American Born Chinese – 美國土生華人

October 28, 2007

Distinguishing Both Chinese and American Rhetoric

Filed under: Asia America, Assimilation, Personal Experiences — americanbornchinese @ 9:04 am

Dear Reader,

I sincerely apologize for the lack of updates as it has been many months since I last posted. I am currently in the midst of school projects, assignments, and midterms. I will definitely try to post more often, but my frequency of posts also depends upon how inspired I am to write regarding a selected topic or about a particular circumstance or series of events happening that pertain primarily to the Chinese/Asian American experience, history, culture, and community. If you are a regular visitor, I thank you for your interest in coming to my blog. Stay tuned for more updates in the near future, and I highly encourage discussion in comments if you would like to share any relevant personal experiences, opinions, or whatnot.

– Site Moderator

 

Intercultural Communication – Chinese and Western Styles 

I recently read an article online that depicted the differences between Chinese and American communicative styles as an indication of the varying degrees of clarity particularly within the context of written expression. I realized subsequently how applicable this particular article was to my own personal experiences in writing as well. Having a lifestyle defined by a duo identity – Chinese and American – I have often sought for a harmonious balance and integration of both cultures simultaneously into my life, but in the following situation, the issue of discrepancy between both has even risen forth within the classroom context.

For the background information, I am currently an Industrial Design major, and the class I am taking this semester is defined by a curriculum formatted to build and enhance our skills in communication and presentations. We’ve had a number of projects lately that pertained specifically to our career-oriented field, including resumes, cover letters, business proposals, and of the like – a heavy amount of writing skills that we need to utilize for this course. Thus, our work is ultimately scrutinized for its components of structure, formatting, and writing.

One of our major assignments had been to write up a resume and an accompanying cover letter in response to a job posting we found online, tailoring the content so that it would directly fulfill the requirements of the posting with our qualifications. Needless to say, we did not apply in actuality; this assignment was merely to train us so that we would know how to do so effectively in the future.

As you will soon read in the following conversation with my professor, my adherence to a particular cultural standard over another has somehow impeded my ability to write an effective cover letter, though it had initially been oblivious to me. Or, at least, that’s what my professor interpreted it to be… But I am also caught pondering about whether my writing style had been truly reflective of an instilled cultural characteristic or whether it had actually been my own personal style of creative writing evolved over many years of habitual exposure and practice. Maybe a little bit of both.

Conversation with my Professor regarding my Cover Letter

(I apparently did not quote this word-for-word as it was, but this is representative of our discussion and all the details and main points I remember clearly from it.)

Following the end of class, I come up to my professor, wanting to seek help from her on how I could revise and improve upon my cover letter. She takes my sheet of paper, and after a few minutes of reading, she suddenly speaks up:

Professor: “I want to ask you something. What’s your cultural background?”

Me: “My cultural background? What do you want to know?”

 

Professor: “Just tell me what background or culture you identify most with.”

Me: “Umm…I’m Chinese, if that’s what you’re asking….” 

Up to this point, I had been thinking, “What does my cultural background or ethnicity have anything to do with a cover letter that I’ve just written for a class assignment in order to apply for a potential design job?”

Professor: “Ahh, that might explain your style of writing…After reading your cover letter, I cannot help but notice that you’ve used a lot of particular words and phrases that pertain to a type of communication style I’ve noticed among Chinese. You tend to use a lot of abstract words that deviate from the direct points you ought to make in your letter. Hmm, *peers more closely at the letter* “Blossom” into success? That’s interesting.” *Appears amused*

Me: “Um, well…I normally write this way, and I’ve been told that I often ramble on in my writings without much of a direction sometimes. I like to be abstract and expressive when it comes to writing.” 

Professor: “Okay. However, this isn’t a creative writing class; this is a business-related type of letter that targets an audience of businessmen who are looking for direct, honest statements of how your qualifications can fit their needs and how you can personally contribute to their services. Additionally, you have to include specific examples of how you can particularly tailor your skills to their expectations and eventually prove that you will be an asset to their company. Explaining that you have the capabilities and the competence is what most other applicants write in their letters, but you must demonstrate what you can truly provide them.”  

