As we conclude May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, below is the transcript from a webchat that I recently did through the U.S. State Department with participants connected with U.S. embassies in various Asian countries. Overall, I think the webchat turned out well and I was happy to be a part of it.
At the same time, I noticed that many of the participants (presumably both U.S.- and foreign-based) have the same erroneous assumptions that I’ve discussed numerous times in this blog — that being “Asian” is the same as being “Asian American.” If anything, I hope that my answers helped to clarify both the similarities and differences between these two sets of experiences and issues.
- What is Asian Pacific American heritage?
Asian Pacific American heritage includes the history, experiences, and contributions of Americans of Asian descent. These contributions can be cultural, economic, and political.
- What are your specialties, what is your site about, and how can we participate on your website?
I mainly study the social and demographic characteristics of Asian Americans and different forms of assimilation and integration that they undergo, such as interracial and interethnic marriage, owning their own small business, living in an ethnic community, etc. My site discusses these and other political, economic, and cultural issues and news events related to Asian Americans. There is a comment section at the bottom of each of the articles an blog posts on my site where readers can share their reactions and opinions with each other. You can also contact me directly through a message form on my site as well.
- I’m from Cambodia. What can I help contribute to the APA heritage?
Globalization and demographic changes have resulted in more connections between Asian countries and the U.S. so Asian Americans have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront on such changes for the benefit of everyone involved. Many Asian citizens already have connections to friends and relatives in the U.S. and can serve as a valuable part of this emerging network.
- Have you studied in a foreign country and if so, what did you think?
Unfortunately I’ve never studied abroad, which is something that I regret not doing while in college.
- Do you have any activities relating to Viet Nam and China around Hoang Sa Island?
I’m sorry but I don’t have any activities that relate directly to that region. My expertise is in Asian American issues, rather than Asian issues. In fact, I should take this opportunity to make a small correction in Jennryn’s introduction of me — I’m a professor of Asian American Studies, not Asian Studies.
- Could you give some reflections about the relationship between Asia and the U.S?
It’s certainly a very complicated issue and one that contains many contradictions. For example, the U.S. loves the cheap labor and natural resources that Asia offers but is suspicious of the power that Asian countries represent. It’s a similar situation with Asian Americans — the rest of America loves the cultural contributions that Asian Americans have added to American society like Chinese restaurants, but is wary that Asian Americans frequently are more educated and make more money than the rest of the U.S.
- A coworker of mine would like to ask C.N. Le about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She says this year, it will feature Asian Americans (and Mexico). Dates are June 24-28 and July 1-5.
From what I know if it, I think it’s a good idea to include other racial/ethnic groups in these kinds of festivals. We all live in the same society and have to interact with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, so it makes sense to get to know our neighbors more and to celebrate the many similarities and connections that we share together.
- How can Asian culture spread in America?
In fact, many aspects of Asian culture has been incorporated into the American mainstream. This includes media and pop culture examples like anime, manga, martial arts movies, etc. Also includes food, some forms of fashion and other kinds of trends. The key component of this infusion of Asian culture into America is that hopefully Americans will understand and appreciate the history of the culture behind the trend, and not just see it as another commodity or accessory.
- I want to study out side of my country but am poor in English, so what can I do?
Well I’m not an expert on study abroad advising but I presume that your school or college offers English classes for you to improve your English skills so that you can one day feel comfortable in studying in the U.S.
- What kind of stereotypes do you address in your website?
There have been two main stereotypes that Asian Americans have encountered through the years. First is that all Asian Americans are foreigners — this is the idea that we’re outsiders and not ”real” Americans, even though many Asian Americans have been in the U.S. for several generations and in terms of their values, behaviors, and loyalty, are just as American as anybody else. Second is the stereotype that all Asian Americans are the same — that there are no differences between ethnic groups — that being Chinese American is the same as Japanese American etc.
- People say that America is a melting-pot, what do you think about this?
There are some aspects of that melting pot image that is true. As I mentioned, different aspects of Asian culture have been incorporated into the American mainstream. Also, interracial marriage between different racial groups through the years have resulted in the emergence of a growing mixed race/multiracial population. On the other hand, in terms of political power the U.S. is still a very segregated society unfortunately.
- What are main problems of population growth?
I’m not sure the main problem is population growth per se but rather the economic opportunities that are associated with growing populations. If a society has the proper resources where growing populations can be adequately cared for, educated, and employed, then the problems normally associated with population growth are less of a concern.
- I don’t understand what you mean when you mention that Asian Americans are not real Americans and there are no differences between ethnic groups. Can you explain more?
I will use the example of Vincent Chin — he was a Chinese American living in Detroit in 1982 who was beaten to death by two White men who mistook him for being Japanese and blamed him for them losing their jobs as autoworkers. In this example, we see that the two White men did not differentiate between being Chinese or Japanese — that’s the stereotype that all Asians are the same. Second, they assumed that because of his Asian ancestry that he was not a real American and in fact, accused him of being an enemy of the U.S. by taking over their jobs — this is the stereotype that all Asians are foreginers and not real Americans.
- Can you give us an example of some of the interesting census statistics you deal with related to diversity?
Yes, Census statistics paint a very interesting picture — Asian Americans are currently about 5% of the total US population but will increase to about 10% in a few decades. The Latino population has increased significantly as well — from about 15% now to about 25% in a few decades. In fact, around the year 2045, Whites will no longer comprise a majority of the population — they’ll still be the largest racial group by far, but non-Whites will eventually make up more than 50% of the US population.
- America is a new continent, what has America created as their own heritage?
America’s heritage is that it offers some of the best opportunities in the world for people to improve their lives. That is why billions of people around the world want to come to the U.S. and in fact, feel compelled to come here without authorization. The US is the first choice of destination for many people around the world because of all the opportunities it offers. But that is also why it is so frustrating when people come here and run into different barriers on their way to accessing those opportunities. Hopefully the US can remember and emphasize its role as the land of opportunity as we move forward in the 21st century.
- Thanks for the opportunity to share my work. I enjoyed answering people’s questions and hope that we all continue these kinds of discussions in other parts of our work and lives.