Ethnography: The Role of Community in the Inclusion of Chinese-Americans
June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
Although my research clearly exemplifies that Chinese-Americans are largely excluded in racially and culturally homogenous communities, there is no clear indication as to whether they faced rejection on account of their ethnic difference or their cultural differences. Were they outcasts because their Chinese culture deviated from the community norm, or simply because they were minority faces in a white community? To answer this question, I conducted an informal interview with Blanca*, a Venezuelan immigrant who attended school and lived in the same neighborhood as Derek.
Despite being a Hispanic minority in a predominately white community, Blanca was able to achieve a fairly high degree of acceptance. “Sure, I was teased a bit when I was really little,” she recalls. “I mean, I was a Hispanic face in an elementary school that, believe me, didn’t have a whole lot of Hispanics. But it was all immature childish stuff. But I think I fit into the community for the most part. I was able to find a group of people I really liked and felt like I belonged to.”
Though she considered herself to be an included member of the community, she also readily agreed with Derek’s idea that, due to the homogeny, there existed a narrow set a standards, or what he called a “mold,” that the people were expected to adhere to. “Yes, I would say there was a sort of ‘mold’ everyone was supposed to fit into,” she acknowledges, “and I guess I kind of fit that ‘mold.’ I am Christian, which is pretty important in a Bible belt community. I’m also a political conservative in a community that was much more conservative than [the Chinese-Americans] would have liked it to be. And Hispanic culture in general is more similar to the local American culture than Chinese culture is. So I probably did fit in better.”
Blanca’s testimony supports the idea that the exclusion Chinese-Americans faced within the community was the result of cultural differences, not ethnic differences. She was readily accepted by the predominately white community regardless of her minority status. Blanca’s native Venezuelan culture was also accepted due to perceived similarities to the local culture, such as common Western origins and, most importantly, shared emphasis on Christian faith and principles. On the other hand, Chinese culture, with its Eastern and non-Christian origins, were regarded as too exotic and divergent from the community norms to be embraced. In order to gain acceptance into the community, the Chinese-American would have to embrace the local culture.
Derek’s family later left the community where he grew up with Blanca and relocated to an upper-middle class community in North Carolina. While the North Carolina community was still predominately white, Derek recalls there a much wider range of cultural diversity. “It wasn’t like where I used to live, where families had lived in the same town for generations. A lot of people I knew in [North Carolina] had parents who were European immigrants. Or they had recently moved in from other parts of the country.” His new community had a much greater influx of people of varying cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs, creating an environment that Derek blended into with much more ease.
*Name has been changed