Mother Tongue

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 1 March 2016

Mother Tongue

Today we live in a society that is often called a “salad bowl”. It is called a “salad bowl” because it consists of various different people from various different backgrounds. We all live together in a society, but we still retain our own distinct flavors which helps to contribute to the richness and diversity of society. Unfortunately, today we also live in a society in which some of these groups are marginalized and looked down upon by others. Hence, often times as individuals we feel the need to compromise the way in which we communicate our ideas so that we can appeal to the views of the majority. Two authors explore how their attempt to compromise almost caused them to become detached from their roots. In “Mother Tongue,” by Amy Tan, Tan talks about growing up as a young child in America and learning the English language. She speaks about growing up as a writer and her mother’s imperfect diction which had a major influence on her. On the other hand, In her essay, “Censoring Myself,” Betty Shamieh talks about being an American playwright and having to censor herself because of how her work was viewed. Both authors explore the influence that their background had on their ability to express themselves. As individuals we should not be afraid to express ourselves because of our differences, rather we should use our differences and show how our distinctions make us very unique.

Firstly, In “”Mother Tongue,” Tan talks about how her mother’s limited English diction skewered her perception of her mother. Tan mentions how, “Like others, I have described it to people as “broken” or “fractured” English” (Tan 273). This shows how Tan viewed her mother’s English speaking abilities. She describes it as if her mother spoke damaged English, which needed to be mended or repaired. For Tan it was imperative that she spoke proper English and used proper diction, thus she was ashamed of her mother’s English. Tan fell under the impression that her mother’s English speaking abilities reflected the quality of what she had to say. Since her mother expressed her words in an imperfect manner, tan believed that her thoughts were also imperfect (Tan 274). Her perception was also supported by how people in society responded to her mother. Tan states that people in department stores, banks, and restaurants would not take her mother seriously. They would provide her bad service, pretend not to understand her, or act as if they were mute (Tan 274).

This further contributed to Tan’s feeling of embarrassment and shame towards her mother. Tan also describes an incident in which her mother went to the hospital and was told that the hospital had misplaced her CAT scan. The hospital did not show any remorse for losing the scan, nor did they assure her that they would locate it, that is until her mother had Tan speak to the hospital (Tan 275). As a reader this shows us how language is perceived and the role that it plays in the lives of individuals. For Tan it was imperative that she was able to blend in and be like others, so that she wouldn’t be ridiculed. Luckily, she was able to realize the positive influence that her mother’s diction bought her.

Furthermore, Tan’s mother teaches her to think in a different manner than the other children in her school. Tan states that her developing language skills were influenced by her family and in this case her mother, hence it affected her results on achievement tests. Since her mother taught her to think differently she was unable to perform as well in English as she did in math and science. Later Tan realizes the value of this different systematic way of thinking and it contributes to her rebellious nature towards her teachers who suggested she’d be much better in engineering, accounting, or anything else than English, since she was of Asian descent. She decided to challenge this stereotype, and thanks to her mother became a writer, who didn’t write using challenging diction that required a lot of thought, but rather diction that could be read and understood by audiences such as her mother.

This is the reason she starts writing about her mother: “I wanted to capture what language ability tests can never reveal: her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech, and the nature of her thoughts” (Tan 277). She acknowledged the richness that her mother’s heritage provided her and then she decided her first reader and critic should be her mother. Overall this taught Tan that she didn’t need to compromise to the high caliber and complexity of the English language, but rather she could express her thoughts in a simplistic, yet effective way which could be understood by everyone.

In her essay, “Censoring Myself”, Betty Shamieh talks about being an American playwright and having to censor herself because of how her work was viewed by others. She states: “I have been censored in many ways. But I think the most overt example of censorship I have yet faced is my experience with a project called the Brave New World Festival” (Shamieh 294). For the Festival she wrote a monologue about being the sister of a suicide bomber in mourning because she was unable to prevent his vicious act of terrorism. Her approach towards writing this play was to promote anti-terrorism, but due to the harsh tragedy of 9/11 she felt that there would be some potential backlash. When she was asked to perform her monologue at the Brave New World Festival, she was very skeptical of being criticized, thus she asked a famous actress named Marisa Tomei to act in the play (Shamieh 295). Post 9/11, president Bush let it be known on national television that he thinks citizens better “watch what they say” (Shamieh 294). This shows the amount of tolerance that was granted towards individual expression post 9/11, where anything that was said could be viewed in light of terrorism. As an Arab American Shamieh acknowledged that her work would be a source of criticism, but she felt the need to express her view and in doing so had to compromise so that she could get her play preformed.

Moreover, Shamieh’s play was ridiculed for its content, so being afraid of losing her spot in the festival she produced another piece that could be preformed. This shows the censorship she faced with her work and her need to compromise her writing so that it would appeal to the majority. Shamieh states that: “Arab American artist are largely faceless in this country and I felt that, by dropping out, I would be helping those who are trying to keep it that way” (Shamieh 295). This portrays Shamieh’s want to express her views and to represent the Arab community, who’s voices were neglected. Essentially she was trying to give a voice to the voice less. She later presents a story about an Arab-American girl who ends up on a hijacked plane and talks the hijackers out of their plans. Once again her intent was to promote anti-racism, but in a humorous way, yet her new play was not only censored, but this time completely taken out of the festival. This shows the ability individuals had in being able to express their ideas.

Being an Arab American, Shamieh had the right to express her views, yet despite this, her work was viewed under a wrong light and taken out of the play. This taught Shamieh that as individuals we will often face censorship for many reasons, whether it may because of our race, ethnicity, gender, sex, etc. For Shamieh, this experience taught her to write about the things she cared about, the things that represented who she was. She acknowledged that she was censoring herself by not producing a play about the Palestinian experience, which was a huge part of who she was (Shamieh 296). As individuals we will often face criticism from others, but the important thing is to express our voices so that we can communicate our ideas and portray ourselves under a proper light.

Hence, often times as individuals we feel the need to compromise the way in which we communicate our ideas so that we can appeal to the views of the majority. Authors Betty Shamieh and Amy Tan were both subjected to trying appeal to others. They both explore how they found themselves and attempt to tell readers to express their individuality. As American citizens, majority of us come from different backgrounds which gives us a broader perspective. We should try not to forget our roots and neither should we become entrenched in trying to appeal to others who see us under a different light. We as individual bring about diversity and cultural richness to America, hence we should not be afraid to communicate our ideas in a manner that represents who we are. When we constantly feel the need to compromise we often lose our identities and our own unique individuality. We are discrete individuals and we should utilize our differences, rather than trying to hide or forget them. If we do not stand up and express our perspectives then others will express them for us. So, thus we need to communicate our ideas in an effective manner, while still retaining our original flavors in the salad bowl.

Works Cited
1) Neweib, Janice. “Mother Tongue by Amy Tan.” The Mercury Reader: A Custom Publication. New York: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2011. 271-277. Print. 2) Silverman, Jonathan, and Dean Rader. “Censoring Myself by Betty Shamieh.” The World Is a Text: Writing, Reading, and Thinking about Visual and Popular
Culture. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2011. 294-296. Print.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 1 March 2016

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