As the son of immigrants who had come from China to the United States seeking freedom and opportunity, I grew up in the American Midwest in the 1970s. I wanted to be just like my classmates and neighbors, and I worked hard to assimilate. Yet we never forgot, because we were not allowed to, that somehow we were different. You would not have expected to meet people like us on Sunnydale Lane; you would instead have believed we belonged on the other side of the world.
This report captures that complexity: the general perception of Asian Americans turns out to be anything but simple. It’s impossible to reduce to a soundbite – an accurate soundbite anyway. Instead, our experiences reflect the ambiguities of the changing face of our nation. For within our lifetimes, we will become the first society in human history anywhere on the globe to cease to have any clearly identifiable majority group.
Discrimination and diversity are hard subjects for us to discuss. Racial and ethnic issues are controversial, and it’s easy for emotions and stereotypes to overwhelm reason and data. Civil rights are an even more difficult subject as to Asian Americans. People seem to assume that individuals and communities coming across the Pacific Ocean, rather than the Atlantic Ocean or the Rio Grande, are well-off or only temporarily here.
Of course many Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have achieved great success. Some of them indeed travel back and forth within the global economy and are at home in Shanghai as New York City.
There is a tremendous diversity, too, within this population that is grouped together under an artificial label. They range from students to entrepreneurs, recently-landed refugees to fifth generation Californians, adoptees to mixed-race persons enthusiastic about claiming multiple heritages.
This survey shows that we are accepted on the whole, but doubts about our loyalty persist in the background. We are regarded positively, yet compliments also can turn into criticism as working hard is deemed to be unfair competition.
The facts in this report serve as a reminder and an inspiration. We have work to do – and we have friends who will join us. I have confidence in the American Dream that drew my parents, as it did the ancestors of so many of us who are proud to call ourselves citizens of the United States.