Me: “Oh I see. So you’re saying I ought to be more direct and just communicate my point across simply by targeting the company’s goals rather than my own?” 

Professor: “Yes, my point exactly. As I read through your letter, I noticed that you included phrases such as “build up my character” and “my strong desire to learn and grow within the company.” In truth, the company is looking to see how you can build them up and how you can develop a strong desire to grow the company. While you use words that are important communication tools that explain who you are and what you expect, you need to be more explicit and direct in your writing and make them realize all that you have to offer. I’ve had my experiences working with different people of varying cultural backgrounds, and what I notice is that Chinese have a tendency to be implicit in their writings, meaning that they are often winding in different directions but not exactly pinpointing their main intent.” 

Me: *Brief hesitation* “Oh, I see; I understand.” 

Professor: “One of the important things to consider is your audience. You are presumably writing to an American company, and the way you write is an important aspect of how the company will view you on first impression based upon your cover letter and resume. So you must also place that into consideration. On the other hand, if you were writing to apply for a position at a Chinese company, well, then you may need to modify your letter in order for it to fit the cultural expectations of your employer.”

 

It is said that the American communicative pattern could be defined by just a simple arrow pointing in a straight line toward its designated direction, while the Chinese pattern could be characterized by an arrow spiraling and curving every whichway. In other words, the American style is direct, frank, and straightforward, while the Chinese style is implicit and indirect, often weaving its way back and forth before arriving to a final halt at its targeted location.

Does the issue of plainness and clarity truly sprout forth from the product of Western culture, and does Chinese communication really suggest a sense of implicitness and ambiguity on the contrary? Even as my professor had been speaking, I felt compelled to immediately shirk in embarrassment due to the sudden label that segregated me under that “umbrella” of thought and perception toward the Chinese in general. I wanted to launch an impulsive counterattack that, as a matter-of-factly, I had been born and raised on American soil and that I’ve lived my entire life here – having been accustomed and assimilated into its mainstream culture, values, and practices – so how is it possible that one can isolate me and place me into a separate category from the average American based upon my rhetoric style?

Throughout my life, I’ve attended American English school, and I’ve received the same type of education in reading and writing as any of my non-Asian counterparts have in the U.S. Moreover, not once have my parents sent me to a Chinese-learning institution when I was young. Aside from that, the only cultural influences I have been exposed to are namely from my family and the various Chinese ethnic enclaves within the Bay Area, primarily in Chinatown and in other Chinese-populated districts. So it’s difficult for me to fathom how my writing skills, in that case, could have been so culturally influenced by the characteristics of my ethnic heritage roots. Shouldn’t I be more naturally inclined toward an American communicative style instead?

Perhaps, as I’ve mentioned, my writing behavior can also be attributed to my own personal preferences of creative writing. And perhaps, taking into account that this had been my first time writing up a formal cover letter, I probably hadn’t really been able to differentiate the writing techniques and objectives of a business letter as juxtaposed with those of a creative piece of literary work.

To this day, I strive to understand and distinguish the rhetoric between Chinese and American communicative styles in the verbal and written contexts. And overall, as an American-born Chinese, I yearn to be more open-minded to both sides of the picture, and one day, I just might be able to somehow bridge the cultural gaps that divide these two cultures from one another.

Source: http://web.mit.edu/kdevries/www/clarity2a.pdf (PDF file) 

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August 5, 2007

Differences in Western and Chinese/Asian Cultures

Filed under: Asia America — americanbornchinese @ 6:52 am

General News Update: This ABC blog has finally been updated with a new post! Again, I apologize for the lack of updates since it’s been so long that I’ve last written an entry (wow, more than a month ago). I’ve been wrapped up with many other obligations and priorities (such as job hunting) that I haven’t paid much heed to this blog. Anyway, I’ve taken the time to research this topic and contemplate upon my own relevant experiences, and I’ve spent about two days writing up this entry – here it is.
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It is no doubt that Americans generally hold a certain perspective on China and Chinese people in the overall scheme of thought. I’ve heard of stereotypical jokes made by comedians about Chinese and other Asians, and the images that often come to their minds are often men clad in straw cone hats with hair tied in a queue trailing behind their backs, emperors surrounded by numerous concubines, and woman with bound feet and dressed in Oriental style robes. How often I would hear non-Chinese Americans mimicking our language with fake, and rather mocking, Chinese – “Aiiiahahaa! Ching Chang Chong!” – as though doing so was an intentional degradation to our culture and ethnicity. This is the harsh yet inevitable reality of racial discrimination, and this also applies to all other ethnic groups in the United States and other overseas countries of the world.

