Just wanted to alert you to this great article by John Pomfret: The Split at the Heart of Chinese America. The article addresses affirmative action, Peter Liang, and all the other issues where there is a large split between recent Chinese immigrants and multi-generational ABC’s. It’s a really interesting article. John Pomfret is fluent in Chinese and has spent much of his career studying China.
What was interesting to me was my own reaction. First, I didn’t realize how little I know about the recent Chinese immigrant perspective. Even though I know much more than most of the liberal Asian American commentators who look down on immigrants and rely mostly on guesswork and extrapolation, I had no idea about the “Chinatown Chinese” thing. I know LOTS of recent Chinese immigrants who live near me, but I very rarely talk about politics with them; our conversations are usually limited to how we’re going to get our kids to kick the @#$t out of the other chess or OBOB (Oregon Battle of the Books) teams. I do know that there was one woman who couldn’t stop making fun of my “Americanness” in English until I actually spoke to her in Chinese–at which point she switched over and started making fun of me in Chinese! But the explanation does make sense. In general, the children of recent Chinese immigrants usually do much better academically than multi-gens, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some pride there. Plus China itself has done so well.
Second, I think support for affirmative action among ABC’s is overstated, although I have no proof. I have strong indications, such as the fact that Karthick had to get sneaky, but no proof–only my own experiences, which, even then, don’t offer much! Most of the people I know in real life are against it, but I also think that it divides by profession. Most of the people I know in real life are doctors, financial planners, accountants, engineers, etc…people who are not in government, media, or academics. Almost anyone in the private sector who has ever hired another person or who works on commission prefers meritocracy–nobody wants to have to hire someone just because of race, and most people whose entire livelihood is based on competence prefer that the same standard apply to their children. On the other hand, almost all the people I know online are professors, reporters, or activists. These people tend to have jobs that are process-based (rather than results-based), or they make their livelihood from exposure and politics, where racial diversity helps. The ability to get exposure and play politics is, of course, also a form of competence, although not in the same way. So I’m not sure what to say about this. I wonder if this part of the divide is racial, or whether it depends more on a person’s chosen profession.
Third, I liked this part of the article:
Steven Chen, a Chinese immigrant who moved to America from China 30 years ago and has been active in his community, observed that among many first-generation Chinese Americans, the sense of superiority to other groups is powerful. “They seem not to like Hispanics, African Americans, and even Jewish people,” he said. “They seem also look down upon the old Chinatown Chinese and Chinese from Taiwan. At the same time, they also believe that they are heavily discriminated against by other groups. It is ironic.”
I think it’s very true. Part of one reason why Chinese American activism isn’t even LOUDER is that some Chinese immigrants (the ones I’ve spoken to) take an almost masochistic pride in how well their children can do in spite of anti-Asian racism, i.e. “Who cares about affirmative racism? My kids will destroy these academic tests and competitions no matter how much racism you throw my way!”
Anyway, hope y’all enjoy the article. Hopefully more articles like this will come out in the near future.