Is there any different views between different generations of Asians in the United States?



Dear M

If you’re talking about the first immigrated generation versus succeeding generations, I believe the answer is yes.  The differences among the generations are due to each generation’s life experiences, values and varying degrees of cultural assimilation.  By the third generation, I expect nearly full cultural and value assimilation.  However, Asian Americans cannot shed their physical appearances so full assimilation will not happen until we’re no longer tagged as “foreigner”.

The following by necessity will be broad generalizations. While I write from my own heritage, I think many Asian-Americans share the same generational immigration experience.

Speaking from my Chinese heritage, most of the first immigrants to the US (and to the rest of the world for that matter) came from a few counties in the southern province of Guangdong and are surprisingly homogeneous*.  Draconian laws disallowed women immigration in order to prevent Chinese from taking root.  Only men would leave their villages to labor overseas.  Few viewed the US as their new home.  Their homes were back in China where they had left their families.  They hoped to make enough money to support them and then to return in retirement.  Consequently, the first immigrants felt they were foreigners and accepted the lower status and the discrimination.

Late during WWII, the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed as it didn’t look good to have such laws against a war time ally.  Having a family in the US was finally possible.  But the perception that they were “foreigners” persisted and with it the attitude that they were only guests in the US.  As guests they have to keep a low profile and not demand anything.  This view was conveyed to their children.   “You might be a citizen but you are not American.”  Unfortunately, even today many European-Americans still feel the same way about Asian-Americans.  When was the last time someone told you to go back to your Country?

The first generation born in the US straddles two cultures between the old country and the new.  Their parents carry the old country value of sacrifice to enable their children to get ahead.  They willingly sweat in menial jobs, and they want their children to be white collar professionals.  Considering their sacrifices, they push their children to money careers (i.e. self-fulfilling is not a consideration).  They feel that their children would get a better shot in a STEM or medical career where technical skills are the keys.  They think that their children will be less likely to get ahead in other fields because of higher levels of cultural and racial discrimination against “foreigners”.  It’s no wonder that first generation Asian-Americans feel so “pigeon holed” and under so much pressured to succeed.  On the other hand, outside of the home, they are fully exposed to “American” values.  The first Asian American generation is likely to have a transitional view point, less conservative and “old school” but not fully “Americanized”.

The second generation and after will be fully “Americanized”.  Their parents are more willing to let their children choose “soft” non-STEM careers.  The problem remains that we are reminded time and again that ethnic and racial discrimination still exists (and maybe making a comeback).  It’s very difficult to drop or minimize the “Asian” part of “Asian-American”.  What’s needed going forward is for Asian-Americans to get involved and be visible in a broader spectrum of American life including politics.  Historically, Asian Americans are way under-represented in political office.  Now that seems to be changing.   Andrew Yang recently ran as a credible candidate for President, and last year, a number of Asian-Americans won state legislative offices in Virginia.  So later generations do have difference views than earlier generations.  For them, there’s a greater emphasis on the American part of Asian-American.



* I recalled going to a restaurant in London’s Chinatown (just off Leicester Square) and it felt just like New York.  The restaurant staff all spoke the distinctive dialect of Cantonese from those counties.