The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
For those who are unfamiliar, “Orientalism” is a term used by academics and cultural critics that generally refers to a set of biases, stereotypes, cultural images, and popular portrayals of Asians and/or Asian Americans — individually, nationally, or institutionally — as exotic, hypersexual, submissive, effeminate, dangerous, and/or inferior. Orientalism is frequently manifested in the overrepresentations of Asians and Asian Americans in mainstream TV shows and movies as one-dimensional geisha, ninja, prostitute, or martial arts characters.
As another examples, my fellow sociologist bloggers at Sociological Images alerted me to an interesting post by Caustic Cover Critic (CCC) that examines stereotypical elements in mainstream books and novels about China or Japan:
If you’re designing a cover for a book by a Chinese or Japanese writer, or with a Chinese or Japanese setting, it seems that there are some compulsory elements which must be included. For variety’s sake, there are four elements, but you MUST use at least one of them. Advanced designers, of course, may use two or more.
To summarize CCC’s post, the four elements (with some example covers) are:
#4: A Woman’s Neck
As you can see, these elements are present in books that are written by both Asians/Asian Americans and non-Asians. In other words, even Asian and Asian American writers are not immune to Orientalist tendencies. In those cases, my guess is that such Asian/Asian American authors are “encouraged” (or perhaps even “compelled”) by their publishers (who are almost always American) to create these kinds of Orientalist covers to appeal to American perceptions and stereotypes of China, Japan, and other Asian countries and societies.
Either way, it is indeed sad to see that at least judging by these book covers, mainstream American society sees Asian and Asian American culture in such a one-dimensional and stereotypical way. As one of my colleagues once said to me, “It’s exhausting to be exotic.”
As all the major media organizations are reporting, President Obama is in the middle of a high-profile trip to Asia, visiting many of our major allies and trading partners, particularly China. Rather than focus specifically on the political and economic policies about which he and his Asian counterparts will speak, haggle, and disagree, I’d like to take his visit as an opportunity to focus on the love-hate relationship that the U.S. seems to have with China these days.
It is undeniable that globalization has made the economies of the U.S. and China much more intertwined and dependent on each other. One result of this trend is that when the U.S. economy is struggling (like it is these days), China has resources in terms of investing in U.S. businesses and opening up markets in China for U.S. businesses to sell to, both of which help alleviate some of those struggles. For example, and as a nice “Globalization 101” lesson, the Washington Post has an article that uses a few examples to describe U.S. companies vying for Chinese investment:
On visits to Shanghai and Beijing, Obama will encounter not simply a rising global power but a nation that is transforming and challenging the way Americans live overseas and at home, from college classrooms to real estate offices to the ginseng farms of central Wisconsin. . . .
“Years ago, it didn’t matter what we grew. They bought everything we had,” said Randy Ross, a 54-year-old former dairy farmer who has been growing ginseng since 1978. “Now we’ve got to learn how to satisfy them. They are changing us.” . . . Hate it or love it, China is a major player in American life. . . .
Meanwhile, in a state that has lost more than 160,000 (or one-third) of its manufacturing jobs in a decade, local newspapers have been running editorials praising the People’s Republic and blasting those who oppose closer trade ties or Chinese investment. “China is a friend to Wisconsin and its businesses, not an enemy in a trade war,” the Wisconsin State Journal said in an editorial.
At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Chinese undergraduates now account for more than half of the 1,109 Chinese students there. That increase is another sign that China is coming because Wisconsin, like many state schools, doesn’t provide scholarships for international undergrads. Last year, Chinese students paid out $2 billion in tuition nationwide. “That money is keeping some American colleges alive,” said Laurie Cox, who runs the international student center at the Madison campus.
The Washington Post article lists several other ways, many just using businesses in Wisconsin as examples, that Americans and American companies have become dependent on China. In reading over these accounts, one might conclude that to a certain extent, many Americans see China as an “economic savior,” without whom they would be much worse off.
