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As a child of the 70s who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, watching An American Girl Story — Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance was like a peek into my childhood. The newest American Girl special tells the story of Ivy Ling, a 10-year-old Chinese-American girl who struggles with finding a balance between her two cultural identities and will be available to stream via Amazon Prime Video this Friday, March 24.
About an American Girl Story — Ivy & Julie 1976
Ivy Ling is a 10-year-old Chinese-American girl growing up in San Francisco in 1976 who wants to be like her all-American best friend, Julie Albright. Ivy struggles to find a balance being both Chinese and American, especially as Chinese New Year approaches and she’s faced with choosing between her family’s traditions and her love of gymnastics. When her gymnastics tournament and her family’s big Chinese New Year dinner happen on the same day, Ivy turns to Julie to help her with a difficult choice but in the end, makes the decision on her own.
Growing up Chinese American in San Francisco: How Ivy’s Story Mirrors My Childhood
An American Girl Story — Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance opens with shots of Golden Gate Bridge and images of family photos, crochet afghans covering the beds, and tchotchkes that reminded me of ones that were fixtures in my great aunt’s San Francisco home that we visited whenever we drove to do our grocery shopping in Chinatown.
Like Ivy, I grew up Chinese-American in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. My father immigrated from China when he was 10 to escape the Cultural Revolution that Ivy’s grandparents speak of in the movie. My grandmother was born in San Francisco and lived in the heart of Chinatown, above my uncle’s store on one of the main shopping streets. Chances are if you’ve visited San Francisco and shopped for souvenirs on Grant Avenue, you were very closed to my grandmother’s home!
Despite the long history of my mother’s side of the family living in the San Francisco area, maintaining Chinese culture and traditions was always very important. I spent eight years’ worth of Friday nights attending Chinese school. I grew up honoring the traditions associated with Chinese New Year by decorating the house with symbols of wealth, long life, and good fortune such dragons, fish, and quince. We always cleaned the house before the start of the new year to preserve the good luck the new year brought with it and had something new to wear for the new year.
Like Ivy’s family, our family also celebrated Chinese New Year with a multi-course feasts with aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends where we received li see, or red envelopes. Even though my grandparents opened and owned the first Chinese restaurant in the town where I grew up, we didn’t have Chinese New Year dinners there!
While there are many similarities to Ivy’s story and my own childhood, there are also some differences and things that the movie touches on that you can help your kids learn more about to better understand Chinese culture.
5 Topics to Discuss After Watching An American Girl Story- Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance
Making hard choices
Every child can understand having to make difficult choices between two things they really like so it’s easy for them to identify with Ivy having to choose between gymnastics and the family tradition of Chinese New Year. Talk about times when they’ve had to make a hard choice and what helped them make their decision. Did they make a list of pros and cons or seek help from a friend or family member like Ivy? Use the lessons from the American Girl special to talk about the people in their lives they can they turn to when they face hard choices.
Talk about the stereotypes in the movie
Do all Chinese kids go to Chinese school like Ivy and her older brother, Andrew? Does every Chinese family eat rice and noodles every night? Of course the answer is no. I went to Chinese school but my own Chinese American children do not. I didn’t grow up eating rice and noodles every night. My mom liked cooking Chinese food just as much as she did other foods from around the world. It’s important for kids to understand that not all Chinese families are like Ivy’s.
Read about Chinese New Year traditions
The traditions around Chinese New Year are special and my post, Celebrating Chinese New Year: Teaching Kids About Lunar New year & Family Traditions, is full of resources that can help your children learn more about the symbols, customs, and foods associated with the celebration.
Learn the Cantonese phrases and about the foods mentioned in the movie
I know enough Cantonese to recognize the words spoken by Ivy’s family. Here are some phrases and foods that are mentioned in the special:
- Kung Kung- grandfather (mother’s father)
- Paw Paw- grandmother (mother’s mother)
- Yee Paw- grand aunt (grandmother’s sister)
- Jo sun- good morning
- Sik fun- Have you eaten?
- Ho sik- delicious
- Sik fan la- dinner
- Gung Hay Fat Choy- Happy New Year
- Gai lan- Chinese broccoli, often served with oyster sauce in Chinese restaurants
- Lin go- a dessert made with eggs, milk, and rice flour and topped with coconut
Understand what it means to immigrate to the United States
Ivy’s grandparents talk about immigrating to the United States during the Cultural Revolution and touch on the history how the California railroad started saying, “Everything that’s going on in China right now, the Cultural Revolution, we’re lucky we’re here but in the beginning, nothing was easy. We were foreigners.” They talk about being immigrants and uprooting their entire lives and leaving everything behind but being grateful for the opportunities to make a better life for their family in America thanks to their families who took a risk to come to this country.
Ivy & Julie is a must-watch for American Girl fans and anyone else who is curious about what it was like to grow up Chinese-American in San Francisco on the 1970s.
An American Girl Story — Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance will be available for Prime members to stream and enjoy using the Amazon Prime Video app for TVs, connected devices including Amazon Fire TV, and mobile devices, or online at www.amazon.com/originals, at no additional cost to their membership this Friday, March 24. Customers who are not already a Prime member can sign up for a free trial at www.amazon.com/prime. For a list of all Amazon Video compatible devices, visit www.amazon.com/howtostream.
This post was sponsored by KidzVuz for Amazon Studios and Amazon Kids however, all opinions are my own and based on personal experience. Amazon Affiliate links are included in this post.