For June, A Significant Aspect Of What Happened At The Dinner Party Is That
This excerpt from a novel by a Chinese American author is about a Chinese American woman,1 named June. During a family dinner party attended by some of Junes Chinese American friends, Waverly, a tax attorney, discusses an advertisement that June wrote for her.
Waverly laughed in a lighthearted way. "I mean, really, June." And then she started in a deep television-announcer voice: "Three benefits, three needs, three reasons to buy... Satisfaction guaranteed... " She said this in such a funny way that everybody thought it was a good joke and laughed. And then, to make matters worse, I heard my mother saying to Waverly: "True, one cant teach style. June is 110; not sophisticated(: like you. She must have been born this way."
I was surprised at myself, how humiliated I felt. I had been outsmarted by Waverly once again, and now betrayed by my own mother.
Five months ago, sometime after dinner, my mother gave me my "life importance," a jade pendant on a gold chain. The pendant was not a piece of jewelry I would have chosen for myself. It was almost the size of my little finger, a mottled green and white color, intricately carved. To me, the whole effect looked wrong: too large, too green, too garishly ornate. I stuffed the necklace in my lacquer box and forgot about it. But these days, I think about my life importance. I wonder what it means, because my mother died three months ago, six days before my thirty-sixth birthday. And she is the only person I could have asked to tell me about life importance, to help me understand my grief. I now wear that pendant every day_ I think the carvings mean something, because shapes and details, which I never seem to notice until after they are pointed out to me, always mean something to Chinese people. I know I could ask Auntie Lindo, Auntie An-mei, or other Chinese friends, but I also know they would tell me a meaning that is different from what my mother intended. What if they tell me this curving line branching into three oval shapes is a pomegranate and that my mother was wishing me fertility and posterity? What if my mother really meant the carvings were a branch of pears to give me purity and honesty?
And because I think about this all the time, I always notice other people wearing these same jade pendants - not the flat rectangular medallions or the round white ones with holes in the middle but ones like mine, a two-inch oblong of bright apple green. Its as though we were all sworn to the same secret covenant, so secret we dont even know what we belong to. Last weekend, for example, I saw a bartender wearing one. As I fingered mine, I asked him, "Where had you get yours?" "My mother gave it to me," he said. I asked him why, which is a nosy question that only one Chinese person can ask another; in a crowd of Caucasians, two Chinese people are already like family. "She gave it to me after I got divorced. I guess my mothers telling me Im still worth something." And I knew by the wonder in his voice that he had no idea what the pendant really meant.
For June, a significant aspect of what happened at the dinner party is that
(A) her mother had taken great pains to make Waverly feel welcome
(B) her mother had criticized her for arguing with Waverly
(C) her mother had sided against her in front of family and friends
(D) Waverly had angered Junes mother
(E) Waverly had lied to Junes mother