In a nation of diverse cultural influences, racial diversity has paved the way for heterogeneous societies throughout the century, yet integration has yielded forth a tendency of parallel thought in accordance with shared political viewpoints, mainstream cultural practices, as well as proper norms and ethical values. This is displayed within the “melting pot” theory in which the ingredients of the pot – the people, cultures, and religions – are combined so as to create a more uniform and consistent mixture of what defines American culture in this contemporary society today.

In saying so, there are many differences between the American and Chinese cultures encompassing various aspects such as politics and government, educational policies, cultural norms, standards of living, and even industrial and technological modernization. I’ll discuss one of these aspects here since the subject is so broad and it would be a pain to cover them all at once. I may address these other issues in the near future.

Article Spotlight:
Americans and Chinese recall memories very differently, indicating the impact of cultures on ‘self-concept’
URL: http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/June01/memories.ssl.html

It seems to me that when I first read this article, I began to realize how relevant many of the situations were toward real life circumstances and how the general population is able to relate to them. As a Chinese living in America, I’ve been exposed to both sides of the spectrum, both as a Chinese and an American.

What I would like to talk about are the dissimilarities in cultural values relating to the self. Many Chinese are group oriented, whereas Americans are more elaborately focused on the self as a central character. These types of individual-focused verses group-oriented styles aptly define the differences between mainstream American and Chinese cultures. In regard to a survey conducted at Harvard University, according to Susan S. Lang’s article, American and Chinese mothers have a different type of communicative style when interacting with their own children, both of which deviate from one another in an entirely contradictory fashion. Americans often use a communicative style in which both mother and child would expound upon each other’s responses, personal opinions, as well as feelings, amplifying the overall significance of self-appreciation and esteem. On the contrary, Chinese emphasize upon the concern of moral discipline in concordance with behavioral standards and proper conduct, thus, often shying away from the accentuation of self-worth and individuality.

The discrepancy of unlike communicative styles consequently mold the perceptions of young children as they age, with their acquired values embedded within their mind as they continue to interact in accordance with their own cultural norms. This then paves the way for stereotypes and generalizations as they begin to enter the larger picture in which cultural differences are analyzed within a broader cultural context of the acculturated mainstream society. When under scrutiny of the general public, Chinese and other Asians are perceived to be passive, nerdy or geeky, and sometimes unassertive in comparison to other non-Asian majority populations. Consequently, they are often thought of as humble beings, often lacking in self-confidence especially in the midst of direct confrontation or openly voicing forth an opinion in public.

In this manner, many are often subject to outside discrimination based on these so-called “flaws,” and, living in a multiracial society where cultural worlds conflict, one might experience a sense of “internalized racism” of one’s own ethnicity in which he/she might be pressured to adhere to the distortions of racism and the stereotypes contained within it. With the constant bombardment of these generalizations and stereotypes, it is not difficult to detest one’s own ethnicity as a result of the inability to maintain feelings of self-worth and importance.

A specific example I’ve witnessed in my personal experiences is that most non-Asian Westerners are more inclined to be unconstrained and sociable within group or classroom settings, whereas Asians generally tend to more inhibited and reserved when it comes to verbally expressing themselves in front of the public.

In the university setting, I’ve taken an English course a year ago in which our curriculum consisted of a grading policy divided evenly between essay writing and open discussions among our class. Each of our essay assignments focused upon a particular topic in which our class would get together beforehand to discuss as a whole group. Each student, whether shy or outgoing, was also graded upon participation in the overall discussion. Our class consisted predominantly of white Caucasians, and the rest were minority students such as Asians, Hispanics, or African Americans. Among approximately twenty-five students, there were around three Asian students, myself included. While I sat at my desk in the corner, I listened to the lively exchange between my classmates and the conversations that they carried on regarding our topic, some randomly jumping in at ease whenever they were enlightened by a sudden idea or thought and wanted to share with the entire group. Mostly everyone was involved, including White and minority students alike; however, it was mainly the Caucasian students that were most assertive and therefore dived headfirst into the discussion, jumping in randomly whenever they felt like it – as if they were talking amongst a close group of friends and didn’t feel the slightest tension at all.

