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Graduate Student Multimedia Book Review: Paper Daughter by M. Elaine Mar

Multimedia book review for class EDU 481 Cross Cultural Studies in a Bilingual Program

Tiffany Schmittel

on 6 December 2012

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Transcript of Graduate Student Multimedia Book Review: Paper Daughter by M. Elaine Mar

Paper Daughter "We arrived in the U.S. on
April 17, 1972." A Family Separated Trying to Fit In. . . Again Pocket Money Radcliffe 3rd Grade and Another Change My American Name American Children The American Way America the Great Chicken Bones and Mother's Milk "I got tired of lying about who I am." Mar begins our journey with a rich description of China when she was little. It's crowded, with people and buildings. The 600ft, small five room flat that her family shared with four other families was home. This situation, by current American standards, would be unacceptable, but Mar's mother remarked throughout the book how lucky they were and needed to be grateful for what they had. They took turns cooking in the kitchen area that didn't contain a refrigerator. Mar and her mother went each day to purchase food items for meals for about a dollar each time. Mar's favorite food was chicken bones and sucking the bone marrow out. A sign of respect was having Mar address each relative and close friends of the family by calling them 'aunts' and 'uncles' in the order of how old they were.
Despite the popular thinking in China that boys are preferred over girls, Mar's father adored her and asked "What could be better than a girl?". Mar also slept between her parents each night, comfortable and snug. A man was the provider for his family. Mar writes, "And the children shivered at the word duty, more powerful than love in the Chinese language". And for this reason, Mar's father left to explore America for opportunities to help his family survive. Why do immigrants come here? Learning a New Culture "You need an American name to fit in." Bullying and Mother's Disappointments "Then, with all the abruptness of a fall, my childhood ended." "Communication relied on cultural cues I was only beginning to understand." Dieting and Izod "Havard and Hampshire College wanted me, Princeton did not". A Memoir by M. Elaine Mar A Little Background . . . M. Elaine Mar was born Mar Man Yee in 1966. Her name means "intelligence" and "righteousness". It is a strong tradition in Chinese culture to give your child a name that means something. Needless to say, when Mar received her 'American' name "Elaine", her mother was not impressed. Since her story is so powerful, I though it would be important to begin with a little background about the book, the title, and the author's intentions to better understand where we're going. http://www.hks.harvard.edu/ksgpress/ksg_news/publications/alumpaperdaughter.html Glancing at Chinese Cultural Customs Hong Kong 1960's I find myself being torn between the feeling of proud when I hear people want to come to this wonderful country and the feeling of shame when people are disappointed with America or mock our 'culture'. So why do people come to America? In one word: opportunity. Mar's father was drawn to this far away place through words of encouragement from people who have found jobs and success. His goal was to provide for his family. I don't think it was anywhere close to possible for Mar and her family to predict the amount of change America would cause for them. The best part about Mar's writing, is her writing. She brings you into her world with little effort and helps you connect to an experience you've never personally had. Not only does Mar leave her beloved family behind, but she now has to readjust to a whole new lifestyle under the roof of her Aunt Becky's home. Mar was already expected to be grown at five years when she lived in Hong Kong. Now in America, her youth continues to be sacrificed with words from her mother; "Have some maturity. You need to grow up now, not act like a baby anymore." Mar helped her mother, learned English from her cousin San, and obeyed Aunt Becky's rules. Her family remained close, she still slept in between her mother and father in the small basement bedroom. She also longed to attend Kindergarten and have fun in school. Her first real culture shock was when she was eating the marrow out of the dinner chicken bones and San screamed and "ran from the table in disgust". Mar writes, "I wasn't sure what I'd done wrong, but I didn't like his reaction. No more chicken bones. I live in American now." Such sad words because as the reader, you can already feel the shifting world beneath her feet. Mar spent nights helping her parents at the restaurant "Casey's Palace" and it became the center of her family's universe. She loved it when she was young and her and San would play together. When she got older, it became a place of legitimate work, discovering her sexuality, and experiencing new people. School also helped define who Mar was as an "American girl". She wanted to go to Kindergarten so badly to enjoy herself at school, but her mother fought for her to attend first grade with San and succeeded. Mar's mother says, "Your aunt arranged it for you...You must be very grateful". And Mar replies in her mind with, "Five months in the country, and I was already tired of being grateful". I understood Mar's mother wanting her to be thankful for what she has. Her mother knew Aunt Becky expected them to shower her with gratefulness and that they were so fortunate to be in America. However, I sympathized with Mar because first, she didn't choose to move to America and second, in her mind the things she was given were not really what she wanted and she struggled with being grateful for them. She was definitely not excited about her new name "Elaine". But her mother insisted that she need a name the teacher's could pronounce. I think immigrants sacrifice so much of who they are to 'fit in' (especially children as students), that asking them to trade in their name for a meaningless one tells them that who they were no longer matters, it's who they will be in America. As educators, it's important that we help students and their families hold onto their culture, while still assimilating in the U.S. Mar was fortunate enough to have a teacher, Mrs. Brown, that was sympathetic and caring. Mar writes, "For the longest time, (years in fact), I believed that Mrs. Brown came to school just for me. She would follow me to school to be my fairy godmother". And shouldn't all students have someone to rely on with a little magic of kindess and understanding? