A Shift in Perspective

Throughout history, the development of a Chinese American identity has been a hard-fought process reflective of a variety of influences.  One of the most significant factors in the maturity of that identity has been how they are perceived by other groups of people.  Specifically in the 1930’s and 40’s as the international community became increasingly important in light of World War II and other world events, the American perspective on Chinese Americans played a big role in the Chinese American experience.  A shift in the white Americans’ perceptions of the Chinese American allowed for Chinese Americans to forge their identity and no longer be judged on a basis of being “fully Chinese” or “fully American.”[1]

At speaker's table. Copyright Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Not only did this perspective directly shape the opportunities Chinese Americans had, it also affected the way Chinese Americans viewed themselves.  From the 1880’s through the 1930’s, the typical American’s view of Chinese Americans was based on a deep-rooted prejudice that manifested itself in many obvious ways, most notably the long-standing Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.[2] However, as the second generation of Chinese Americans began to take on an increasingly Americanized ideology, they slowly began to overcome such barriers and increasingly became a part of the American identity as a whole.

With the advent of the 1940’s, World War II, and the consequent development of China-US relations, the old American prejudiced perspective came to a crossroads with a new, more tolerant view of Chinese Americans.  While Japanese Americans were put through the fire, Chinese Americans were accepted as allies and contributors to the American war effort.[3] A realignment of prejudiced attitudes came rapidly with World War II, and Chinese Americans were given opportunities and seen in a more positive light as never before.  As a result of this clash in old and new perspectives, the Chinese American identity grew significantly in the context of an increasingly accepting American society.

[1] Paul Wong, “Asian Americans as a model minority: self-perceptions and perceptions by other racial groups,” Pacific Sociological Assocation, http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/pub/eres/SOC217_PIMENTEL/asians3.pdf (accessed December 8, 2010).

[2] “A Reminiscence: Recollections of the Chinese Massacre of 1871,” Los Angeles Times, Oct 27, 1883, pg. 4.

[3] “World War II Brings Change,” Public Broadcasting Service, <http://www.pbs.org/becomingamerican/ce_witness4.html&gt; (accessed November 8, 2010).