Chinese American Experiences
The United States has always proclaimed itself as a land of immigrants. People come to the USA seeking economic stability, better life conditions, and security for the future. The country gives them such an opportunity, and those who want to establish their roots in the United Sates, do it successfully. One of racial groups residing in the USA is Chinese. This paper deals with the Chinese Americans’ issues such as reasons for immigration, adaptation in a new country, and their life today.
The first thing that surprised and amused me when I started to learn the course was the caption of the Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond titled “Why is World History like an Onion?”. I never saw history as something complicated. However, with the course of the study, I started to agree with the author. Undoubtedly, history can be compared to an onion, because centuries and years are like onion’s layers. As onion grows, its layers grow as well, and as years pass, the world history become richer and deeper. Since time immemorial, there have been constant struggles, fights and wars for lands and power. The USA made a long way to be it is now. As this study deals with the Chinese American experiences, the main emphasis is laid on their integration into American population.
Ethnically, the country is very rich, and Asians are perceived nowadays as regular people. However, more than three hundred years ago the reality was different. Vivian Wu Wong (1993) clams: “Asians have encountered an invisible racial barrier. Neither white nor black, Americans of Asian descent were somewhere in between with no fixed ‘place’ in society” (p. 20).
The Chinese community in the United States is the largest ethnic group of Asian Americans, consisting of 22.4% of Asian American population (Jefferys & Monger, 2008). They constitute up 1.2% of the entire population of the United States (Jefferys & Monger, 2008). In 2008, Chinese Americans, there were approximately 3.7 million people (Jefferys & Monger, 2008). Most of the natives of China are entitled to permanent residence in the United States already having relatives in the country. The number of entry permits to close relatives of US citizens such as spouses, children, including orphans, parents, is not limited. However, the number of permits issued over the more distant relatives of US citizens is limited (Chan, 2006).
The reasons why many Chinese immigrate to the USA are different. Some people are refugees, other want to secure better future, and those who are smuggled into the United States. The statistics on Chinese smugglings indicates: “credible estimates put the number at 50,000 arrivals each year” (Chin, 1999). This is the matter of the Chinese policy that does not make enough efforts to take control over the situation. After being disillusioned with government promises for economic and political reform, the number of people who the left the country illegally jumped from 288 in 1988 to 1,353 in 1990 (Chin, 1999). The underworld is also to take into account as in all parts of the country, it is very influential, and these people make money from human trafficking. This is a huge revenue source that only strengthens the position of the Chinese criminals.
It is to be noticed and China is not a poor country. Historically, it is very wealthy and nowadays, its chances are promising (Gonzalez, 1947). In the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, it is stated: “Within East Asia, China’s head start in food production, technology, writing, and state formation had the consequence that Chinese innovations also contributed heavily to developments in neighboring regions” (Diamond, 1999, p. 332). However, only people with authority can use all China’s benefits. The gap between classes is incredible and that is why many Chinese decided to look for better future somewhere else (Lee, 2003). Then, most of those ‘new residents’ ask for political asylum. One should mention the Golden Venture accident in 1993 when 10 of the 260 Chinese on board had drowned. Immediately, this incident became front-page news, making the problem of smuggling of great importance.
Another historical reason of immigration was earning money. Some Chinese came to the USA to live with their relatives or friends who provided them with shelter and food, and helped them to find temporary job so they could come back home with money in triumph. Many of such temporarily workers actually did not come back realizing that their life would be better in the United States.
The conditions for immigrants in the USA were not very reasonable, but since 1900, after the industrial breakthrough, they have dramatically changed, so “Immigrants would come from Europe and China, to make the new labor force” (Zinn, 1980). All new inventions required human control and that became a great opportunity for people willing to change their poor life conditions.
At first, the Chinese were treated in the same was as blacks, but soon, they started to change their position in society. They entered the grocery business, which gave them an opportunity of financial freedom. The Chinese even managed to monopolize a portion of the market in the black community. However, economic security did not grant them equal rights. As they lived with the blacks, the whites treated them as a ‘colored’ race. Their children could not attend white schools. The whites also feared the intermarriage between the Chinese and the blacks which could lead to giving more rights to both Chinese and black communities.
However, instead of fights for their rights, the Chinese separated from the blacks and proved that their children were radically pure Chinese, which made their image and legal standing change over the years. According to Yu Xie and Goyette (2003), in the USA, the Chinese people were first recorded in 1860, but they were not widely recognized until 1965 (p. 472).
What distinguished the Chinese from a huge flow of immigrants was very high degree of mutual support. They founded their own schools where teaching was conducted in the native language; they printed their own newspapers and visited their own operas. Wherever possible, they tried to build a business and trade relations primarily with each other. Groups of traders actually organized banks, collecting money in the ‘common pot’, from which anyone form the group could take the required amount.
Another significant factor causing the integrity of the Chinese community in the United States is religion. Religion has been and it remains one of the most important phenomena, influencing the development of Chinese communities in America. It united Chinese immigrants who were caught up in new, often hostile conditions and allowed them to overcome the difficulties. Nevertheless, huge respect for the Chinese religious values has not prevented some of the Chinese to join the Christians. In the early XX century, the number of the Chinese people who switched into Christianity was about four thousand people. Most of them were women and young people whom Christianity gave hope for exemption from the limits prescribed by Confucianism. Moreover, close relationship have developed between the Christian churches and the Chinese community in the United States. The Christian values have become an integral part of life for many Chinese (Wang, 2006).
Nowadays, the situation with the Chinese living in the Unites States is more stable. They have accustomed to the American way of life. For example, in Chicago, there is Chinatown with shops, buffets, and restaurants where the food is tasty and incredibly cheap. The younger people, including those born in the USA, even tend to think like regular Americans.
The only fact that is unchangeable is that the Chinese are people of tradition and they keep theirs very carefully. For instance, China’s seniors are extremely respected in the family, and in traditional families, they live with their younger generations while American purpose of the family is to teach children to be independent and live separately from the older members of the family. The Chinese are very friendly, friends for life, and for them, the word ‘friends’ much more than for Americans.
Unlike Americans, they put the difference in the concept of ‘law privacy’. Now, the Chinese are free to speak about their age, salary, and marital status – things that Americans have not always considered polite. The Chinese like to save money, they are very careful in spending while Americans have learned to live on credit.
For different reasons, the Chinese were forced to leave their homeland and they settled in the United States. They brought there their language, culture, social and religious institutions, and traditions. They are imbued with the pace of American life, and they live by its laws, becoming filled with its culture. Constantly facing the rejection by some Americans, they have still managed to preserve historical and cultural traditions of their homeland, creating closed ethnic communities. They no longer see themselves as just Chinese laborers who came to the United States to earn a decent living on their return. Now, immigrants from China have enough grounds to be considered Americans of Chinese descent.