Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Joy Luck Club

Under the leadership of our media specialists, Southmoore's faculty recently participated in the Pioneer Library System's 2012 Big Read.  The Big Read was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and featured an emphasis on Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.  The NEA grant allowed the PLS's new South Oklahoma City Public Library branch to provide a copy of  the JLC to each Southmoore teacher interested in participating in reading the book and discussing it as part of a  multicultural focused professional development session.

The overall story is told using the backdrop of a group of four Chinese-American women who regularly gather to play mahjong.  In part one, Tan relates the experiences of each of these four women while growing up in diverse settings within pre-World War II China.  In part two, she recounts the relationship each of these women has with her own American born daughter as told from that daughter's perspective.  In part three, again from the perspectives of the daughters, Tan relates the experiences each pair has once the daughter has reached adulthood.  Finally in part four, Tan returns to the perspectives of the mothers in which she seeks to reconcile each mother's childhood in China, the daughter's childhood in San Francisco, and the life circumstances which each pair currently finds themselves involved.

Initially I had difficulty "getting into" the JLC.  As I went from part one to part two I had trouble keeping straight which mother-daughter pair's story I was currently reading.  However, once I began skipping chapters so that I could read the entire strand of one mother-daughter relationship and then move on to each of the next three strands I was able to make more sense of what was going on.

The JLC is a wonderful story of parent-child relationships.  But it is much more than this.  The JLC also provides great insight into the cultural experiences of the mothers as they were raised within their homeland.  It presents a cultural quandary for each mother as she seeks to hold on to raising her children as "Chinese" within an environment unlike that in which she was raised.  It presents the lure of "American" values and materialism which the daughters each find to be attractive.

From the perspective of my career, I find the JLC to be a book that every teacher should read.  Most of us, especially those within public schools in a more urban (even suburban) setting, have had students within our classes who have parents born in another country.  There are often language barriers in trying to communicate not only with the students in our care but also with their parents who may have even less of a grasp of English.  The students often find themselves in that cultural paradox of trying to be "American" with out sacrificing the culture of their parents' homeland.  The lessons for a teacher to be found within the JLC are many that should help us be better able to reach out to and make connections with such students and families.  The JLC helps to open our minds into understanding cultural cues with which we are not otherwise familiar.

I would encourage each of you, teacher or not, to read either The Joy Luck Club or some other book that presents a family from a cultural background different from your own.  By roaming such a remote road through the images conveyed through the written word we allow our minds to experience the world from new eyes.

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