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Letters About Literature National Winners 2015

National Winner, Level 3 Honor: Lisa Le

Dear Amy Tan,

Before reading your novel, The Joy Luck Club, my mother was seen as someone I couldn't connect to or someone I didn't want to relate to. When looking back I feel ashamed of myself, I remember doing nothing while my mother and I drifted further apart. In 6th grade your novel gave me insight about the value of family, and the difference in culture between generations. I’ve realized that miscommunication and a language barrier drove me and my mother apart, and as time progressed it widened.

My mother left Vietnam to come to the US while pregnant with me in 1997-1998. She still hasn’t assimilated to American culture and even now in 2014 struggles with speaking and learning English. At home she used to speak to me in Vietnamese and I would answer in English, it’s not that I couldn't speak Vietnamese - I understood the basics - it was because I didn't want to. I never took the time to appreciate my mother and to consider her feelings about my behavior and alienation of our culture. She grew up in Southern Vietnam learning traditional customs, whereas I grew up in DC with an entirely different set of beliefs and experiences. I remember always being confused whenever she used common Vietnamese proverbs to give advice.

I felt a connection to Jing-mei Woo, she and her mother had the same strained relationship that I experienced with my mother. Jing-mei’s journey is one I wish to avoid, Jing-mei had a negative relationship with her mother and once her mother died, she was full of regret and grief. Above all else, I don’t want to live life with regrets, so learning Jing-mei’s tale made me aware of the mistakes that would later lead to great anguish.

Also as you addressed in Mother Tongue, my mother faces the same discrimination in the passage, where, “people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her.” After rereading this line several times since, it left such a strong impression on me and revealed that I too, take advantage of my mother. I discriminated against her without any sympathy merely for her broken English and different ways. However, after reading your novel it has put my thinking into perspective.

In the 6th grade, I thought the journey of moving from nation to nation was simple, that my mom was the same person in Vietnam as in the US, and that the trip was short and clean. But in fact, the experience was complicated and a long process. My mother travelled from Vietnam all the way to the US in order to begin a new life, she integrated into a new culture with a different social and political system. The final straw that broke the camel’s back in the decision to come to the US was that she discovered she was pregnant with me. Now that I’ve understood this, I’ve developed a newfound respect for her, she found the courage to change her lifestyle for her children (which is now me and my little brother). She knew that school in Vietnam didn't compare to the educational system in the US (which isn't the best, but still). Suyuan Woo from the novel reminded me of my mother and made me more conscious of the pushes and pulls that lead us to change our life. Suyuan helped me comprehend the struggles my mom faced while making the transition, and how different my life would be if it wasn’t for my mother’s courage.

Your novel acted as a catalyst in the bond between my mother and l, I began to meet her halfway in our relationship and put in the extra effort to learn more about her, as well as to speak Vietnamese. Although we still aren’t close today and I sometimes take her for granted (still in my rebellious stage), I feel accomplished in understanding her and my culture. When reading The Joy Luck Club in 6th grade, I didn't grasp most of the key concepts and themes, but they were the start I needed to understanding the valuable bond between mother and daughter.

Lisa Le