Saturday, August 03, 2002

Expanding Popularity of Asian Languages in Hong Kong

A reader/lurker browsing my archives saw my earlier entry on the popularity of Japanese cultural exports in Hong Kong, and asked for some more information about non-Chinese Asian pop culture and languages in Hong Kong, so here's a lot more on Japanese and a bit on Korean as well. Though up until the 1970s universities in Hong Kong offered only the same three or four European languages (English, French, German, and Spanish if you're lucky) as most other British universities, ever since the introduction of Japanese language courses at universities, its popularity has grown wildly. Two universities have also recently introduced programs in Korean language.

A quick look at statistics for the 2001 Japanese Language Proficiency Test confirms the extent of Japanese language study in Hong Kong: 4,648 Hong Kongers took some level of the test (ranging from an introductory exam aimed at students who have completed a yearlong course to a fluency exam for persons intending to enroll in a Japanese university or take a job at a company in Japan), an increase of 19% on the previous year, in a city of about 7 million. For comparison, the worldwide pool of overseas examinees grew by only 11%. Though lagging behind traditionally Japan-philiac Taiwan (27,842 examinees in a population of about 23 million, also an increase of roughly 19% on the year before), they're way ahead of us here in the United States (847 examinees in a population of 280 million, an increase of only 16% on the previous year). And all this as the Japanese economy is in the second decade of recession following the burst of a real-estate bubble.

As universities announce their course listings for the coming year, we see that most are again expanding their Japanese-language course offerings to meet the perpetual oversubscription:

(Lingnan and Polytechnic presently only offer courses in English and Mandarin, while Baptist offers those two languages in addition to French and German).

Conflict of Two Cultures? One side seems unclear on the concept.
(intended to post this before I left work, but forgot about it, sorry)

This Voice of America article is pretty typical in pointing to what mainstream Americans think of as "cultural differences" between Asian-Americans and white Americans: parents telling their kids to study hard and not letting them go out with friends to play basketball or shop at the mall. Yup, never seen white people tell their kids to do that. Them Chinese really are inscrutable! Steve Sailer has famously commented that many white liberals imagine that people of other races are just white liberals with different-colored skin, and when I read passages like this I tend to believe it:

Throughout the country, many Asians here are working out such growing pains within their own families: are they Americans or Asian Americans? And in the broader American culture, they're trying to figure out how to keep their heritage alive in strong (sic). In that, they are following in the footsteps of every immigrant community that has made American (sic) its new home.

But the opposite wing of the Demopublican party isn't any less guilty: they too shamelessly advance the idea that the only reason Asian and Latino immigrants aren't acting like whites and voting more Republican as they get richer is because their innocent selves have been hoodwinked by racial activists and entrenched leftist cultural elites using them for their own nefarious political ends, and that immigrants really would give up trying to pass on their cultures and languages to their children and express their "natural conservatism" if a revitalized body politic just asked politely:

In rightly emphasizing that immigrants themselves are not responsible for the assimilation crisis, [John Miller, author of The Unmaking Of Americans] observes that "The real culprits are American institutions that advanced the interests of Americanization in the past ... but no longer do so today."

Everyone confidently --- one might even say arrogantly --- assumes that the conflict between the traditions of the old country and American freedom can and will be resolved with American culture triumphant and no hint of ethnic separatism or separateness remaining, and that, just like Italians and Jews before them, Asian immigrants and all their children will choose to become whites who celebrate Lunar New Year and eat foods with funny names, rather than function in the mainstream but retain a non-mainstream identity. Across the political spectrum, the only difference is in the methods proposed to achieve this outcome.

Those who enjoy making stretched analogies between modern immigrants and Europeans of the 1920s seem to forget that the latter learned to act just like the "flesh of the flesh and the blood of the blood" of the Anglo-Saxons for the most part not because of any special love for their adopted country, but because they lacked a few amenities and peculiarities which modern immigrants enjoy:

  • Long distance telephones
  • Satellite televisions
  • Boeing 747s
  • Geographic clustering
  • A continuing flow of immigration
  • Money to set up their own school systems
  • Non-European social habits and religious traditions
  • A growing old-country economy contributing to the perception that teaching their kids how to function in the world of their ancestors could be useful one day.

(Not to sound like a broken record or an apologist for Quebec separatism, but notice that while even conservatives are busy claiming that "Chinese are just like Jews," "Koreans are the Irish of Asia" and "Latinos are the new Italians," we lack a single pundit who has compared a modern immigrant ethnic group to French-Canadians in New England, who came from right next door, went home a lot, and consequently were the most successful of early 20th-century immigrants at resisting assimilation, at least until the government intervened.)

No one seems realize that immigrants retaining their ancestral cultures means rather more than traditional song and dance, and has greater causes and deeper roots than a modern political environment which encourages racially-based activism. If it really happens on a large scale, it will pose challenges which could drastically alter public perception of immigration and assimilation, and of our very character as a nation. But every portion of the American political spectrum is content to go on either romanticizing 1920s immigrants to attack modern immigrants, or romanticizing modern immigrants in order to attack immigration restrictionists.

Friday, August 02, 2002

Asian "Massage Parlors"

Last week, the FBI arrested twenty-one individuals accused of running a East Tennessee-based prostitution ring which imported women from Korea for forced sex labor in massage parlors, bars, and similar establishments. San Jose Mercury put some interesting spin on this one --- they make it seem like a problem confined entirely to the Asian community, sprinkling their article with irrelevant anecdotes about immigration, the "water trade" custom in Japan and some Vietnamese bars which were closed down last year. But if we look at the original FBI report, which includes a list of names of alleged organizers of this ring, a different pattern emerges --- we see an unusually high proportion of certain combinations of first and last names which should tell you something about the animals who run this human trafficking and the type of people to whom they're married:

Mak T. Holt, 59, of Saint Pauls, North Carolina;
Song Cha Rivera, 57, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
Sun Cantebury, 60, Alcoa, Tennessee;
Chong Felix, 53, Clarksville, Tennessee;
Pok Sun McColgan, 47, Clarksville, Tennessee;
Nan Morrsion, 53, Clarksville, Tennessee;
Ok Hui Watson, 48, Clarksville, Tennessee;
Kun White, 48, Clarksville, Tennessee;
Kim Gillem, 55, Knoxville, Tennessee;
Kyong Suk St. George, Lenoir City, Tennessee;
Do Hwa Carter, 50, Austin, Texas.

