Last Updated on June 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 378
Sometimes, when he wanted to hide or not outright lie, he chose to speak in English. He used to break into it when he argued with my mother, and it drove her crazy when he did and she would just plead, "No, no!" as though he had suddenly introduced a switchblade into a clean fistfight.
The above passage speaks to the harms that can be caused by cultural assimilation into White society—particularly how assimilation can harm interpersonal relationships between two people of a culture who are being pressured to assimilate. In the novel, Henry reflects on how assimilation affected his parents, and in this particular passage, he reflects on how assimilating by speaking English has affected the relationship between Henry's mother and Henry's father. As Henry's father speaks English as a way to hide from his Korean identity, he inadvertently harms his relationship with his wife, whom he is pushing away though his assimilation. To switch to English during an argument suggests that Henry's father is separating himself from his wife in a way that is incredibly painful to her, as well as alienating and condescending. The "clean fistfight" refers to the argument between the couple when they are both speaking Korean. When Henry's father switches to speaking in English, it is like a "switchblade" has been pulled, because it is so emotionally damaging for his wife to see her husband transform into what this racist White society demands that he become.
In every betrayal dwells a self-betrayal.
This quote refers to the way in which one's own character can be damaged by one's outward behavior toward others. When one breaks a promise, one has also broken that promise to oneself and, thus, betrayed the commitment to follow through. Assimilating can be seen as both a betrayal to others and a self-betrayal in the ways in which cultural damage occurs.
The constant cry is that you belong here, or you make yourself belong, or you must go.
Here, Henry describes his experience of the way in which White America insists that the US is a welcoming country while also demanding that those who speak other languages speak English instead (despite there being no national language in the United States) and assimilate into "American"—that is, White—culture.