More specifically, within this same process of China investing in U.S. companies, many Americans allege that the main reason China is doing so is to take them over and use them to eventually dominate and “take over” the U.S. economy. These suspicions were illustrated loud and clear in a CBS 60 Minutes segment from April of 2008 (entire episode is below, about 12 minutes long):
As I mentioned, these suspicions about China’s “real” intentions are opposite sides of the same coin and are great illustrations of the love-hate relationship that we Americans have with the Chinese. We love their money and their 1.3 billion consumer market, but we hate that their money might lead to them having a say in how our business is run or may eventually lead to them taking over the business completely (this is sometimes referred to as the “New Yellow Peril.”)
In fact, this kind of love-hate relationship that the American society has with Asians, Asian Americans, and Chinese Americans is not new. Starting with when the first large-scale immigration of Chinese to the U.S. in the mid-1800s, reinforced through subsequent decades, and continuing these days, these kinds of contradictory sentiments have manifested themselves in different ways.
For example, mainstream American society loved our cheap labor, how hard we work, and that (at least in the past), we were relatively powerless in asserting our rights for equal treatment. But they hated that we wanted to settle here, raise families here, and that our hard work frequently resulted in us making more money.
In the past, mainstream American society and the White majority also did not want us to freely intermingle with them — that’s why they passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and various other local and state laws that restricted where we could live, what jobs we could work in, and who we could marry. Such rampant hostility forced many of us to live in segregated ghettos as a matter of survival. But at the same time, they also criticized us for congregating in our own ethnic communities and accused us of not wanting to assimilate and to be American.
Fast forward to today and the same kind of cultural schizophrenia still exist in regard to the relationship between Asians/Asian Americans and the rest of American society and the White majority. The most visible example seems to be simultaneous hopes and fears over China’s investment in the U.S. economy. Such contradictions are also seen when Asian Americans are both praised and criticized for supposedly being the “model minority.”
Alas, this seems to be the consistent pattern in terms of the relationship between Asians/Asian Americans and the rest of American society — two steps forward, one step back.
2007: New Research on Race and Genetics New scientific research on genetics may challenge some long-held beliefs about whether there are distinct and inherent biological differences between members of particular racial groups.
Ever since World War II, the Asian-Pacific political and military landscape has been pretty stable from the U.S.’s point of view — Japan has been the U.S.’s staunch ally while China looms as possible threat and enemy to the U.S. However, we might be seeing this situation change in opposite directions — China and the U.S. moving closer together while Japan starts to increase its distance from the U.S. In regard to the former, as Reuters reports, the Chinese military (no less) says it wants closer ties to the U.S.:
At the start of a visit to Washington, Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the People’s Liberation Army Central Military Commission, said military ties were generally moving in a “positive direction” and defended China’s fast-paced military development as purely “defensive” and “limited” in scope. . . .
Xu’s visit, which will include a tour of major U.S. military bases, including U.S. Strategic Command, was meant to give a boost to military-to-military dialogue, which Beijing resumed this year after halting it in 2008 to protest a $6.5 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan. . . . Last week, Gates said better dialogue was needed to avoid “mistakes and miscalculations.”
Xu said U.S.-Chinese military relations have improved since President Barack Obama took office in January and can be expanded further.
As an example of the latter development (Japan and U.S. relations moving farther apart), the Brookings Institute describes how Japan’s new government is looking to do things a little differently than its predecessors:
Among the changes sought by the [Democratic Party of Japan, DPJ] is a new approach to the Japan-U.S. relationship. In a statement made both before and after the election, [new Prime Minister Yukio] Hatoyama has pledged to build “a close and equal relationship with the United States,” which implies that the new government will re-examine the current relationship with Washington.
He has also proposed an idea to create a so-called “East Asian Community” . . . [that] would include such countries as China, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, and the ASEAN countries, but would exclude the U.S. . . .
[DPJ co-founder and former leader Ichiro] Ozawa’s basic argument is that the [Japan’s] overseas deployment for international peace activities should be carried out based on UN resolutions, rather than on alliance-based agreements with the United States. His basic idea is “Japan has to have an equal relationship with the U.S. It should have its own voice.”
This approach is already causing some concern in Washington, and it will certainly cause stress in the Japan-U.S. relationship when in January the DPJ will terminate the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling activities in the Indian Ocean which support U.S. and coalition activities in Afghanistan.
We should note that both articles make clear that the status quo is still in effect for now. That is, big differences and suspicions remain between the U.S. and China and that the overall political relationship between Japan and the U.S. is still strong. Nonetheless, these developments demonstrate that international relations can change rather quickly.
