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There are two concepts one should talk about when approaching the subject of immigration and how it applies to a minority: integration and assimilation. Integration is the acceptance of a country’s laws and basic principles while keeping a distinct cultural identity. By contrast, assimilation requires adopting the majority’s customs, values and way of life.
Because of the so-called “melting pot”, integration is almost always promoted as the shining beacon of America, but most often successful minorities are actually portrayed as assimilated and not integrated.
Assimilation for as diverse a community as the Asian-American creates an underlying problem of trying to put asians into neat little labels and it also calls for the question: how does the social and cultural history of Asian migrants go against a deep-anchored ethnicism within the American society?
To answer these questions, we will first give you a broad outline of the historical aspects of the Asian-Americans’ attempts at integrating in America. In a second part, we will talk about the notion of minority and how it relates to what is regarded as the Asian-American ethnic group.
Finally, we will discuss labels and ethnicity and question the definition of the term “Asian-American” as a whole.
I. The process of integration of the Asian-Americans
A/ Arrival (Lamia)
First, we’ll try to give a few important dates to give you framework and context as to when Asian immigration started in the US and in what type of conditions they lived: – 1 Jan 1587: Momentous landmark in Asian American history that represented the first recorded arrival of any person with Asian-descent to the United States. – 1 Jan 1785 saw an opening of the trade between Baltimore and Far East. John O’Donnell, the commander of the East Indiaman Pallas, arrived in Baltimore, effectively opening up trade between Baltimore and Far East.
2 East Indian Lascars and 3 Chinese seamen named Ashing, Achun and Aceun were left stranded in Baltimore. The stranded crew reported O’Donnell to Congress saying that he brought them over to America
against their will, but O’Donnell was eventually acquitted.
Mar 1843: The first documented Japanese arrive in the United States in 1843, with many working as domestic servants for middle-class white families. There were two main types of domestic servants 1) school boys, those who lived in the house to cook and serve household duties who could sometimes attend classes during the day, and 2) day workers who lived in boarding houses with the same tasks. In addition, man Japanese immigrants found occupations similar to Chinese immigrants. 1 Jan 1905: First Asian Indians Arrive in the United States. The first wave of Asian Indian Immigration began in 1905 – 1924, and the majority of the 65,000 who arrived were from the North in Punjab.Overwhelmingly of these immigrants tended to be farm laborers, and had no formal education (less than 3.7 % were educated).
Asian Indian communities were bachelor societies, in that there was a large gender imbalance of men to women, in fact, the ratio was 75 men to 1 woman. Now on to the way the government tried to deal with this new inflow of population: The Foreign Miners Tax, 1 Jan 1852: it is a tax that was passed during the height of the Gold Rush, around when 20,000 Chinese immigrants migrated from China to California.
During this time, the anti-Chinese sentiment surfaced in mining camps, and many Chinese miners received increasingly harsh treatment, and culminating when the legislature adopted a new foreign miners’ tax of $4 per month. The $4 dollar monthly fee was in fact a thinly veiled attempt to exclude Chinese and Mexican miners.
Chinese Exclusion Act, 8 May 1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law by President Chester A. Author. The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited the immigration of new Chinese laborers for 10 years – groups that were exempt from the Exclusion Act were merchants, children, wives, students, teachers and labors already present before the passage of the act. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law in U.S. immigration history to define immigration as a criminal offense. As you can see, the road to immigration was not easy for Asian-American. P is now going to talk to you about some of the obstacles they faced later on.
B/ Integration and Racism (Piroska)
Immigration in the US is a subject that has aroused many clichés. Asian-Americans are thus believed to be the model minority. As for all clichés, there is a partial truth in it. The Asian-American are the most successful emigrated ethnic group in the United States. This is mostly link with the structure of the Asian immigration, being composed mostly of skilled workers (but this must no hide the discrepancy of richness and integration between the different ethic groups), leading thus to a more easiest integration thanks to their capacity to enter the labor market.
What comes immediately to mind is the success story of Asian-Americans getting the Physic Nobel prize for example (1/3rd of the Nobel Prize won by the US are of Americans of foreign origins, mostly Indians and Chinese). J. Fourel has studied the structure of the start ups emerging from Silicon Valley.
What is relevant is the high percentage of start-ups headed by Chinese or Indians (20% and 9% in 1995-98), this is linked to four different factors: – the brain drain: a worldwide movement, touching especially the emerging countries, people leaving to get better living conditions, opportunities and pay. – the 1965 law on immigration => end of the quotas on Asian immigration launched by the Anti-Chinese Act of 1882. looking for rare qualifications and people working in research.
