The Immigrant Mentality

The Year of the Ox is upon us. My wife and I are going to visit my parents over the weekend for the traditional meal. The Chinese, just like many other Asian ethnic groups, tend to be orally fixated: everything revolves around food. This makes a lot of sense, because historically the people of China went through quite a few hard times: plenty of war, plenty of famines, plenty of poverty.

Tough times make tough people, which is why there are Chinese all over the world. An immigrant, by definition, is not passive, but a risk taker. After all, it takes a lot of balls to go on a quest for riches in a foreign and hostile land when you don't even know the language. And yet the Chinese and other Asians are viewed as passive, submissive and adverse to risk. Why is there such a big fat disconnect between perception and reality?

Most of the Chinese immigrants of the Diaspora come from the Guangdong region. Historically this region of China has a long tradition of seafaring, and because the region has always been so far from the capital and from government rule, the people of this region have been coming and going despite government restrictions on immigration.

Before Confucianism took hold in China, the Cantonese people were fiercely independent, individualistic and outspoken. There’s a reason why the martial arts revenge movie genre originated in Hong Kong: you can’t rely on the government to mete out justice. Justice is personal and something that you take an active role in to ensure its outcome. And it feels good to kick someone’s ass for being a dickhead.

Confucianism, however, stresses hierarchy, duty, modesty and assimilation. So when the ideology took over in the region, a duality of culture was created.

The Cantonese and other peoples of the Guangdong region immigrated to other lands, but they tried to assimilate somewhat to avoid being a target. This is why ABC’s take on Western names. At the same time, the Cantonese try to keep their cultural heritage intact but subdued and hidden. This is why the middle names of ABC’s are their Chinese names.

This Confucian need to assimilate is compounded in American society. Asian Americans care so much about what others think of them, that it makes them susceptible to an exaggerated form of assimilation where they pander to whites and crap on their Asian brothers and sisters.

In order to assimilate, you don’t rock the boat. You don’t fight the system, because your parents taught you subconsciously that back in the old country, fighting the system gets you killed. You are already racially marked as an Asian, so standing out or raising a ruckass over your troubles just gets you into trouble.

In a sense ABC’s are more passive than immigrants, because they were raised to be this way. They were not taught how to articulate their anger over injustices, because their parents weren’t able to articulate it in English themselves.

As an ABC, once you realize this dual aspect of your Chinese American culture, things become much clearer. You learn that you have a unique cultural blend that has many strengths. You learn not to care so much about what others think, and instead you care about real consequences.

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