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The Culture Gap Between Second Generation Immigrants and Their Parents

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In today research I am going to be discussing the culture gap between second generation immigrants and their immigrant parents.

Firstly, what is culture? What is a culture gap? Culture, Edward Burnett Tylor, is described to be the complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. Culture more often than not, determines the food you eat, the language you speak, the way you dress, so it is “infurable that gender roles and traditions are defined by culture norms”.

What is a second-generation immigrant? A second-generation immigrant is a person who is born and raised to a different country than their immigrant parents. It is fairly common for immigrant parents to bring their children to be born and raised in the U.S for example, for the better quality of life, for education, ect.

The culture and generation gap describe the dual culture that a lot of second-generation immigrants ultimately have to face. Learning one culture at home vs having a totally different culture at school and via social media. The main primary culture gap that I have identified and will be focusing on in this presentation will be the issue of gender roles. A lot of female Asian second-generation immigrants can often feel torn between the conformed gender roles they will have at home when it comes to house work, marriage and sexism and then go to school or go onto social media and see feminist movements such as #MeToo and equality.

The Joy Luck Club is a fictional novel written by feminist writer Amy Tan. It consists of 4 Chinese women who immigrate from China to San Francisco. The book contains 16 interwoven stories about the conflicts between Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-raised daughters. Tina Suyong Om claims that the ‘Joy Luck Club is about “the journey of second-generation Asian American women as they attempt to claim their identity through the critical understanding of their dual cultural makeup”. The four main sections consist of the view of the two mothers and the other two main sections consist of the view of the two daughters. The first half of the novel discusses how the Chinese mothers reminisce on their own childhoods and their own personal relationships with their own mothers and how they worry their own children won’t understand the cultural background of their own family. They describe their children to have “American circumstances and Chinese character”. Chinese culture is based on Confucius, who’s teachings are more practical and ethical than a religious stance. Confucius’s virtues include righterousness, propriety, integrity and fifial piety towards parents, whether they are living or dead. This is certainly a contribution to the pressures that east Asian second generation women to conform to their parents culture.

However, the second half of the book, the two daughters recollect their childhoods and their relationships with their mothers and how they did not understand a lot of things culturally. It is interesting as in the novel we as readers, are able to receive an insight into the parents and the second- generation children also. The mothers in this novel attempt to steer their daughters off the discrimination they went through as women, but it doesn’t always work due to a clash in their cultures.

In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan showcases both sides of the mothers and the daughters. The mothers in the story face difficulties as they are forced to conform to conventional gender roles by their own mothers. Ying-Yang’s mother reiterates to her: “haven’t I taught you – that it is wrong to think of your own needs? A girl can never ask, only listen” (P.70) Her mother additionally reprimands her from being able to interact with the opposite sex as she says: “A boy can run and chase dragonflies, because that is his nature. But a girl should stand still” (P.72). Further metaphorically implying her role in the private sphere. Another mother, An Mei, also reminisces on how she was raped but forced to marry her rapist because she needed to preserve her “honour”.

In the section of the novel: “The Rules of the Game”, Waverly, one of the second-generation immigrants, becomes increasingly talented at chess. She competes in chess tournaments in Chinatown with her mother there as support. After each consistent win, her mother tells her to “next time win more, lose less” (P123). Which subsequently irriates Waverly as she responds with “Ma, it’s not about how many pieces you lose”. After attending and winning more tournaments, Waverly gains sponsors from “flower shop, headstone engraver and a funeral parlor” and it was only then when Waverly describes that “that’s when my mother decided I no longer had to do the dishes”.(P123) The fact that she no longer had to do the dishes because she was winning in her chess tournaments demonstrates her domestic role within the house and how it became a “prize” to have her brothers do her chores instead.

Additionally, in Piyali Bhattacharya there are also highlights of the sexism that is portrayed to second generation Asian Americans. The culture clash between the parents and the daughters is more prevalent in this case. The anthology features 27 South Asian American women who feel immense pressure to conform to their parents’ ideologies because of the sacrifices they made for them as immigrants. There are cases where the parents and daughters get along, but this is not always the case.

One submission that delves into the sexism and gender roles in Asian culture is the essay “someday never comes” – already the title is solemn and pessimistic. The essay talks of a woman named Rajpreet Heir as she recalls her day of looking at college campuses with her brother and their parents. She makes a point to mention that “No woman in my family had ever lived away from home for school”. In the house her family were renting, her worn-out mother announced she was on “strike” from cooking. Rajpreet then describes how she knew what would happen next as she slipped into her domestic role as the same thing would happen when her mother went on trips, or when guests came over. When she refuses, her father shouts for her to “get up and burn a frickin’ calorie”, a manner in which Rajpreet explains he never spoke to her brother with. Later on, in the essay, with her parents still clearly resentful, her mother then threatens her with “Why should we pay for you to go somewhere if you can’t even make your father scrambled eggs?”. This essay is just one representation of gender roles enforced on Asian second-generation immigrants. The forcefulness of making the scrambled eggs over her brother and the fact she can’t go to a university outside of Indianna, demonstrates the sexism she faces as an Asian second-generation immigrant.

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla is similar to Good Girls Marry Doctors as it is another collection of essays written by 21 emerging writers. The essay “Yellow” is wrriten by actor Vera Chok as she describes her experiences with Asian women being continuously sexualised and fetished. She describes how “every South East Asian she knows have said that the feeling of being objectified seems core to being an Asian woman”.

In 2007, Katerina Kruzykowki conducted a study on 10 of her classmates discussing two sections: why they came to America and how and if they still maintain close to their ‘roots’. But the primary focus of her study was on gender roles and its cultural expectations. Kristina interviewed 6 immigrants and 4 second generation immigrants. The two Asian females expressed that they felt a ‘clash between their two cultures’ Katerina also mentions that there was an overwhelming response that the females were monitored more closely than their brothers. One of the male interviewees expressed that his parents were “much stricter on my sister. I’m a guy so I can get away with more compared to a female” this was agreed between the females in her study as they said that “I’m a girl so I can’t go out to a lot of places” whilst interviewee C vented her restrictions saying that she is always told “not to stay out late, not to hang out with boys, not to wear revealing clothes”.

To conclude, it is evident that second-generation Asian female immigrants are treated differently due to the gender, this is through domesticity as discussed in the Joy luck club and the real life story in good girls marry doctors, but it can also be through arranged marriages, education and more.       

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The Culture Gap Between Second Generation Immigrants And Their Parents. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from
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