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Chinese Americans After World War II - ASSIMILATION AND DISCRIMINATION, ANOTHER WAVE OF CHINESE IMMIGRATION

suburbs chinatowns san francisco

In the 1950s and 1960s, social progress and the African-American civil rights movement opened some doors for Chinese Americans in employment, education, and housing. As a result, there was a steady exodus of Chinese out of America’s Chinatowns. The postwar economic boom, an expansion of higher education, and rapid suburbanization created unprecedented job opportunities in selective sectors of the labor market for women and minorities in the suburbs. College-educated Chinese Americans began to enter traditionally white workplaces and schools, neighborhoods and suburbs, and professional and civic organizations. In particular, the rapid growth of the defense industry, especially in the electronic, telecommunication, and aerospace sectors, provided a rare opportunity for Chinese Americans trained in science and technology. In addition, changes in immigration law in 1965 brought a new wave of Chinese immigrants from both ends of the economic spectrum.

ASSIMILATION AND DISCRIMINATION

The exodus to the suburbs proved to be bumpy and at times painful. The Chinese-American arrival in these areas was seen as a transgression into historically white space, and those who chose to move there were frequently greeted with resistance and more subtle forms of discrimination. Chinese-American men were deemed competent technical workers, excelling in mathematics, accounting, science, and technology, and Chinese American women were regarded as compliant and reliable clerical workers. Nevertheless, Chinese Americans found that these racial stereotypes severely limited their occupational choices and upward mobility. This kind of benevolent but selective assimilation gave rise to a Chinese-American concentration in certain types of occupations and residential settlements in neighborhoods and suburbs outside of Chinatowns in major cities, such as the Richmond District of San Francisco and Flushing in New York City. Clusters of Chinese-American populations grew in select suburbs, such Daly City, Fremont, Cupertino, Mountain View, Monterey Park, and Alhambra in California. Even in the midst of some integrated work-place and residential spaces, Chinese Americans remained, by and large, socially segregated.

In 1965 the U.S. Congress enacted amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that abolished the insulting limitations on immigration from the “Asia-Pacific Triangle” and phased out the discriminatory national origins quotas over a three-year period. The number of Chinese immigrants in the next few years jumped to 25,000 to 30,000 per year, contributing to a sharp increase in the Chinese-American population in the United States. (This population numbered 217,000 in 1960, 433,000 in 1970, 805,000 in 1980, 1.6 million in 1990, and 2.4 million in 2000). In signing the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared, “I pledge we will not delay or we will not hesitate, or will not turn aside until Americans of every race and color and origin in this country have the same rights as all others in the progress of democracy.” That pledge turned out to be too late and a promise unfulfilled. By the late 1960s, Chinatown populations and socioeconomic problems were bursting at the seams and racial discrimination against Chinese Americans was no longer confined to Chinatown. Traditional social organizations, such as the huiguan (district associations) and gongsuo (family associations), were too Chinatown-bound, paralyzed, and ill-prepared, having only dealt with issues and problems within the geographic confines of traditional Chinatowns. Among middle-class Chinese Americans in the suburbs, the drive toward assimilation and the obsession with gaining acceptance by Euro-Americans stifled the founding of new Chinese-American civil rights, professional, and political organizations that could speak out effectively for the new Chinese America.

ANOTHER WAVE OF CHINESE IMMIGRATION

President Richard Nixon’s policy of détente with China, political instability in Southeast Asia, and the transfer of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty were landmarks in a political and economic realignment that brought a new wave of immigrants of Chinese descent to the United States. Middle- and upper-class arrivals with substantial resources joined the push for urban renewal in and around historic Chinatowns.

From New York to San Francisco and from Miami to Chicago, real estate, banking, the high-tech industry, upscale Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, and shopping malls in Chinatowns and in Chinese-concentrated suburbs were among the favorites of transnational capital from Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Their investments have profoundly changed the landscape and class structure not only of Chinatowns, but also of those middle-class suburbs with a strong Chinese presence. Nowhere is the change more dramatic and visible than in the string of suburbs along Interstate 10 heading east from downtown Los Angeles. Chinese businesses and shopping malls dominate Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rosemead, San Gabriel, El Monte, Hacienda Heights, Covina, Walnut, Diamond Bar, Roland Heights, and Pomona. Cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Toronto have several Chinatowns, while cities such as Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Miami have Chinese shopping malls here and there. The middle-class suburbs along the two highways—101 and 880—leading to the famed Silicon Valley south of San Francisco and Oakland have the highest concentration of Chinese-American scientists and engineers in the country. The presence of a high percentage of Chinese-American faculty, staff, and students at Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco also add to the disproportional presence of Chinese-American scientists and engineers in the entire San Francisco Bay area.

Chinese Diaspora - DISCOURSES AND PRACTICES REIFYING ESSENTIAL HUMAN DIFFERENCE, CHINESE CONFRONT EUROPEAN COLONIALISM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA [next] [back] China-U.S. Relations and Chinese Americans - RACIALIZATION OF NATIONAL SECURITY AND ASSIMILATION, THE COLD WAR ERA

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