Chi's Identity Issues In Catfish & Mandala

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Raina Sarmah Journal Topic #2 Andrew X. Pham’s Catfish and Mandala, while describing the journey and self-discovery of the author himself, also focuses on the struggles faced by Pham’s siblings, his older sister Chi in particular. As a young girl she is sent to live with her grandmother after receiving a terrible beating from her father. Although she is able to freely explore her individual identity under the care of her new home, she later faces issues accepting her gender and struggles to retain her identity. Chi initially runs away from home to flee from her abusive father after she was punished for taking food from the village leper. Under the care of her grandmother, she is able to recover, but never wholly reconciles with her father because her grandmother “was never fond of Dad in the first place” (Pham 57). Chi feels safe and secure and is even reluctant to move to America because “she felt at home in Phan Thiet and she loved Grandma” (Pham 58). As Chi grows up, her new freedom allows her to become braver, and this becomes associated with her new identity as a young teenager. When Pham’s family is escaping to America, Chi shows responsibility as the oldest sibling by helping her younger brothers. “’I’ve got your bag,’ she whispered. ‘Hold onto my hand.’” (Pham 89). At this point in the story Chi seems fearless and almost recovered from the incident with her father. Chi’s valor, which is a characteristic that is traditionally associated with men, may have been an initial sign for Chi to explore her gender identity. Pham further details the feats of Chi during their escape. “Chi took her turn in the hold, bailing as hard as the men” (Pham 118). It is most likely though, that her exposure to prostitution, which she almost experienced, leads Chi to feel the oppression of being a woman and the need to explore a more masculine lifestyle. She, along with

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