Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok Book Review
Strength comes in numbers. Friends move in groups to gain a sense of connection and strength. However, in Girl in Translation, Kim doesn’t have anyone. When she emigrates, she has to navigate through poverty and societal based challenges by herself. She moves day by day, forging her own path through life. With poverty and society against her, Kim pushes through her alienation and reveals how American life causes a bias to immigrants.
When Kim emigrates, she is put in a life of poverty that none of us would want to live. She lives in an apartment that is inhabitable and she has to work illegally outside of school to support the family. Kim’s mother expected welcome hands when they arrived in the US, and was planning to do in-home childcare for Aunt Paula’s sons and Chinese lessons. These hopes are quickly washed away; Aunt Paula sets up a factory job for Kim’s mom, and that was it. Poverty causes Kim to be “different” from both the students at the public and private school. Projects that involved items like glue and poster board were out of the question, and Kim had to be downgraded on schoolwork because she did not use the right materials. Aunt Paula is one of the main causes for the Chang family to live in such conditions. Kim’s mom was talking about their debt that they owe to Aunt Paula, “Never forget, we owe Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob a great debt. Because they got us out of Hong Kong and brought us here to America, the Golden Mountain” (Kwok 10). Although Aunt Paula’s control over the family is borderline illegal, Kim’s mom thinks that they should be respectful to Aunt Paula because of the sponsorship that she gave to them. However, Kim has always viewed Aunt Paula as controlling and almost an adult bully. With Kim’s intellectual talent, she is able to get out of the public school and into Harrison Prep, opposing Aunt Paula in a small way. However, Kim perseveres, and ends up getting into Yale in her senior year. At this point, Kim tells Aunt Paula that she cannot control their life any longer, and that both her and her mom were moving onto greater things. In spite of Kim’s academic success, she had many social challenges along the way.
American society is harsh. With just one little difference, a person is instantly viewed as an “other.” Kim realizes this when she emigrates, and faces immense prejudice when she arrives. In Kim’s life outside of school, she is almost never viewed as an other because the people that she works with at the factory are dealing with the same circumstances. However, Kim’s school life is a different story. Because of the family’s lack of money, they could not afford the high-end clothes that students were wearing at Harrison. Kim speaks to her terrible experience changing in PE, “The next day, Greg yelled down the hall as I passed by, ‘Are those boxing shorts comfortable?” (Kwok 139). Even though Kim is not much different from any of the other girls that she was changing with, just the one little difference in her underwear caused her to be the object of lots of teasing. With Matt’s help and some quick thinking, Kim is able to get Greg and his posse to stop teasing her. Continuing with the theme of othering, racial and language differences show themselves in full form in Kim’s case. She is made the “other” because of her different race and different voice, and with little to no Chinese immigrants going to Harrison, she has no one to support her. Kim’s racial differences lead not only to othering, but also to major biases against her.