In fact, this rapid pace of international political and military evolution seems to be one of the basic characteristics of the Asian-Pacific region in the age of 21st century globalization. On the heels of apparent increased tensions between China and India, flux and fluidity are likely to be the normal dynamic of the region for the foreseeable future.
As always, such changes can create both dangers and opportunities for different actors and parties. This includes Asian Americans, who may have the chance to play a greater role in helping to shape these changing political, economic, and cultural landscapes.
Governor Sonny Perdue of the US state of Georgia has proclaimed October 1, 2009 as “China’s National Day in Georgia,” calling on local citizens to celebrate with the Chinese people on the occasion.
“October 1, 2009 marks the 60th (founding) anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. With our strong bond of friendship and growing economic partnership, the state of Georgia is pleased to celebrate with the People’s Republic of China on the occasion of its National Day,” Perdue said in a sealed proclamation dated on September 16. . . .
According to the Atlanta Chapter of the US National Association of Chinese-Americans, approximately 50,000 Chinese live in Georgia.
“The contributions of these individuals, along with the companies, universities and organizations with direct ties to both lands, help bring together two nations half a world apart,” Perdue said, adding that the linkage between China and Georgia continues to strengthen and multiply.
There is clearly a motive to further economic development and investment between Georgia and China involved, but nonetheless I applaud Governor Perdue and the state of Georgia for recognizing the value and contributions of its Chinese and Chinese American citizens to the strength and vitality of their state.
As I’ve written about before, as the world and American society continue to become more globalized, Asian Americans are likely to have more opportunities to assert our “Asianness” (more specifically, our transnational cultural ties back to Asia) as an asset to American society and economy, in contrast to the past in which such associations were a liability in our efforts to integrate into mainstream American society.
I hope Georgia’s recognition of the value and contributions of Asian Americans is a positive sign for the future.
Here is an announcement from my colleagues at the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA:
UCLA’s “U.S./China Media Brief” Commemorates New Era of U.S.-China Relations
On the People’s Republic of China 60th anniversary year (1949-2009) and on the eve of President Obama’s historic November China visit, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center releases the new electronic, downloadable version of the “Presidents Edition” of the U.S.-China Media Brief to commemorate a new era of Sino-American relations. The “Presidents Edition” also serves as a handy electronic guide, together with the previous downloadable “Beijing Olympics Edition” to current issues in U.S.-China relations.
The U.S./China Media Brief website offers exclusive interviews with experts in U.S.-Chinese relations, commentary by former President Jimmy Carter, and essays exploring topics that range from labor unions to Obama’s potential impact on China.
Recent YouTube and podcast profiles feature: media expert Li Xiguang of Tsinghua University, Beijing; Janet Yang, Chinese American film producer; Gordon Chang, Stanford professor; Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times Beijing Bureau chief; Cheng Siwei “the father of Chinese venture capitalism;” and Y.C. Chen, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on U.S. corporate labor practices in Southern China.
The U.S./China Media Brief is accessible online for your viewing. Downloadable guides and materials include the following:
The entire 24-page, six-color 2009 U.S./China Media Brief “Presidents Edition,” which contains useful maps, charts, and commentary as well as summaries of key issues that will form the backdrop of President Obama’s November trip to China.
“China and the U.S. in the World,” a seven-page fold-out map that compares U.S. and Chinese energy, resources, and influence in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East developed by Harvard-trained researcher Sharon Owyang.
A compact Presidential Chart and Guide that traces the three decades of Sino-American normalization. This chart and guide summarizes past U.S. presidents’ relationship with Chinese leaders, ranging from Nixon to Obama.
An illustrated U.S.-China timeline that highlights key events/moments in the 200 year history between the U.S. and China.
Also, the 2008 “Beijing Olympics Edition,” reviewed by the New York Times on its Olympics blog (downloadable).
The U.S./China Media Brief was funded by the Walter and Shirley Wang U.S./China Relations and Communications Program at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.
