Often times, the single most difficult obstacle for immigrants to overcome, is the acquisition and utilization of a new language. For many immigrants, assimilating into a new culture is difficult. In “Aria”, Richard Rodriguez describes the social and cultural difficulties immigrants encounter in America. He describes his awkward childhood as he attempts to come to terms with his private identity (Spanish) and his public identity (English). Rodriguez emphasizes the need for a public language in order to function well and take in the “social and political advantages” (Rodriguez 440) of acquiring a “public language” (Rodriguez 435). Rodriguez’s experiences are mirrored in Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” in which Tan details the experiences her mother faces because of her mother’s “broken” (Tan 442) English. Because of the nature of Rodriguez’s claims concerning the disadvantaged status of those who lack a public identity, we are able to apply his assertions to Tan’s essay to further critique and analyze the experiences that Tan’s mother went through.
Rodriguez asserts “Only when I was able to think of myself as an American, no longer an alien in gringo society, could I seek the rights and opportunities necessary for public identity.” He further emphasizes that, “The social and political advantages I enjoy as a man result from the day that I came to believe that my name indeed is Rich-heard Road-ree-guess” (Rodriquez 440). Rodriguez claims that public language, which in this case happens to be English, provides the foundation for the rights and opportunities available for those who speak the “public language” (Rodriguez 435). This assertion implies that an individual must come to terms with his or her “public individuality” (Rodriguez 435) by speaking the “public language.” By public individuality, Rodriguez refers to a person who has become assimilated into society, speaking the “public language”. For Rodriguez, this “public language” becomes his key to unlocking the door to opportunities that would not be available to him had he not embraced his “public individuality”.
Because of the assertions Rodriguez makes, we can further utilize it to analyze Tan’s essay, “Mother Tongue.” In “Mother Tongue,” Tan describes the differences between the language that she speaks as opposed to that of her mother’s. Essentially, the only real difference between the two is the complexity of the words and phrases used to convey a message. Tan’s mother speaks the “private language” that Rodriguez speaks of. Her English can be described as no more than “broken” or “fragmented” (Tan 442). However, this does not do justice to her understanding of the “public language.” As Tan points out, “…my mother’s expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands. She reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week…reads all of Shirley Mac Laine’s books with ease” (Tan 442). But because she does not speak the “public language”, she is barred from the advantages that come with speaking the “public language”. For example, Tan recounts the story in which her mother had gone into the hospital for an appointment for a benign brain tumor. The hospital had lost the catscan and according to Tan’s mother, she had received no apologies for the mistake in spite of the fact that she had explained the situation with “her best English, no mistakes” (Tan 443). The situation that arose between Tan’s mother and the hospital staff helps to substantiate Rodriguez’s claims that those who speak the “public language” will reap the benefits that comes with acquiring the language. Rodriguez would argue that had Tan’s mother spoken the “public language” she would not have needed the assistance of her daughter, who spoke “perfect English” (Tan 443) to clear up the situation.
Although Rodriguez’s assertions can be used to apply to Tan’s essay, further analysis proves that certain aspects of Tan’s assertions can be used to critique Rodriguez’s claims. In “Mother Tongue,” Tan claims that the “broken” English that her mother spoke of, the “private language” that Tan grew up with “had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life as well.” (Tan 444).
Word Count: 668