Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 370
Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen is a moving nonfiction book about the author's struggle to adjust to American society as a Vietnamese immigrant and refugee and provides insights on the class, gender, and race based-struggles of young Bich as she navigates her school and home life in America. Through her book, Nguyen reveals the complex and dynamic ways in which a young female immigrant so often must juggle maintaining her original culture and language and assimilating into the new dominant society, all while growing up and finding herself and her place in the world.
In the novel, Bich quickly notices the differences between her and her mostly white, financially stable classmates. Bich sees herself as an "other" and outsider of the American life that she craves to belong to. She wishes to be "normal" like her classmates. Bich is describing her desire to assimilate into what she considers to be "American." As a child who wishes to fit in, to her, this means, among other things, eating the foods of her white classmates. Of course, being American is then equated with whiteness and assimilation into whiteness.
Additionally, Bich struggles with the class distinction between her and her peers. She wishes to live their middle-class lifestyle in order to achieve what she sees as being "normal." Bich notices these class distinctions especially when she considers how her Latina stepmother must work full time while her classmates' white, middle-class mothers are stay-at-home moms who focus on maintaining their houses. There is also a race analysis within her understanding of her step mothers' and classmates' mothers' lives (white women statistically make more income than their women of color counterparts).
Bich also envies the freedoms of her father and uncles who, because they are men, are able to come and go as they please, while the women are expected to remain more stationary at the house. Bich wishes that she could enjoy the freedom of the men. Through this, Bich is offering an insight on not only being an immigrant, but being a female immigrant, and the expectations that come with this status. While Bich wishes to assimilate in some ways, she is also incredibly close to her culturally rooted grandmother, Noi.
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