That's over half the people on that list. The remainder includes a majority of whites. Seems like an unusually high proportion to me ...

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Possible outcomes of increased Chinese language education on ABC youth, part 2: Separation and emigration

More ABCs (and kids of the 1.5 generation - those who immigrated at a young age) speaking good Chinese could very well lead to the exact opposite of my earlier speculations: increased social distance between Chinese and non-Chinese, due to more ABC cliquishness, negative perceptions of Chinese-Americans as foreigners, or whatnot. If this happens, many more ABCs who aren't very good at socializing with non-Asian-Americans because they never had much opportunity will smack their heads into a career glass-ceiling when their lack of rapport with white colleagues screws them out of a promotion. Today, most have no option other than to let their career come to a stall, or exit and start their own company.

However, widespread Chinese language education would give them the possibility of relocating to a Sinophone country to take advantage of expanded opportunities and a presumed lack of discrimination, a path which some Malaysian Chinese have already followed (especially in order to receive a university education). How many would actually emigrate depends directly on economic growth in China and discontentment with American society. Sound improbable? It already happens a lot in the entertainment industry, the sphere in which Asian-Americans feel they are least likely to succeed due to widespread stereotypes among talent scouts, directors, and producers, and negative public perception of Asians, and in which most of the people held up as examples of "Asian talent" are actually whitewashed Eurasians.

Japanese popstar Utada Hikaru obviously comes to mind as an example of an Asian-American who crossed over back to the motherland. Some other examples less well known in the US include:

  • San Francisco-raised UC Irvine graduate CoCo Lee, an enormous success in Taiwan who also made an appearance in the soundtrack of "Runaway Bride," her most recent venture into the US market, an English language album entitled "Just No Other Way," met bland reviews from critics, lackluster sales, and the scorn of fans.
  • Vanness Wu of Taiwanese boyband F4, who was discovered through his participation in a Mandarin-language variety show in Los Angeles, and has found quite a bit of popularity despite his musical and theatrical deficiencies.
  • Wang Leehom, a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, (my cousin's alma mater), who takes time out from his high-flying career to perform for audiences of a few hundred at gatherings of Taiwanese-American college students (read: meat markets).
  • Korean popstar Yoo Seung-Jun, who grew up in LA and finagled his way out of serving in the Korean military by giving up his Korean citizenship and naturalizing as a US citizen
  • Brian of Fly to the Sky, who doesn't even speak Korean, but nevertheless remains convinced and fearful that he can't succeed in the US until someone (maybe him) "show[s] Hollywood that Asians are more than martial artists," and that he has to use a successful career in Korea as a springboard for his ambitions in the US because he wouldn't be able to get in through the normal channels.

How would this affect American society as a whole? Obviously, many of the above individuals haven't fully psychologically (or legally) separated from the United States despite their physical departure - most are probably planning to return. But it reflects a growing perception that the United States isn't really a country, but a place where people from all around the world come to acquire passports, get rich, and sell stuff to Americans. In the end, it comes down to a question of whether US nationhood is compatible with large immigrant populations which, though able to function in the mainstream, work to retain their native ways and shuttle back and forth between the US and the ancestral motherland. More on this soon ...

How to refer to half-Asian half-white people?

A long time without content, and suddenly there's a flood of stuff to write about. Anyway, among half-Asian half-white people there's a long running internet debate over what exactly we should call ourselves - hapa, Eurasian, multiracial? The biggest (sensible) argument against "Eurasian" is that searching for it on the internet produces about 170,000 results about white people in Russia. (A similar concern led a Taiwanese ethnic group to romanize their name as Hoklo rather than Holo, so that their websites wouldn't be lost among a sea of information about holograms). Now, Sports Illustrated causes us even further confusion:

Tokhtakhounov was arrested at his resort in Forte dei Marmi in northern Italy. He was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bribery relating to sporting contests. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. The criminal complaint identified Tokhtakhounov as a "major figure in international Eurasian Organized Crime."

Though this guy is half-Mongol and half-Russian, the "Eurasians" to whom this article refers are Central Asian mafiosos, not some hitherto-unknown worldwide network of hapa gangbangers, and SI probably had no intention of using the word in its non-geopolitical sense. Nevertheless, it did make me realize: just like I'm a half-Chinese Eurasian, Mr. Tokhatakhounov is a half-Eurasian Eurasian.

So in lieu of actually having a point here, I'll offer a big screw you to all the language Nazis who want to surpress words such as "Eurasian" under the pretext that they reflect a discriminatory, exclusive, and oppressive way of thinking. You're gonna deprive me of all my fun.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Learning to function in the mainstream while maintaining his culture

Hong Kong immigrant Alfred Chuang, facing difficulties in the workplace due to his reluctance to speak up at meetings and let his superiors know all the good ideas floating around in his head, overcame his shyness and rose to the top in his company through ... stand-up comedy?

Chuang has also become more involved in the Asian American community, giving talks before young Asian Americans about his own rise as a business leader.
"I do want to give something back," he said. "There are people who are struggling out there. There's still a lot of stereotyping on what Asians are good at doing and what they're not good at doing."

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