The Lost Ones – Young Chinese Americans
Due to harsh immigration laws, in American history, Chinese have often relied on illegal means of entering the United States. For example, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chinese Exclusion Act, Documents on Anti-Chinese Immigration Policy.) was passed, the first and only act that restricted immigration from one particular ethnicity. This act restricted immigration of Chinese labourers. In 1888, this act was extended to all Chinese immigrants except for officials, teachers, students, tourists, and merchants. However, not all-prospective immigrants made it to the shores of America safely. The United States is well aware of illegal immigration and rings operating these smuggling operations. Therefore increased vigilance at America’s doors has led to the capture of many Chinese illegal immigrants. The result of above brief history of Chinese history in America is that these new comers at the time period of illegal entering of America would eventually result the wave of 3rd generation Chinese population along with Baby Boomers after World War II. The new generation was in the era of Civil Rights movement in the 19501970’s. The talented, new 3rd generation possessed not only the despair of having an identity, but also faced the pressure from the elder generation of their origin cultures. It is true and inappropriate that the newer the generation, the more they refuse their own cultures. However, from what it took the elder generations of Chinese/Asian Americans for the younger generation to be able to live under the aegis of liberty, freedom, stable society, and satiating living; I think that the younger generations should be proud of, and respect the elder generation and who they really are.
Chinese who still tried to enter the United States needed to pretend that they were merchants. Others pretended to be relatives of people living in the United States. Chinese Americans who returned from visits home (China or Taiwan) and reported births of sons and daughters thereby created flaws, which were often used to bring in immigrants who posed as sons or daughters. Chinese immigrants, eager to start a new life and begin their pursuit of the elusive American dream, do not want to wait their turn in line. Rather they want to begin their journey today, and smugglers and underground networks are more than willing to provide the decent services to do just that. At great expense, Chinese immigrants underwent the long, dangerous, and illegal route of smuggling themselves into America. They brave a long journey at sea and are willing to pay exorbitant fees and work under the pressure of Chinese Mafia once in America. These voyagers are often successfully smuggled into the United States and are placed in positions of cheap labor in Chinatown, working as waiters or sweatshop workers. Chinese immigration resumed quickly after 1906 (being shut down for many years by governmental legislation before Angel Island interrogation), an anti-Chinese climate. Thanks to the San Francisco earthquake which destroyed most of the immigration records in the city, allowing many resident Chinese to claim U.S citizenship and many others to claim to be “paper sons and daughters.” The anticipated outcome that is intended or guides of the Board of Special Inquiry at Angel Island was to deport or exclude as many prospective Chinese immigrants as possible. Under the kindly explicit approval and guidance of seeking out the truth and separating the legitimate immigrants from the intended to deceive claims, the immigration service tried to get or reached to exclude the Chinese. These is obvious from the type of questions asked and avoid or try to avoid, as of duties, questions and issues of traditional rules of procedure. The types of questions were often based on previous knowledge concerning the villages of where the immigrants came from since after these inspectors had worked thousands of cases, they had gained a clear knowledge of what some of the major villages looked like. With this knowledge of the villages’ layout, they asked questions that were purposefully wrong to trick and feign the immigrants (Clauss, 64).
Another reason that motivated the immigration service at Angel Island was the “public presentation”. Chinese immigrants being landed would only draw serious examination and judgment from the public. Therefore they would prefer as many Chinese deported as possible because this would enhance their image as being thorough and completely devoted gatekeepers. The job then provided ample personal motivation to the interrogators to be especially not capable of being swayed or deviated from against the entrance of Chinese. A decision would be made. If the decision was admittance, the detainee would be allowed to land at once. However, if the decision was deportation, the detainee had five days to protest this decision. His or her case would be retried and he or she would be re-interrogated. These appellants however, had to stay on Angel Island while waiting for their appeal hearing. It was here that some would stay as long as two years, waiting to hear from the board (Clauss, 50). This is clearly evidenced by the interrogation process, and the main reason that the board wanted to exclude as many as possible.
The Angel Island era clearly defined the hardship of earlier immigrants from China, who seek for the promise of American Dreams; yet many of those were being treated as the ‘bugs’ that sought to get away from hardship in their mother land and enter the United States to abuse the liberty and the freedom those founding fathers of United States had anticipated. Undergoing not only discriminating decisions that would eventually effect the elders’ future generations and lives; these Chinese immigrants literally risked their lives. However, many of the next generations do not appreciate or acknowledge the past. How can America, which was built on the labor and communities of immigrants, allow such indecision in these cases? It is a simple question to answer: America is simply doing what it has always done. It had ignored history. History repeats itself, and it has shown that we do not learn from our old mistakes. By not dealing with these prospective immigrants in a fair and equal manner, we are only damned to repeat the same mistakes that our forerunners had. America should take a closer examination of what history has shown and take note of previous mistakes. We should let history be our guide in determining the fate of these Chinese immigrants and the immigration “problem” that we endure today. This notion of discrimination will last as far as present; and it would also be responsible for the burdens and pressures that the younger/present generations have to interrogate themselves with doubt. Some younger generations overcame this pressure and honor their identities; some assimilate and adopt them well; however, many opted for to live in ignorance and self-hated.