– the percentage of the GNP spend on education and research => US an attractive land for research => enhanced by the closeness with South East Asia.
– the very history of the Asian immigration. Contrarily to the African-Americans and the Latinos, the Asian-Americans
of second and third generation had no real link with
their country of origins or a specific history link with the one of the US. There are torn between their two identities (as all immigrants are), but can’t clung to their country of origin. They feel like they really belong to the US and try very hard to integrate to in peace with their conflictual “double-indentities” (especially with the Chinese of second and third generation that went as far as denying their belonging to China, seeing themselves as Americans with a Chinese appearance => see Pardee Low’s Father and Glorious Descendant).
But this seemingly beautiful reality is tarnished by inequalities in living rate (cf part III/ A/) and by an underlying racism. extract of Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. This extract shows:
– racism from the WASP
– that not all the Asian Communities are successful
– creation of ethnic enclaves
Asian-Americans had been discriminated all through the history of the US: – the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882: it banned all Chinese immigration to the US. It is the only law that banned an entire ethnic groups from entering the US territory. – The Ozawa v. United States (1922): Takao Ozawa challenged the Naturalization Act which allowed Africa-American and Caucasian to apply to citizenship: sough to have the Japanese people classified as whites => not challenging the racist nature of the law => lost.
– Japanese internement during WWII on the sole basis of their ethnic origin => through the Executive Order 9066 of February 19 1942
– The murder of Vincent Chin by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz => blame him for the recession and the loss of their auto-indutry jobs. Ironically, Chin was Chinese. Were not sued for his murder.
=> Need for a scapegoat. Two things:
– in a way fits in the process of racist tendency towards immigrants in the US => every ethnic group has to face those problems.
– specificity of the Asian-American case: not link with the American soil, belonging to important imperialistic countries that had at one point of their history challenged the US. Because the Asian Americans are not a community (group of people with a feeling of belonging) properly speaking, they – in order to face racial attacks and to uplift their living standards and democratic representation – created a community (here common values, goals, claims and rights) => pan-asianism.
II. A minority among minorities (Lamia)
A/ A “Model” of Success…
– When comparing Asian-Americans with the other two major minorities within the USA, the cultural differences appear instantly: a large portion of the current African-American population was brought on American soil and did not have to immigrate later on. This lessens the culture shock between the communities a great deal. On the other hand, you have Asian immigrants who come from a country with majorly different set of rules, a completely social climate.
– To give you a couple of figures: today, 42% of Asian-Americans have at least one college degree, against 29% among whites and 18% for African-Americans. We can undoubtedly say that, as a minority, the Asian-Americans have been more successful than most. However,
B/ … but a minority among others
– The problem with the stereotype of the model minority is that it shields the public from problems such as domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, drugs, and suicide that occur among Asian Americans. It paints a rosy picture of Asian Americans as a spotless ethnic group without issues and feeds racism and distansiation among the majority.
– Struggle between personal and collective identity vs. cultural and ethnic identity. Most Asian-Americans do not identify themselves as Asian-Americans. (Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese Americans. Always identify themselves as an isolated cultural entity).
=> We are going to show you now how this extreme inner diversity throughout what is seen as a cohesive ethnic group only increases disparities.
III. Labels and ethnicity: questioning the definition of Asian-American (Piroska)
The definition of Asian-Americans has been set up through administration
facilities such as the census. Indeed, according tot he 2010 census definition on races and ethnicity, are considered Asian-Americans all persons coming from the Far Eats, South East Asia or the Indian subcontinent. As you can see it is a very broad definition for an “Asian”, there is no real cultural link between those different area in terms of cultural recognition for the immigrants (no link between an India from Rajasthan and a Japanese for example); we can draw a parallel with the situation of the Native Americans, that are now one community because forced be. For the Asians there is no story of oppression as for the Natives or the African-Americans. Moreover, there are other differences between the Asian-Americans, that makes them a very diverse group.
A/ The diversity of the Asian-American community
– generation diversification come from the different degrees of integration held by the generations; of course the second or third generation will be more integrated than the first one, because raised in the country within a American context.
To illustrate the gap between the different generations, I have chosen the Japanese community, because it has gone far in this differentiation, by giving different names to the generation – Issei: the first immigrants at the end 19th century.
– Nisei: last witness of the camps, speaking the two languages. embodied by the Kibei
(born in the US => send to Japan to learn the Japanese way). – Sansei: assimilated (only speaking English/ English names) – Yansei: “Hapas”/half => mixed-raced
=> showing the different steps towards integration.
