Me, Amy Tan & Millions of Others: Children of Immigrants

Me, Amy Tan & Millions of Others: Children of Immigrants

Amy Tan and Her Brother

Melting pot. Founded by immigrants. Liberty and justice for all. Sometimes words lose their meaning when repeated over and over again. Hymns, songs become rote. We hardly know what we’re saying or singing IF we grew up hearing those words. It’s the proverbial TAKING SOMETHING FOR GRANTED. Not so for recent immigrants who still might cry hearing the National Anthem or when they finally attend the ceremony to become an American citizen.

I attended one once–as the godmother of a child adopted from Ecuador. Every new citizen there was emotional. Had I taken my citizenship for granted? Yes.  Whether it’s our ability to speak English or rely on our last name or the color of our skin–many of us who have assumed our PLACE in the USA often have little thought as to how WE have been so blessed. TIME TO CHANGE THAT!!


My husband researches family history on I admire how he reads articles and finds past relatives, connects with others who share a tangential relationship so that slowly his family history and mine have grown and many questions about WHY WE ARE HERE answered.

But I’ll also settle for a few basic explanations:

  • I’m a U.S. citizen because three generations back, my great-grandparents from both my mother and my father’s side, traveled on some crowded ship with their few possessions to claim a place here in the U.S.
  • I appreciate and understand how fortunate I am, because as a sophomore in college I took a GOVERNMENT class, a requisite taught by my professor Ann B. Matasar PhD. The class woke me up to my good fortune. Homework included studying Supreme Court decisions like BROWN VERSUS THE BOARD OF EDUCATION.
  • We also had to read a daily newspaper–the Chicago Tribune. Dr. Matasar was vehement and rightly so: “If you are going to live in this country, then you have to take up a from of citizenship and know what is going on–what your rights are and if they are being trampled on.”
  • YES. BRAVO. You cannot live in a country like the United States and not understand how it acts and works day to day. I never lost the habit.


A first generation Chinese American, writer Amy Tan grew up in Northern California. Her father was a Baptist minister, guided by the principles of his Christian faith. Her mother was guided by the old ways, by the vicariousness of curses and luck. Thus Tan states in her latest publication, a memoir, Where the Past Begins, that she is a product of the contradictions in her upbringing. Both her father and brother died when Tan was in her teens.

Tan: Who we become has so much to do with the experiences we had, and how we survived. My strong need to find a purpose in life probably comes from my father. It was not a question of who he was, but who am I? What are the qualities that he had, that he provided for me, and what didn’t he provide? What am I still looking for? What am I still rebelling against?

When your father dies when you are fifteen, the “you” who you were at that age is still there. I wanted to think about how I saw my father from those rebel teen years until now, as someone who is well beyond the years he lived.


My father was, to me, a model of great values: an honest person, a kind person. We grew up not knowing that my parents had an immigrant status. I just remember them getting their citizenship and crying in jubilation. It was a moment of great relief: the danger of them losing their life here was over. 

“You don’t know how lucky you are to be here, what we had to do so you could be here” — that was always my father’s message, and I didn’t know what it was based on. There were illusions to great sacrifices made on our behalf. I didn’t know what kind of life they’d had in China or why they left.


But everything about the election called into question everything for me. I was so disillusioned that it was essential to look at everything and say: How could this have been? Who were the kind of people who would’ve voted for this person? 

What if my father were alive — is this the man he would have voted for, and why? It was not to demonize voters so much as I simply couldn’t understand how this attitude could have become the defining one for our country for the next four years — one I considered before the election, and which has borne out post-election, to be a very racist, white supremacist agenda.

In a recent interview, Tan states unequivocally that she now looks at community differently. She wants to find commonality with people.

I’m more grateful when I find [those] people — I don’t even have to ask them what their politics are, you can just tell by the kind of things they care about. If they are concerned for poor people, and immigrants, and people with uncertain status, you know where they stand.


“Liberal” is not a nasty word. I wish “liberal” could be changed to “compassionate,” meaning we share responsibility; we share pain; we share in our flaws; we share in the ways we’re destroying the environment but want to make amends. It has more to do with recognition of a lot of the good things in people, and appreciating that those qualities are there — in more people than not.


