Welcome to the Jungle: America After Vietnam
                                       AP US History 2007

Ying Fei Wu

Author's Bio

Sucheng Chan received her B.A. from Swarthmore College (1963), M.A. from the University of Hawaii (1965), and Ph. D in political science from the University of California, Berkeley (1973). She then worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and founded its Asian Americans Studies Department. She has written many books on Asian American topics, regularly edited and wrote introductions for books, and taught students. She has received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley.

An American Minority

     The ratio of Asian Americans to the rest of the population in California is the highest out of all other states in the United States. But their ancestors did not arrive here easily, and they are still under much criticism-- immigration laws toward Asian Americans as well as other minorities such as Latin Americans are becoming tighter and tighter. In Asian Americans: An Interpretive History, author Sucheng Chan describes the history of Asian Americans from their arrival in America to the present, including the obstacles they faced and the effect of their cultural differences. Whereas prior to the 20 th century, Asian Americans only emigrated moderately for manual work and therefore were less restricted, from the 20th century onwards immigration laws became more limited and oppressive as a response to mass Asian immigration for manual as well as higher education jobs. Nonetheless, this doesn't mean Asian Americans are becoming less respected in America altogether, because they have gained civil rights and more mobility in fields of work outside of labor and domestic jobs. Overall, Chan tries to "depict the Asian immigrants and their descendants as agents in the making of their own history" and encourages these people to overcome these constant challenges. [1]
     Out of the total nine chapters, only the last three chapters focus on the 1970s and onward. When moderate Asian immigration began in the later 19 th century, only around 1 million Asian immigrants emigrated compared to the 25 million European immigrants. These ratios are extremely different now. Since post-World War II improved Europe's conditions and worsened Latin America and Asia's, Latin Americans and Asians now compose up of most current immigrants. Hawaii, which wasn't yet an American state, employed many Asians to work on sugarcane plantations. However, "far more... landed in California than did in Hawaii" because most Asian immigrants, who were Chinese, were attracted by the gold rush and more job availability from the construction of the transcontinental railroad. [2] These early immigrants included Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Asian Indians. They all immigrated for similar reasons, such as to escape from corrupt governments, widespread poverty, and colonization influences. All Asian races were subjects of discrimination and prejudice the moment they stepped foot on this country, and they tried adapting to the American culture while still striving to keep their essential heritage.
     Asian subgroups became more restricted in immigration as more and more of them arrived. After the gold rush and the need for farm and plantation workers died down, not only were less Asians permitted visas, but many current residents in America were laid off and forced to venture into other fields of work to scrape by in life. Many Chinese became laundrymen or opened stores as alternative jobs; the Japanese still worked in farming, but some returned home or began domestic service jobs; like the Filipinos, who "had become the largest ethnic group in the plantation labor force," Koreans and Asian Indians also preferred manual labor to business and domestic service. [3] Asian communities were very scattered and disorganized, so attempts at unionization often turned out as failures. The hostility against Asian immigrants, expressed through politics, economics, segregation, and prejudice, grew larger and colder. These kinds of public discrimination were very much the norm in American society.
     In reaction to these abuses from the rest of the United States, Asian communities found ways to fight back and create their own identities and cultures. For example, many Asians communities created their own schools, as most public and private schools weren't open to Asians, and lived in the same area so that people of the same culture, language, and background would have community and security. The Chinese formed guilds, brotherhoods, and political parties as well as tongs, which quickly "became notorious as 'fighting tongs'" that engaged in frequent criminal activities. [4] The Japanese were much more organized compared to the other Asian races. They formed schools and government-like systems that cooperated relatively better than others with the U.S. authorities. Since many Koreans and Filipinos in America were already Christian, their communities were interconnected by their faiths. The same is said with Asian Indians' and their large Hindu population.
