Everything I Never Told You is a 2014 debut novel by Celeste Ng. It topped Amazon's Best Books of the Year list for 2014. The novel is about a mixed-race Chinese-American family whose middle daughter Lydia is found drowned in a lake. Foto: Allevents
Everything I Never Told You is a 2014 debut novel by Celeste Ng. It topped Amazon's Best Books of the Year list for 2014. The novel is about a mixed-race Chinese-American family whose middle daughter Lydia is found drowned in a lake. Foto: Allevents

“What’s so Wrong About Being Chinese?”

Discussing multicultural awareness, a debut novel by Celeste Ng gives understanding and curiosity to analyse more about what was happened years ago concerning cultural differences in the world.

Ng takes place in a variety of locales across America, but mostly in Ohio. Some insidious intimidate nurture are raises here in this novel, based on race discrimination in America which concerning people of different cultures.

One of the case that she pictures how hard interracial marriage could be accepted in multicultural society in 1970. As the voices culture writer, ZebaBlay stated that there’s always something new to learn about, yet being in an interracial relationship doesn’t mean you’ve solved racism.

Ng wrote about cultural differences issues through the relationship of the couple, the communication of parents and their youngsters, and the affiliation between families dealing with difficult multicultural society, especially to the Chinese. She is trying to potray the anti-Asian (Chinese-American racism) who have been denied equal rights, subjected to verbal harassment, prejudice, act of discrimination for more than 200 years[1].

As a Chinese writer who grew up in the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh), the city of Shaker Heights, Ohio, she tries to present the novel about discrimination to minorities. Born of a family of scientist, Ng also writes some short stories and essays, mostly about tragedies and ethnocultural stories (associated with ethnic groups).

She is fascinated by how people react about her culture as a Chinese connected with the culture in America. Some of them are How To Be Chinese (2014) that telling about an adoption kid from China who wants to get in touch with her heritage, What Passes Over (2007) which tells about American family who finds comfort in Chinese grieving rituals, and the debut novel Everything I Never Told You.

Questioning Identity

The story is told from third person omniscient point of view which the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters.The story is led for telling the story of Lydia as a main character. Furthermore, Not only Nathan and Hannah who became discriminate, but Lydia, James Lee, and Marilyn also obtain an unjust treatment from the society in Ohio.

The main focus in this novel is how the issue of cultural identity and differences represented from the interracial marriage family. The author wants to attract the readers to understand history how living exhibits on the question of whether an Asian man and a white woman should marry, along with imagine how possible Lee’s family is accepting by American neighbors.

Ng effectively captures American’s unjust treatment by how the looks of people and it imply an implicit explanation about Chinese in certain parts of America still experiencing racial discrimination. Although, in 1970 history of United States and the People’s of China relations were considering rapprochement from no official diplomatic relations[2].

That is to say, Lee and family should give a great placed on individual’s freedom by fit in to another. It is not easy for the Lee’s family, considering interracial marriage is not yet commonplace in America. Thus, greatly affect their personal lives in society to be accepted.

Speaking of identity is too complex and too little to be dealt with, such as in multiculturalism, its never unified, increasingly fragmented, never singular but multiply constructed. Along with that, identity is a common word related to human being who live a life in the global, national, local, personal levels, social class, community, and etc.

Ng’s work has interconnected with all of those things and an interdisciplinary approach. In the late modern time, the identities are therefore constituted within radical historicization and constantly in the process of change and transformation, not outside representation[3].

Moreover, as the cultural critic, many of processes of change have been discussed, and identity is classifying the character of change depending on the era which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, or representation.In order to address a system of ideas above,a gripping page between cultures and rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives struggle, all their different live in multicultural societyis raised in Everything I Never Told You.

Why ‘Multicultural Understanding’ Matters

Ng starts from the story of interracial parents who giving special treatment to one of their children. The favouritism goes to Lydia as the second child of three siblings who has ink-black hair colour instead of her mother’s honey-blond, blue eyes just like her mother too.

Those things are defying genetics from her siblings, Nathan and Hannah just like their Chinese father. Owing to the fact that blue eyes and blonde hair of Lydia, then it is become essential for Marilyn and James Lee.

