Girl in Translation: Opening my eyes in my own neighborhood

I rated this book 5 stars on Great read for this summer!

I rated this book 5 stars on Great read for this summer!

Driving through my neighborhood, one might think, Wow! The beauty of America! What a melting pot. And it should be. Often refered to as International Boulevard, my street is home to first generation families from China, Austria, Germany, India, South Africa and Russia. Additionally, there are families that trace back several generations in America. There are Caucasians, Asians, African Americans. Driving up the street to our home, watching families on walks in the late afternoon, it’s amazing such a mix of cultures exists on our street.

The melting pot, though? The image is too good to be true. When we first moved in, our Chinese neighbor commented that block parties on our street will be wonderful! He boasted that his wife would introduce us to genuine Chinese food at his house.  I responded that for the block party I’d make a brisket and a kugel.

The invitation never came. The party never happened.

What happened in our very colorful neighborhood? It segregated. Cliques formed. People of different cultures now barely wave at each other in passing, let alone smile or say hello. Each night while the kids (who “melt” through school) play, the parents and grandparents stand in clusters. And the clusters are completely monochromatic.

My interpretation of our neighborhood is through my eyes, I’m a caucasian. I’ve lived my whole life in the majority. Favored, I suppose, because spoke the same language as my neighbors, understand the culture of my education, rarely consider the policy of my peers.

It took reading Girl in Translation to open my eyes to just how difficult being a first generation American can be. Its not just that the parents don’t speak the same language as the rest of us, its that their school teachers from their origin countries have different expecations. Dates are hosted differently. Birthdays are celebrated another way.

Being American, something so very simple for one who was born here, isn’t so simple for one who comes here from a different culture. In Jean Kwok‘s story, I was struck by Kimberly’s first days at school. It took me back to my experience teaching. I learned how difficult it was for this child to enter a new school in a different culture. I recognized that the international families of my classroom may not have clearly understood the homework projects I assigned, they likely had difficulty following our school customs and expectations, in response to how different those were from their education.

One day, I had my copy of Girl in Translation with me while waiting for my son at the bus stop. As I watched other children get off the public school bus, it occured to me just how difficult an American education may be to my neighbors. I’m certain they’re proud of their children. I’m certain they enjoy their friends. But do they follow the culture? Do the expectations surprise them? Do they talk, in their clusters on the streets each evening, about how different our culture is from the one in which they were raised?

I learned a lot reading Girl in Translation. With every turn of the page there was something else to discuss: culture, language, expectations, poverty, success, sweat shops (oh my goodness! They’re horrible!), emotional control, ambition, values, choices and family values. It’s a book that lifted me; gave me something to consider in my life, and in those around me. It’s a book I’ll take with me in my interactions with others for years to come.

This post was inspired by the SVMoms Book Club’s June selection: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. I received the book for free as a member of the book club.

mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel ( and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2010 – 2012, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.


  1. says

    It is wonderful for me to hear some of the thoughts that my novel has inspired. This was what I had hoped for — that we might look at each other a bit differently, that we might wonder what we truly know about other people’s lives. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts — this kind of thing makes writing the novel worthwhile.

    Jean Kwok

  2. says

    Would love to live in an area with a little more culture, I’m sure the way it’s become clustered feels disappointing. Maybe you should hold a block party this summer, sometimes all it takes is one person to make that first move….

    On a side note, our neighborhood is also segregated, but it’s an age issue. The more seasoned neighbors tend to stick with each other and the younger families seem desperate for connections with each other.
    .-= Lisa H´s last blog ..Aunt Paula Sounds Very Familiar To Me =-.

  3. says

    It took me awhile to get here to read your post on GIT, my son had a virus that kept him down for most of this week.

    I enjoyed your take on this amazing book. It really did give us a better understanding of what life must be like for first generation Americans in this country. We really do take being born here for granted.
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..I Guess Crying Pays =-.

  4. Janie Meyers says

    Thank you for the book recommendation – I absolutely LOVED this book! I too learned so much from the Asian immigrants’ experience in America – at times I felt as if I was freezing right along with them in their terrible apartment, or inhaling the fabric dust in the sweat shop. A beautifully written book – and an eye opener into the lives of fellow Americans we never knew existed. Thanks to you Julie, for recommending this book, and to Jean Kwok for writing this educational and enjoyable story.

  5. says

    Interesting take on it. I definitely want to add it to my list now! Sad that the separation happens like that. But really good that you see it and now you can be more proactive about how to deal with it. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. says

    Can I just say what a relief to seek out somebody who truly knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You undoubtedly know how to convey a difficulty to mild and make it important. Extra individuals must learn this and perceive this aspect of the story. I cant consider youre no more common because you positively have the gift.


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