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The Identity Formation of Second-Geenration Chinese: Growing Up In Australia in the 1990s.
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The Identity Formation of Second-Geenration Chinese: Growing Up In Australia in the 1990s. The Identity Formation of Second-Geenration Chinese: Growing Up In Australia in the 1990s. Document Transcript

  • Janice Fung 20711603 The Identity Formation of Second-Generation Chinese: Growing up in Australia in the 1990s. Janice Fung 20711603 Monash University, Clayton.This research study examines how second-generation Australian-Chinese, who grew up in the1990s, learned to understand their racial culture; and the way in which their culture wasprescribed to them at home, and perceived in the Australian society. It is discussed how theirunderstanding influenced their ‘Australian frame of mind’, and challenged their self-perceptionto develop a hybrid identity through various acculturation strategies (to accept or reject theChinese, Australian, or both cultural identities). I suggest that the main influential factors ofidentity-formation are the parents’ level of assimilation to Australian culture; and the portrayalof the Chinese to which the child is exposed. Two research strategies were used: (1) Aqualitative analysis of interviews (with six strategically selected participants aged 21) conductedthrough online instant text messaging; and (2) other scholarly secondary sources and casestudies. In conclusion, I propose the notion that it is ‘healthier’ for Australian-Chinese toidentify themselves with the cultural subgroup “Asian-Australian”, as it involves no culturalsegregation, rejection, or shame.1. IntroductionThe identity of Chinese in Western societies has continuously been re-defined throughouthistory: from the homogenous identity of ‘Chinese’ in the early twentieth century; to rejectingChinese culture and assimilating to Western culture in the mid-twentieth century; to developingan integrated bi-cultural identity of a redefined subgroup, i.e. ‘Asian-Australian’, in the latetwentieth century (Williams 2005: 2349). The fates of American and Australian second-generation Chinese have been historically similar. American-born Chinese in the 1930s facedmuch confusion in negotiating their identity, and assimilation was a solution to cope with beingracially marginalized (Lei 1931, cited in Liu 2007: 98). 1978 marked the implementation ofAustralia’s first Multicultural Policies. Henceforth, racial tolerance and cultural diversity has 1
  • Janice Fung 20711603been continuously promoted (Wu 2003:359), and Chinese-Australians no longer need to be‘thoroughly Westernised’ to achieve social acceptance. However, I argue that the freedom ofcultural practice does not prevent the possibility of having a cultural identity-crisis. With the analysis of qualitative data collated from interviews, I aim to discuss some ofthe factors that influence the identity negotiation of an Australian-Chinese - to accept or rejectone, both, or neither of their cultural backgrounds. In particular, I will explore the influence of(1) the parents’ intentions of preserving Chinese culture in the child and (2) the individual’s levelof cultural exposure and awareness.2. Parents and cultural preservation2.1 Traditional ParentsLei 1931 observed that Chinese immigrant parents in the 1930s lived in apprehension of racialdiscrimination. They hoped their children would help build China’s political and economicstatus, with the belief that it would earn them racial respect. For that reason, they maintainedtheir China-orientated identity, and tried to nurture their children with China-orientated values(cited in Liu 2007: 98). An Australian survey, conducted in the early 1990s, revealed that amajority of recent Chinese migrants perceived Australia as an open society; whereas, almost halfclaimed to have encountered racial discrimination (Wu 2003:375). Therefore, in addition to theirknowledge of the historical ill-treatment of the Chinese in Western societies, some parents wereinclined to bear a similar mindset of the 1930s; hence they tried to assimilate their children withtheir traditional cultural values- which encourage age deference; discipline, self-sacrifice; andancestral-respect (Zhou 1998, cited in Zhang 2005: 113). An interviewee recognises her parent’sintentions: “They don’t want me to forget who I am and where I come from… They have brought a lot of their Chinese values over from China and it feels like my upbringing was somewhat different from those around me who aren’t Chinese.” (see Appendix: Interview 6).The reason of her feeling like her upbringing was somewhat different can be explained by thedisparity between her parents’ core-cultural values; and the Western values (of individualism,capitalism, and reason) to which she is accustomed (Edwin 2004). In the past, the children would 2
  • Janice Fung 20711603have felt embarrassed by their parents’ cultural practices and traditions, as observed in theresearch of Lei 1931(cited in Liu 2007: 102). In comparison, children of the 1990s are generallyless hypersensitive and more at ease with their parent’s customs, as the girl exemplifies, “Myparents do hold traditional views, but I grew up with it so I’m used to it.” (see Appendix:Interview 6). The dissimilarity of cultural values, attitudes, and behaviours between immigrantparents and their children can result in intergenerational and internal conflict, (Uskul et al. 2007:893) as the Eastern parental approaches could be interpreted as restraining. One intervieweeconsidered his parents to be very typical Chinese parents who were strict and would spank you.He told of his resistance: “I rebelled just like any Australian would against such oppression… to such a brutal and physical degree that I would have disowned my own father because I loathed him so much.” (see Appendix: Interview 5).The participant also believed that life would be definitely easier if he weren’t Chinese, as hewould have his freedom to live culturally in sync with the mainstream society, without traditionaldisciplines restricting him with what to do and how to do when to do it. In response to theintergenerational conflict, the explained he was really, really, not proud of being Chinese. Thisindicated self-loathing, rejection of the Chinese culture, and his inclination to assimilate to themainstream Australian culture (see Appendix: Interview 5).2.2 Non-traditional Parents The interviews revealed that parents of participants who were proficient in English werelikely to be less concerned about cultural preservation. According to Schumann’s AcculturationModel 1976 (cited in Ricento 2005: 897) which correlated language acquisition with culturalassimilation, it can be presumed that the parents’ language ability helped them integrate into theAustralian society, as illustrated by participant’s quote: “They don’t care (about Chinesetraditions). My mum still does Asian things; she just doesn’t stick to only talking to Asianpeople. She can speak English and talks to anyone” (see Appendix: Interview 4). 3
