Topics & Articles

Home

Culture

Ethnic Groups

History

Issues

Links

Viet Nam



Search

or Browse the Archives

or Gets Posts by Tags



Most Popular Books on Asian-Nation

Miscellaneous

All posts copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le.
Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

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.

Blog powered by WordPress


Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

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.

November 9, 2009

Written by C.N.

New York Marathon Winner: Not a ‘Real’ American?

A common theme in many of my recent posts has been the backlash among many White Americans against various demographic, cultural, political, economic, and globalized changes taking place in American society and the world in general. As their percentage of the U.S. population continues to shrink, as non-Whites become increasingly prominent in our society (represented at the very top by Barack Obama), and with the recession heightening their fears and insecurities, many White Americans have reacted angrily to their traditional “way of life” being threatened.

As I’ve argued, some recent examples of this kind of subtle and explicit anti-minority and anti-immigrant backlash include incidents of police brutality in San Jose, a newborn taken away from its mother because she was fluent in English, Black and Latino children excluded from an almost all-White swimming club, and various other incidents ranging from harassment to murder.

I don’t really enjoy writing about such incidents and would really like to let it go and instead, focus on more positive aspects of American society moving forward in the 21st century. But unfortunately, these kinds of racist backlash keep happening over and over again. The latest example involves Meb Keflezighi, an Eritrean American who recently won the New York City Marathon. This video clip from MSNBC focuses on his well-earned victory:

Unfortunately, as the New York Times reports, his victory has also led to charges that his victory should not really count as an “American” victory because he is not “really” American:

He was widely celebrated as the first American to win the New York race since 1982. Having immigrated to the United States at age 12, he is an American citizen and a product of American distance running programs at the youth, college and professional levels. But, some said, because he was born in Eritrea, he is not really an American runner. . . .

The online postings about Keflezighi were anonymous. One of the milder ones on Letsrun.com said: “Give us all a break. It’s just another African marathon winner.”

A comment on The New York Times’s site said: “Keflezighi is really another elite African runner by birth, upbringing, and training. Americans are kidding themselves if they say he represents a resurgence of American distance prowess! On the other hand, he is an excellent representative of how we import everything we need!”

In a commentary on CNBC.com, Darren Rovell wrote, “Nothing against Keflezighi, but he’s like a ringer who you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league.”

To clarify, Keflezighi came to the U.S. at the age of 12, so he is part of what sociologists tend to call the “1.5″ generation — immigrants who came to the U.S. at age 12 or younger and who were raised, socialized, and educated primarily within American society. As the NY Times article also notes, he is “a product of American distance running programs at the youth, college and professional levels.”

The question becomes, if Keflezighi is not a “real” American, then what exactly are the qualifications of being a “real” American?

Apparently, coming to the U.S. at a young age and being raised and educated in the U.S. doesn’t qualify one as a “real” American. Neither does being a naturalized citizen. And according to many, being born in the U.S. is not enough to qualify someone as a “real” American either, as many Asian Americans will attest to, having their loyalties questioned, challenged, and attacked.

We need to call it for what it is — White racism, plain and simple.

The sad fact is, for many Americans, unless you are White, you will never be a “real” American. That includes non-White or -European immigrants and U.S.-born racial minorities. This institutional mentality has a long tradition throughout American history. Perhaps the best example that comes to mind is the Cherokee Nation.

In the early 1800s, with Whites encroaching on their traditional lands in the south, the Cherokees were basically told that if they wanted to physically survive, they had to discard their “savage” ways and become Americanized. The Cherokees proceeded to do just that and completely changed their way of life — they learned English as well as romanized their traditional language, began wearing “American” clothing, set up a bicameral governing structure based on Congress’s model, and changed their economy from one based on hunting to one focused on farming and trading.

But in the end, their efforts were in vain because they basically learned that despite their actions, since they were not White, they could never be American. The Cherokee were subsequently evicted from their lands and in the infamous “Trail of Tears” episode of American history, forcibly marched from northwestern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee one thousand miles westward. Along the way, about 25% of the estimated 15,000 who started died from starvation, disease, exhaustion, or were murdered before finally reaching the Oklahoma territory and their newly-established “reservations.”

Even though non-Whites may display all the “normal” characteristics and behaviors of a “typical” American — being fluent in English, getting a good education and a good job, owning a nice house in the suburbs, paying taxes, voting in elections, attending Christian churches, going to ballgames and having backyard barbecues — unless you are White, your identity as a “real” American will inevitably be challenged in one way or another.

My fellow Asian American blogger Jenn at Reappropriate argues very succinctly:

Often, naturalized Americans have done more to establish their “American-ness” than those who are American by accident of birth. Which isn’t to say that naturalized Americans are more American than domestically-born Americans; being American isn’t a question of degrees. Instead, it’s simple math: one is or one isn’t American.

As I’ve said before, change does not come easily and without resistance of one kind or another and unfortunately, this anti-immigrant and anti-minority backlash will exist for the foreseeable future.


November 4, 2009

Written by C.N.