I sat silently for the majority of the time, but knowing that class participation was a heavy part of my overall grade, I frantically scrambled with relevant ideas to share about, quickly planning out and jotting down notes about what I was going to contribute to the rest of the discussion. One aspect of my personality is that I find it much easier expressing myself through the written word than through the spoken mouth, so by brainstorming and jotting down what I planned to say would make me feel more at ease sharing out loud. I was known as one of the quiet ones in class, so to my surprise, I received light applause from some people in the class after I had openly shared.

It was then that I had felt awkward because it was as though I was being regarded as a shy person who had suddenly penetrated her silent barrier, casting aside all traces of reticence and had therefore entered the realm of standard “normality” at just one instance of having spoken forth. Yes, indeed – odd. And just like me, I had noticed the other two Asian students had been somewhat quiet as well with occasional contributions to the discussion.

From this, some of you might argue that observing the situation in this particular classroom setting cannot serve as the sole representation to my overall point because:
(1) there were a lot more Caucasians than minority students (thus, I cannot arrive to such a snap conclusion)
(2) this had only been one class I had mentioned thus far
(3) individual personality also plays a role in one’s level of comfort and sociability

I would agree with all three reasons; however, throughout my entire life and the years of schooling and interaction with others of varying ethnic backgrounds, I’ve also witnessed many similar circumstances of relevancy. And yes, everyone has different individual personalities, so there are often exceptions and I’ve noticed those as well. But scrutinizing the contrast between Asians and Westerners from a broad perspective, I would say there is an inevitable discrepancy between the sphere of standard thought and behavior encompassing the lifestyles of two distinct, yet unique worlds.

So long as we all learn to embrace the distinctiveness of varying cultures and ideas which define different ethnic backgrounds, we can soon learn to appreciate the world as an inclusive embodiment to the rich diversity and sophistication of our human race on Earth.

Sources:
http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/June01/memories.ssl.html (Cornell News)
http://www.theharbinger.org/xix/001003/pinson.html (Harbinger)

June 20, 2007

The Ed Jew Scandal: Its Impact upon the Chinese American Community Over the S.F. Supervisor’s Arrest

Filed under: Asia America, Media — americanbornchinese @ 11:57 am

I happened to have read an article concerning a recent event dealing with the arrest of Ed Jew, the only San Francisco Asian American supervisor whose arrest may possibly shape the fate of future political participation and involvement predominantly among Chinese Americans. What was the rationale of his arrest? His act of misdemeanor rested in the criminal charges of bribery in which he was alleged to have accepted $40,000 in cash from Quickly, a tapioca drink shop chain, to assist with city permit issues, and he is now being investigated by the FBI. Additionally, he had been charged with a number of felonies with regard to the allegation that he did not reside at the Sunset District where he ran for candidacy prior to his election.

Since Ed Jew is the first Chinese-American official in San Francisco who had been accused of a fraudulent act and had therefore been faced with criminal charges, a column in Sing Tao Daily reported that these charges may have created an impact upon him as well as for the rest of the Chinese American community. Throughout the Bay Area, news of the charges against this official have flashed all over the headlines of Chinese-language media including television news reports and newspaper columns. And as Ed Jew represents the Chinese American community within San Francisco, a question that arises among many Chinese is whether this particular scandal generally reflects the overall integrity and future of other Chinese American politicians as well, rendering a sort of “negative” scrutiny upon the ethnic minority group.

According to Harrison Lim, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, he had been quoted in the Chinese-language World Journal newspaper saying, “When something happens to one person, it not only impacts him but also his family, and the image of the whole Chinese-American society,” (Chien). Though many are concerned about the impact, the Chinese community’s support for Jew remains questionable as Chinese-language media might not necessarily act any more sympathetic to Jew simply because he is also Chinese.

