Examining Interracial Marriages Among Chinese Americans Cultural Studies Essay

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One of the most important decisions one makes in his or her lifetime is who they chose to marry. Throughout history, the idea of marriage has evolved from the concept of arranged marriages to a social union of two people formed out of love and personal choice. A new phenomenon that changed the view of many people is intermarriage, marrying someone outside of their own ethnic background. Studies consistently show that Chinese Americans have some of the highest intermarriage rates among Asians Americans in the U.S. Although the concept of marrying someone of a different race may seem familiar to most people, there are many important issues that deal with why people choose to out-marry. Intermarriage is the product of assimilation according to many sociologists. This process occurs when a minority racial group, in this case the Chinese Americans, slowly adapts to the customs of an established culture (the American society) (Salin100). In the last thirty years, the once unimaginable possibility of mixed racial marriages has become widespread in the Chinese American community. In the book "Working with Asian Americans," Joel Crohn draws the line between the individualistic nature of American society, and the traditional stronghold of culture in Chinese societies: "The values of hyper individualistic white American Protestant culture, which elevates the separate, bounded, and autonomous self, stand in sharp contrast to the collective and communal values of Asian cultures in which individual and group identity are tightly intertwined" (Crohn 429). As Chinese Americans increasingly come into close contact with other non-Asians at work, school, and neighborhood settings, "some cultural assumptions that were once secure and stable for generations are challenged, and sometimes are uprooted" (Crohn 429). While it is easy for one to understand that intermarriage is caused by the disappearance of racial discrimination and the continued assimilation process, other determinants are also involved. Although current traditional culture of Chinese society hinders intermarriage relations, individualism in today's American society causes Chinese Americans to change their views on marriage.

Interracial marriages have grown to be widely accepted by many people, causing a tremendous impact to the melting pot of today's American society. The history of Asian immigration to the United States is complex. According to C.N. Le, the first Asian immigrants to the Americas, the Chinese, "arrived in the United States (U.S.) in the 1850s" (Le 2). By the late 1800s, "a growing anti-Asian movement resulted in anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited Asians from marrying Whites and anti-immigration acts that prohibited Chinese women from immigrating to the U.S" (Le 2). As a result, interracial marriages prospered after World War II when many U.S. service men brought "war brides" home from China. Given that closeness is one of the important points in the assimilation theory, it is expected that the results for most research done on Chinese American intermarriages are linked to assimilation (Le 3). For example, increases in contact between Chinese Americans and whites leads to increasing rates of intermarriage between the two races. In the United States, "fifteen percent of the Chinese in the United States took non-Chinese mates" (National Healthy Marriage Resource Center). This number was found from the 2006 census, and ever since has been on the rise. In some regions of United States where there has been a long history of Chinese settlement such as in Hawaii, "intermarriage among the Chinese approaches a rate of three out of five". According to Betty Lee Sung in her article "Chinese American Intermarriage," the recent increase in immigration in New York City has raised "the rate slightly exceed one out of four" (Lee Sung 108). Thus as one can see, due to the increase in contact, the immigration points of the assimilation theory can be convincing towards why Chinese Americans intermarry.

Even though they are confronted with new cultures in the U.S, Chinese traditions dictate much of how Chinese Americans should behave in life. The traditional families of Chinese Americans have many unique characteristics that are heavily influenced by Confucianism, a philosophy based on harmonious interdependent relationships. In Asian cultures, marriage exists in the context of "extended family and long term interfamily relationships" (Crohn 429). The unit family is a structured hierarchy where every person has an individual role. In addition, the roles of men and women are more distinct, yet different when compared to American culture. The Chinese tend to be most comfortable with social structures that emphasize "cooperation and clear lines of power and authority" (Crohn 430). The male figure has much of the dominant role in society, and plays a major role in marriage. In an interview with Crohn, a Chinese American woman named Susan describes her perspective on Chinese traditions: "Chinese men, even American born Chinese men of traditional families whose parents were born overseas, still expect a whole lot of male prerogatives" (Crohn 430). In a comparison between Chinese cultures and the new Western Culture, Sung makes the analogy "If Americans praise their children for 'expressing their feelings', then Asian culture tends to praise children who are "quite an obedient (Lee Sung 351). Based on Confucianism, free behavior or expressions of emotions that might disrupt harmony among the family should not be allowed. In the marriage sector, marriages were commonly arranged, and it was acceptable for men to have concubines (Lee Sung 350). Husbands were to deal with the outside world and the spousal relations was secondary to the parent child relationship (Le 4). Fathers were to be strict and discipline while mothers are portrayed as self-sacrificing and conscience-stricken. As the process of assimilation continued into the American community, the tradition and culture of the Chinese changed as well. Even though the communities in which racism and strong internal familial forces had long made interracial marriage a rarity, the mixture of a new culture is making an incredible impact on how new Chinese American families develop today.

