“Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan

Read Summary

In Amy Tan’s Fish Cheeks, the difficulty of immigrants in adapting to the American culture is explored. The story follows an American-Chinese teenager who is ashamed of her Chinese heritage and prefers to be American. Her embarrassment is further aggravated during a Christmas dinner with her relatives, who exhibit behavior that she deems uncivilized. However, her mother teaches her an important lesson that one should not be ashamed of their identity. The theme of the story is to be proud of one’s identity and not to pretend to be someone else. The story conveys that it is better to be different but proud rather than trying to blend in with a culture that is not truly yours.

Table of Content

Using details and quotations from Amy Tan’s “Fish Cheeks”, explain, discuss and evaluate the theme of the story.

One of the difficulties that immigrants face when they come to live in America is dealing with the differences between the cultures of their old home to that of the new one. It is even harder for the succeeding generation who cannot fully understand the culture of their parents because they grow up exposed with the American culture of their peers. They are caught in a dilemma: to be proud with how different they are or to try to blend in and be as American as they possibly can. Amy Tan’s story, “Fish Cheeks” explores the growth to maturity of an American-Chinese teenager who learns through an episode in her past, how to be proud instead of ashamed of her familial heritage.

The protagonist obviously hates her being Chinese. She prefers all things American. She prays for a “blonde-haired boy (with) a slim American nose”. She is ashamed of her Chinese family she describes her relatives as “noisy (and) lacked proper American manners” . She calls their Christmas dinner as “shabby” and a “terrible disappointment” because it does not include turkey and sweet potatoes. Her relatives aggravate her shame further by being themselves at the dinner table: licking their chopsticks, reaching across the table and belching loudly, a “polite Chinese custom to show you’re satisfied”—all while in the attendance of her crush and his family who were invited guests to the dinner.

In the end, however, her mother makes her understand. She admonishes her that one’s “only shame is to have shame” because whether she likes it or not, she is Chinese. She can speak and dress up like an ordinary American but even her physical features will betray her. The story tells its readers that it is far better to be different but proud rather than to go through life deluding one’s self, pretending to be what one is actually not.

Work Cited

Tan, Amy. “Fish Cheeks”.

Cite this page

“Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan. (2016, Jun 13). Retrieved from


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