John Liu: Asian American Politician on the Rise

Yesterday was Election Day and there were many Asian American candidates running for office throughout the country. For those who are curious, APAs for Progress has a summary of how individual Asian American candidates did in their particular contests. Perhaps the biggest win for Asian Americans came with the victory of John C. Liu to be New York City’s Comptroller. As the New York Times summarizes, Liu’s win is significant in many ways:

John C. Liu © Rob Bennett/New York Times

New York City Councilman John C. Liu was elected city comptroller in 2009, becoming the first Asian-American elected to citywide office in New York City. Mr. Liu’s victory could quickly make him a strong contender for mayor in 2013. . . .

In 2001 Mr. Liu, then a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, became the first Asian member of the City Council. The election was hailed as a watershed for the Chinese-American community, which had long been shut out of the political mainstream. Mr. Liu easily won re-election in 2003 and 2005.

These sentiments and early speculation about Liu’s plans for the future are echoed in another news report from New York City’s WCBS TV news station:

[Liu's successful campaign] is a big deal to many. “He is also an immigrant like me, is not American-born like me, so it’s very exciting,” said supporter Wing Ma. Some see his victory as a fitting reflection of national politics in the age of Obama. “I see a parallel, for him to make history,” said Henry Singleton. . . .

Of course four years is a long way off and no one becomes mayor in this town without a fight, but on Tuesday night, New York’s new comptroller-elect is giving off the glow of a political rising star.

Indeed, a lot of good and bad things can happen to Liu in the next four years, so it is rather early to pencil him in for any higher political office at this point. Nonetheless, he is definitely a rising star in the Democratic party and among many Asian Americans and is worth keeping an eye on in the upcoming years.

I congratulate John C. Liu and wish him the best success.


September 3, 2008

Written by C.N.

Latest Immigration and Assimilation Research

As mentioned on the Contexts Crawler blog, National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a podcast that discussed the results of a comprehensive study by some of the best-known and most-respected sociologists in the field on the question of whether contemporary immigrants are immigrating into the American mainstream as easily as previous streams of immigrants:

The “second generation” project looked at five groups [in the NYC metro area] — Russians, Dominicans, South Americans, Chinese and West Indians — and compared them with U.S.-born whites, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans. Researchers found that most in the second generation were fluent in English and working in the mainstream economy.

When they looked at economic and educational achievement, they found that West Indians were doing better, in general, than African-Americans; Dominicans were doing better than Puerto Ricans; and the Chinese and the Russians were doing as well as or better than native-born whites. . . .

Legal immigration is more difficult today, and researchers note that this may well change the rate of assimilation. But for these five groups, “what we really find is a very rapid assimilation and becoming American,” says Mary Waters of Harvard University, another author of the study, titled Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age. . . .

Although Inheriting the City paints an optimistic portrait of this second generation, it has some warnings about the situation facing native-born minorities. The researchers also say the children of undocumented immigrants tend to do worse and have a tougher time assimilating. Because legal immigration is tougher to come by today, researchers say they wonder whether the path for the next “second generation” will be as smooth.

Although I have not read the Inheriting the City book, given my high regard for the expertise of the book’s authors, I have no doubt that it is a very informative and interesting look at this ongoing issue of assimilation among contemporary immigrants.

I look forward to checking it out soon.


June 4, 2007

Written by C.N.

Asianization of Queens, New York

As I’ve written about before, assimilation can come in many different forms these days. In the past, assimilation usually meant the immigrant or “newcomer” group had to conform to virtually all aspects of the majority culture in order to be accepted. However, as American society and the world in general becomes increasingly globalized and transnational, the rules have changed. And as the New York Times reports, at the forefront of these changes are Asian Americans such as those in the Queens borough of New York City:

Pitched battles have been fought over language in Flushing, whose white ethnic population has receded as Korean and Chinese immigrants have arrived. In the late 1980s, when City Councilwoman Julia Harrison proposed a bill requiring businesses to post signs in English, a public divide seemed to open: On one side were the waves of Asian newcomers; on the other, longtime residents who felt displaced and alienated. . . .

So on a rainy Wednesday evening, she was back in the basement room of the Queens housing project where two dozen adults gather every week to learn Mandarin. The free classes at the James A. Bland Houses draw a motley assortment of students; the current session includes an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, a black woman who grew up in the housing project and the practical-minded daughter of Hungarian immigrants.

They have in common these two attributes: They have lived in Flushing since before it was Asian, and they have decided that the time has come to adapt. “Kind of like, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,’ ” said Ms. Farren, whose Italian-American relatives cannot fathom why she hasn’t left for New Jersey.

As the article describes, there are still several obstacles on the road to full acceptance of how “Asian American” Queens has become. There are many residents — new and longtime, and of all races and ethnicities — who are still resistant to the demographic and cultural realities surrounding them. Nonetheless, it is gratifying to see that increasing, there seem to be many more residents who are embracing these trends and realize that Asian Americans add to Queens’ vibrant culture, rather than detracting from it.

Like I keep saying, assimilation comes in many forms these days.