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/26/nyregion/26names.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 An interesting recent article on name change in the U.S. Mar couldn't communicate her problems at school or how she was feeling not just because of the new language barrier (Mar was learning English and her mother new none) but also because her mother's expecations were that she behaved at school and learned, and then behaved at home and helped. There was no way Mar's mother could possible understand what Mar was going through, having never experienced herself. "Chink eyes" and "your hair is to tight!" became daily verbal attacks that Mar endured during 1st grade. She calmly replies, "No, my hair is fine", trying to avoid the obvious bullying they are forcing upon her. Mar got glasses to fix her eyes, in second grade she received speech to fix her mispronunciations, and her mother continued to work with her at home on her calligraphy skills. Afterall, "mother was not impressed with the American school system". Mar had one friend to sit with at lunch and one friend she went to Bible hour with on Wednesdays. I found it interesting that her mother thought it was okay for her to attend Bible hour and learn about Catholicism. I originally thought she would say no and be adverse to the idea of Mar believing in Jesus and the stories of a Catholic God. Mar and her mother have a conversation about God and what her mother believes. Her mother says "San-ai" is the name of the God they believe in and that 'gui' churches are different from theirs. 'Gui' referring to white people. And yet Mar is able to attend church on Sundays in addition to Bible hour, and she loves it. She liked Jesus and the idea that he was a "holy man who was foreign and misunderstood". I love how she also states, "I fully believed that the Bible was the truth, and I fully believed that mother's teachings were the truth." I was fascinated that she accepted both because she loved her mother unconditionally and also because she could connect to Jesus as a person. Unfortunately second grade was just as brutal as first, and the bullying continued. And home wasn't much easier. Mar now had a baby brother, Jeffrey. He was given an American name at birth. As a reader, there is no indication that Mar's mother is even pregnant so it was a surprise that she was one day in the hospital and had a baby. Perhaps that is her memory of how things happened. Mar was a 'jook-kok' meaning she was born in China and now lives in America while her brother is a 'jook-sing', referring to his being born in America but having Chinese ethnicity. Mars doesn't directly say that the difference bothers her, but by people's reactions and her Aunt Becky's insistence that her brother is better because he is an American born boy, the reader is able to infer a conflict is brewing. In 3rd grade Mar writes, "it became fashionable to be Chinese". After her teacher asked her questions about her culture (mind you questions that she desired specific 'cultural' answers), Mar indulges in her traditions to impress the other students. This is nothing new of how students have the desire to fit in. It's such a human thing to want to find a place for yourself and for young children, it's their whole world. No one wants to be different because different gets picked on, made fun of, and treated meanly. Mar has a big issue at school with the fact that her mother won't let her wear any clothes that she has in her closet. She is forced to wear the same clothes all week long, and sometimes due to the washing schedule at home, they are not cleaned. This to me, is a child's nightmare come true. Especially since a huge part of student's identity is what they present on the outside and it's also how they are mainly judged by others. At this age, children haven't fully grasped the concept of looking past the cover and actually reading the book of who people are. While Mar succeeded in receiving some positive attention from a few girls in her class, she still suffered from a bully named Cindy, who relentlessly bullied her. However, Mar found peace in the little things at school, like answering to the name Elaine. "I was proud of how American I'd become: I answered to Elaine first, and only spoke Chinese when absolutely necessary". In her eyes, the more American she became, the more she would fit in and not be different. That wasn't true at home though. "We (her mother and herself) were entering a long period of mutual struggle over our identities. I believed she reflected poorly on me, and vice versa". I think this is something that all young immigrants have to work through as well. How do they continue to please and belong to their family while developing a new identity in America? Part of their struggle also came from Mar's mother promoting the idea that a man was better and counted more than a woman. In America, we struggle against that notion, while in China this is considered fact and not disputed. Family issues only escalated when Mar came home to find out that they had to move because her father got into a fight with her uncle. After years of perfecting a balance that made her feel comfortable and safe, Mar had to leave that all behind and start new again. Mar makes the reader feel her panic of moving and going to a new school. As she writes it, "The terror of sensation without words, being caught in between languages with no way to explain how I felt-this is what I remembered about immigration". Mar's father soon finds work and they find a small, dirty apartment for rent, courtesy of family friends. The solution for Mar's schooling is for her to stay with a schoolmate during the week and come home on weekends. While at home, tension started building between Mar's mother and father as well as distance. Mar writes, "I barely recognized father these