Many a time, one is overwhelmed at the thought of travelling to and settling in a developed country, but is it all sweet? America has been a major destination to many immigrants, legal and illegal alike. Some come to study while others to work; all in the name of a better life. However, this is not the usual case as seen in Ami Tan’s writing, “Mother Tongue” or Bharati’s article that appeared in New York Times dated September 22, 1996, “Two Ways to Belong in America”. These writings are from two completely different perspectives but both address a similar topic that is challenges an immigrant faces while living in America. These challenges include language used, accent, citizenship, cultural variations, and general attitude from the indigenous American residents. The fact that one is an immigrant has been used to discredit them despite some commendable achievements. This forms the basis of my essay in that discrimination of immigrants is unjustifiable and not right.
The writers of the aforementioned articles are as different as black from white but address the challenges faced by people coming outside countries to settle in America. Ami Tan is a fiction writer with a Chinese mother. She uses basic and simple English to write her stories and admits that the only critic of her work worth listening to is her mother who is portrayed to use ‘broken’ English. Bharati Mukherjee, on the other hand, is a renowned writer of the New York Times and a writer of well-read books. She relies on the facts and written laws to bring to light the challenges facing immigrants. Even though the two writers differ in objectivity and subjectivity, they both write from a person’s point of view with each involved in their own articles.
Both writers agree that immigrants face several challenges stemming from their origin. Ami, writing from a personal perspective, brings to light the challenges that faced her and her mother due to the former’s command of English. Many people, albeit incorrectly, judged her mother based on the English she spoke which can be described as ‘broken’ or ‘limited’. Her mother faced a difficult time dealing with her stockbrokers, hospital workers and even faced discrimination from Tan’s friends who claimed they barely understood what she said. All this factors might point to her as a limited person, but that is just judging a book by its cover. She read and understood some literature that even left her daughter wondering. As a Chinese, English of Ami’s mother was heavily influenced by her mother tongue that gave her a disadvantage. Similarly, Ami’s development, education, and perceptions were influenced by her mother tongue that she was initially ashamed of but later embraced. On the other hand, Bharati, writing from a formal point, outlines the problems facing ‘nontraditional’ legal immigrants due to the said to be introduced immigrant laws. She had initially disagreed with her sister, Mira, concerning living in America; but then, she also criticizes the new laws seen as betray by the American government to the immigrants. Whereas, her sister insisted on keeping her Indian citizenship, Bharati had married an American and changed citizenship. However, she also agrees that the laws curtail the prosperity of the legal immigrants.
Whereas Ami is heavily subjective in her approach, Bharati is more objective. Ami gives more emphasis to her opinions regarding English language and the way its use can sometimes create a conflict. She even admits this as she writes, “I cannot give you much more than personal opinions.” This is a clear indication that whatever she writes is based on what she thinks is right or wrong in the use of English as a tool of speech. She believes that people are wrong in looking down at a mother due to the kind of English she speaks rather than the understanding she gets. In utter contrast, Bharati bases her argument on the government system. She questions her sister’s refusal to take up American citizenship yet she intends to enjoy the benefits which come with being a citizen. The basis for injustice, green card, is actually part of the government process that actually took place.
Another similarity lies in the setting used by these writers. Their works are set in America. The characters used by both are American immigrants although Ami is from China, and Bharati is from India. These immigrants both stay in America legally and are recognized by the government. Even though the challenges they face seem to be completely dissimilar, they are related in that Ami’s mother is judged based on her English heavily influenced by Chinese, and the immigrants in Bharati’s article are forced to denounce their countries of origin and take up American citizenship. The conflict arises from the fact that they came from a different country and have to live by American cultural practices or law respectively.
Furthermore, both writers use certain figures of speech to enhance their writing. This not only removes the monotony of prose writing but also further emphasizes on the message. They use direct speech where we see some of the characters conversing like Ami and her mother, or Bharati and her sister. Bharati also uses similes in her writing like when she mentions, “In one family, from two sisters alike as peas in a pod.” They also use simple and straight forward sentences and basic phrases which are simple to understand by many as their articles are addressed to every American, whether immigrant or not.
To conclude, I would like to appreciate both articles for their efforts in recognizing the problems faced by the immigrants in America. They have exposed how a language or citizenship can act like a hurdle for an immigrant. These challenges have been brought out from two different angles, but with Ami using a humorous tone and Bharati more serious, they can reach a much bigger audience in bringing to light these problems.