MING-CHEN WU. Willis sees his father and Phoebe in the kitchen together one night—they’re sitting and laughing together. Willis’s father is handsomer than Willis, though he’s in his 80s. But he remains a “stranger” to Willis—there’s a “gulf inside” that is gradually swallowing him, evidence that Sifu remains inside him still. Willis thinks about how many nights and mornings his father has spent here in Interior Golden Palace. It’s the same as it ever was, “preserved as if in amber.” It’s something of a “purgatory”—it’s the U.S. and also not the U.S. Willis and his father are always playing the roles of Father and Son. Willis hopes that Phoebe will teach him how to “move freely between worlds.”
Phoebe represents an idealized form of assimilation wherein children of immigrants can “move freely between” the culture of their immigrant elders and the American culture into which they were born. In such a world, Phoebe can connect with her Asian roots without becoming an Asian stereotype in the eyes of mainstream America, and she can embrace American culture without feeling like she’s turned her back on her immigrant roots. Willis’s hope that Phoebe can teach him to “move freely between worlds” suggests his lingering confusion about how to inhabit both sides of his identity, but it also shows his recognition that such movement is possible.
Phoebe notices Willis watching them and asks if he’s okay; Willis says yes. Then he tells her to watch: A-kong (grandfather) is up next for karaoke. With this, Ming-Chen Wu walks onstage, tests the mic, and prepares to sing.
This closing scene recalls a passage earlier in the book when Willis described old Taiwanese immigrant men’s love of John Denver, whose songs about homesickness for a mythic American West remind them of the homelands they’ve left behind. So, despite the fact that the book closes on a somewhat hopeful note, it’s also tinged with sadness, as Willis’s father takes the stage to sing mournfully about home—“the place [where he] belongs[s]” (as Denver puts it in his song “Country Roads”) and to which he can never return. Yet the fact that the book refers to Willis’s father as Ming-Chen Wu now rather than Sifu or Old Asian Man suggests the possibility that he might at least be able to return to the self that lies buried beneath the many roles he’s had to perform over the years.