Gish Jen's "Who's Irish?"

This story presents a very different and interesting take on the subject of racism and ethnocentrism. The fact that it is an American story -- insofar as the characters live in America -- told from the perspective of a Chinese immigrant puts the reader automatically at a certain remove from the narrator. In a way, the distance between the reader and the narrator makes the narrator's views more acceptable and easier to handle without judgment. In the same way, the narrator's age and situation also engage the reader's sympathies with her, despite the differences in her beliefs and what modern American society determines -- at least ostensibly -- are acceptable beliefs about other cultures. There are several points in the story where this strange acceptance-through-strangeness, or perhaps acceptance-despite-strangeness, is made explicit in the plot. Far from just being an element of the story established between the narrator and the reader, this is also an element of the narrator's relationship with her daughter, granddaughter, son-in-law, and with the world around her in general.

The first explicit instance of this is when the narrator's daughter admonishes her for her comments about Irish people: "How do you like it when people say the Chinese this, the Chinese that? she say." This illustrates the different levels of ethnocentrism and slight racism that exists. For the narrator, such beliefs are a cultural norm, while the daughter -- who was raised by the narrator but ends up with different "Americanized" attitudes -- takes offense and appears a little embarrassed at her mother's behavior. It is interesting that the narrator's daughter uses a reference to their own nationality and its stereotypes, when the story actually opens with a blanket statement the narrator makes about her culture and its stereotypical beliefs: "In China, people say mixed children are supposed to be smart." For the narrator, stereotypes are a way of life.

The daughter's admonishment of the narrator -- or more specifically, the narrator's telling of this admonishment -- is also an ironic illustration of the reader's involvement and culpability in the ethnic stereotypes presented in the story. The narrator's use of English is a realistic but also stereotypical representation of the way many immigrants speak English, with particular emphasis on some the common mistakes made specifically by Asian immigrants. The narrator's saying "she say" instead of "she says" or "she said" is only one example of the narrator's misuse of English, which serves in the story to remind the reader of the narrator's difference. It is especially revealing in this instance, however, as the statement is about stereotypes. Is it almost an implicit admission by the author that some of these stereotypes are true.

This certainly reflects the beliefs of the story's narrator, who continues to…