The Interracial Marriages Among Chinese Americans Cultural Studies Essay

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One of the most important decisions one makes in his or her life time is who they chose to marry. Throughout history, the idea of marriage has evolved from the concept of arranged marriages to marriages out of love and personal choice. Currently a new type of marriage is evolving called intermarriage, marrying someone else 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 this idea may seem to be familiar to most people, there are many important issues that deal with why people choose to out-marry. Intermarriage has been linked to the product of assimilation by many sociology researchers. Assimilation is the process whereby a minority group, in this case the Chinese Americans gradually adapts to the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture (of American society) (Salin ). In the last 30 years, the once unthinkable possibility of interracial marriage has become a commonplace in many Chinese American communities. The contrasts between Western and Eastern values can form the basis of both the attraction and the conflict in interracial marriages involving Chinese Americans and non-Asians. In the book "Working with Asian Americans," Crohn draws the line between the individualistic nature of American society, and the traditional stronghold of culture in Asian 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 non-Asians at work, school, and neighborhood settings, "cultural assumptions that were secure and stable for generations are challenged, and sometimes are uprooted" (Crohn 429). While it is common for one to understand that intermarriage is facilitated by dismantling of racial barriers and the assimilation process, other factors are involved that deal with the new individualistic concept embedded in many second generation Chinese Americans. Although traditional culture of Chinese society hinders intermarriage relations, individualism in today's American society causes Chinese Americans to change their views on marriage.

Interracial marriage, as we know it today, is a relatively recent phenomenon. 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 all but halted until after World War II when many U.S. service men brought "war brides" home from China. Given that proximity is at the heart of the assimilation theory, "it is not surprising that despite differences in theoretical orientation, the findings of most studies on Asian American intermarriages can be used to support an assimilationist interpretation" (Le 3). For example, increased contact between Asian Americans and Whites leads to increased intermarriage with Whites. In the United States, "15 percent of the Chinese in the United States took non-Chinese mates". 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 like Hawaii, "intermarriage among the Chinese approaches a rate of three out of five". In New York City, where immigration is most recent, "the rate slightly exceed one out of four" (Sung 108). Thus as one can see, due to the increase in contact, the assimilation theory can be quite convincing towards why Chinese Americans intermarry.

Chinese traditions dictate much of how Chinese Americans should behave in life. The traditional family of Chinese Americans has many unique characteristics that are heavily influenced by Confucianism, a religion based on harmonious interpersonal relationships and interdependence. In Asian cultures, marriage exists in the context of "extended family and long term interfamily relationships" (Crohn 429). In addition, the roles of men and women are more clear, yet differentiated. The Chinese tend to be most comfortable with hierarchical social structures that emphasize "cooperation and clear lines of power and authority". 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 Asian cultures and the new Western Culture, Lee Sung makes the analogy in her article, "Chinese American Intermarriage", that, "If Americans praise their children for 'expressing their feelings', then Asian culture tends to praise children who are "quite and obedient. (Lee Sung 351). Based on Confucianism, independent behavior or expressions of emotions that might disrupt familial harmony should be discouraged. In the marriage sector, marriages were commonly "arranged, and it was socially acceptable for influential men to have mistresses" (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 strict and discipline while mothers have been portrayed as self-sacrificing, and guilt inducing. As the assimilation continued in the American community, the tradition and culture of the Chinese changed as well. The explosion of intermarriage in communities in which racism, strong internal familial, communal, and psychological forces had long made interracial marriage a rarity, made a tremendous impact on how new Asian American families develop.

The contrasts between Western and Asian values can form the basis of attraction in interracial marriages involving Chinese Americans and non-Chinese. 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 and necessary" (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" functions of social structure. They depend in large part on the images that people of the various ethnic groups have of each other and of themselves" (Fong and Yung 70). The research findings complement the studies in showing that interracial marriage is a complex phenomenon as the result of assimilation factors to be sure, but more importantly, additional factors intimately related to issues of racial and gender power relations.