There are many Chinese who feel that one either have to adopt one culture or the other, which, in an inherent manner, carries disadvantage into the “white” society is considered “selling out,” while completely adopting the Chinese culture could bid the student a trick. The different reaction of being Chinese American runs the complete extent or range from complete assimilation to compromise. There are many Chinese Americans who inflexibly and unfalteringly advocate complete assimilation. They feel that the two cultures are incompatible and mutually exclusive, and that growing up in a western exclusively counteracts a person’s attempt to be Asian. Many people expressed this nostalgic feeling, because they speak English as their primary language, and they grew up in the United States.
However, it seemed that most of the Chinese Americans, just as other Asian or ethnic groups might face, are unwilling to consent the facts about their own origin:
“The struggle for identity is particularly acute for some children because their home life is steeped in Confucian values—such as the emphasis on the family, respect for authority and learning. They also are burdened by the “model minority” myth that they should be superachievers. So hot is the issue among Asian Americans that it has given rise to studies, movies and an array of programs designed to help the young explore their identities. In recent years, teenagers from New York and Boston to San Francisco and Los Angeles have formed leadership groups and held forums at which they learn about their history and share common experiences.”
“… It was through soul-searching that Chan realised not only that she was a unique product of both cultures, but also that her values differed from those of her parents.
Her definition of personal success, for example, is based on her ability to positively affect people’s lives, rather than status or how much money she can earn.
‘I guess everybody goes through this whether you’re Asian or not,” Chan said of her identity search. “But if you are Asian, you’re forced to face the issue of culture.’”
– Cultural Balancing Act Adds to Teen Angst, JULIE TAMAKI, LATimes.com
However, good news are that not ALL the Chinese Americans are accused of being ungrateful of their own identities and the facts that they are who they are. One of the examples of the 3rd generation Chinese claimed that he had regretted his early idea of excluding himself to his own ethic identity of being Chinese as a youngster is Eddie Tang:
“… When I was younger – all I wanted was Big Macs and G.I. Joe figurines. I distinctly remember saying that I hated Chinese food. I just wanted to eat the good stuff – French-fries, burgers, and apple pie. But as college neared I realized that I was Chinese – and that Chinese food was good after all. I began to learn the value of Chinese culture: it’s stories, history and society. But it was too late. The conflict between my two selves had left the American self as the victor. My chance to be truly Chinese had vanished and with it my ability to interpret much of the Chinese culture I partake of now … I only ask myself: What if I had been more “Chinesey” as a kid? Would I have been better off now? But now I am some kind of weird compilation of Americana and quasi-Chineseness.
I suppose being Chinese-American to me means trying to recapture my Chinese self. The conflict left that side of me wounded and badly lacking. The guilt is chasing after me to find it again and nurse it back to health. … to understand what went on in my ancestor’s lives as well as learn about the people of my community but ultimately it is to learn about myself. I really think that a concerted effort such as this will allow me an entrance back into my Chinese self…
For me Chinese American means too much American and not enough Chinese. The conflict’s aftermath is led by guilt and now a stronger desire to regain balance. This dichotomy of being Chinese and American has eluded me most of my life – I’ve pretty much just been American all my life. Chinese American denotes two worlds in one. But being Chinese American is such a broad spectrum. … it includes people who are recent immigrants, second generation, or descendants of earlier immigrants. For all of these Chinese Americans there is more or less of the Chinese or American depending on their background. But now I am searching for my own fine line and my own mixture of the Chinese and the American and the understanding of being both. That term, “Chinese American” signifies a chase to me, a chase for my lost Chinese soul.”
– “What does Being Chinese American Mean to Me”, Eddie Tang
Along with rebelling against their own elders, most of the young Chinese Americans abandon their identities due to some pressures that they had when they were younger. However, as with all labels, the term ‘Chinese American’ may sometimes stamp and generalizes a person, but one should believe that with this label comes an natural force that binds you to your obligations and the courses of action demanded by that force to learn about one’s own culture. Therefore, regardless of what the younger generations believes, they have an obligation to themselves to learn about the Chinese culture before dismissing it completely. Some people believe that the two worlds are mutually exclusive, whereas they should find the western culture and Oriental cultures to be compatible when these two cultures are examined equally, they contribute to the progress or growth of many of the same values, such as hard work and perseverance. Unfortunately, there are still some people who cannot see past the Asian features and consider Chinese Americans foreigners, but there are also Chinese who feel that ‘Chinese Americans’ are ‘sell-outs.’ For some, both of these camps represent views that are too uncompromising and narrow. Ultimately, if a person decides to celebrate one culture and exclude the other, they should understand that they are denying a part of who they really are. So, wake up, the lost ones!
-“Angel Island, Jewel of San Francisco Bay”, Francis J. Clauss, 1982. Briarcliff Press, Inc. Menlo Park, California.
-“Cultural Balancing Act Adds to Teen Angst”, JULIE TAMAKI, http://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/REPORTS/ASIANS/part2.1.htm
-Documents on Anti-Chinese Immigration Policy , Archives of the West http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/wpages/wpgs670/chinxact.htm