Life’s Challenge: Self-Acceptance!
Like many other elements of the universe, life is never perfect in the way we expect. Some people ask, “What makes us who we are?” In the article “Immigrant Stories: Dual Identity, From Struggle to Comfort” by Jennifer Brookland, she states that “many immigrants who come to the United States at a young age struggle to combine their family’s heritage, religion and culture with the desire to fit in amongst American peers.” Or “being Asian-American has always been a difficult part of me. I was (and am) proud of my heritage and how far my parents have come, but I had a hard time feeling as if I belonged somewhere,” Connie Zhou says in her essay “The Asian-American Awakening: That Moment When You Realize You’re Not White.” Within the words of both of them, as a reader we can understand that there are many factors, which influence on a person’s identity such as: religion, traditional, education, family, culture, racism or friendship. Identity is the type of person we are, and the way we choose to represent ourselves in the outside world. Nevertheless, sometimes people choose to transform themselves to reach their purposes and forget about their roots, and this reflected clearly in the comic book American Born Chinese written by Gene Luen Yang, and about three main characters include Jin Wang, Monkey King, and Danny. Jin Wang is a Chinese boy who struggles in an American school to find and accept his cultural identity, Monkey King is an original monkey who wants to yearn to leave as a monkey behind to join with the ranks of the deities, and Danny is actually Jing Wang who transfers himself to get respect from Amelia. They all want to achieve their goals by escaping the past in order to integrate into the new society, but finally they realize the real value of them and come back to their original identity. This comic book conveys some important and special messages through the story to the readers through the real experiences of an American Born Chinese author. Throughout this comic book, Jing Wang, Monkey King, and Danny transform their original identity with the hope to get respect from the others because their culture backgrounds are not accepted in a new society.
Jin Wang struggles to survive in new school in America because of racism from his white classmates. To deal with his crisis of identity, he transforms himself to become American to forget his roots. Like most immigrants who move to America for new lives, Jin Wang soon feels that he is discriminated because of his Chinese root when he joins in the new elementary school. In the essay “The F-word” by Firoozeh Dumas, she points out “I wanted to be a kid with a name that did not draw so much attention, a name that did not come with a built-in inquisition as to when and why I had moved to America.” With this quote, the reader can relate it to Jin Wang’s problem. He feels shameful when his teacher spells his name wrong in front of all classmates (Jin Wang to Jing Jing), and he is unable correct it. Since the sound to pronounce Iranian or even Chinese name are so difficult, American people could not pronounce them correctly. After this happens, he is bullied by his classmates to satisfy their fun. For instance, Timmy is one of Jin’s classmates, who teases and disrespects him when saying, “stay away from my dogs” (32). To this point, Timmy says that because he heard from his mother that Chinese people eat dogs. From this horrible event, Jin feels isolated all the times he is at school and that is very difficult for a child as Jin to deal with. From this bad feeling and experience, Jin decides to transform from a Chinese boy to become an American and hopes that this transformation will bring the respect from everyone in his school. In the essay “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Gloria Anzaldua states, “If you want to be American, speak ‘American.’ If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico where you belong.” Reading this assay and comparing it to Jin Wang, the reader can see that discrimination laws are imperial to the growth of the society. Jin Wang gradually eats more sandwiches than Chinese food and even tells his Taiwanese friend that “you are in America, speak English” (37). In this case, the readers can accept with Jin’s transformation because it helps him quickly improve his English and get along well with his classmates. However, the real trouble occurs when Jin falls in love with Amelia, a white American girl and this relationship is opposed just because Jin is Chinese. Hence, Jin decides to transform himself into another identity with new name Danny as a new young American boy. Opposite with the first transformation, the readers cannot sympathize for Jin about this because it is even worse and ridiculous. For his second transformation, he is not who he actually is anymore – a Chinese person. Now he becomes completely different person with a yellow hair, blue eyes and American style. It means that he denies everything that closely relates him to his cultural background. All in all, these transformations may help Jin to adapt and integrate into the new situation, but it loses the value of a human when he forgets the root of who he is and where he comes from.
