What do Americans think of the Chinese?
Asians in the USExemplary migration history?
A sunny day in May. It's early at the Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall in San Francisco. As always, there is a light breeze from the Pacific. The last groups of the traditional street parade Faces of Asia have just passed by, now a moderator introduces the participants. Traditional clubs present themselves on the stage: China, Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
The Au Co Vietnamese Cultural Center has the most to offer: sword dancers in bright yellow clothes, two large red canopies, children with drums in front of their stomachs and a group of older women with large wicker baskets containing exotic fruits. Six younger women with lotus flowers in their hands perform a mimetic dance.
The overall demographic picture is changing
These groups are part of the largest pan-Asian street festival in North America, with an estimated 90,000 spectators coming to San Francisco alone. Meanwhile, however, the Asian American festival month, Asian American Heritage Month, is celebrated everywhere in the USA, where there are enough interested parties, and this is the case on the west coast in almost every major city. In total, there are over 16 million Americans of Asian descent in the United States, according to official census. On the west coast, this changes the overall demographic picture noticeably, and this surprises even Asians:
"My name is Suey and I come from China. I was here as an international exchange student and am now doing an internship at the Chinese Culture Center in Chinatown. Before I came here, I didn't know much about the Asian Americans, for me there were white people in California But then I discovered that there is a huge Chinese and Asian population here. I think they are different from the Chinese in China because they had a Western education. So I can already see the differences. "
The Chinese form the largest group of "Asian Americans", the residents of the United States who were either born in Asia or have Asian ancestors. Together with the inhabitants of various Pacific islands such as Hawai and Honolulu, they are now known as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders - AAPI for short. And they are considered to be the fastest growing immigrant group in the US. In 2050 they will make up almost 10% of the population, reason enough to celebrate their traditions and properly notice their presence. That was not always so.
"There's a famous photo of the day the Golden Nail was hammered in at Promontory Point, where the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad meet at the end. It's teeming with people: engineers, administrators, workers, the Locomotives, off-road, everywhere. But you don't see any Chinese. That's invisibility. "
After all - it was 15,000 Chinese workers, 80 percent of the total workforce, who built the western section of the transcontinental railroad in the 19th century. When Professor Gordon Chang, a historian at Stanford University, speaks of invisibility, then not only the forgotten workers are meant. Invisibility describes the lack of Asian minorities in the cultural memory of North American society:
"On the one hand, the lack of attention can be explained by the fact that we are dealing with minorities, and to this day minorities in American history have not been fully explored. Since the 1960s there have been some attempts to correct this, for example in African American history or that of the Chicanos, the Mexican immigrants, but there is still a lot of research to be done, especially as far as the Chinese Americans are concerned. "
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Gordon Chang heads the "Chinese Railroad Workers Project" at Stanford. A difficult research area because the Chinese construction workers left hardly any documents. Japanese also moved to California at the time. Japan had to open up after centuries of isolation, but its entry into the Pacific economic region led to internal crises that caused large numbers of farm workers and fishermen to lose their livelihoods. Many emigrated after the ban on labor migration from Japan was lifted in 1885. A third layer of Pacific labor migrants came from the Philippines after the 1901 Philippine-American War became a colony of the USA. But the largest group to this day is the Chinese, who maintain a central memory:
“We keep running into people who say - my grandfather was a railroad worker. It's an honor because it puts us in a direct relationship with a significant part of American history. It's a symbol of our contribution to the building of the United States "Proof of our hard work. But that's missing from the history of American science."
Many Americans have the prejudice that joining the educated elite is a kind of natural advantage for Asian Americans, as they are characterized by a greater will to achieve. (imago / stock & people / wolterfoto)
The First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869 thanks to Chinese labor, clearing the way for tens of thousands of migrants from the eastern United States. For the newcomers, however, the Chinese in the Pacific were an unwelcome competition, smear campaigns and physical attacks followed, and in the end the anti-Chinese lobbying led to the first foreign law in a western democracy, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. From then on only a few Chinese were allowed to to enter the United States and from 1924 the law applied to all Asians. So what unites the old immigrants from the three groups is the historical experience of marginalization and not infrequently also of illegal entry. After the final repeal of the Asian Exclusion Act in 1965, millions of new immigrants came from Asia, and this changed the demographic picture significantly:
"It's a huge challenge, because Asian American - it's an incredibly complex term, so comprehensive and different from other minority groups such as African-Americans. Or look at the Latino world - Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Latin Americans - and yet they are all in one Language united and in many ways also in one culture. The Asian Americans, however, are no longer just the historical immigrant groups of the Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos - today there are over a hundred different Asian languages and cultures as different as those of the Indians and Pakistanis, the whole Asian spectrum from Kazakhstan to Indonesia. "
History of Japanese Immigration
Stephen Gong is a pioneer at the Center for Asian American Media in San Francisco. The media center has existed since 1980. Its purpose is to ensure that Asian minorities are better represented on TV channels and in films. Research and documentation are supported that deal with the life and conflicts of immigrants and also show their cultural differences. The historical beginning of media work in the 1980s was spectacular, when films about the long suppressed history of Japanese immigration were promoted:
"You know, I'm a little older now, and when I went to school that WWII story wasn't an issue at all, not even on the radio and mainstream media. Up to 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent became collective on the west coast Locked up in ten camps, by Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt. You didn't do that with the mass of German-Americans, a clear sign of racist motives. And that only came because there were misunderstandings, because you didn't do these people knew, although many of the young prisoners were American citizens. "
