Estimated read time: 5 min read

List of Characters

Mei LuProtagonist
DarrenLove interest
XingMei's brother
Mei's MomOverbearing parent
Mei's DadSupportive parent
GrandfatherTraditional authority
NicoletteMei's roommate
IrisMei's best friend

Role Identification

Mei Lu, the protagonist of "American Panda" by Gloria Chao, is a young Taiwanese-American girl who navigates the complexities of her dual cultural identity and attempts to forge her own path in life. The novel follows Mei's journey as she confronts familial expectations, cultural traditions, and her own personal desires.

Character Descriptions

  • Mei Lu: Mei is a 17-year-old Taiwanese-American freshman at MIT. She is intelligent, determined, and hardworking. Mei feels torn between her parents' expectations of her to become a doctor and her own dreams of pursuing her passion for dance.
  • Darren: Darren is a Japanese-American boy who becomes Mei's love interest. He is charming, caring, and supportive of Mei's aspirations. Darren is also dealing with his own family expectations and struggles.
  • Xing: Xing is Mei's older brother who rebelled against their parents' expectations and married someone they disapproved of. He serves as a source of inspiration and support for Mei as she navigates her own challenges.
  • Mei's Mom: Mei's mom is a traditional Taiwanese woman who holds strict expectations for Mei's future. She wants Mei to follow in her footsteps and become a doctor, upholding traditional values and cultural norms.
  • Mei's Dad: Mei's dad is more understanding and supportive of Mei's desires. He encourages her to pursue her dreams while also trying to maintain peace within their family.
  • Grandfather: Mei's grandfather is a traditional authority figure in the family. He holds strict beliefs and traditions, which puts additional pressure on Mei to conform to their cultural expectations.
  • Nicolette: Nicolette is Mei's roommate at MIT and becomes one of her closest friends. She is outgoing, independent, and helps Mei navigate the challenges of college life.
  • Iris: Iris is Mei's best friend from high school. She is supportive and understanding, providing a sense of familiarity and comfort for Mei as she faces new experiences.

Character Traits

  • Mei Lu: Intelligent, determined, hardworking, conflicted, independent.
  • Darren: Charming, caring, supportive, understanding, conflicted.
  • Xing: Rebellious, supportive, inspiring, caring.
  • Mei's Mom: Traditional, strict, overbearing, expectant.
  • Mei's Dad: Supportive, understanding, peacekeeper.
  • Grandfather: Traditional, strict, authoritative.
  • Nicolette: Outgoing, independent, supportive, helpful.
  • Iris: Supportive, understanding, familiar.

Character Background

Mei Lu grew up in a traditional Taiwanese household in California. Her parents have high expectations for her to become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy League-educated man. Mei feels the weight of these expectations but also harbors a deep passion for dance. She has been secretly taking dance classes and dreams of pursuing it as a career. Mei's older brother, Xing, rebelled against their parents' wishes and married someone they disapproved of, which adds tension within the family.

Character Arcs

Mei's character arc in "American Panda" is centered around her journey of self-discovery and finding the courage to follow her own dreams. Initially torn between her parents' expectations and her own desires, Mei struggles with feelings of guilt and the fear of disappointing her family. However, as she begins to explore her passions and meets new people, Mei gains the confidence to challenge societal and cultural norms. Throughout the novel, Mei learns to assert her independence, make her own choices, and embrace her Taiwanese-American identity.

Darren's character arc complements Mei's journey as he also grapples with his own family's expectations and cultural identity. Together, Mei and Darren navigate the complexities of their respective backgrounds, providing each other with support and understanding.


Mei's relationship with her parents is one of the central conflicts in the book. Her mother's strict expectations create tension and pressure, while her father acts as a calming presence, providing support and understanding. Mei's relationship with her brother, Xing, is a source of inspiration as he defied their parents' wishes and pursued his own happiness.

Mei's romantic relationship with Darren serves as a catalyst for her personal growth. Their connection and shared experiences allow Mei to challenge her own beliefs and embrace her true self. Mei also forms deep friendships with Nicolette and Iris, who provide emotional support and understanding throughout her journey.

In conclusion, "American Panda" by Gloria Chao explores the complexities of cultural identity, familial expectations, and the pursuit of personal dreams. Mei Lu's character development showcases the challenges faced by many young adults caught between traditional values and their own aspirations. Through her relationships and personal growth, Mei learns to navigate her cultural heritage while forging her own path in life.