A Bill Moyers Special - Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

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Writer Gish Jen

Writer Gish Jen

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Being Accepted as American

"You sort of wonder who really feels unequivocally American."

By Gish Jen

Throughout the third program of the series, Chinese Americans can be heard wrestling with issues of identity — what it means to be American and whether or not they feel others accept them as American. This is an issue faced by all immigrants, though each groups experience carries its own particular challenge. Below, the novelist Gish Jen (Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land and Who's Irish) discusses her feelings with Bill Moyers

BILL MOYERS: Helen Zia says in her book, and told me when I interviewed her, she said, "You know, the issue for us isn't anymore becoming an American. The issue still for us is being accepted as an American." Do you agree with that?

GISH JEN: I think there were times when it's still an issue. But what I have come to realize is that this business of not being accepted an American does not only affect Asian-Americans, it affects so many people. You sort of wonder who really feels unequivocally American, honestly. You know, it seems that many, many people are subject to this feeling of slight estrangement. That's the first thing.

And the second thing I'd say is that in my experience, if you claim America, no one will dispute your claim. No one's gonna hand it to you, but if you say, "Well, this is mine," no one is gonna prevent you, either. And that's been very empowering for me.

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