Most people know the Hummer line of sport utility vehicles as embodying a very “in-your-face” image of conspicuous materialism and conservative, anti-environmentalist values. Hummers have been the bane of environmentalists for a while, with many being vandalized through the years by radical environmentalists. Nonetheless Hummer owners are very defiant and a recent survey of Hummer owners confirms that in buying their Hummers, most of them made a very conscious choice that their vehicles directly reflected their morals about American individualism, “patriotism,” and consumption.
This social image of Hummer and their owners is what makes this most recent development so ironic — as news organizations have begun reporting, Hummer’s current owner (General Motors) has just sold the brand to the Chinese heavy industry company Sichuan Tengzhong:
It marks the first time that Chinese investors have stepped in as buyers into the distressed U.S. auto industry. The sale also comes at a time when China has emerged as the world’s largest auto market and GM remains majority-owned by the U.S. government after being driven into bankruptcy. . . . A person familiar with the deal said earlier on Friday that the Hummer business would be sold for about $150 million, far less than GM’s early estimate that Hummer could fetch more than $500 million. . . .
Hummer’s sales peaked in 2006 but have been hit hard since by a slumping U.S. economy, higher gasoline prices and a shift in U.S. consumer tastes away from Hummer’s heavy-duty SUVs and its military-derived styling. Through September, Hummer’s U.S. sales were down 64 percent this year. Analysts said the new Hummer faces a difficult task of revamping a macho brand associated with the excess of the past economic boom in the United States.
From a sociological point of view, the question now becomes, what will these individualist, flag-waving, American-valuing fans of Hummer do, now that their beloved company is owned by [gasp] a Chinese company?!?
Will they still embrace the brand and its macho, John Wayne-worshiping image? Will they continue to buy Hummers in the future, even though it means that their money will go to a Chinese, rather than an American, company?
I don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but I will definitely enjoy sitting back and watching how these Hummer owners and fans grapple with this perplexing and ironic dilemma.
Here are some more announcements and links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents:
UCLA Releases First High School Textbook on Asian Americans: Untold Civil Rights Stories
Representing more than 15 million Asian Americans in the United States, “Untold Civil Rights Stories” is the first book created for high school and freshmen college students to learn and discuss the social struggles Asian Americans have faced both before and after Sept. 11, 2001. “Untold Civil Rights Stories” is co-edited by UCLA Asian American Studies adjunct professor Russell C. Leong, and Asian Pacific American Legal Center President & Executive Director Stewart Kwoh.
According to editors Leong and Kwoh: “Asian Americans are part of the untold story of America’s continuing civil rights, labor and human rights struggles. For decades, Asian Americans, together with African Americans and others, have fought discriminatory laws around segregation, citizenship and marriage; have helped organize farm workers with Cesar Chavez; and spoken out for the rights of American veterans and other groups.
Ten fully illustrated chapters of “Untold Civil Rights Stories” each come with an extensive lesson plan and historical timeline, together with rare newspaper and personal photos. Long-time multicultural curriculum consultant for Los Angeles Unified Schools Esther R. Taira provided lesson plans and a timeline for the book.
The chapters include:
* Oral history accounts by Thai and Latino sweatshop garment workers
* Philip Vera Cruz and the United Farm Workers Movement
* American families (Joseph Ileto family, and Lily Chin) organizing against hate crimes
* Breaking the color line in the movies and in the media (actor BeUlah Ong Kwoh, and journalist K.W. Lee);
* Fighting for constitutional rights (Fred Korematsu, and Faustino Peping Baclig)
* Americans after 9/11: unpopular immigrants; citizen rights and Amric Singh Rathour
* Student viewpoints, lesson plans, and timeline
Among the surprising stories and photos you’ll find within the book are: Korean American journalist K.W. Lee living and reporting on poor whites in Appalachia, Filipino American Philip Vera Cruz working hand-in-hand with Cesar Chavez to organize farmworkers, a born-in-New York Sikh policeman organizing for his rights, and the late veteran actress Beulah Kwoh organizing actors across racial lines.
Call for Support: Japanese American Veterans
The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) has received this request from the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) for assistance in contacting your senators. Your help will be greatly appreciated.
Subject: Congressional Gold Medal
Folks, we surely can use your help to contact senators from your state and also other states, except Hawaii, to request them to cosponsor a Senate Bill known as S. 1055. This Bill will authorize the conferring of the Congressional Gold Medal to honor Japanese American WW II veterans. To obtain their names and contact information please go to website: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?OrderBy=state.
