Chinese Americans becoming more cohesive

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/11 19:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

In early 2013, when I was writing about the debate in the Asian community over affirmative action in college admission, I interviewed Frank Wu, a renowned academic and social activist. I asked him whether, as the community becomes more and more diverse, it is still possible to get a unified voice on any issue. Here is what he said: "The community has grown so much. It now includes people who are adopted, people with mixed-race background, people who just arrived here and people who are the sixth generation, people who go back and forth between the US and China and people who have never set foot anywhere in Asia. It's unrealistic to hope such a diverse group of people will have the same view."

Just recently, Wu encountered the differing views of the community firsthand. An article he wrote in the Huffington Post calling for Asian American activists to embrace the new immigrants from China rather than keep their distance from them backfired.

Some new immigrants criticized him for portraying the US-born Asians like himself as superior to the newcomers. Some condemned him for doing exactly what he told others not to do - building barriers with the newcomers by highlighting stereotypes. The flood of negative reactions prompted Wu to write a follow-up to clarify his views.

Words have never been a perfect tool to express thoughts. Rather, they often foment ambiguity, confusion, misinterpretation and misunderstanding. After reading Wu's articles several times as well as the comments from those criticizing him, I believe that Wu's good intentions were more or less "lost in translation."

The flaws of words aside, Wu has shed light on an important trend in the Chinese community - the rising tension between US-born Chinese Americans and new immigrants from China.

When federal law enforcement raided some maternity centers in California that served tourist citizenship seekers from China, the Chinese immigrants who had settled here welcomed the action with the loudest cheers and applause. During the presidential election, most US-born Chinese Americans stood with Hillary Clinton while many newcomers supported Trump.

The divisions are not only prominent in political opinions. They also aggravate competition over the same pool of limited resources. For example, many local Chinese-run businesses and local Chinese tenants in hot real estate markets like New York's Flushing area blame deep pocketed investors from China for their skyrocketing rents. And what used to be job opportunities for America-born Chinese to connect markets in the US and China have been taken by the newcomers who often have closer ties to their home country.

This is all exacerbated by the psychological wrestling between the settlers and the newcomers over issues related to superiority, inferiority, arrogance, Americanization, nationalism, sensitivity and over-sensitivity. It makes the fights even messier. Wu and his critics are only the latest example.

But while it feels painful to watch people belonging to the same community fight against one another, I think Wu's concern that tensions could crush the long-term bridge-building efforts of activists and make the community fall apart is a bit of an overreaction.

Throughout the history of the Chinese community in the US, conflict is constant. Once upon a time, people speaking Mandarin were not considered to be "Chinese" in the Cantonese dominated Chinatowns around the country. While students from Taiwan in the 1960s, students from the Chinese mainland in the 1980s and people who were smuggled in from the coastal Fujian Province during 1980-2000 started to change the homogeneous demography, disputes did arise.

In New York's Chinatown, for example, the old settlers from Guangdong and the newcomers from Fujian had to fight over territory and treat each other as enemies for a long time before the Fujianese secured their settlement in the East Broadway area.

But, today's situation is already much better than the past. After all, this is a community which, once upon a time, was plagued by gangsters often opening fire on fellow residents. But in more recent years, the community has been striving toward unity. More and more frequent rallies for equal rights, which have attracted thousands of people in recent years, are one sign.

Of course, today's newcomers are different from the old days. They are from a rising China, wealthier and with louder voices. This is indeed not a bad thing. The confidence they brought to this community is overdue and critically needed.

As for their self-centered views on democracy, equality and rights, I don't think it is a long-term concern. 10 years ago, when I was still a new immigrant, I thought in exactly the same way. Not anymore. You only need to be a little patient. America is the best teacher.

The author is a New York-based journalist.


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