Study Guide

How I Got That Name Stanza 2

By Marilyn Chin

Stanza 2

Lines 36-44

Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,
how thrifty our sons!
How we've managed to fool the experts
in education, statistic and demography—
We're not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning
Indeed, they can use us.
But the "Model Minority" is a tease.
We know you are watching now,
so we refuse to give you any!

  • This stanza begins with an exclamation. The speaker refers to the "trustworthy" and "thrifty" children of Chinese immigrants. But she says that these kids aren't the "Model Minorit[ies]" they're made out to be by so-called experts in education and statistics and demography. 
  • The "Model Minority" is a common stereotype about Chinese immigrants and their kids. Chinese-Americans are often depicted as good in school and good at "rote-learning" (memorization) especially.
  • When she says "We know you are watching now," she is referring to all those American experts (and American society more generally), who judge and label Chinese immigrants. Since they are aware of this, it's as though the Chinese immigrants are putting on some kind of show for these experts, not being their true selves.
  • By setting up a contrast between "we" (Chinese immigrants) and "you" (Americans), the speaker is pointing out how the Chinese-American experience is different from the white American experience.

Lines 45-47

Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!
The further west we go, we'll hit east;
the deeper down we dig, we'll find China.

  • The speaker refers to "bamboo shoots" here, which are a famous Chinese plant. The reference to bamboo is ambiguous, but it can be seen to refer to the idea of "roots." This is a poem about planting roots in new places, after all. 
  • The next lines suggest how hopeless it is to try and escape our original culture. The speaker says "The further west we go, we'll hit east." In other words, Chinese-Americans may try very hard to escape their "eastern" culture by going west, but eventually they'll find themselves right back in the east again. 
  • The speaker also says that "the deeper down we dig, we'll find China." In other words the speaker's Chinese heritage is inescapable. This line also refers back to the "bamboo shoots." As we've mentioned, the imagery
    of the bamboo evokes roots, and here the act of digging down also evokes roots. 
  • These lines continue the poem's informal, talk-y tone. We can also see a lot of alliteration going on here, in the repetition of W and D sounds in lines 46-47. Hit up "Sound Check" for more on that.

Lines 48-57

History has turned its stomach
on a black polluted beach—
where life doesn't hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of "Santa Barbara"
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a "b****."
Oh God, where have we gone wrong?
We have no inner resources!

  • The lines, "History has turned its stomach on a black polluted beach" are pretty ambiguous. What's the "black polluted beach" and where is it? Which "history" is the speaker referring to? Chinese history or American history or both? At the very least, we can say that this is a negative description of a place by the ocean, a border that might separate two countries like… oh, we don't know… China and America, maybe? 
  • We can see the literary device of personification at play here. In imagining history as having a "stomach," the speaker describes it in terms of a person with body parts and organs. 
  • In lines 50-51 the speaker offers an allusion to a famous poem by the poet William Carlos Williams. In the poem Williams' speaker says that "so much depends/ upon/ a red wheel/ barrow/ glazed with rain/ water/ beside the white/ chickens." Yup, that's the whole poem, gang.
  • Chin's speaker Marilyn contradicts Williams, here, suggesting that what matters is not a pretty red wheelbarrow, but what happens in the "final episode" of the soap opera "Santa Barbara." The reference to "Santa Barbara" suggests the way in which immigrants (Chinese immigrants in this case) become assimilated into American culture: they're obsessed with cheesy soap operas. 
  • The last two lines of this verse paragraph point out the speaker's ambivalent feelings toward this assimilation.
  • She asks, "Oh God, where have we gone wrong?/ We have no inner resources." This last line is an allusion to the poet John Berryman; you can watch him read his "Dream Song 14" right here.

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