It would be appreciated if you can put this request on your PRIORITY list of things to do. Please send this message to your friends to request their assistance.
When you call or send emails to their offices, say something along the following lines: “I am contacting you to ask Senator ___ to cosponsor S. 1055, a bill that would grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II. We feel that it is important to recognize and honor these brave soldiers with a Congressional Gold Medal for their heroic contributions in defense of the United States and we hope we can count on the Senator’s support.”
Senator Boxer has issued the following press release concerning the Congressional Gold Medal to honor Japanese American WW II veterans.
Thursday, May 14, 2009: Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today introduced legislation to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II. Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have signed on as original cosponsors of the measure. Companion legislation introduced by Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) passed today by a vote of 411 to 0 in the House of Representatives.
Senator Boxer said, “I am so pleased to introduce this long overdue legislation to honor the brave members of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team with a Congressional Gold Medal. These noble Japanese-Americans enlisted in the army and bravely fought for their country while many of their family and friends were being sent to internment camps. These soldiers made a bold and honorable sacrifice and should be recognized for their patriotism.”
These military units, which are also known as the “Go For Broke” regiment, earned several awards for their distinctive service in combat, including: 7 Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor, 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 22 Legion of Merit Medals, 15 Soldier’s Medals, 4,000 Bronze Stars and over 4,000 Purple Hearts, among numerous additional distinctions.
Thank you for your help. If you have any questions, please contact Terry Shima (301-987-6746)
Teaching in China Fellowships
The Overseas Young Chinese Forum (“OYCF”), a non-profit organization based in the United States, is pleased to announce that it is now accepting applications for its Teaching Fellowships, which sponsor short term teaching trips by overseas scholars or professionals (Chinese or non-Chinese) to universities or other comparable advanced educational institutions in China. The subjects of teaching include all fields of humanities and social sciences, such as anthropology, art, communication, economics, education, geography, international studies, law, literature, philosophy, political science, sociology,
Despite the economic downturn, the Ford Foundation just confirmed its financial support for this program for four more years. Combining this with another generous source of funding, the Gregory C. and Paula K. Chow OYCF Endowment Fund, the OYCF will grant 13 fellowship awards to support short term teaching trips during the Academic Year of 2009-10, including five (5) OYCF-Ford fellowships in the amount of $2,500 each and eight (8) OYCF-Gregory C. and Paula K. Chow fellowships in the amount of $2,000 each. The application deadline is August 15, 2009. Awards will be announced on September 15, 2009.
If you have a Ph.D., J.D., J.S.D. or a comparable graduate degree from, or is currently an advanced doctoral candidate (having passed the Ph.D. qualification examination and finished at least three years of graduate studies) in a university in North America or other areas outside China, and are interested in teaching a covered subject in a college or graduate school in Mainland China, please find the Information and Application Procedures for the OYCF Teaching
Fellowships on line at http://www.oycf.org/Teach/application.DOC. As noted therein, preference will be given to teaching proposals that include comparative or interdisciplinary perspectives; are about subjects that China is in relative shortage of teachers; or will be conducted at universities in
inland provinces and regions.
We encourage teaching fellows to go to China’s central and western regions. This year, we dedicate at least 1-2 fellowships as the Central or Western Region Teaching Fellowships to teaching fellows who plan to teach in an inland province or autonomous region. Accordingly, teaching proposals specifically designed for teaching in these regions are especially welcome. We also give preference to advanced Ph.D. student applicants who would combine this teaching opportunity with their dissertation research in China.
To submit your application, you will need an application form, a brief letter of interest, curriculum vitae or resume, a detailed course syllabus, an invitation letter from your host institution in China. Detailed instruction and application form can be found at the above web link. For more information about OYCF or its teaching program, please visit http://www.oycf.org. For questions concerning OYCF Teaching Fellowships or their application process, please contact Hui Zheng at email@example.com.
As history records it, for two months leading up to this week, thousands of young Chinese college students and their supporters camped out in Tiananmen Square publicly advocating for greater political freedom and rights before the Chinese authorities, led by Deng Ziaping and Li Peng, ordered the army to crush the “rebellion” in the early hours of June 4, 1989. An estimated 2,000 Chinese died in the crackdown.