The contrasts between Western and Asian values form the basis of attraction in interracial marriages involving Chinese Americans and non-Chinese people. Crohn describes that the people "living under the communal and hierarchical values of Asian cultures who are exposed to the relative freedoms of Western individualism suddenly find themselves feeling constricted by a social system that until now always seemed inevitable" (Crohn 428). The American value of individualism assimilated itself into Chinese American culture, acting as somewhat of catalysis for the new present behavior they exhibit. It is been researched that a higher percentage of "Chinese American women out marry than their male counterparts" (Lee Sung 350). This is in part due to the Chinese American women gaining a self understanding of what an individualistic society is, and sometimes intermarry to escape the horrors of the Chinese traditional collective society. Although the assimilations theory is quite proven true to the increase rates of intermarriage among Chinese American people, factors such as social status in Chinese American communities may affect who they marry and how their marriages progress. Authors Fong and Yung quote Alex Spickard from the book, "Mix Blood," as they state intermarriage among Chinese Americans deal with a large part on the images other racial groups have for them and images they have for themselves (Fong and Yung 70). The research findings complement the studies in showing that interracial marriage is a complex occurrence as the result of assimilation factors, but more importantly, additional factors related to gain more racial and gender powers.

One of the major reasons to why some Chinese Americans intermarry is to escape the hardships of the Asian patriarchal suppression. Rule and domination by men continue to be the prevailing social order in Chinese communities. Authors Masaki and Wong state that, "Many men still see domestic violence as their male and husbandly right- to control the women he feels he possesses. It is their responsibility to discipline their wife if she is not obedient" (Masaki and Wong 443). When the husband is abusive and controlling, he often limits the activities of his wife such as having contact with the outside world (for example shopping), allowing her to learn, and keeping her isolated from her own relatives and friends. The women who fall in this category report that Chinese American men treat them in less egalitarian ways than men of other races and want partner who treat them as an equal in marriage. In an interview done by Fong, Mimi Kato, a third generation women, speaks of her patriarchal suppression: "[my] stepfather was physically abusive to both [me] and [my] mother. At an early age, [I] did not want to end up victimized as mother and be powerless to resist the abuse" (Fong and Yung 88). She still dated some Chinese American men but thought of her boyfriend as too "protective" and the relationship being "suffocating" (Fong and Yung 83). In the end, her mother pushed her to marry someone white, and ended up marrying a man named Dave she found at her college. She did not want to have the same abusive experience her mother had in her marriage. Even though there were many cultural differences between the two, they communicated well and had many common interests and goals which allowed their relationship to be healthy. According to the value of individualism in America, people intend on thinking for themselves as individuals and express their unique inner attributes. In American culture, with men and women from many different backgrounds interacting, society still upholds its value equal opportunity. The willingness to express one's individual self and desires, and the ability to flee from this suppressing Chinese patriarchy provides some insight into why some women out-marry at higher rates than men.