     As the end of the 20th century approached, second generations of Asian Americans were born and more Asian races such as Vietnamese and Laotians immigrated to America, and therefore immigration laws tightened ever more. Temporarily during the Cold War, immigration laws became looser because the U.S. wanted friendlier relations with Asia and effectively enforce containment. They expelled laws such as the National Origins Law, which limited annual population quotas for each foreign country. After the Cold War came to an end, whereas before anyone could have obtained a visa to go to America, now only family members or people who were already contracted jobs in America were allowed to obtain visas. Nevertheless, improvements for their rights and opportunities for social advancement were also apparent. Asian Americans' growing participation in higher education, as observed in the picture of Asian students lobbying for educational rights "in the Spring Action '89 march on Sacramento", became so hyped that people felt threatened by them and accused Asian Americans of stripping away many of the higher education jobs from the native white Americans. [5] Other critics also used the recent Asian American stereotype of the "model minority" to reprimand other minority races, especially Latinos and African Americans, for lacking the will to achieve higher standards in education and social status. Therefore, they argue, some minorities deserve to be in the lower part of the American social ladder and receive existing kinds of prejudices. This perception of the complacent, well-off, and educated Asian American is, however, untrue. Although government studies show Asian American income as greater than the average American family, their average American family excludes Latin Americans, who were by the late 20 th century a big part of the population and worked in many of the lower income jobs. In addition, they also exclude the fact that both parents of most Asian Americans families worked, since high underemployment rates that far exceeded high employment rates forced mothers and even children to work, much unlike the normal white American families where only the father worked. This can be argued as another sign of the American majority claiming they aren't prejudiced toward minority groups. With growing participation of Asian Americans in national affairs, especially politics, more Asian Americans are trying to counter and demolish these prejudices and stereotypes for future generations. The future is inevitably paved with hurdles, but also inevitable is the Asian Americans' triumph in these situations.
     Sucheng Chan describes a very brief history of this subject through an interpretive (her) perspective. She portrays Asian Americans as victims in this society due to their minority statuses, cultural differences, and language barriers. But from their decisions to persevere and remain in America to fight against this injustice, they have continued to accomplish their goals. Since discrimination is now virtually banned in America, other, more indirect and underlying forms of prejudice have emerged. Therefore, like other minorities such as African Americans and Latin Americans, Asian Americans will need to "work alongside their multiethnic neighbors to bring about a more egalitarian society in the United States". [6] Chan leaves an optimistic yet determined outlook about the history of Asian Americans by describing all the difficult obstacles they have and will overcome.
     A major bias Chan has, whether she wished to express it or not, is that she is Chinese and therefore an Asian American. It is evident her roots have influenced her views, since she sees Asian Americans as victimized minorities in this country, is proud of how far they have come, and confidently encourages further progress. Also, the book focuses on Chinese Americans most, undoubtedly because the author herself is Chinese. In the title of this book as well as in the preface, Sucheng Chan explains how her views are consciously biased. However, the bias is not a bizarre and unreasonable view, but a collective view among scholars and most Asian Americans. She attempts to reveal to a wider audience of the stormy and resolute history of her people. She has influenced "generations of students and scholars", in her field of study and beyond, as many people cite her views and writings, attend her courses and seminars, and ask her to edit books and write introductions. [7] With a growing number of Asian Americans comes a greater interest in Asian American studies, and Chan has definitely set up the back drop for blooming ideas in this field.
     I found this book a sufficient brief history of Asian American immigration, but not a satisfying one as a thorough history on this subject. The much too brief descriptions about some Asian subgroups prove the book as somewhat puzzling. With a great emphasis on the Chinese Americans and a mediocre amount of attention on the Japanese, a comprehensive understanding of minority groups such as the Koreans, Filipinos, Asian Indians, and other later immigrant groups such as the Vietnamese is absent. Since the title entails a historical overview on all the Asian subgroups in America, Chan should have discussed all of them enough, if not equally. For example, the book leaves me with the impression that Asian Indians never took women over to America, married Mexican women instead, always wore turbans, and little else. Necessary descriptions about how they lived, what kind of work they were engaged in, and their community relationships were all missing except in the vaguest forms. Many people definitely agree with and relate to her views, but there are also abundant critics who disagree with her. As a historian, Chan should also have adequately described the different views about this ongoing issue. But, as her book has warned the audience fairly of her biased views, and since her personal background reasonably explains her partiality, this book is understandably "an interpretive history because... [she has] linked [history] together to reflect how [she has] come to understand Asian American history". [8]
