Book Club Discussion Questions
By Larry Sells and Lisa See
1. In America we all share in the immigrant experience. We all have people in our families who were brave enough, scared enough, or crazy enough to leave their home countries to come here. What are some of the similarities and differences between the experiences of Lisa’s Chinese-American family and the experiences of other groups (Italian, Jewish, Mexican, Irish, etc.)?
2. Lisa tries hard to be objective in her memoir, which is difficult to do because of its personal nature. Do you think she succeeds? Why or why not? What do you suppose Lisa’s family’s response was to the book? How do you think your family would react if you wrote your family history?
3. Immigrants bring many things with them to the U.S.—art, religion, food, and dress, to name a few. In the Chinese culture, food is a way for families to gather together and celebrate. It also has many other traditional meanings. What did food mean in your family? What special dishes were made? Have they changed and evolved through time?
4. While many people initially read On Gold Mountain because they’re interested in learning about the Chinese-American experience, they often become more attached to the stories of the white women—Ticie, Stella, and Carolyn—who married into the See family. What characteristics bound them together? What characteristics separated them from each other?
5. A recurring theme in Lisa’s books—and it started with On Gold Mountain—is lost women’s history and stories. For your book group to gather today you have to have had many strong, brave, enduring, and triumphant women in your families too. How and why are women’s stories neglected? Discuss the experiences of women in your families.
6. It could be argued that Fong See, the family patriarch, is the most important person in the book. What values make him successful? What are his weaknesses? What do you think of his separation from Letticie?
7. What is the most surprising thing you learned about Chinese immigration to America as a result of reading this book? Were you surprised by the anti-Chinese laws that were passed locally and nationally? Can you think of other instances where laws have been targeted against a particular group in your area? If not, do you think they could have been passed and you don’t know it?
8. One of the underlying themes of On Gold Mountain is personal identity. Were the Sees (and Fongs) Chinese or American? Did it depend on the color of their skin or the choices they made? Consider the individual choices that Ming, Ray, Bennie, Eddy, and Sissee made.
9. At what point in your families did people change from being immigrants to Americans? What was involved in that process?
10. How important are the family tree and photographs to your reading of the book?
11. At the end of the book, Lisa writes about her journey to Dimtao. Why was it important for her to make that trip? What do you think is meant by the last line?
12. Take a look at the Smithsonian exhibit based on On Gold Mountain — http://www.apa.si.edu/ongoldmountain Does this exhibit affect your reading of the memoir?