– ethnic diversification. As shown through the census, the Asian immigration is very broad in terms of country of departure. The Asian community composition has changed through the centuries according to the different laws and issues at home (such as the war in Vietnam for example). This diversity enhanced the scattered essence of the Asian presence in the US but is also a factor of tension within the community according to the the country of origins of the migrants (as for between the Chinese and the
Japanese during WWII).
Before the post-1965 immigration surge the Asian-American population was mainly composed of Japanese, Chinese and Filipino. In the 1970: Japanese American represented 41% of the Asian-American population and the Chinese 30%. Coming of age in the 1960s the US-born Japanese and Chinese formed the core of the AsianAmerican population. But the Japanese immigration rate slowly shrank as Japan became an industrialized country itself with less and less poor thanks to the Japanese industrial system. In the 1980s there was a change in the structure of the Asian immigration towards a diversification of the immigrants origins (coming from Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, India) and also the end of the preponderance of the Japanese (cf graph) immigrants. Largest group Chinese and Filipino.
– class diversification: The post-1965 immigration increased the economic diversity of Asian-Americans, the new arrival including low-wage service sector worker but also skilled workers. A report called Ong and Patraporn in 2006 shows that ethnic differences are paradigm playing a significant role in the distribution of wealth among Asian-Americans.
The report shows evidence that Japanese, Chinese and Indian are more wealthy than South East Asians (except for the Viet), for those late, their amount of wealth is less than a quarter of that hold by the Japanese. Hence all those differences, there is a need and desire to became one united group, not for culturally purpose but for integration, equal treatment with the whites, end of racial tensions and maybe also a hidden desire to be part of something bigger. That is how Pan-Asianims was transported in the US. Pan-Asianims, at its origin was a Japanese movement launched at the end of the 19th century and who was used during the two World War by Japan to justify its imperialistic policy.
B/ Pan-Asianism: “a knit of identity” (“A Song Of Myself”, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman)
Pan-ethnic movement are a social construction produced by political choices and
not through an inherited phenotype => a cooperation of diverse cultural
groups around shared goals (// with the definition of a minority). It was forged in opposition to the Western imperialism and the US racism.
What launched pan-asianism?
– racialization of the different groups composing the American society by the dominant group (the WASP) => Asian-American adapted the dominant categorization of them. – the Welfare State Bureaucracy treated the Asian-Americans as a single administrative unit => it gave a structure to Pan-Asianism demands. – Asian had always been active in civic movements but at first detached from the broader group of Asian-Americans (Chinese for better wages on the railroads for example). Why:
° as simply as that: before WWI => first generation of immigrants => incapacity to communicate => didn’t share a common language.
– after WWII: restriction acts on immigration => immigrants of second and third generations => sharing a same language and a common cultural background – post-war period: breakdown of economic and residential power => mixed Asian and non-Asian groups.
=> impetus for a Asian-American movement.
How it was shaped?
– anti-colonial revolutions in Asia (India, Philippine…)
– in the 1960s => African-Americans civil right movements
– through anti-Asians violences: consolidated the idea of being a group => crosscutting classes, generations and origins: indeed PNAAPS (Pilot National Asian America Political Survey) data shows that those who had experienced discrimination are more likely to develop a pan-ethnic consciousness => also: 34% identified themselves as ethnic American and 15% as “Asian-American”.
However => among those who does not identify themselves as Asian-Americans => if asked if they ever thought of themselves as A-A => more than 50% answered yes.
How do they act?
– through civic engagement: “effort to promote social changes through participation in the larger democratic process and/or through grassroots
communities” (Yen Le Espiritu) => power to enlarge their capacity to participate in the existing structures of power. through organizations, publications, studies programs, lobbying (as the Asian American Health initiative active in Montgomery County to promote health parity or research on specific subgroups facing particular diseases for example) .
Now, with the boom of the internet: blogs, facebook, twitter… as a mean to express themselves (as the blog Angry Asian Man that aims at destroying the prejudices that face the community as for example the slam of a young Chinese girl angry with the description of Cho Chang in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter who bears two Korean last names but who is Chinese and who is in the House (Ravenclaw) known for its intelligent students). Conclusion:
The Asian American community is a very diverse immigrant groups that has some
difficulties to act as a proper community but the that draws from it a cultural and economical wealth that is specific to it. The Asian community had tried through panasianism to create a community in order to face discrimination and to better their lot. There are often described as a minority among minorities, but there is now a change because they are the first immigrant group to arrive in the US before the Latinos, that seeing their qualities- may brought great changes in the political and economic structure of the US.