It shows that one of their children has genetic traits to be a citizen in the White majority place. Her differences from brother and sister also realized bypeople around in town who can only see it by their dissimilar physical appearance, especially their slanted eyes which representation of Asian people.

In particular, she writes “What’s wrong with your eyes?” constantly coded as high simply discrimination to Asian. Another plot from James Lee who has undesirable childhood experience, who had experienced racial inequity from the country where he born, who become an exclusion from the other ethnic group in America, just because he is a Chinese.

So as his experience life became a Chinese in America, he put an extra expectations to Lydia to be socially compatible in the society of Ohio. The readers may see that how Chinese were treated in the melting pot country like America. The Chinese exclusion in the multicultural society just make generations of Chinese does not feel comfortable to live in America, but they have to.

They had to adjust to being the alienation under state law and realized that Chinese have to be struggle for acceptance and better life. In this case, James Lee experienced a radical historicization by the government of America which affects his identity to process, follow the path according time and condition.

Not only had an exclusion by the country, James Lee also got different hand toward schoolmate because of his physical differences unlike any majority, mainly in his slanted eyes. So here the readers may see the similar and adjustment cases arises in the other major tale at the heart of Everything I Never Told You. Adjustment is formed the identity which perceived by society, and it is always in process, and always constituted within, or representation.

Here again, the readers may see the cultural identity played a critical role in the multicultural society which have so profoundly reshaped the world. In Everything I Never Told You, Ng detailed how hard Chinese people have to adapt, to be in process of identity transformation in order to positioning themself as a unity in the majority and get equal positioned. Moreover, Ng James Lee has changed his habit from speak mandarin to English with his parents for being accepted in the public society.

From the case above, there is an assumption that America is describe as a multicultural country. There are various citizens and cultures within spacious pressure point of multiculturalism. To some extent any society can be defined as a multicultural place, as well as it constructed by two or more different culture, language, religions.

However, somehow, the populations are not able to consider the different races, ethnicities, and otherness of its citizens essential to its existence but rather stand in the cultural melting pot. Imperceptibly, the melting pot masks the fact that being white has its privileges[4]. This is only make the racial discrimination became a crucial problem, and unconsciously it still exist because history call it so.

Presumably, assimilation among first generation of immigrants has affected the second generation it does not mean that they left their roots, by reason of leaving the roots is not an easy thing but rather requires a long process. Nevertheless, the first generation of immigrant’s dubious past makes things problematic not only for the second generation but also as well as the third generation.

On this book brought to light that experiential of first to second generation would implicate to the next generation, and in this context James Lee as the second generation then his generation would be the third generation. Here that not only the complexity of identity occurs but also the conflict between generations.

Being Chinese in Indonesia

The question of identity exists because it is increasingly fragmented and fractured. The issue is not a fixed concept, but strongly debated in society, and becomes crisis than a concern in multicultural understanding.

In Indonesia, Chinese Indonesian people who were born in 1966 will not take pleasure in celebrating Chinese New Year because of Suharto’s political leadership that constructed a policy of assimilation from 1965-1998. In 33 years, Chinese Indonesians were banned from practicing their languages in schools, having very limited representations on television programs about Chinese indigenous, and all of their rights and movements were controlled by the government.

Unfortunately, long-complicated relation between Chinese Indonesian and (so-called) Pribumiis set apart by boundaries of “our ancestors had a different sky” still dressing up on the top of people’s heads. Ultimately, today generations of Chinese Indonesianswill provide a unique context to explore about how the oppressed groups construct Chinese language and culture growing up.

Overall, the story also tries to criticize how important of parental figure and environment toward the growth of self-identity. The cultural aspects show through the novel raise to support the issue which presented by Lee’s family as interracial marriage family who live in multicultural society.

The important thing that the community need to comprehend that identity is always in process, transformation, and being positioned then positioning. Another word for prominent value is the process of socialization which just not a question of one party, but rather together with other parties who namely as community and the surroundings. So, the need for an adjustment and introduction in mutual understanding is a must to achieve the formation of an identity.

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