1/1/14

Year 2013 is Now "History:" Reflections of Chinese American History

        The Chinese American history posts on this blog are not "philosophical" essays by any stretch of the imagination, so the present post may come as a surprise.  Given that last night, New Year's Eve, was an evening when most of us did a bit, maybe too much, celebrating (of what?), today on January 1, 2014, I wonder what will become some of the 2014 additions to Chinese American history.

    One intriguing question is what exactly defines a "Chinese American?"  Compared to  the distant past, say, the 1930s, the variety of people who could be categorized as, or call themselves, "Chinese Americans" has become considerably more varied as the "face" of Chinese in America has changed greatly since the liberalized 1965 immigration law.


        Accordingly, one might think the content of Chinese American history would be more varied to reflect the subgroups of Chinese coming from different parts of China and other parts of the world. Compared with the earlier immigrants from Guangdong, mostly poor and less educated, many of the recent immigrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and some parts of mainland China are wealthy educated professionals while there are also the Fujianese immigrants at the other end of the ladder. These groups are arguably all Chinese. To what extent do these groups interact with each other socially, politically, culturally? How well do they get along with each other, how much are they aware of each other? Why or why not? My observations suggest they do not mingle much and may even not feel much respect toward each other.

          Yet, my sense is that many non-Chinese are unaware of these differences and generally see all of us as Chinese or Chinese Americans.  There are many social, political, and psychological aspects of these differences that should be researched, but don't yet seem to be adequately reflected in the historical analyses of Chinese America.  We may all "look the same" to outsiders, but looks can be deceiving.

        A different, but related issue of importance, is the relationship between Chinese in China and  Chinese in America, especially those born or long time residents in the U. S.  Although the Chinese in America and those in China are worlds apart in many respects, many non-Chinese tend to see us as members of one large group, Chinese.  And, while most American Born Chinese (ABCs) and even some Fresh Off the Plane (FOPs) and older Fresh Off the Boat (FOBs) experience some pride in many aspects of China's improved world status, we recognize that many policies and practices of Chinese in China are deplorable and dangerous.  And, what is worse, is that as U. S.- China relationships go, so will the way that we Chinese in America will be treated, or mistreated. If you doubt, just recall what happened to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. History is known to repeat itself.

       The important impact of history can also be seen in our daily personal lives.  Many of us of a certain age have or had parents who were immigrants from China who came during the Great Depression and lived during World War II, and the Cold War, etc.   A"generation gap" existed between them and us that involved differences of values, facility with English and Chinese language, etc.  Now we have grown up, and most have become parents, (and for many, grandparents), we can see that there is still a "generation gap" between us and our adult, or adolescent, offspring but it is qualitatively different from the one that existed between us and our parents. Why? Because the historical era during which each generation grows up is typically quite different.  My parents grew up in difficult times in China while I grew up during the prosperous post WW II boom times.  My children, in turn, grew up in the 70s and 80s, which were markedly different from the 50s.

         This is a long-winded way of raising this question.  How was the relationship that you had with your parents different from the one you have (had) with your children? Implicit in this comparison is the impact of history.  That is, what was going on in the world when you were growing up is quite different from the world in which your children grew up.  History tries to explain the past, but not always accurately, since it gets rewritten occasionally, but my real question is whether we can use history to predict Chinese America in 2014.  I'll let you know what I think next January 1.

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