4 minute read

Asian-American Families

Effects Of Oppression On Family Life

Stereotyping, racism, discrimination, and racial profiling have a long history of oppression of Asian Americans in the United States and appear to continue today. Hate crimes against Asians and glass ceilings preventing upward mobility in employment have been well documented. Asian Americans have the worst chance of advancing into management positions and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights cited the glass ceiling as one of the major types of discrimination faced by Asian Americans (Zia 2000). Asian-American families attempt to socialize their children to cope with these realities, while retaining a sense of cultural integrity and ethnic identity. Asian-Pacific American children should not accept that they are inferior or less deserving of civil rights because of their race and ethnicity. The United States of America is their home and they need not feel like outsiders (Pang and Cheng 1998). American-born and mixed-race Asian Americans develop their identities as Asianderived people with sensitivities to where they are living, in this case the United States. Thus, it is important to understand the sociopolitical climate of American society and to study one's heritage and family roots.

One overt example of institutional racism came in the 1940s as part of the U.S. government's response to Pearl Harbor. The internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II dismantled the family structure by eliminating traditional parental roles, thus weakening parental authority. Everyone ate in mess halls, so adolescent Nisei often ate with their friends rather than with their families. Children joined their peers for recreational activities rather than staying in the crowded barracks with their siblings and parents. Nisei sons, who could gain employment in camp, sometimes replaced their Issei fathers as heads-ofthe-household. Issei women were relieved of their cooking and farm labor responsibilities and gained more free time to socialize (Adler 1998). Thus, the institutionalization of families destroyed the Asian lifestyle of working together in small businesses or on the farm.

For Koreans, the small retail business became a lifeline when language barriers and job discrimination gave them few options for livelihood. There is a high degree of ethnic homogeneity in that they tend to service co-ethnics, and the owners/managers tend to be college educated and held professional or managerial positions prior to immigration (Chung 1997). Immigration laws gave health care professionals, such as physicians, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists, preference for entry into the United States, but upon arrival, their educational training, certifications, and credentials were deemed unacceptable. Thus, the labor-intensive family-owned business became the only option, and family members, elderly, women, and children, became the employees. Chung (1997) maintains that the unusually high propensity of Asian immigrants' businesses should be regarded as a form of underemployment and a source of cheap labor.

Although there has always been tension when Korean business owners were located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, this tension escalated to racial animosity after the acquittal of the white police officers in the Rodney King beating. In April 1992, a three-day uprising in Los Angeles left fifty-four people dead and 4,500 shops in ashes, more than half of which were Korean-run businesses. Koreans and other ethnic minorities lost their livelihood in the event termed sa-i-gu (pronounced sah-ee-goo), a defining moment of economic devastation for the Korean community, nationwide (Zia 2000). It took years for families to rebuild and major adjustments in family life to cope with the physical and psychological loss.

Asian Americans have been subjects of stereotypes, or group definition by others, depending upon the sociopolitical context of the time. Early stereotypes of immigrants described Japanese and Chinese as Orientals who could not be assimilated. Then, during wartime hysteria, Japanese and Japanese Americans were characterized as the yellow peril (although this label had been prominent since their arrival in the 1800s) and any Asian in the United States was still considered a perpetual foreigner. Postwar years and the impact of higher education on Asian Americans brought the stereotype of the overachieving model minority (Chan 1991). Geishas, gooks, and geeks have been the major staple of Asian stereotypes, with men portrayed as untrustworthy, evil, or ineffectual, emasculated nerds, and women cast as subservient, passive females, or the seductive, malicious dragon lady (Zia 2000). Although stereotyping clearly remains, the desire to be politically correct and not offend minorities has tempered the overt expression of group labels and stereotypes.

Asian parents, who had experienced name-calling and stereotyping throughout their lives, advised their children to ignore the comments, or to rise above them by being better (wiser, stronger, A Japanese family awaits internment in 1942. The U.S. government placed all Japanese and Japanese-American citizens in internment camps during World War II. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION smarter) than their tormentors. Some Asian-American parents did not discuss prejudice and discrimination directly with their children, though it was acknowledged as part of life. Children were expected to endure and persevere, which would make them mentally stronger (Adler 1998). This approach also applied to academic success, which brings face to their families. These high expectations of Asian-American parents sometimes appear to be unrealistic to the children, but are founded upon the sacrifices families endured for their children's education (Pang and Cheng 1998).

Hate crimes, such as the killing of five Southeast Asian children in a Stockton, California, schoolyard by a gunman wearing military fatigues, and the murder of a Filipino postal worker, Joseph Ileto, because of his Asian ethnicity, have become too common (Zia 2000). Racial profiling in the Wen Ho Lee case, the Taiwanese-American scientist at Los Alamo who was accused of being a Chinese spy, is clear evidence that even high-level white collar Asian-American employees can become targets of racism at any time. There was mounting evidence that Lee was scapegoated and accused of espionage because of his ethnicity (Zia 2000).

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