Amy Tan Performs at the White House (2023)


Amy Tan performs at the White House as part of a Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community heritage month celebration


(Applause) >> Amy Tan:, Thank, you., Thank, you.

It's, just a real honor to be here celebrating with all of you, Asian-American/Pacific Islander, heritage., You know.

It's my nature as a writer to tell stories to express what I feel about any subject, like heritage.

And, like me.

All of you in this room have stories about your heritage that came by way of your families and what they went.

Through, and I'd like to tell you some of mine.


Think many of you will find similarities in them to yours.

My heritage came through loud and clear when I was a kid in the way of criticism and threats and expectations and ghoulish warnings that if I didn't look both ways when crossing the street I would get smashed flat like a sanddab, both eyes on one side of your head.

Heritage included, eating five-course, Chinese meals.

Every night made of embarrassing ingredients, like a whole fish that was so fresh.

It was barely dead, -- (laughter) -- with both eyes on one side of its head.

(laughter) Heritage.

Was my parents asking why I got a B+ instead of an A in English.

I? Could never please them.

Come on, it was not like I was going to become a writer or something.


The way, I later scored in the 400s on the verbal portion of the SAT -- not stellar., But I'm, proud to say that today one of my essays is on the Advanced Placement portion of the SAT.

And -- (applause) That's, an example of the American Dream.

Now, heritage was also the advice my mother gave me on birth control in broken English.


Let a boy kiss you, because if you do, maybe you can't stop, and then you have a baby, and you so ashamed, you put baby in the garbage, can." (laughter) "And, then police come get.

You, put you in jail rest of your life.

Might as well.

Just kill yourself right, now.", (laughter), Now, my all-American, mind, wondered, "What's, so good.

You can't stop?" At.

The time, I didn't yet know about my mother's arranged marriage to an abusive man, or that her mother had been raped and forced to become a concubine, or that her mother later swallowed opium and my mother watched her die.

I didn't know so many things that were the reasons for the warnings.

Secrets were part of my heritage.

In, my youth.

My parents' Chinese ways were often embarrassing to me.

For example.

Whenever they were in a place, they'd, never been.

They felt free to go up to anyone on the street who looked Asian, -- didn't matter, Chinese, Korean, Hawaiian -- and they would ask that person where they could find a restaurant.

That was good and cheap.

(laughter) And.

Soon that person, you know, they would tell them, and they'd, be talking pretty soon about the old country, what they did and what they do.


And I was just thinking today.

Did you become like your parents? Didn't that happen to you? And? Here we all are, most of us in a place: we've never been, the White House.


You feel that you can go up to any Asian-American or Pacific Islander here.

Maybe even a Hawaiian-born president, and ask where you can find a restaurant, that's good and cheap? (laughter) We have our individual family heritages, yet being Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders.

We also have much in common as well.

And I know, because for a long time I thought my mother's grim warnings were just one of her idiosyncrasies.

But, then I wrote a novel, and I was shocked to learn how many Asian people told me that their mothers were just like mine.

My mother wasn't wacky;, it was shared heritage, all along.


You also have to call your parents' friends.

Auntie and Uncle?.

I grew up with those Aunties and Uncles, and they got together with my parents, and they ate dim sum, and they played mahjong, and they talked about those left behind, and they also invested in the stock market together to fulfill their American Dream.


They named their gatherings.

The Joy Luck Club.

That was part of my heritage.

The, older I get.

The more I want to know about the women of our family.


Their lives are the reasons I feel compelled to write what I do.

I want to know more about the times in which they'd lived, about the nature of the society that constrained them, about expectations placed on them.

I want to know the emotional core of my heritage, because the more I know about them.

The more I know about myself.

My heritage includes my parents' struggles, their tragedies.

Their views on morality, tempered by circumstances and what's important.

Family is the most important.


You must never be complacent or follow what is popular and only temporary.

When times are good, everyone is there for you.

When times are bad, only family and true friends, remain.

And, no matter what happens, my mother told, me, "If people look down on you.

You must never forget who you are inside.

What, they think is not who you are." In China, many people looked down on my mother for being the daughter of a concubine.

In, the United States.

Some people looked down on her for speaking poor English.

I did.

I was an adult when I learned why my parents left China and their families.

