant. She experiences this point of crossing over in a visceral way: “I can feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with a familiar old pain.” At this moment the narrator realizes she is “becoming Chinese” but also becoming like her own mother. This is significant because in this way Jing-Mei bridges America and China.
Jing-Mei’s journey continues with an imaginary conversation with her mother. Through the author’s use of direct speech, the conversation seems real, as if the mother were sitting next to her daughter on the train. But the conversation is only remembered. Her mother had asserted that the Chinese identity was inevitable, something that “cannot be helped.” The mother asserts that “once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese.” One’s cultural identity is inescapable, like fate. As her mother points out: “Someday you will see ... it is in your blood, waiting to be let go.”
We can note that the imagery and symbolism of blood recurs again at the end of the story when Jing-Mei realizes her own essence as she recognizes the truth in her mother’s words from long ago. As she looks into the faces of her sisters, she searches in vain for evidence of her mother. She realizes that the “Chinese” part of her identity is anchored in something deeper than surface appearances. It is anchored in her family. In an act of reconciliation, she states that this is such a deep part of who she is that it is in her blood. Just like her mother predicted, this can “finally be let go.”
The story ends with the striking image of Jim-Mei and her sisters caught in a picture her father took with a Polaroid camera. The sisters huddle around the picture to see how it will develop. The surface of the picture transforms from a gray-green to bright colors. The faces of the sisters are brought into sharper relief. The final realization is the epiphany that closes the novel: “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.”
In granting the mother’s life-long wish, Jing-Mei’s narration closes the novel with a tone of reconciliation and reverence—a sense that the past can be put to rest, and the complexity of Jing-Mei’s cultural identity can finally be cherished and celebrated. Just like the bright colors of the photograph, a person’s identity can possess multiple dimensions. In silence, the barriers, misunderstandings, and tensions between mothers and daughters, elucidated and mediated upon throughout the entire novel, can be put to rest.