CONTEMPORARY CHINESE AMERICA
Contemporary Chinese America is an in-depth sociological anthropologic encounter of Chinese immigrants into America. Min Zhou (the author), takes the reader through a step by step analysis of the causes of immigration and the consequences both in China and America. The author seeks to explain China demographics tendencies, gender roles, assimilation, culture and culture change. In this investigative study, the author describes the hardships most of the immigrants had to endure in order to secure a niche in the American society. She also explains the role that the immigrants have played in shaping the current America through entrepreneurship, economics, culture studies and also technology.
According to the book the 1800 century witnessed a major influx of the Chinese in America who fled from poverty for the promise a more luxurious life in America. They provided affordable labor for the construction of the railroads, others become miners in the goldmines and others settled in San Francisco’s’ China town. Most of the immigrants are said to have come to America illegally and the story illustrates how they endured harsh conditions in the ships that ferried them to America ranging from starvation to communicable diseases that saw majority of them lose their lives.
In America, there were numerous anti Chinese riots, their homes were burned and they were threatened with death if they did not leave. The Chinese through hostility from the Americans were able to retain their culture. Children went to neighborhood schools but most cities had separate schools for the Asians which played a role in preserving their culture and language. Most immigrants lived and worked within the China towns and never got to learn English. They lived a secluded life and even honored China national holidays; they did not mix with the residents of America who did not welcome them.
World War II saw china and America become allies and for these reason, Chinese in America started being treated with a lot more respect. Acculturation was brought about in 1952, as laws that prohibited Chinese from buying homes outside china town were dropped. These also saw California formerly known as the gold mountain drop the law that prohibited Asians from marrying outside their race; they were also allowed to own land. As the restrictions were dropped, the Chinese were slowly but not fully assimilated into the American society. The china towns played a role in the retention of their ethnicity and culture. It is thought that this is because they saw very little difference in the measure of cultural values with respect to eccentricity against collectiveness. Their businesses were and still are solidly connected through intricate systems that stretch across oceans.
Zhou takes a critical analysis on gender roles of the immigrants’ families which changed with assimilation. At first the Chinese American community was dominantly male but later families (mostly native children) started to trickle in. Elderly men who were savvy in solving problems and offering solutions in conflict cases lost their powers due to limited fluency in English. Young children worked as laborers thus undermining the father’s duty of being the sole breadwinner for the family. Women adopted easily as they had more protection from abuse, they traded with their needle work and thus contributed in providing for the family. They changed from being mere housewives to cultured business women.
Generally the book is a written ethnography that places the immigrants on a world platform. The author tries to answer questions such as why they immigrated and how they came to be what they are today. The author highlights the contribution made by the immigrants to the American society. It is a book I would recommend for college human anthropology studies, as it paints America as a land of immigrants whose story is the history of America.
Zhou, M. (2009). Chinese America: immigration, ethnicity and community. Philadelphia: Temple University