Another reason why some Chinese Americans choose to outmarry is due to the strict, discipline nature of parents and to hide from the negative connotation of Chinese customs. Based on Fong's interviews, she noted that a number of the interviewees grew up in "repressive family situations where one or both parents were unbearably domineering and manipulative and where negative reinforcement and strict discipline were practiced" (Fong and Yung 83). They analyzed that parents are anti-role models and inadvertently caused an aversion among their children to marry someone who is also Chinese. Chinese Americans therefore continue to say that they wouldn't want to marry someone like my father or mother. From the interview, they gathered responses from women who described their fathers as too "patriarchal, insensitive, and non-expressive" and from men who characterized their mothers as "manipulative and complaining" (Fong and Yung 89). Hoping to escape what they perceived to be unhappy marriages of their parents', interviewees placed great emphasis on marriages based on romance, love, equality, and mutual respect. This behavior is a resemblance to the conversions to "individualistic behavior of most Americans. The idea of not repeating what parents do is very evident in American families" (Sean-Shong et all 72). For so long, children in Chinese American societies have been pressured into doing a lot of things based on the family loyalty aspect of the Confucian philosophy. As more and more Chinese Americans spend time in American culture, the assimilation process will take place, causing some too bring up their own ideals and desire of their future. Salins acknowledges that the American model gives respect for those who pride for individual achievement rather than going along with a group identity. Chinese American teenagers want to be equal to their American counterparts. Sometimes hiding what really happens in the family and portraying a false identity as being someone who is equal. They might not want to grow up as their parents did, and thus avert themselves from these customs, causing them to express their own beliefs.

Even when potential Chinese American spouses were available, many of the Chinese American men and women interviewed found the other "less appealing" than the white partners they eventually chose. After conducting the interviews, a conclusion was reached revealing that both men and women formed negative attitudes and feelings towards the opposite sex. While the women recognized certain positive characteristics in Chinese American men as "well-educated, stable, and reliable", other qualities were evidently not enough for them (Fong and Yung 87). Marcia Ong, Chinese American women describes Chinese American boyfriend "as the kind an Asian woman would really like. He's educated, polite, generous, kind, and tall. But like her father, he was not expressive or nurturing enough" (Fong and Yung 86). After breaking up with him, she found herself a Jewish boyfriend named John who made up for the lacking characteristics. He greatly expressed his appreciation of her, his feelings for what he liked or disliked about her, and to top it off, had a sense of humor. "Black and white men take their chances. They are persistent," John states (Fong and Yung 87). On the other side, Chinese American men look for partners whom they felt were "kind, sensitive, and egalitarian" (Lee Sung 350). In the end these spouses turned out to be white women. Some men do admit that they were conditioned by television and magazines to regard "the white female body as the best overall" (Lee Sung 351). Chinese American men feel more secure towards white women when they want to express how they feel and realize that white women are more understanding. In addition, the males stated that in at least two cases, Chinese American men reported "they could not consider dating or marrying a Chinese American woman because it would be like marrying their own sister-incestuous" (Sean Shong et all, 73). According to the assimilation process and the gradual acceptance of individualism by Chinese Americans, some men and women are able to out speak priorities established by parents. The new generations of Chinese Americans abide by their own rules and seek for their own desires. Looking for what suits them the best, rather than what suits others, allows many men and women to intermarry with others from different ethnic backgrounds.

Another common complaint shared between Chinese American couples is that the other is dispassionate or ignorant of the popular youth culture of United States. This limitation to the popular culture includes inabilities to meet Western standards of attractiveness. Women reported they found other Chinese American men "physically unattractive, conservative, and boring. They claimed the men weren't into exciting things like parachute jumping, camping, motorcycle rides, and Bob Dylan" (Fong and Yung 88). On the other hand, male interviewees complained that Chinese American women were workaholics and too serious about relationships. They claimed the "women weren't vivacious and were too laden with Asian cultural baggage. They were introverted and not into fishing, partying, and backpacking" (Fong and Yung 88). Both fault the opposite sex for the same weaknesses: being overly serious, having narrow interests, being rather uninspiring and a part of the neither Western nor Eastern culture. Due to the many complaints against Chinese Americans, many look up to the white American culture as the "gold standard" is regarded as something superior. The appeal to the real is a significant factor in deciding whether to intermarry among Chinese Americans (Le 4). Chinese Americans are clearly attracted to those who are part of the dominant culture. If given two equally acculturated Americans, one white and another of a different race, the Chinese American will choose the "real" American who is white over the "imitation". According to the assimilation theory, by coming close into contact with the American cultures, many seem to acknowledge that the "white" Americans are the true racial superiority in the country and the idea of social mobility attracts them to come more in contact with these people. The characteristics of this dominant race as described before are very attractive towards minority races such as Chinese Americans. Due to the disinterest of many Chinese Americans to adapt to American culture, conflicts arise between many couples either causing divorces or intermarriage with the dominant race.

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