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The complexity of being American:
Q&A with Gish Jen

VIDEO
CNN's Riz Khan talks with author Gish Jen
Windows Media 28K 80K

July 29, 1999
Web posted at: 3:21 p.m. EDT (1921 GMT)

(CNN) -- What does it mean to be American?

Gish Jen, the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, asks that question in her latest book, titled "Who's Irish?"

Jen, the author of the acclaimed "Typical American" and "Mona and the Promised Land," says "a desire to wrestle with the question 'Who am I?' defines what being American is."

As Jamie James said in Salon.com , "Jen has a deft way of turning stereotypes on their heads."

"One of the most impressive things about her first collection of stories," wrote James, "is its range: First-person tales told by an old lady, a little girl and an Italian-American teenage boy sit easily alongside wry omniscient narratives set in prosperous American suburbs, the tough inner city and China itself. Yet in all its widely diverse cast of characters, there's not one you can't like, or at least sympathize with, even if there are few you can admire. Which is just as it should be."

Jen recently spoke with Riz Khan of CNN International about hyphenated Americans, whether the nation is a melting pot or a buffet, and how T-shirts reveal the wearer's Americanization.

"Just the fact that you have a T-shirt to proclaim you're Asian-American" shows how the commercial American culture has affected you, she said.


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