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It has often been said that coming to America is the start of a new life for many immigrant families. The novels Mona and the Promised Land by Gish Jen, and Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez, it is said that “American means being whatever you want” (Jen 49). Mona and Rodriguez both strive to reach that “American dream. ” They take the initiative throughout the novel and seek what they want to become. However, the novels show that in order for Mona and Rodriguez to become what they want, they have to make sacrifices.
From losing their culture to losing their strong relationships with their parents, Mona and Rodriguez will have to endure consequences of their decision to become what they want to be. Mona and Rodriguez were raised up to believe their parent’s religion and traditions. To begin, Mona has an Asian appearance, which automatically differentiates her, and Rodriguez has an accent, which also distinguishes him as different.
The differences that set Mona apart from Americans lead her to decide that she wants to practice Judaism because she lives in a neighborhood that is dominated by the Jewish community, and wants to be more accepted in that community. The dissimilarities that set Rodriguez apart from Americans lead him to deepen his understanding of the American culture. Mona and Rodriguez believe that religion and culture are two of the primary instruments through which they can create and develop a new identity.
Mona states, “Jewish is American, American means being whatever you want, and I happen to pick being Jewish” (Jen 49). Mona relates being Jewish with being American and she wants to be an American because then there is no limit to what she can accomplish or become. However, Mona still has people constantly trying to bring her back to her Chinese culture. Helen, her mother, tries to trap Mona in her Chinese culture by telling her that Chinese people are not supposed to be Jewish, and that if she chooses to be a Jew, she can no longer live in her home.
Mona is in a complex situation where she wants to identify herself as a Jew, but Helen wants to limit her ability to be “whatever she wants,” (Jen 49) which forces Mona to choose between sacrificing what she wants to be or pleasing her mother. Helen asks Mona, “How can you be Jewish? Chinese people don’t do such things” (Jen 45). Mona replies, “I guess I must not be Chinese then” (Jen 46). Jen shows that Mona can be Jewish and also Chinese, but she cannot be Chinese and also Jewish, meaning the Jewish community will accept her even though she is Chinese, but her Chinese parents will not accept her being Jewish.
Mona feels bound by her Chinese culture, when as an American, she feels as though she is supposed to have the freedom to do “whatever she wants” (Jen 49). Though Mona feels as though she has found how she wants to identify herself, she is realizing that her decision to become Jewish is conflicting with her relationship with her mother. Helen wants Mona to find herself in the Chinese culture, even though she was born in America. Mona feels as though, being born in America, she is supposed to have the right to find her identity in any way she chooses.
Mona states, “Free country! Right! (Jen 250), but her mother combats that by stating, “In this house no such thing” (Jen 250). Helen is making clear that as long as Mona is under her roof, Mona will have to obey her instructions. Helen also tells Mona, “Once you leave this house you cannot come back” (Jen 251). Mona is in a situation where she has to decide between living with her parents and being Chinese, or leaving her home and staying Jewish. Rodriguez believes one must sacrifice their culture to become a part of another culture.
Rodriguez states “Outside the house was public society; inside the house was private,” (15) meaning, outside of his home, nobody understands the way he feels inside of his home, and the amount of security and comfort that he feels while he is home. As Rodriguez grows deeper into the culture that he is learning about, the private feeling he has when he is at home, no longer became that private feeling. Rodriguez had a deep connection with his parents in which he states, “I am speaking with ease in Spanish. I am addressing you in words I never use with los gringos.
I recognize you as someone special; close, like no one outside. You belong with us. In the family” (15). In his home with his family is the only place he feels as though he can truly express himself, but not only did he have to sacrifice his culture, but his parents did also. “They agreed to give up the language (the sounds) that had revealed and accentuated our family’s closeness” (20). By his family also giving up their culture in their home, it is taking away his only place to truly express himself with his family, and losing that bond that they share.
Mona wants to find happiness in things other than what she already has as a Chinese girl living in America. She changes her beliefs because she thinks she can find happiness in Judaism. She also changes her lifestyle because she has the freedom to do whatever she wants. After Mona gets everything she has sought, she realizes that all the sacrifices she made to fit into society were, in the end, not worth losing her mother. Rodriguez identifies himself with any culture he wants to. Rodriguez strived to gain a deeper understanding of the culture and become one with the culture and that is just what he did.
He also lost his culture and that special connection with his family. Mona and Rodriguez believed that religion and culture are two of the primary instruments through which they could create and develop a new identity, but did not realize there would be major consequences from their decision to become what they want to be. Work Cited Jen, Gish. Mona in the Promised Land. New York: Knopf, 1996. Print. Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez: An Autobiography. Boston, MA: D. R. Godine, 1982. Print.