Civil war was coming to a close, and the new communist government would not look favorably on their background, my mother, being from a rich family, my father, a deeply Christian one.


Then my mother had tried numerous times to leave.

Her husband.

He would not give her a divorce.

In fact.

He once had her jailed for running away.

And, thus.

There was another reason my parents had to leave.

China: love., My, mother and father had met, and they'd fallen in love.

They wanted to marry and have children, and the only way they could do that was to leave the past behind.


Imagine that a lot of love has immigrated to the U.S.

Over the last 400 years., My parents came on student visas, my father for an advanced degree in engineering, my mother for American literature., My father nearly finished his degree before he died.

My mother, well, I never saw her crack open a novel and read one until she read mine.

She enjoyed it so much.

She asked that I write the next book entirely about her -- (laughter) -- the story about her growing up without a mother, about a husband who raped her at gunpoint, about a son who died in her arms -- all those emotional traumas that were part of my heritage.


Perhaps nothing exemplifies my heritage to me more than the papers they found last year, while cleaning out an accumulation of family belongings.


There was a file with numerous letters written back and forth between them and a sympathetic man at INS.

My, parents' student visas had expired, and now they were in the United States illegally.

I imagined how scared they were over the prospect of returning to China with three English-speaking children.

In, another file, I found a certificate.

It had been given to my parents in 1960, when I was 8., My brothers and I didn't understand what the big deal was when they told us that they were American citizens now.

Of course we were.

They were calling all their friends who'd not been at the ceremony when they pledged allegiance to the flag as new Americans.

They could not stop thanking people.

Who'd helped them, thanking God, thanking the United States.

They could not stop crying.

Those tears are part of my heritage.

Thank you.



Who is Amy Tan's husband? ›

Tan resides near San Francisco in Sausalito, California, with her husband Lou DeMattei (whom she married in 1974), in a house they designed "to feel open and airy, like a tree house, but also to be a place where we could live comfortably into old age" with accessibility features.

What is the underlying theme in Tan's short story? ›

A central theme of Tan's stories is the conflict faced by Chinese Americans who find themselves alienated both from their American milieu and from their Chinese parents and heritage. Other themes include storytelling, memory, and the complex relationships between mother and daughter, husband and wife, and sisters.

How does Tan describe the American dream? ›

Amy Tan on The American Dream

It's not to say that everything will happen fairly and the way that you want. But I think that this is a country where that opportunity — to be as wild as you want, as generous as you want, as crazy as you want, as artistic as you want, that all of that, the whole range — exists.

What does Amy Tan say about language? ›

We may not speak the same way but that does not affect the value of the words spoken. Amy Tan proves that language spoken in a family circle is a key to understanding each other, it can help people realize their personality, culture, roots and it can form the way people think.

How did Amy Tan defy her mother? ›

She feels bad for disappointing her mother, but when she catches sight of her own reflection in the mirror, she realises how strong she is, and decides to defy her mother, who eventually gives up trying to school her daughter into becoming a genius.

Is Amy Tan Religious? ›

"I'm not an atheist. I have an amalgam of beliefs that ... [have] to do with Christianity, a little bit with Buddhism. I observe things that make me understand people."

What is the message of I was their American dream? ›

I Was Their American Dream is at once a coming-of-age story and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children.

Is there a dark side to the American Dream? ›

However there is a dark side to this, as it implies that happiness has been tied to materialism and wealth. This casts a blight on American society as being driven by greed to have materialistic wealth, instead of strong family ties or relationships like the ones America was built upon.

Why was the American Dream so attractive? ›

The American Dream rests on the idea that anyone can achieve success in America. This makes the American Dream attractive to people around the world because this dream is for anyone regardless of skin color, religion, or nationality [3].

Why was Amy Tan ashamed of her mother? ›

Tan spoke about being embarrassed by her mother's English and stated, “I know this for fact, because when I was growing up, my mother's “limited” English limited my perception of her, I was ashamed of her English.” Tan looked down on her mother and was humiliated by her lack of “standard English,” enough so that Amy ...

How does Amy feel about her Chinese heritage? ›

In the begining of the story, Amy is embarrassed of her heritage, but she eventually realizes how her parents are trying to help her, and she ends up feeling proud to be Chinese.