days. He only came home to sleep". He went to a gambling place called 'Hip Sing' and started spending so much time there that Mar was missing a lot of days of school. However, she also states that by sixth grade things were getting better. She discovers an epiphany as she recalls her ties to Aunt Becky's house. "I longed to locate home as a place, rooted in soil like childhood safety markers. I wondered if this trait was peculiar to immigrants. Suddenly I understood father's attraction to Hip Sing. It was his guidepost, as Aunt Becky's house was mine". I have memories of the first home I can remember as a family. I was about three years old and we lived there for a long while. My best friend was next door and I loved being there. When I had to move, I had nightmare and cried and cried. Even as an adult, I still dream of this place and for some reason hold it in my heart over any other place we lived together. I can only imagine what Mar felt considering I was just moving a few streets away and adjusting and she had moved into a new country and now this particular move for her felt the same way. After Mar and her family moved again to a bigger place closer to Aunt Becky's, she and her brother started spending more and more time there. Soon, Mar became withdrawn, sleeping and writing. I feel connected to her when she writes, "It didn't occur to me that in these hours of writing I was attempting to travel outside the limits of language, seeking expression for the things that defied words". I also turned to writing during much of my growing up (and actually still do) to help work through feelings and what I can't express to people. "I stopped eating lunch for five years." Mar saved what pocket money her parents gave her for food and to buy clothes. Izod shirts and Levi jeans to be exact. But this wasn't the only reason she continually starved herself. Part of it was to fit in as an American woman because social media tells us to look a certain way and dieting is the answer to that goal. The other part was control and her body's response to lack of food. "I loved the sensation of my stomach cramping in hunger. It meant I could conquer biological urges". However, Mar was not fighting other biological urges when she started hooking up with a boy from the restaurant, Lindsey. By this time her family had repaired the damages from their fight and were working back at "Casey's Palace". Unfortunately, new fighting began between Mar and her family as she continued her relationship against their will with Lindsey. After a few sexual escapades and some really hurtful arguments with her family, the relationship ended, as most adolescent ones do. "I was miserable at school, at home, at work", she writes. Little could she realize, big things were coming her way. After fighting her parents to go to a different school to learn German, she received an application to the Telluride Association Summer Program because of her PSAT scores. It was a full scholarship in New York. After nailing the interview, Mar spent the summer in New York writing and being challenged intellectually. And she loved it. After everything that Mar achieved and suffered in her life, she was accepted into Harvard. Is this an average occurrence for immigrants? Well, in the 2010-2011 school year 30,489 students applied and only 2,205 were admitted. That's an acceptance rate of 7.2%. Is that average? Definitely not. But Mar finally felt like she belonged. "Difficult as the work was, I felt comforted by our shared experience". She was referring to the fact that she needed financial help to attend college as so many other students did. Although the intellectual stimiluation and writing challenges took the place of the physical sensations she felt through starvation, there were still differences she would never get past. Such as her parents not attending college, her parents not visiting, and the lingo in general. Although I'm not sure I could catch up on the Harvard campus lingo and I was born here. I could relate to her through this experience as well. I am the first in my immediate as well as my extended family on both sides to graduate college. While the experience has been amazing, and I love what I do, I sometimes feel alone in the senes that no one can understand what I'm going through. Mar doesn't go on any further in the book. But after finishing it, I wondered if she felt that way too. Recommendation I'm a busy woman with little extra time to squeeze in a whole book. I was nervous at picking one that would be possibly boring or not relatable and then my assignment would be lacking the connection I should be making. I couldn't have a picked a better book. I would so recommend this book to anyone, especially if they're are not part of this program so that they could read through someone's eyes what they experienced as an immigrant in this country. I absolutely loved this book and how she presented her story. She gave so much detail to help you envision the story but not too much to drown out the points she was making. I related to her (unexpectedly) on so many levels. I grew up with young parents and I didn't have my own room until I was a teenager. We didn't have fancy clothes and I always envied the girls with the name brands. I never fit in and was bullied 5th through 7th grade relentlessly. I think that ESL professionals would be able to use this memoir as a reference and tool for how it feels to be an immigrant and the struggles young people feel with their changing identity as well a their connections with their family and culture. It was amazing to see through her eyes and feel her pain and then follow her to success. Every step of her life represents the tree branches and each step led her to be the person she is today. http://www.vidaamericana.com/english/culture.html Are they being helpful or condescending? A guide to living in America . . . Citations Mar, M. Elaine. (2000). Paper Daughter: A Memoir.
New York, NY: Harper Perrenial.

Roberto, S. (2010). New Life in U.S. No Longer Means
New Name. NY Times.

Cryts, A. (2001). A Paper Daughter Talks. Harvard paper.

"Your guide to living in the U.S." www.livingamerican.com

Harvard statistics. (2010-2011).

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