This also raises the issue of whether Ed Jew is the target of racial oppression due to the fact that he is an individual of ethnic minority and that many Asian Americans are generally deemed by the mainstream media to be politically apathetic, uninvolved, or even ignorant, thus promoting the perception that the community, on the whole, has little political representation. It seems as though more political participation on the part of the Chinese American community is necessary in order to further integrate into mainstream society and to fully manifest our rights and privileges under the scrutiny of the American media and population.

If you wish to find out more detailed information about Ed Jew’s scandal, I encourage you to read more about it in these articles below.

Primary Article Source:

Chinese Media Sad and Concerned Over Supervisor’s Arrest (New America Media)
By Eugenia Chien (June 13, 2007)

Related Articles of Interest:

Supporters Say Ed Jew is Victim of Racism (San Francisco Chronicle)
S.F. Attorney May Move to Oust Ed Jew from Office (CBS 5)

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General Blog Update/News:
I will not be able to update for another two weeks from now since I will not be available until then, but stay tuned for updates as I will post whenever I discover something of interest! For my regular readers, thank you for your continual support and interest in visiting my blog and reading my entries. I hadn’t expected word to spread out so quickly about my site and I’ve discovered recently that I’ve gotten a lot of visitors so far! I will try to update more consistently in the future.

June 4, 2007

A Conversation Between American-born and Chinese Immigrants

Filed under: Asia America, Eastern/Western Ties, Media — americanbornchinese @ 8:05 pm

Wow, I just realized I haven’t blogged here for a long time. Things have been quite busy lately. For those who have been waiting for me to post, I apologize for the idle state of my blog.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to blog about this, but I haven’t had the chance to do so for the past week. I happened to stop by a website belonging to the Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco that, according to the website, is “a major community-based, non-profit organization established in 1965 to foster the understanding and appreciation of Chinese and Chinese American art, history, and culture in the United States.”

On the website, there’s a particular article called “Mirror On the Wall: A Conversation Between American-born and Chinese Immigrants” that caught my attention, and within the audio podcast provided, I listened a facilitated community discussion between Chinese Americans and newcomers from China to share personal experiences and their own opinions on effective ways of establishing common ground via communication across different generations and backgrounds within the Chinese community.

To find out more information and to listen to the podcast dialogue, visit this link:
http://www.c-c-c.org/archives/2007/04/13/mirror-on-the-wall-a-conversation-between-american-born-and-chinese-immigrants/

May 16, 2007

Jin releases his all-Cantonese album “ABC”

Filed under: Asia America, Media — americanbornchinese @ 6:38 am

During the month of February, Jin Au-Yeung (歐陽靖), a popular Chinese-American hip-hop artist known for his freestyle rapping abilities, released his fourth album titled “ABC,” an acrynom that stands for “American Born Chinese.” This album was recorded almost entirely in Cantonese with the exception of a few English phrases and words thrown about randomly in his songs. The first and most popular single in his album is his song called “ABC” in which he raps about his personal experiences as a 竹升 (“jook-sing” – English meaning equivalent to “banana”) along with the issues of discrimination and what it means to be “truly Chinese.” Ultimately, throughout his entire album, he succeeds in establishing a personal connection to his own Chinese roots and his ethnic identity through his songs, which generally reflect the struggles of most ABCs (as well as many other overseas Chinese) regarding the struggles of society’s scrutiny upon them to the issue of assimilation in the U.S. and their removal from their own cultural background.

On his ABC website, Jin mentions on his biography a statement of which I wholeheartedly agree with:

“For many, being an ABC often means being subjected to a certain degree of scrutiny. On one hand, because of your bloodline and complexion you are viewed as a foreigner in your own place of birth. Meanwhile, because of your geographical origins your peers back in China claim you are not ‘truly Chinese.'”