What influenced Amy Tan? ›

The harrowing early life of her mother, Daisy, inspired Amy Tan's novel The Kitchen God's Wife. In China, Daisy had divorced an abusive husband but lost custody of her three daughters. She was forced to leave them behind when she escaped on the last boat to leave Shanghai before the Communist takeover in 1949.

What embarrasses Amy at dinner? ›

Amy is embarrassed by her family and by the food (including fish cheeks) served to the guests, and again by her father's belching after dinner, although he explains that it's a polite Chinese custom that shows satisfaction.

How has Amy Tan's work been criticized? ›

Tan's work made her a global icon for Asian Americans, but some have criticized her writing as a misrepresentation. Tan said she never intended to promote stereotypes. Rather, she was merely sharing what she personally experienced growing up in her own Chinese American family.

What is the meaning of the Fish Cheeks in Amy Tan? ›

The fish cheeks symbolize a celebration of Amy's culture in this story and by offering them to Amy, her father is telling her to be proud of being Chinese. However, Amy's mother also recognizes that Amy wishes to be American, and so gives her a mini-skirt, which in this story symbolizes Amy's desire to be American.

Why did Rose's mother say that Rose was without wood? ›

In her mother's words, Rose was "without wood," lacking both strength and substance. She rejected her mother's wisdom and looked to Americans' opinions of her. This characterization echoes Tan's own rejection of her mother and her heritage.

What is one fact about Amy Tan? ›

Tan grew up in California and in Switzerland and studied English and linguistics at San Jose State University (B.A., 1973; M.A., 1974) and the University of California, Berkeley. She was a highly successful freelance business writer in 1987 when she took her Chinese immigrant mother to revisit China.

What does Waverly realize at the end of four directions? ›

Waverly realizes that she has long misunderstood her mother. She adds that she and Rich have postponed their wedding because Lindo told them they should wait until October to take their honeymoon in China.

Does Amy Tan have pets? ›

Tan's latest book is another autobiography, Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir (4th Estate, £18.99). She lives with her husband and two dogs in California and New York. Your first memoir was published in 2004.

Who is Malaka from the American Dream? ›

Malaka Gharib is a journalist at NPR. She is the author of "I Was Their American Dream," a graphic memoir (Clarkson Potter, April 2019) about being Filipino-Egyptian-American.

What was the purpose of the American Dream speech? ›

"I Have a Dream" is a public speech that was delivered by American civil rights activist and Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. In the speech, King called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States.

Where did the American Dream saying come from? ›

Where did the concept come from? There was, in fact, a founding father of the American Dream. He was James Truslow Adams and he coined the phrase in his 1931 bestseller The Epic of America.

What are the 3 American dreams? ›

The original “American Dream” was not a dream of individual wealth; it was a dream of equality, justice, and democracy for the nation used in the early 1900s The phrase was repurposed by each generation, until the Cold War, when it became an argument for a consumer capitalist version of democracy.

What is the negative side of the American Dream? ›

"The negative side of the American Dream comes when people pursue success at any cost, which in turn destroys the vision and the dream." In this quote, by Azar Nafisi, it explains how dreaming can be tainted by reality, and that if a person doesn't compromise they may suffer.

What does the American Dream hide? ›

The American Dream formula for success conceals inequality in the United States. Many of us do not learn to see how our race, class and gender affect our lives. This compounds the American Dream's concealment of inequality.

What is an interesting quote about the American dream? ›

“The American Dream belongs to all of us.” “The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches – with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone – was once at the core of the American Dream.” “The American Dream is a phrase we'll have to wrestle with all our lives.

When was America the most prosperous? ›

The 1920s (the Prosperity Decade) are often called the Age of Big Business. This is true not only because of the rapid expansion of industry but also because of numerous mergers which produced very large business entities.

Who popularized the American dream? ›

Freelance writer James Truslow Adams popularized the phrase "American Dream" in his 1931 book Epic of America: But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.

Why does Amy Tan use different language with her husband in Mother Tongue? ›

She made changes to her language because her mother heavily relied on her for translation. She was the voice of her mother, relaying information in standard English to those who were unable to understand her mother's broken english.

What is the lesson Tan learns from her mother in the end? ›

Lesson Summary

At the end of the story, her mother gives her a miniskirt as a show her approval toward Amy to conform to the outward appearance of being American, but she makes sure to instruct her daughter to always remain Chinese on the inside.

