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How Culture Influences Perceptions of the World

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Culture is reflected through daily actions, thoughts, and speech. It can dominate one’s conscience in a way that could dishearten them, or cause them to feel great pride. Nevertheless, from childhood to adulthood, culture will always remain a part of one’s self. In the novel American Born Chinese, Jin Wang, an American-Chinese teenager, struggles to accept his Chinese identity. His only goal is to fit in with the other kids at school without being criticized for being Chinese. Throughout the novel, Jin will encounter events that will lead him to realize that he cannot change who he truly is. Jin’s cultural experiences give him the yearning to deny his Chinese identity, become accepted in society in order to feel valued, and to betray others to feel better about his situation. To begin, Jin didn’t feel welcomed when he was introduced to his new school, which led him to deny his Asian identity. For example, at his new school, the only other Asian was Suzy Nakamura, and their classmates made rumors that Suzy and Jin “were arranged to be married on her thirteenth birthday.” (Yang 31)

This compelled the two to avoid each other at all costs because they couldn’t bear the insults of their classmates due to the fact that they were the only Asians. In another example, Jin brings dumplings to eat for lunch. His classmates came over and insulted him over his food, telling him to “stay away from my dog,” (32) and while leaving saying “let’s leave bucktooth alone so he can enjoy lassie.” (33) After this experience, Jin brought sandwiches every day to eat at lunch instead of his dumplings because he didn’t want his classmates to think that he and his family ate dogs. These events emphasize that culture shaped Jin’s belief to deny his own traditions in order to escape the discrimination from his classmates. This is a clear example of how one’s behavior can be easily influenced by the surrounding culture in society. Secondly, Jin had the belief that if he were to fit in, he would feel valued amongst his classmates.

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For instance, when Jin noticed his crush, Amelia, talking to Greg in class, he assumed that she liked boys like Greg. While walking home, Jin thought of ways to impress Amelia and suddenly it occurred to him. He decided to change his hairstyle to look similar to his classmates, specifically Greg’s. The next morning, Wei-Chen comments, “Why is his hair a broccoli?” (98) His comment on Jin’s hair shows how Jin made an unexpected change of himself so he could charm Amelia. This experience demonstrates how the surrounding culture can force one into thinking that “transforming” into someone they aren’t will please the others around them. Thirdly, Jin feels that if he were to betray his best friend Wei-Chen, he would feel better about himself. While looking for Wei-Chen, he came across his girlfriend, Suzy, who was looking glum. When she explained to Jin how she was excluded from a friends’ party and was called a chink, Jin suddenly kissed Suzy. Right after, she angrily punched Jin in the face and walked off. Later, Wei-Chen furiously waited at Jin’s front door for an explanation and argues with Jin. Jin fires back exclaiming, “Maybe I just don’t think you’re right for her all right? Maybe I don’t think you’re worthy of her.

Maybe I think she can do better than an F.O.B. like you.” (191) The reason why Jin kissed Suzy was that he wanted to prove to Greg that he was worthy of being with Amelia and being a normal American Teen. Jin snapping at Wei-Chen was mainly because Jin couldn’t handle being Chinese anymore. He belittled Wei-Chen the same way everyone else was belittling Jin himself. Jin’s actions show the pressure and the negativity he had released from all the experiences pertaining to criticism about his heritage. This reveals that culture can compel one to view the world in a way that being disloyal to friendships can improve one’s self-esteem. Ultimately, Jin was struggling to cope with two cultures; the American life and the Chinese life. From start to finish, his choices reveal that culture can easily shape someone’s character and views of the world through denial, acceptance, and betrayal.

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