From the nostalgic reminiscing of his visit to his city of origin, Hong Kong (“1997”), to the ramblings of his difficulties in reading and writing Chinese (“Speak Can’t Read”), Jin’s circumstances are often the mirrored results of what it means to be an individual of Chinese descent born on foreign soil, which in this case, is America. Listening to this album has allowed me to empathize with Jin’s situation, and fortunately, I am able to understand his songs because I grew up speaking in Cantonese with my parents and relatives as well (and because of the fact that he uses informal Cantonese to rap, which is apparently easier to understand than the latter).

Okay, so after all that mindless rambling that must’ve bored you to death, I’m sure you would want a visual/audio glimpse of what I’m talking about? Here’s Jin’s music video for his “ABC” single that I found on YouTube:

External Links

Jin’s ABC album (Amazon.com)
Jin’s Official ABC Website
Jin’s ABC Xanga
Jin’s Myspace Fan Page

May 13, 2007

125th Anniversary of Chinese Exclusion Act in the U.S.

Filed under: Asia America, Eastern/Western Ties — americanbornchinese @ 10:10 am

My friend happened to talk to me the other day, and during our casual conversation, she brought up the question of whether I was interested in attending a historical exhibition in San Francisco that marked the 125th anniversary of the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. She had heard about this event from her professor in her Asian American Studies class (particularly “Chinese American Personality” – the same class I had taken last semester along with the same professor). Having heard of this Act but not having acquired much knowledge about the specific details, I researched some information online out of curiosity when I had gotten home, wanting to find out more about what it was. The following is my own paraphrasing of what I’ve gathered from a few sites:

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

The purpose of the CEA was to altogether cease the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States, which lasted for a total of ten years. Because of the high demand of low-wage workers seeking the availability of jobs (mostly in railroad construction), the news of the Gold Rush that swept through California like an epidemic in 1849, and current conditions/circumstances in China at the time, there was a huge population of Chinese immigrants that swarmed into the U.S. which eventually prompted the immigration law targeting their particular ethnic group.

However, even despite the fact that the act had been executed, immigration did not cease to continue as many Chinese persisted in entering the U.S. by the sly, yet common tactic of claiming familial ties to Chinese American (ABC) parents who were already U.S. citizens. These immigrants were known as “paper sons,” and this was in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and the subsequent fires that burned down City Hall and the Hall of Records which contained birth and immigration records.

Such an event like this indicates a mark in the history of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. This act was finally repealed in 1943 by Congress at around the same time when China and the U.S. became allies in the event of World War II, but it wasn’t until the Immigration Act of 1965 that large-scale immigration of different ethnic groups into the U.S was finally permitted.

Image Source (Original Website)

Sources:
Wikipedia – Chinese Exclusion Act (United States)
SF Gate – Anti-Chinese law had effect for generations (Sunday, May 6, 2007)

As long as my schedule permits, I’m strongly considering to attend this exhibition with my friend in order to learn more about U.S. history in this aspect of “Chinese in America” because I think it would be quite interesting to learn more.

The detailed information of the time and whereabouts of this event is at the end of the SF Gate article.

May 12, 2007

Culture Shock – Asian American Identity

Filed under: Asia America — americanbornchinese @ 12:51 am

I invite you to watch the following YouTube video titled Culture Shock – “Identity” – Unraveling “Asia America” which I think is very inspirational in terms of how people of Asian American descent define their roles in contemporary American culture today. I originally found this video from Irish Born Chinese’s blog. The group of students who were interviewed in this video all attend(ed) Columbia University in New York and participated in this interview as a promotional introduction to their annual Asian American culture show called Culture Shock.

In this video, I found it interesting to peer into the thoughts and opinions of different students representing various Asian ethnicities (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Filipino, Thai, etc.), though all sharing a similar commonality – a meshing of different perspectives into a general consensus of what defines a pan-Asian American identity. As a college student of a similar age and being Asian American just like them, I discovered that many of my own viewpoints are parallel to their own – regarding identity crisis, segregation, image, assimilation, cultural struggles, and the concept of the model minority.

Unfortunately, I do not attend Columbia University to have witnessed this event for myself, but I’m sure that an event such as this will allow others to become more open-minded about the current situation of Asian Americans, their identities, and how they feel about living in the U.S. from their own cultural perspectives. Sometimes, it’s all about feeling accepted and being able to define who we are as both Asians and Americans.

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