Soul Searching

In the memoir “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Sing”, Kit Yuen Quan
describes her life experiences growing up as a Chinese girl in America.

In her attempt to try and find her place in society, Quan intermingles
with several groups of people. Her interactions with a feminist group,
two young Cambodian girls, and finally her own father allow her to
explore her Chinese background and how that affects her interactions
with people. In order to find her own “voice” in a society that is not
really hers, Kit Yuen Quan explored relationships with people of
different lifestyles. She does so in order to be able to recognize how
she wants to express herself, and through which culture, American or
Chinese, if not both, she wants to do so.

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When she ran away from home, Quan “sought refuge in the women’s
community working part-time at a feminist bookstore”(Quan 214). Yet,
because of her Chinese background and difficulty in understanding
language, Kit found she wasn’t as accepted as she had hoped she would
be. The fact that she could not understand many of the issues discussed
by the feminists she was surrounded by was very frustrating for Kit.

This frustration acted as a vehicle for her to gain a desire to be more
proficient in the “feminist rhetoric”(Quan 214). Although her desire to
be part of the community was strong, she continuously encountered
problems because of her age, nationality, and lack of a “formal American
education”. The frustration that Kit encountered made her feel even more
misunderstood, and she sought her voice through other communities and
Kit’s first failed attempt to become a part of a community was
because of her inability to “properly” express herself and her ideas. In
her quest for acceptance, Quan decided to immerse herself in a
beneficial situation in which language would not be a problem, and so
she decided to tutor two Cambodian girls. The two girls, Yan and Eng,
lived in a terrible neighborhood where there were “drunk men and
prostitutes near corners”, “the fragrant smell of piss and jasmine rice
wafting from windows”, and “a medley of languages: Vietnamese, Chinese,
Cambodian, English, Black English, Laotian”(Quan 216). Kit went into the
situation thinking that she would be able to connect to her culture
through knowing a common language. Somewhat to her surprise, the
connection to her culture did not come through language, but through
observing the experiences of childhood that these two girls were
immersed in. Kit states that “whether they were living in a refuge camp
in the Philippines or in Thailand or in some one-room apartment on Eddy
Street, they were connected to each other through their language and
their culture”(Quan 217). It was not so much Kit’s own interaction with
the girls that allowed her to realize where should would find herself,
but her observation of the girls and their interaction with their native
Kit’s experience with Yan and Eng compelled her to learn more
about her native culture, rather than solely try to fit into the
American culture. Kit’s attempt to conform to the American standards and
culture was precisely the mistake she had made with the feminists. Kit
Yuen Quan’s time spent with the Cambodian girls allowed her to see how
important being in touch with her Chinese background is. Not only did
this cause Kit to learn to speak Chinese, but this catharsis also helped
her realize that being in touch with her culture also means reconnecting
with her family. In making this realization, Kit decides to reconnect
with her father, and she says that “speaking Chinese with my father is
the closest I have felt to coming home”(Quan 219). Although being home
was originally something that was uncomfortable for Kit, it is the same
home that she returns to in order to receive that comfort that she has
been missing in all other aspects of her life since the age of sixteen.
Kit Yuen Quan’s life, as described in her memoir, is a series of
life changing events that have caused her to question her methods of
expression. The title of the memoir, “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Sing”, is
very telling of Kit’s personal search for a comfortable way to express
herself. Quan’s personal journey has allowed her to connect with her
culture and language in a way that probably would not have happened if
she hadn’t left home. The fact that Kit had the experiences she did,
with the Cambodian girls, the feminists, and her father, has allowed her
to see life in a new light. Through her language and culture


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