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Asian-American Families

Regional And Generational Differences

Historically, Asian immigrants were concentrated in Hawaii and in states along the Pacific coast, settling in segregated ethnic enclaves such as Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, and Little Manilas (Zhou and Gatewood 2000). As the population began to disperse throughout the Northeast, the Midwest, and the South, sizable ethnic communities developed in cities such as Saint Paul and Minneapolis (Hmong), New York (Chinese and Asian Indians), New Orleans (Vietnamese), and Houston (Vietnamese and Chinese). Recent trends of Asian Americans moving into white middle-class suburban areas have been strong, thus decreasing residential segregation.

Generational differences and regional differences both contributed to the increase of outmarrying among Asian Americans. Third and fourth generations, as well as ethnics living in predominately European-American neighborhoods, tend to out-marry more than do recent immigrants or those living in segregated ethnic communities. Interracial marriages were considered illegal in some states until 1967, at the height of the civil rights movement, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared all anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. It was believed that intermarriage was concentrated disproportionately among higher classes of Asian Americans to more advantaged European Americans for upward mobility (Zhou and Gatewood 2000). More children of Japanese-American heritage are born to interracial couples than same-race couples. Higher cross-cultural marriages for Japanese-American women may be the result of preference for a more equitable marriage over the traditional Japanese patriarchal family, and the importance of family continuity pressuring Japanese men to marry within their race and ethnic group (Ishii-Kuntz 1997).

The ethnic dynamics in Hawaii and the mainland are quite different, and intra-ethnic acceptance of Hapas, or people of mixed ancestry, appears to be inverted. In Hawaii, Chinese Hapa are more acceptable than Japanese Hapa, while in west coast cities such as San Francisco and Seattle, Japanese Hapa are more accepted in the ethnic communities than Chinese Hapa (Zhou and Gatewood 2000).

In the early 1900s, East Asian Indians settling in California remained isolated on small farms, and few were able to bring wives from India. Family life was restricted by prejudice against dark-skinned people, though Indians were considered Caucasian and even attained citizenship at the time. As intermarriage with African Americans was discouraged, Mexican-American women became the most acceptable and accessible mates (Hess 1998). The children of these marriages were called Mexican-Hindu (Chan 1991). Naturalization of Asian Indians was reversed in 1923 by the Thind case, and citizenship was not restored until 1946. Studies conducted in the 1950s and 1960s indicated that East Indian men preferred to remain single rather than out-marry, and that the shortage of eligible Indian women contributed to the breakdown of the caste system in the United States, as marriages, by necessity, occurred between castes (Hess 1998).

In the Midwest, Minnesota's Land of 10,000 Lakes has become the land of 10,000 to 15,000 Korean adoptees. Nationwide, 140,000 Korean-born children have been adopted by American families (mostly European American) since adoption began after the end of the Korean War in 1953 (Zia 2000). The identity development of these Asian adoptees depended on their access to Korean culture and language, the beliefs of the adoptive parents regarding their race and ethnicity, and their acceptance into Korean communities (Mullen 1995). Now, becoming adults, these adoptive children find that they, like some Hapas, or mixed-race Asian Americans, find it difficult to become integrated into their ethnic communities. After adoption from Korea tapered off in 1998, each year approximately 1,000 children (mostly girls) have been adopted from China. By 1998, the total of Chinese adoptees had risen to 15,000.

Asian-American parent-child relationships have changed across generations for a variety of reasons. For Vietnamese-American families, better language skills, opportunities for education and job training, and familiarity with Western cultural norms have given children greater advantages over their parents for dealing with American institutions. Early Vietnamese immigrants, with higher social status, have attained economic success, but later refugees have less economic capital. Vietnamese youth migrating without older family members and the small number of Vietnamese elders in the United States have contributed to the lack of guardianship for some youth. But generally, traditional family values of collectivism and family hierarchy have remained strong. Interdependence within Asian-American families and communities has continued on some level, while emphasis on independence in American culture has influenced Asian-American youth. Cultural agents, such as television and its emphasis on materialism, popular music with the free expression of crude language, and schools promoting individualism, have been serious concerns that can erode authority and power of Asian-American parents.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsAsian-American Families - Varied Immigration Histories, Family Structures And Gender Roles, Religion And Cultural Values, Regional And Generational Differences