A Distant Family Member
The main characters, Gabe and Tomas, are brothers who live with their mother in Santa Monica, California. Their Filipino mother seems to be stressed with her life here in America, but doesn’t entirely want to go back to the Philippines either. She has relied on her eldest son, Tomas, to “tell her how things work in America”, since their father has left their family (Ascalon 25). She also depends on her younger son, Gabe, to help her with speaking because she is “self-conscious about her accent” (Ascalon 29). Gabe is quiet and responsible; he tries to please his mother and help her around their home. He knows that she is concerned about how her siblings view her and that she wouldn’t want them to “think she is not the best mother” (Ascalon 28).
Unfortunately, his older brother Tomas, is not as concerned about his mother’s feelings, but rather making quick money by selling attack dogs and stolen stereos. She seems to feel ashamed and fear that people will think she didn’t do well in raising him. Tomas doesn’t care that his involvement in illegal activity and his gang, his style, and tattoos, are all an embarrassment to his mother.
Tomas seems to adopt new identities because he’s losing his own. Instead of showing pride in his own ethnicity, he is always portraying himself how others want to see him. Growing up, he attended Catholic school where “he had passed as a white surfer” (Ascalon 30). Later, he surrounded himself with Mexican gangsters and joined a gang. Because of his appearance and gang tattoos many people assume that he’s Mexican. He takes pride in his image, but becomes embarrassed when people realize he cannot speak Spanish. He doesn’t want to give anyone the impression that he isn’t Mexican, so he tries to acknowledge people when they speak to him in Spanish, as if he understands. Is he ashamed of his own ethnicity?
Sadly, I think that Tomas doesn’t feel like he truly fits in anywhere. His mother being self-conscious and his white father “making fun of Filipinos and [his mother’s] family” has probably influenced the way he feels about himself (Ascalon 24). He’s very self-conscious but tries to hide it behind his confident behavior. He may be somewhat embarrassed to express his race, but he is most definitely afraid to appear as weak. He doesn’t want any of his clients to see his mother or his younger brother. Referring to his clients, he tells Gabe “One look at you and they’ll think these dogs were raised by a bunch of wimps” (Ascalon 37). Tomas clearly tries to uphold an image of himself being tough and gangster, but he takes it too far when he unnecessarily hits Gabe after they sell one of his dogs. At that point, I remembered one of Gabe’s previous thoughts and felt it was exactly what I was wondering at the moment: “I want to ask why is he being such an asshole, and when will he get over it, but I am beginning to wonder if he has actually become one” (Ascalon 44).
Overall, Gabe seems like a nice person who puts family first, throughout part I of American Son we get a sense that Gabe tries to bond with his brother but, is afraid to disappoint him or tick him off. Thomas in the other hand is hardhearted because treats his brother Gabe like crap and doesn’t care about his mother’s feelings. The only time we see the Thomas’ sensitive side is at the end of part I where he is pleading with the celebrity to only purchase Johan and not Buster.
Here are some questions to think about.
Is Thomas ashamed of his own ethnicity?
Why did Thomas beat up Gabe? Was it because Gabe disrespected him or was it something else? Something deeper?
Why does Thomas try and keep a macho image about himself?
To throw in a fun element that relates to the Ted Talk above write five words and/or adjectives about yourself such as nationality, party affiliation, religion, etc. here are ours!
Justin Anaya: Mexican-American, Catholic, Confident, Republican, Student.
Jackie Cameron: Eurasian-American, Artistic, Sociable, Objective, Animal lover.