In a way, I think it’s good my parents didn’t tell us kids that our life here was in jeopardy. We were born here, so we were American citizens, but if our parents were forced to leave, we of course would have had to go with them. I see this today in people I know who are undocumented—I asked a good friend of ours the other day, “What does your six-year-old child know?” She said, “He doesn’t know. He’ll say, ‘Why can Uncle So-and-so go to Mexico and we can’t?’” And she says, “We can’t for now, but maybe later.” Meanwhile, they’re hoping they don’t get deported. If they were, what a shock that would be to that child.


We are an immigrant nation. Yet there are many in this country who forget their origins, who gin up on the fact that their ancestry stretches farther back than others. Possibly they have forgotten the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence or they have never read the Constitution. Their idea of owning property and contributing to the national welfare only applies to certain people.

Researching their roots like my husband does just might help. Knowing what others endured to provide us a PLACE HERE is profound. So are the words of our founding fathers. It’s a sad fact that recent immigrants to our country know more about the rule of law, the Constitution and the true meaning of the words in the Pledge of Allegiance than those who hunger to kick them out, take their citizenship from them.

Can you trace your ancestry back to a country, a year, a place? Whether you can or not, each one of us must honor fellow citizens. It’s trite but true, we are all in this together. 

Thanks to AMY TAN and NPR for the Photo of Amy and her brother.

15 thoughts on “Me, Amy Tan & Millions of Others: Children of Immigrants

  1. This has been a very upsetting week, as the politics of our nation seem to get worse and more confusing with every news cycle. The endearing ideals we were founded on are being trampled by our very own government. Amy Tan’s fears simply reflect many of our very own……something I would never have thought possible.

    • Thanks, Bill. I’ve been silent most of the week. Time to read a good book or hug your loved ones. Hard times for many ahead. Me

  2. Excellent post Beth…Amy Tan’s book The Good Luck Club was amazing, I read it so long ago, will want to get it and read it again. Thinking of my Dad, who would be horrified if he were alive today, he cared deeply about our country, our heritage. He did trace our own personal ancestry back as far as he could, I am an 11th generation of the Miles Merwin family that help found our town in 1639. His voting would have changed for sure this past election. I love your thought that the word liberal should be changed to compassionate…for yes we all do share responsibility. Thanks for these awakening thoughts to ponder this early morning.

  3. My grandparents on my Dad’s side emigrated from the US to Canada in the early 1900’s. Our ties to the US remain strong with most of Husby’s and my family members having returned there decades ago. We’ve been keeping a close watch on the Frog Soup of politics going on there. If the things we see now had happened years (or even months) ago, would we have hopped out of that hot water?

  4. I got to see Amy Tan in person at UW-Milwaukee when she came as a guest speaker. I’ve read three of her novels. She’s fabulous. I haven’t given her work much attention in the last few years, so I appreciate the work you’ve done here to share her views on immigration. Thank you!

  5. My family is all from Eastern Europe and my great grandparent’s families also came over in a crowded boat in the 2880’s. I live in a large urban city (LA) and see the richness that other cultures bring in terms of traditions, food, art, festivals, etc. The election was determined by people living in areas where there wasn’t that sort of richness. Votes came in from towns that were homogenized. It’s sad because we wouldn’t be eating tacos, Chinese food, or pierogies if it weren’t for our immigrants.It was a mistake in strategy and not relating to people who will now feel the pain when they lose their healthcare and have to pay higher taxes to satiate the ultra rich.

    • Oh Rebecca, I agree with every word of this. Though I live in Westlake Village, I love the diversity of LA. (Currently I am worried about the fires near me!) But I’m so grateful for your reply and love your point of view. Hopefully, we can overcome this very disturbing time, but I fear the tax bill is a done deal. Makes me crazy. I’ve been sad since Friday night. Hugs, Beth

  6. As the child of immigrants (eastern Europe) and as someone who grew up with the benefits of citizenship, I try but cannot understand the current hatred of immigrants and the denial that we all came from somewhere else. This country is richer for all the refreshing ideas from different cultures. Immigrants bring energy to this country; they don’t take anything away from anybody. Can the negative view, given full voice on the Internet and cable TV and by the current administration, really prevail?

    • God I hope not. Thanks so much for your words. They hold me up in these times when I think much of country has lot its way. Thank you.

  7. I have the United States to thank for my life. My grandparents came over here on a “crowded boat” and those they left behind were, to the best of my knowledge, all liquidated by the Nazis Now, the country I love has been hijacked. I grew up in New York City among people of many nationalities. I’ve seen the true melting pot in action. Immigrants are the strength of our country, as we renew ourselves every generation. Until now. Will we rot from within?

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