     Despite her biased interpretation of Asian American history, I agree with her views primarily, and ironically, because I myself am a Chinese immigrant who only recently received my permanent residency (green card) through a process that took almost eight years to complete and have encountered moderate types of prejudice the book discusses so much about. I engaged myself in this topic and particular book because I hadn't yet received my green card and wanted to learn about and sympathize with those who had similar experiences. Reading this book has definitely given me a sense of reassurance that I wasn't the unluckiest immigrant and security when I was very depressed about not being able to return to Asia and visit my extended family. When my parents and I first arrived in America, we lived with only a fraction of the privileges we are blessed with now and had to lean on people with the same language and culture for help. This book's strength lies in its appeal to people who understand Asian Americans' "[exploitations] and [abuses]" and its positive encouragement and obstinate determination. [9] Because the obstacles Asian Americans face and overcome are universal examples of minority groups battling against an unfair majority, other groups such as an uncommon race, religion, or orientation can relate well to this book too.
     The two reviews of this book express very opposing views. The first review by James Borchet discusses the book's problems of being "too brief to develop key issues" and having "uneven information" about the different Asian American groups. [10] After a brief summary of the book's content, Borchet writes that the book is sufficient for a brief review of Asian American history, but not for an adequate understanding of it-- especially because of the less mentioned Asian minority groups. The second review, by a fellow Chinese writer, Bernard P. Wong, discusses the book's admirable content along with two other books he read dealing with the same topic. Perhaps because of his partiality as a Chinese comrade, Wong mostly praises all three of these books and claims they "are important for understanding the complexity of immigrant communities", "complementary and all ... necessary". [11] Undoubtedly biased, the most critical view Wong implies in this review is that more content should have been written; although that void is filled with the other two 'complementary' books he reviewed.
     This book describes some of the very controversial, important, and revolutionary parts of American history. Ever since their arrival in America in the 19 th century, and especially in the late 20th century, attitudes about Asian Americans and immigration have changed constantly and at times dramatically. The United States became fairer towards Asian Americans and other minorities by allowing equal opportunity and civil rights, but also became more critical by implementing stricter immigration laws and underlying prejudices. The Asian American stereotype is no longer a yellow skinned person who only works in restaurants, laundry stores, plantations, and railroads, but perhaps a person who tries too hard to deprive white citizens of their 'rightful' positions in society. On the contrary to these stereotypes, however, is the fact that more Americans than ever are respecting Asian Americans. For example, people like Robert Matsui, a Japanese Nisei who "won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives... in 1978," have increasingly gained political voices in the country. [12] The increasing Asian population in America has helped its inhabitants, along with immigrants from all over the world, shed their pride and embrace multiculturalism. This country is becoming more and more a culture of cultures, a country of countries, and a people of peoples-- with respect and acceptance.
     Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. Since I am a Chinese immigrant and proud of my Asian culture, this book helped me understand the reasons Asians immigrated and how they dealt with the pressures of staying in America through all these decades. I am especially jealous that a few decades ago, people could have obtained visas and their permanent residencies so easily; still, I am happy now because everyone can be privileged with civil rights such as citizenship and suffrage. More problems in the American society such as prejudices toward Asian immigrants need to be brought out into the spotlight so more people can directly face them and solve them. I agree with Chan that new obstacles are in place for Asian Americans constantly, and Americans in general need to cooperate and "show the way to a more harmonious world" and "[curtail] racial tensions". [13]


[1] Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History. Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers, 1991, XV (Preface). [2] Chan, Sucheng 28. [3] Chan, Sucheng 37. [4] Chan, Sucheng 66. [5] Chan, Sucheng 166. [6] Chan, Sucheng 188. [7] "Sucheng Collection at the IHRC." Immigration History Research Center. 3 June 2007 < http://ihrc.umn.edu/research/projects/07-4/002.htm> [8] Chan, Sucheng XIV (Preface). [9] Chan, Sucheng 100. [10] Borchert, James. "Asian Americans: An Interpretive History." International Migration Review 26.n4 (Winter 1992): 1465(2). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. UC Irvine. 3 June 2007 [11] Wong, Bernard P. "Asian Americans: An Interpretive History." Journal of American Ethnic History 14.n3 (Spring 1995): 64(5). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. UC Irvine. 3 June 2007 [12] Chan, Sucheng 173, [13] Chan, Sucheng 188.

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