There were reasons for these misunderstandings. There was no public for the Japanese-Americans, but there was, for example, a Superman comic in which they were clearly depicted as the fifth column of Japan. Yellow Peril, the so-called Yellow Peril, was the hysterical cliché of the Cold War in the USA, so Hollywood didn't bother with Asian immigrants and the reality of their lives either:
"At the time of the Second World War, the Asian was good for any kind of villain, Japanese soldiers or gangsters, underworld characters like Fu Manchu and the Dragonladies, later in the 1970s more the martial arts, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and so on. But the horizon of experience the Asian is probably much richer and deeper, it's not just the laundry Chinese, gangsters in Chinatown, this limited horizon of roles. So what we wanted was the bigger story to tell. "
But what is the "bigger story" of Asian American immigration? And who is this new subject Asian American and Pacific Islander who no longer wants to be excluded, irrevocably alien and foreigner forever? This is how depressing Gordon Chang describes a basic feeling of many Asian Americans, even if, like his family, they live in the United States in the fourth generation. Now that group numbered just 1 million by 1965, and they were mostly Native Americans; In contrast, 70 percent of new immigrants from Asia were born abroad. A unified story of Asian immigration is therefore difficult to tell, also because it has at least two ideological perspectives. The first is directly related to the term Asian American:
"I had a friend named Yuji Ichioka, he was Japanese-American, his father was a gardener, he grew up in Berkeley and became a historian, even a pioneer of Japanese American history. When he was a student, we were both part of the anti-Vietnam War movement and wanted to mobilize people with an Asian background, a separate group. But what should we call them? There were workers against the war, women against the war, but what could we call ourselves? Orientals didn't work, we were born in America "Americans. And that's when he got the idea: Why don't we call ourselves Asian Americans?"
Prejudice will to perform
That was also the birth of the Asian American Movement, because these Asian Americans from campus showed solidarity with the community in Chinatown. They also formed political coalitions with the Black Power Movement, the Native Americans and the Chicano Movement. This progressive background resonates when talking about Asian American, a civic subject with multiple identities. The other ideological perspective is the model minority, the exemplary minority who successfully create the American way of life on their own.
"The term Model Minority was discussed mainly in relation to the Japanese and Chinese. But then came the big turning point for the United States. The new immigration laws of 1965 changed the social landscape significantly. With the New Immigrants, Asians came from India, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Southeast Asia, plus from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, not so many Japanese. This new Asian immigrant group is complex, there are many poor, disadvantaged, refugees and many people in very difficult circumstances. But there are also academics and the immigration laws favor these people, so they made better progress and want the same for their children. "
The design student Shao from China can only confirm that. She herself is in a class with 40 students, 10 of whom are Chinese. But there are other cases as well:
"Well, another student told me that there are 15 people in his class. And one of them is from India, one is American and the rest are Chinese. I asked him if they only spoke Chinese, and he said yes of course, we're almost only Chinese. "
Gordon Chang knows the prejudice of many Americans that entry into the educated elite is a kind of natural advantage for the Asian Americans, that the motivation of this minority is the yardstick for everyone. But that doesn't really work, he says:
"If you look around here on campus, you see a lot of Asian students and I guess most of them, almost all of them, are children of post-1965 immigrants. They are not of the old Chinese immigrants like my generation, them descend from the new immigrants who are better educated, have more money, have more opportunities, even before they came to the United States. Most Americans only see "the immigrants" - they made it because they work hard, these are role models for the others. But this story is more complicated. "
Asian Heritage Street Celebration in San Francisco: Every year the American Asians show the diversity of their cultures. (Martin Zähringer)
The Board of Supervisors meets in the City Hall of San Francisco. This is the legislative assembly for the city and county of San Francisco, presided over by Mayor Ed Lee, with a Chinese background. Out of 11 elected officials, 5 are Asian Americans, including Eric Mar. He was elected to serve as the Richmond District Supervisor. Eric Mar attaches importance to the statement that he does not see himself only as a representative of the Asian Americans, he basically represents the weaker sections of the population.
"In the past it consisted mostly of blue-collar workers and as far as women were concerned, they were dependent on low-skilled jobs or prostitution, they were simply kept out of the labor market by the law. Today we have a mixture, but the working class still predominates the new Asian American immigrants who are struggling really hard to survive. The struggle for equal rights is not over yet. "
San Francisco is the secret capital of "Asian America"
Eric Mar lives in a city where political self-responsibility and involvement of minorities have a long tradition. By the beginning of the 20th century there were already over eighty self-organized initiatives for immigrants, and in the tradition of the Asian American Movement, relationships between universities and communities have been preserved. A center of these grassroots politics is still there. But the majority of Asian Americans live in the suburbs and middle class districts like Richmond and Sunset, of San Francisco’s 800,000 residents today are 300,000 Asian Americans.
"Chinese companies are also coming here. There is a lot of investment, also from India. We have developed the China - San Francisco and India - San Francisco programs, these are new programs to promote the attractiveness of Pacific companies. But you can do all of this Don't overlook the contradiction when the rich and investors come in and replace the low-income Asian Americans. So there's this battle between the rich - quite a few Asian Americans - and the low-income population. "
San Francisco is also known as the "secret capital of Asian America". There are strong business relationships in the Asian world here, there is also a Japantown and on some bus routes the announcements in English and Spanish come in Chinese. Asian immigrants are American like everyone else. And yet it could be that the Asian Americans have some kind of exemplary migration history, from being ostracized to the levers of power. Whether Asian American or the exemplary model minority - meanwhile a new tendency is showing, the so-called neutral minority. Their politicians are accepted by both the white mainstream and other minorities.
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