What did Tan learn about her Mother Tongue? ›

Tan was cognizant of the fact that she was using English she did not use around her mother. It hit her that the two worlds she had grown up in had impacted her writing as well as her life.

What are the challenges Amy Tan faced? ›

Throughout her career, Tan has channeled immense personal challenges into her writing, including profound family loss, conflicting cultural expectations, and a strained relationship with her mother. She recently shared her life story in the 2021 documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir.

What is the significance of the title Mother Tongue by Amy Tan? ›

Tan calls this clipped informal language her 'mother tongue', because it was the first language she learned and it helped to shape the way she saw the world and made sense of it.

What kind of character is Amy? ›

artistic, ambitious, and self-centered. As the youngest child in a big family, Amy is a little bit spoiled. She tends to be indulged by Marmee, Meg, and Beth, although tempestuous Jo keeps her in check. Amy's prone to melodrama and selfishness and can lash out at others when they slight her.

Is The Joy Luck Club based on Amy Tan? ›

In 1987 , after her mother returned to health, they traveled to China, where Tan's mother was reunited with her daughters and Tan met her half-sisters. The trip provided Tan with a fresh perspective on her mother, and it served as a key inspiration for her first book, The Joy Luck Club.

Why might we be surprised that Amy Tan became a writer? ›

When we read 'Mother Tongue' by Amy Tan, why might we be surprised that she ended up becoming a writer? We are surprised because she only spoke Chinese at home. We are surprised because she was told writing was her worst skill.

How many degrees does Amy Tan have? ›

Tan later attended San Jose State University, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley, earning a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in linguistics. She briefly worked towards her doctorate at Berkeley before dropping out in 1976.

Who is an Mei's mother husband? ›

An-mei's mother is forced to leave the family home by her own mother, Popo, after her first husband dies and she (shamefully in the eyes of the community) becomes the unimportant fourth wife to a rich merchant named Wu Tsing.

Who are Shaun Tan's family members? ›

What are some interesting facts about Amy Tan? ›

  • Amy Tan is a dog lover and has pet dogs at her home.
  • Amy has appeared in The Simpsons as herself.
  • Tan and her husband, Lou DeMattei, have been married for more than twenty years. ...
  • Her Chinese name, “An Mei” means “Blessing from America.
More items...
May 14, 2023

Does Amy Tan have a family? ›

Why was An-mei told never to say her mothers name? ›

Popo tells An-mei never to say her mother's name, because that would be a disgrace to An-mei's dead father. Clearly, An-mei's mom has done something bad. An-mei only knows her dad from a scary, stiff painting of him that she sees on the wall.

What happened to Mei mother? ›

Two days before the New Year, An-mei's mother poisons herself.

Was An-mei's mother a concubine? ›

An-mei's mother became the concubine of a man named Wu-Tsing when An-mei was four, so she and her little brother went to live with their grandmother, Popo, who forbade them to speak their mother's name.

Where does Shaun Tan live now? ›

What are 5 facts about Shaun Tan? ›

Shaun Tan facts for kids
Quick facts for kids Shaun Tan
Born1973 (age 49–50) Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia
Area(s)Writer, Penciller, Artist
Notable worksThe Red Tree The Lost Thing The Arrival Cicada
2 more rows

What ethnicity is Shaun Tan? ›

Their father, an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Malaysia (their mother is a native Australian of Irish and English heritage), is an architect who modeled for his sons the virtue of precise attention to detail. Shaun showed a talent for drawing at an early age and built an identity around it.

Does Amy Tan have a degree? ›

Tan later attended San Jose State University, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley, earning a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in linguistics. She briefly worked towards her doctorate at Berkeley before dropping out in 1976.

How much does Amy Tan make? ›

Amy Tan net worth: Amy Tan is an American writer who has a net worth of $8 million.

What were Tan's mother's secrets? ›

When Tan was 33, she discovered that before her mother immigrated to the United States and married her father, she had been married to another man, who abused her and her three daughters. The mother spent three years in a Chinese prison on an adultery charge, but Tan's father proved to be her savior.

When did Amy Tan parents leave China? ›

Tan regained her health, and mother and daughter departed for China in 1987. The trip was a revelation for Tan. It gave her a new perspective on her often-difficult relationship with her mother, and inspired her to complete the book of stories she had promised her agent.

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