Why we need Asian Americans 1

The first reason we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans is globalization. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. The world needs Asian Americans and America needs Asian Americans.

When I was growing up, lots of things were “Made in Taiwan.” Now, almost everything we use in America is “Made in China” — electronics, clothes, dinnerware, appliances, furniture, what have you. Case in point = Lenovo buying out IBM’s PC division. One conversation overheard around the Thanksgiving table was the speed of building modules and how much more modern the cities in China are compared to that of the United States. Simultaneously, the pace of innovative products from Japan is declining while more innovation is increasing from Korea, i.e. Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Kia, et al.

With the economy and cash flow of manufacturing flowing so quickly into China, and with the knowledge industry fast emerging in India, the epicenter of world commerce and the global shift of power is already under way, and the decline of the American empire is around the corner. With 1/3 of the world’s population already in China and India, all that people power over the long-haul will outdo any industrial machinery power, especially in the knowledge economy of the digital information age.

I’ll jump to my conclusion and then list a few supporting references. While there’s been good activist advocacy since the 60s and historical studies (albeit some may argue that it’s not yet sufficient), Asian Americans have much more to say now, as Asian Americans, for the present & future of America and the world, by working out and articulating the interplay of their identity and cultures and societies. We need these conversations in the open and not just confined in the silo of academia (as in Asian American studies). Asian Americans have the innate raw materials from their social-ethnic context that can navigate the bicultural dynamics (what Dave Gibbons calls “third culture“). Asian Americans have the potential to bridge and keep America connected with the evolution of a global village. Better than being left behind and disconnected into demise. This certainly includes Asian Americans who aspire into leadership roles and lead in a way that differs from the American constructs of leadership, yielding to more risk and uncertainty and unpredictability.

Let me refer you to the thoughts of a friend, a seminary professor who’s a 4th-generation Chinese American. Dr. Jeff Jue‘s talk, The Asian American Church: History, Racialization and Globalization, at the 2010 Korean Pastors Conference (Mission to North America) reiterates this compelling need and the contribution of Asian Americans in the church and, thus, American society:

Books like Claiming Diaspora: Music, Transnationalism, and Cultural Politics in Asian/Chinese America (Zheng), Chinese American Transnational Politics (Lai and Hsu) point to how globalized and transnational the world in general and American society in particular have become… the lives and identities of Asians and Asian Americans also reflect these cross-national formations.

And, Simon Tay rightly noted in Forbe’s America’s Call To Globalization: The U.S. must respond proactively to Asia’s rise — “… while the Asian presence in the United States has grown beyond the confines of Chinatown, it is still not part of Main Street culture. Asia is still a specialty store. Global-as-Asian is just beginning and needs more engines to drive it forward.”

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4 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    How are you parsing the term “Asian American”? It seems to me you are speaking only about East Asians (China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, etc.). If that’s how you’re defining the term, then I argue that the Asian presence was already outside the proverbial Chinatown ghetto when the first Filipinos, Indians, Indonesians, etc. immigrated to the U.S. I also think the growth of Asian presence in North America is part of the globalization phenomenon that has always existed in human history. The transnational flow of people and commerce has always been a fact of history. The story of Asian America isn’t so much a recent story, but a narrative that is part and parcel of all human history. Injecting this into our public and political discourse would help all of us have a better understanding of race, ethnicity, and identity in this country.

    • djchuang says:

      @Steve, thanks for adding your comment. I’m using the term “Asian American” broadly, inclusive of East Asians, Southeast Asians, and South Asians. I did cite examples from Korea and India, since they’re top of mind. But, of course, with 30+ (or 50+) nationalities and ethnicities under the Asian American umbrella, it’d be hard to include everyone in every example 😉