Thursday, August 05, 2010

Chinese American in America

I haven't lived in the South in a really long time, but since living abroad I've always had the optimistic hopeful expectation that white America was finally recognizing and accepting minorities as Americans rather than foreigners, immigrants, and illegals. I thought that minorities have made a showing to America that we exist as Americans. We are on TV, in movies, in schools, in politics, at church, in the workplace. We are visible. We are actively participating in American society, living in America, speaking English. Our cultural instincts and customs are American. I thought America was ready to accept us as Americans regardless of skin color.

Sitting on a bench in a supermarket waiting for my mom to finish her errands, a white haired man sat down and started to make small talk.

Man: Is it hot enough for you?
Jen: It sure is.
Man: Is it as hot as where you're originally from?
Jen: Well where I am working now, it isn't as hot. (Thoughts: originally from? What if I was born and raised in America, generations and generations. Why does my skin color label me as an outsider, who has an original country when everyone even the white people have their original countries?)
Man: Are you from Korea? Is it hot there?
Jen: No. I was born in Taiwan but I've lived most of my life in America.
Man: Oh Taiwan. Do you visit often? Is it hot there?
Jen: Umm... I don't remember I was too little. I am working in China though with the American Peace Corps. I'm on home leave.
Man: Oh China. Isn't there a lot of flooding there now?
Jen: Yeah in some parts. I've gotta go. Here is my mom. Bye.

In China, I always observed that I was perceived as Chinese first and never as American. My Chinese students would always tell me that I could become even more Chinese if I learned the culture and spoke the language, but my white American counterparts even if they lived longer in China, spoke better Chinese, and knew the culture better would never be Chinese because of their skin color. I always thought it was absurd because isn't it your actions and language more important than skin color that labels which country you belong to and are a citizen of?

Apparently not.

Even in America, a place that was built by immigrants and slavery, a country that has had to deal with the diversity of its population, my skin color labels me as a foreigner, an immigrant, maybe an illegal, an outsider, not American. Today is there still a perception amongst the US majority that American citizens are white and everyone else isn't? If certain laws start passing across the USA (laws like in AZ " that called for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and required immigrants to prove that they were authorized to be in the country or risk state charges"-NYtimes), will I be assumed to be illegal until I can prove that I am not? Will my skin color be used against me? Will I no longer be an American, but be an illegal foreigner until I can prove otherwise?

1 comment:

Soledad said...

It is sometimes difficult for people to look beyond the surface. Surface is what people see first (ie skin color). America is a country of immigrants--true--however, America is about 65% white and 35% minorities.

If you can see, look. If you can look, observe.