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 does not allow his wife to have contact with the world outside the home, does not allow her to learn English, and keeps her isolated from her own relatives and friends. These category of women reported that Asian American men treated them in less egalitarian ways than men of other races and they wanted equal partners in a marriage. In an interview done by Fong, a fifth generation Chinese American boy named Winston Fong speaks of his troubled family background. He states, "[my] father was a spoiled, rotten brat who was used to having his way. He controlled his wife and children out of fear, not out of respect or love or anything like that. He had violent fits and would not think twice about hitting his children at the dinner table if he felt like it" (Fong and Yung 88). He ended up marrying his colleague Betty, who was white. They lived together for five years before the wedding. He reported that unlike his parents, "they had an equal relationship and hardly fought despite their differences; they could communicate well and had common interests and goals" (Fong and Yung 89). 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 and a public ideology of equal opportunity, sex roles are increasingly blurred" (Crohn 429). The willingness to express one's individual self, search for desires, and the ability to flee from this suppressing Asian patriarchy provides some insight into why Asian American women outmarry at higher proportions than men.

Another reason why some Chinese Americans choose to outmarry is due to the strict, discipline nature of parents, and to hide 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 Wang 83). They said this resulted in views of their parents as anti-role models and an aversion to marrying within the same race. "I knew I didn't want to marry someone like my father [or mother]," was one of the more common 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 Wong 89). Hoping to escape what they perceived to be unhappy marriages of their parents', interviewees placed great emphasis on marriages based on romantic love and grounded in mutual respect and equality. 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). Children in Chinese American societies have been pressured into doing a lot of things, and based on the "yi" aspect of the Confucian philosophy, these Chinese Americans and scared into upholding the family name. 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. As Masaki and Wong put it, "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" (430). 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 we interviewed found them "less appealing" than the white partners they eventually chose. Analysis of these interviews reveals both men and women had formed negative opinions and feelings about Chinese Americans of the opposite sex. While the women recognized certain positive characteristics in Chinese American men as "well-educated, stable, and reliable", these qualities were evidently not enough for them. As Marcia Ong says of Terrence, her Chinese American boyfriend of many years, "He was the kind an Asian woman would really like. He's educated, polite, generous, kind, and tall. My mother really loved him. But like her father, he was not expressive or nurturing enough" (Fong and Wong 86). What Marcia found lacking in Terrence she found in Clarence and John, her African American and white, Jewish boyfriends respectively. Both were good about expressing their appreciation of her, their feelings about what they liked or disliked, and unlike Terrence, they had a sense of humor. Both men saw and appreciated what she called her "compliant self underneath her "tough exterior". With Asian guys, she would have to pursue them. "Black and white men take the chance. They are persistent," John states (Fong and Wang 87). On the other side, Chinese American men looked for partners whom they felt were "kind, sensitive, and egalitarian" (Lee Sung 350). 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). 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 generation 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 disinterested in or ignorant of the popular youth culture of the period in the United States. This limitation crossed over to other areas such as the inabilities to meet Western standards of attractiveness or to fit into mainstream society. 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 Wang 88). On the other hand, Male interviewees complained that Asian American women were work alcoholics and too serious about relationships. They claimed the women weren't vivacious and were too laden with Asian cultural baggage. Unlike white women they dated, Asian women were reportedly too introverted and not into fishing, partying, and backpacking" (Fong and Wang 88). Both women and men faulted the opposite sex for the same weaknesses: being overly serious, having pragmatic occupations or narrow interests, being rather lackluster and a part of the neither Western nor Eastern culture. In both of these cases, white American culture is regarded as superior. The attraction to the "real" is an important factor in many Chinese American interracial marriages (http://www.asian-nation.org/interracial.shtml ). Chinese Americans are attracted to those who are part of the dominant culture; but if given two equally acculturated Americans, they will choose the "real" American who is white over the "imitation" who is the Chinese American. 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 to occur.

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