CBS New’s news-magazine show Sunday Morning recently did a segment on the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square and examined what led to the protests, how it ended, and the modern legacy of the events of 20 years ago (about 6 minutes long):
The take-home message is that 20 years after turning on their own citizens, China’s leaders have implemented many of the students’ original demands and have eased up on their control over the lives of ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, the changes that have taken place do not include greater political democracy nor many of the freedoms that we in the U.S. take for granted, such as freedom of the press.
Instead, the changes since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests have steered Chinese toward a greater sense of nationalism (reaching a fever pitch at times) poised to rail against anything perceived to be anti-Chinese, an almost obsessive drive to make money and become rich (frequently at the expense of consumer safety), and perhaps most important, unquestioned acceptance of the communist regime’s authority and power.
In other words, the goals of the Tiananmen Square student protesters 20 years ago still remain largely unfulfilled and their efforts towards modernizing China toward a more democratic and humane society are still ongoing.
As we continue celebrating May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a common question I get from readers is, what are some common inventions that came from Asians? Basically, this question relates to the larger inquiry of what have been the contributions of Asians and Asian Americans to American society and the world through the years/centuries?
While I can’t give an exhaustive list, to help us answer one part of that question, HowStuffWorks recently featured the Top 10 Ancient Chinese Inventions. Their article includes an extended description and historical summary for each invention (certainly worth reading) but for those who want to cut to the chase, here is their list in reverse order:
9. The Compass
6. The Wheelbarrow
2. Hang Gliders
As probably the oldest and most well-known Asian culture, the Chinese and their inventions certainly deserve to be recognized since such inventions undoubtedly have had a significant impact on world civilizations and events throughout history. At the same time, we should remember that many other Asian cultures, along with Asian Americans, have made other contributions to benefit their society in many other ways.
If you’re keeping track, Sec. Locke is the third Asian American in President Obama’s cabinet, following Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Three Asian American cabinet secretaries is unprecedented in American history and needless to say, I join many others in expressing my elation and gratitude at President Obama’s picks for his cabinet.
For those who haven’t heard of Sec. Locke before, as Governor of Washington between 1997-2005, he was the first Chinese American governor in American history and the first Asian American governor of a mainland state. He was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and a possible Vice Presidential candidate. However, he declined to run for Governor after his second term and returned to private life thereafter.
As illustrated in PBS’s excellent 2005 documentary Searching for Asian America, Sec. Locke is known for being very intelligent and detail-oriented and as such, in many ways personifies some common cultural assumptions about Asian Americans. That’s not to say it’s good or bad, just to say that he represents a “safe choice” for President Obama in that way and was an attractive option since Obama’s first two nominees for the position both dropped out.
But I think another reason that President Obama chose Gary Locke is because, as also pointed out in the PBS documentary, Sec. Locke has many ties to the land of his ancestors, China. Therefore, it’s probably safe to assume that President Obama felt those personal and professional ties to China would come in handy as our nation and its economy tries to navigate through this recession and the 21st century global economy in general, one in which China will play a major role.
As such, Sec. Locke is the latest example of a theme that I’ve been writing about for some time — how Asian Americans are forging a new identity for themselves, one in which our “foreignness” or more specifically our transnational cultural ties and networks back to Asia, are seen as assets, rather than liabilities as we assert our identities as legitimate Americans in the 21st century.
In other words, in this era where American society is inevitably becoming more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse and where economic issues are likely to be a paramount concern for Americans individually and American society institutionally, we as Asian Americans now have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to American society. In the process of doing so, we can also help to reshape the image and definition of what it means to be an “American.”
This expanded definition of being an American includes not just emotional attachment and patriotic loyalty to an American identity, but also involves helping to achieve greater economic prosperity for American society. As we’re seeing right now, economic issues have emerged as significant factors and challenges to American society and its overall sense of national identity.
Within this contexts, Asian American are poised to make significant contributions to rebuilding the American economy and helping it become more competitive in the 21st century. These opportunities can involve many different examples. First, we know that at the aggregate level, Asian American households have the highest median income of all the major racial/ethnic groups.
