Ethnography: Inclusion of Chinese-Americans into American Communities

June 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

I recently conducted one final formal interview with Julia*, who immigrated to Guam from Beijing at the age of four. She describes Guam as a uniquely diverse community. There was no ethnic majority; the population was roughly equally split between Caucasians, Asians, and Natives. Julia believes that due to the diversity of the community, people of all race and cultural backgrounds were readily accepted by the community. As she describes it, “there are so many cultures all within Guam that if one person were different, no one would notice.” In fact, the prevalence of Asian-Americans in both her community and the whole island resulted in the incorporation of some Asian cultural aspects into the local culture. Julia recalls Asian food staples such as rice and teriyaki chicken being sold in Taco Bells and KFCs around Guam, as was shocked to learn that fast food restaurants in other parts of America did not do the same thing.

For Chinese-Americans who grew up in America, acceptance by the community seems to be a determining factor in their cultural identity. For those who did not feel included in their childhood communities, the rejection by their peers often created a sense of identity confusion or even bitterness towards one identity. When I interviewed Derek, a large part of our conversation revolved around his conflict of trying to compromise his Chinese and American identities. His whole life, he always felt the push and pulls of both sides; the rejection and racial discrimination he received from schoolmates would convince him that he did not belong in America and push him towards his Chinese identity, yet his family’s continued attempts at assimilation and the mere fact that he was born and raised in America would levitate him back towards an American identity.  Even now, as a young adult, Derek is still struggling to discover his own cultural identity, and this struggle is hindering his sense of belonging to American as a whole.

For Jack, however, the exclusion he faced from his community caused him to completely reject the American identity. The lack of acceptance from his community has convinced Jack that he is an American in name only. He identifies only with his Chinese heritage, and his bitterness towards his treatment from his community has made him quick to criticize American society while defending China’s. But in a community where Jack and his family are already ostracized for their Chinese heritage and culture, Jack’s rejection of American culture only exacerbates the problem.

As for the interviewees who reported being well accepted by their communities, none of them experienced any identity issues growing up. Nancy always considered herself to be plainly and simply and American. In her opinion, America is a large melting pot of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds; thus, there is no reason why her Chinese heritage should prevent her from being an American like everyone else in the country. Julia has always identified herself as just Chinese-American; she never felt like her Chinese and American cultural identities were in conflict with each other, and saw no reason why she should have to pick one or the other.

While Chinese-Americans who grew up in a accepting, nondiscriminatory community were always comfortable with their cultural identity, while those who were not accepted all struggled to some extent to discover theirs. It is thus apparent that acceptance and inclusion by community greatly affects issues of self-identity.

*Name changed

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§ One Response to Ethnography: Inclusion of Chinese-Americans into American Communities

  • ethnolust says:

    This is a really great way to show some of the diversity of the Chinese American experience. I’m looking forward to seeing the first draft of the paper.

    Throughout this post you say “his community” when talking about where Jack grew up. I think Jack might say that he felt like he didn’t belong. If we’re talking about belonging, can we still say “his community?” I suggest talking about this as the community where he was raised.

    Certainly, we all live in community, but we might not feel like members.

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