Additionally, the second character is the Monkey King who desires to have great power as a deity because he hopes all deities will respect him, and do not look at him simple as a monkey. In the article “Who Am I? Denying and Discovering Racial Identity”, Karin Lin tells, “when my classmates would ask me to teach them words of Mandarin or Taiwanese, I demurred, not wanting to call attention to the fact that I and my parents spoke such an “exotic” language. I tried, and mostly succeeded, to convince myself that I was just like my white friends.” Compare with Monkey King, Karin Lin has the same decision that she does not want to accept who she really is. She wants to be a real American like her friends. Likely, when Monkey King tries to attend a dinner party in the heaven, the guard in front of the gate blocks him. He cannot get inside the party because he is just a monkey. With this embarrassment, Monkey King decides to study Kung Fu more fervently as a human to get respect from the others. This transformation shows that he choose to deny that he is a real monkey, and he is ready to fight anyone who calls him a monkey. Besides, this transformation of Monkey King is assumed by himself but without acceptance from others. After that, through diligently practicing Kung Fu, he transforms himself into the Great Sage with self-recognition, which means that has the equal power of the creator. Obviously, Monkey King alleges that he has great powers, he is a king ruling multitudes, but still he is nothing, just an ordinary monkey. Furthermore, Alba has gotten in trouble (“foot in mouth” trouble) for talking about her Mexican roots in the past – it was in 2007 when she talked about how she did not self-identify as “Latina”. She said that “Don’t call me a Latina!” In the video “Is Jessica Alba Ashamed of Being Mexican?” uploaded by Youtube, Jessica Alba tries to get out of people who are waiting for her answer in front of her house. It is as same issue as Monkey King when he meets Tze-Yo-Tzuh. Monkey King gets in trouble with the creator of the universe, who says, “I created you. I say that you are a monkey. Therefore, you are a monkey” (69). To this point, Tze-Yo-Tzuh tells that because he wants Monkey King awaken from his wrong identity. He creates everything in this world and Monkey King is no exception. Then, Monkey King should understand that he is just a monkey and no more than that. If Monkey King were a deity, he would live in the heaven. As a result, Monkey King’s eccentric is punished by Tze-Yo-Tzuh when he buried Monkey King under a mountain of rock. This punishment is a meaningful lesson for Monkey King to know that he is born from the rock, and now he should come back where he is from. Burial under mountain rock helps Monkey King thinking about what he did. It can also help him to recognize his real value and this is a premise for him to return his identity, an original monkey.
Eventually, the third character going through the identity crisis is Danny, a young American who transforms to his original person, a Chinese boy because he understands that his root is a treasure and should be kept under any circumstances. In Barack Obama’s speech “A More Perfect Union,” he said, “I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing my story is part of the larger American story.” Obama identifies himself in terms of his African heritage and his family, and then goes beyond the facts of his birth by identifying himself within the larger context of American culture. Obama’s speech encourages Danny to accept what his heritage is. Also, this speech is related to Chin-Kee. In the story, after fighting between Danny and Chin-Kee, Chin-Kee tells to Danny that he is actually the Monkey King who is emissary of Tze-Yo-Tzuh to help Danny identify his background. We can see when Chin-Kee, actually Monkey King says, “You know, Jin, I would have saved myself from five hundred years’ imprisonment beneath a mountain of rock had I only realized how good it is to be a monkey” (223). In this case, Monkey King means that because Danny and Monkey King have the same circumstances and this is a message to Danny that he has to transform back to himself, a Chinese boy, and must realize that he is just one form of his multiple personality to escape the identity crisis and shame of being called Chinese. In the essay “My Filipino Roots,” Alex Espinoza writes “I’m sure that later in my life I will start questioning my lack of involvement in my family’s heritage, but for now, I consider myself half-Mexican and half-Italian.” Alex finally accepts his Filipino heritage. Likewise, Danny can somewhat relate to this story and he should proud that he is Chinese. Obviously, the readers can see that Danny understand and recognize what a real identity he is by the way he invites Wei-Chen to drink milk-tea. In order to transform to Danny, Jin Wang rejects Chinese food, and tries to eat sandwiches to become American. However, now Danny invites Wei-Chen to drink milk tea, a beverage of Chinese culture, it means he transforms back to Jin Wang. This action of Danny is a message to Wei-Chen that he accepts Chinese culture as a part in his life; he finally transforms to an authentic Chinese boy.
To sum up, throughout the comic book American Born Chinese, Yang describes three characters in three different ways, but they all had the same purposes with hope that transformation into someone else could get respect from others. The author is very intelligent in the way to construct the theme when he connects between ancient life and present life to make the book more attractive. Jin Wang, Monkey King, and Danny who do not reconcile their races, therefore they all transform themselves in many ways in order to get respect from someone around them. According to the article “When You Truly Accept Yourself, Your Life Just Works Better”, Marie Novak states “There is nothing wrong with you. When you truly accept yourself, your life just works better.” It means most of factors affects to a person’s identity have two opposite sides. After people face to their problems, or find out the factors influence on their own identity, they will understand and respect where their own beliefs, values, attitudes and feelings came from. Finally, they recognize the real value of them and come back to their original identities. This book is a lesson for some students who are seeking new stereotypes, but they forget who they are. Therefore, the ending and tone of the book will help many readers recognize the need for adapting any situation and dealing with it, but the roots should not be forgotten in any circumstances. Transformation is just a form to adapt into new environment, but people must never forget who they are and where they came from.