Even when it comes to personal/per capita level, as data is beginning to show, US-born Asian American have matched or even exceeded the income level of Whites. Of course, we have to be careful and recognize that not all Asian Americans are economically successful, but overall, I think our community is doing well.
There was also the recent commentary in the NY Times which suggested, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that one way to stimulate the economy is to let in more Asian immigrants, who would buy up all he sub-prime homes, work 14 hour days to do it, improve the national savings rate, and start up businesses that will employ American workers.
More realistically, we’ve already seen examples of Asian enclaves proliferating around the country — in both urban and increasingly suburban areas — that have resulted in these areas becoming revitalized, with new businesses, jobs, homes, and other amenities being created.
The point is, the economic contributions of Asian Americans to the American economy is undeniable.
The second way that Asian American can contribute to a new and stronger American society relates more to the cultural level. As I mentioned earlier, it is clear that the world in general and American society in particular is becoming more diverse, globalized, and transnational. With that in mind, Asian Americans occupy a very central role in this evolving process.
As the U.S. seeks to maintain its influence around the world, it has no other choice but to embrace these global trends and to build more mutually-respectful connections with countries around the world, particular in Asia. In fact, Hillary Clinton has been doing just that as Secretary of State — in February she made high-profile visits to Japan, South Korea, China, and Indonesia.
So with this mind, Asian Americans can serve as a valuable facilitators in these connections because on the individual, community, and institutional levels, we still have strong ties and networks to Asian countries. This can take many different forms — maintaining relationships with friends and family and sending remittances back there, or using our bicultural skills and resources to do business back in Asia, or bringing our educational expertise to work on issues and projects focused on environmental sustainability, social equality, or human rights.
In the case of Secretary Locke, I think he represents this new form of Asian American identity — a “real” American of Asian ancestry but whose Asian ancestry can be a significant asset and advantage in terms of making significant contributions to strengthening our country, our economy, and our society.
Many Asian Americans (and for that matter, Americans from all kinds of backgrounds) are in a similar situation and as such, also have the same opportunity to become leaders in their community and in our society in the 21st century.
For some time now, I’ve written about how, on the international stage, countries such as China and India are emerging as economic, political, and cultural superpowers in the 21st century and domestically, how American society is becoming more and more diverse and globalized as a result. So what does the future hold for the U.S. as these trends become more institutionalized?
That’s the question that CBS News asks in a very interesting article entitled “Coming Soon: A Post-American World:
With The Rise Of China And Other Economies, The ‘Golden Age’ Of American Influence May Be Coming To An End.” Some excerpts:
“We can model the economy and show that by 2035, it will be as big, if not bigger than the United States’ economy will be at that time, and by the middle of the century it will be twice the size of the U.S. economy at that time,” [China expert Albert] Keidel said. . . .
In case you missed that – within the next 50 years China’s economy will double the size of the United States’ economy. Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, said, “What’s happening right now is, the world is moving beyond America. The future is, in many ways, being shaped in distant places by foreign people.” . . .
“That’s a big shift from a world in which America was at the center economically, financially, culturally, militarily, politically, to a world in which there are more centers and many forces, from India to China to Brazil to South Africa that have to be taken into account,” Zakaria said. . . .
“This is not happening because America is failing or declining,” Zakaria said. “It’s happening because the rest are rising, and it’s happening because the natives have gotten good at capitalism.”
The article goes on to discuss what the U.S. can do to retain its economic and political superiority in the face of these momentous changes:
[Alan Wolff, former U.S. trade negotiator:] “We need to change our tax policies, change our immigration policy. We made the U.S. a magnet, an attractive place for the best and the brightest in the world, and we frustrate that by saying, ‘You get a Ph.D. here and that doesn’t matter. Right now, we’re throwing you out.’ That’s very self-destructive behavior.”
“We save too little, we consume too much, we borrow too much from the rest of the world, we use energy in a profligate and wasteful fashion,” said Zakaria.
So is the decline of the American economic empire inevitable? That’s a very complicated question and one that I will continue to explore in this blog, but for now, I would love to hear from you, my readers, on what you think the future holds for the U.S. in terms of keeping its status as the most powerful nation in the world.
Feel free to add your comments and let me know what you think.