Ethnography: Assimilation of Chinese-Americans into American Society

June 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

This week, I formally began my research into the assimilation of Chinese-Americans into American society by talking to second-generation Chinese-Americans about their experiences growing up in America.  So far, I have talked to a total of three individuals, each having a different background story. Jack* was raised in the blue-collar town of Niceville, Florida; Nancy* spent most of her life in Howard County, Maryland, one of the nation’s most affluent counties, and Derek* grew up in upper-middle class Southern societies of Florida and North Carolina.

My questions about assimilating into American society produced interestingly varied responses from each individual. While both Jack and Derek recalled difficulties being accepted by their peers in school on account of their ethnicity, Nancy believes that she never encountered any problems of the sort. She believes she was treated no differently than Americans of other ethnicities in her community. For Jack and Derek, however, racial discrimination, Asian stereotypes, and isolation from their peers were almost a staple in their lives.

Though I do not enough information to make conclusions yet, I have noticed correlations that may explain the different attitudes towards Chinese-Americans in each community. One is geography. Derek recollected facing the most discrimination while living in Tallahassee, Florida, a city that is only a two hour drive from Jack’s hometown on Niceville. Another factor is the cultural diversity that exists within the community. Jack and Derek both describe their Florida communities as homogenous and overwhelmingly white. Both men described their Florida communities as being wary of anyone they perceived as different, which resulted in discriminatory attitudes towards Chinese-Americans. The homogeneity also created a complete lack of knowledge about other cultures, which perpetuated an offensive ignorance towards Chinese culture in the entire community. Nan, on the other hand, attended a school where thirty percent of the student body was Asian-American. Most of her peers were well acquainted with Chinese culture; as a result she was not subject to the same ignorant stereotypes and discrimination as Jack and Derek. Derek faced less discrimination after his family relocated to Greensboro, North Carolina. Though the community he lived in there was still majority white, there was more diversity within the white community, as many were European immigrants.

Although I entered my research intending only to examine the affects of community, I have noticed that my data seems to suggest that traditional gender roles have an effect on Chinese-Americans assimilation. Jack and Derek were both teased for being shorter, less athletic, and less able to hold down alcoholic drinks than their white peers. These notions are common in stereotypes of Chinese men, and also challenge American ideals of masculinity. Derek recalls that these stereotypes portraying Chinese men as more “effeminate” were a source of derision by his male classmates in school. On the contrary, Chinese women are stereotyped as being small in stature and docile in nature, which comply with traditional female gender roles. During our discussion, Derek also brought up another stereotype; it is common for Asian women to marry white men, but few white women marry Asian men. In his opinion, this stereotype implies that Chinese-American women are more readily accepted by American society than the men. This leads me to wonder if the relation between stereotypes and gender roles affects cultural assimilation.

*Names have been changed

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