This post was edited by JFenix at 2012-4-1 21:10|
BEIJING – Asian-Americans continue to be the fastest growing ethnic population in the U.S., according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released on Wednesday.
The data, which come weeks ahead of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in May, also demonstrates how integral a part of the American fabric Asians have been. As many as 1.5 million businesses in the U.S. are owned by Asians. More than a quarter million have served in the U.S. military. And nearly half of the Asian-American electorate voted in the 2008 presidential election.
And yet while generations of Asians have integrated into American society, a small but growing number of the 3.8 million Asian-Americans of Chinese descent are finding themselves in mainland China to study or to work.
Especially since the 2008 global economic crisis, many ethnic Chinese are seeking economic opportunities in China as emigrants. Almost all are also motivated by cultural heritage interests.
At the same time, Jeremy Lin's popularity has reignited discussions about identity among Chinese-Americans that are unlikely to wane as quickly as Linsanity.
One writer for the sports website Grantland hit on the issue during the height of Lin hype last month: "These have been a revealing two weeks, not only for the Asian-American community or the Ivy League basketball community or the talent evaluator committee, but also for the watchdogs, handwringers, and pulpit-thumpers. Not since Barack Obama's presidential campaign has there been so much national discussion about the appropriateness of discussing race."
And in China, where many American-born Chinese have gravitated over the past few years, race and nationality intersect in interesting, sometimes confusing, ways.
Brittney Wong feels "even less Chinese" in China than she expected."I realized how American I am," said the 23-year old Seattle native, who recently arrived in Beijing for a year-long intensive Chinese language course. "Which is strange, because I just assumed I would just blend in perfectly here."
But in trying to befriend local Chinese, Wong came to see that "learning about their experiences in high school and their lives, how they lived so far, [are] so different from my experiences. Even their personalities."
The cultural disconnect is compelling enough to have provided some inspiration for a new feature-length film.
Daniel Hsia is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who has just wrapped up production for "Shanghai Calling," a movie about American expats in Shanghai. "The world is turning on its head. Expectations are being reversed all the time," said Hsia.
In the movie, the main protagonist is a Chinese-American executive whose employer sends him to Shanghai. "I thought it would be more interesting to have the character [be] of Chinese descent but completely ignorant of Chinese culture. It just creates more conflict. It's more interesting to watch a character who looks like he fits in but doesn't."
Sometimes the cross-culture experience makes people feel even more American.
"In many ways, being in China has caused me to have a strong appreciation for just how American I am," said Jason Chu, a 25-year old Delaware native. "It has helped me come to terms or embrace the positive aspects of being distinctly Asian-American."
Chu is wrapping up two years in Beijing, where he has been dividing his time between serving as a pastor and writing music. The child of ethnic Chinese parents from Malaysia and Thailand, he grew up speaking English and began learning Chinese in college in the U.S.
Speaking fluent Chinese, Chu has found, is perhaps the most critical determinant of authenticity. "There is this sort of disappointment that many Chinese-Americans are familiar with, where if you look Chinese or people know you're Chinese and your Chinese language isn't good, you're less of a person," he said.
Writer Gish Jen, on a recent trip to Beijing, recalled similar reactions when she first visited the mainland in the 1980s."
In the early days, I used to feel they were quite critical," said Jen, one of a handful of hyphenated American novelists who led the multicultural wave of fiction in the U.S. in the early 1990s. "They saw me as a sort of fallen Chinese… You don't even speak Chinese, what's the matter with you."