  • Janice Fung 20711603 In response to the question, “How would you identify yourself?” the data revealed thatchildren of non-traditional parents were more likely to resist being identified based on their race.They preferred to negotiate their identities through assimilation - as one participant clarified,“I’m not Chinese. I’m Australian.” (see Appendix: Interview 3). A participant who has aCaucasian father and Chinese mother explained that “cos I’m half (Chinese), I didn’t really fit inanywhere. To Asian people, I’m white; and to white people, I’m Asian.” Therefore, he claims tokinda feel neutral, and that neither his Chinese nor Australian background satisfy his identityformation: “I’d identify myself by who I am, not by race” (see Appendix: Interview 4).2.3 Migrant Parents’ Attitudes to Education Most Chinese parents of Australian children who grew up in the 1990s were a part of thethousands of migrants who flocked from Asia (in response to the Vietnam War in 1979, theTiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and the scheduled reunification of Hong Kong to China in1997) to find refuge in Australia with the hope of a healthier life-style, and better economic andeducational opportunities (Jupp 2001:218). As a reaction to their adversity, education is viewedas a principal opportunistic pathway that will insure their children with a future elevated in socialstatus and financial stability (Liu 2007: 105). Thus many Chinese parents are especially seriousabout academic agendas. However, their approaches to education often contradicted to theAustralian style of schooling. Western-cultured schools don’t hesitate to positively encouragestudents for good grades; whereas, Chinese parents often took their children’s achievements forgranted (Lei 1931, cited in Liu 2007: 105). An interviewee verifies the validity of thisobservation, stating that he would be punished if he got grades under B (see Appendix:Interview 5). In another case, the participant explains how she has always wanted to do something in theperforming arts, but her parents told her to stop dreaming because there’s no future in suchindustries. Her parents told her that they came to Australia so that (she) could get a goodeducation and a good and stable job, and that means doctor or lawyer or something. She alsotells of how her traditional parents would threaten to disown her if she doesn’t conform to theirvalues. She expresses her frustration in finding a cultural common ground with her parents: 4
  • Janice Fung 20711603 “They still pressure me a lot… (and) always want me to live my life according to their vision, but I don’t want what they want because they’re not always right.” (see Appendix: Interview 2). Although the second-generation Chinese appreciated their parents for their hard work, theystruggled to understand the basis of the parental approach, as the interviewee experiences: “I hated my parents so much when I was growing up cos they never let me be who I wanna be. But I still can’t help but respect them cos of all the hardships they endure for me...” (see Appendix: Interview 2).In response to the parental pressure, the participant stated that she used to hate being Chinese, asshe rejected her parents’ values to which she associated with being Chinese; and to negotiate heridentity through assimilating with ‘Australian values’ of individualism and freedom to be who Iwanna be (see Appendix: Interview 2).3. Cultural Awareness3.1 Asians in the mediaAustralian attitudes are greatly influenced by mainstream media representations (Clark 2006:107). Larson 2005 observes that Asians are exceptionally underrepresented and misrepresentedin Western media (Larson 2005: 77), as an interviewee is aware, “In the media, well quite simplywe aren’t portrayed that often. Other than of course stabbings and gang fights but even thathasn’t happened much recently.” (see Appendix: Interview 1). Character roles for Asians areusually foreign, and unable to be incorporated into Western society. The men are usuallyportrayed as sexually-restrained, socially-challenged, overachievers, and victims; while thefemales are stereotypically seductive, defenceless, and submissive (Larson 2005: 68-69). 5
  • Janice Fung 20711603 Negative representations promote racial marginalization and fear amongst the Australiansociety. One participant who distinguished himself as being Aussie all the way also claimed to beanti-FOB and scared of masses of Asians. With the suggestion of being identified as ‘Chinese’,he retorted that he will never be one of them because he doesn’t dress FOB or talk FOB – ‘FOB’representing the Western-constructed Asian stereotype (see Appendix: Interview 3).3.2 Dealing with stereotypesThe interviews revealed that some participants were exposed to racial discrimination during theirchildhood in the 1990s. They were degraded with derogatory comments that served todifferentiate them as an out-group: “In the past, I was called ‘Ching-Chong Chinaman because I was an infrequent sight… There are still some sections of Victoria where there are few Asians (such as Brighton) and they aren’t treated equally there…” (see Appendix: Interview 1). “… People expected me to be smart and nerdy just because I’m Chinese… where I used to work, I noticed some customers would simplify their English when they talk to me. They think I’m foreign…” (see Appendix: Interview 2).The verbal degrading endured by these participants often resulted in insecurity and self-loathing,as one participant explained: “Not proud of Chinese as a child since I struggled in early primaryschool. Felt like the odd one out...” (see Appendix: Interview 1). A female participant shared herprimary school experiences of being called Ching-Chong and having her Asian eyes taunted forbeing small and ugly. In consequence of the prejudice, the participant spoke of her identity crisis:“I felt like I didn’t belong in Australia. But then, I didn’t belong in Asia either, because I wasunfamiliar with the culture. So I hated being Chinese.” The participant felt compelled to rejecther physical attributes that marked her Chinese identity, and to assimilate her desires to what shewas made to perceive as socially advantageous by the mainstream society: “…I’d look in the 6
  • Janice Fung 20711603mirror wishing I had larger eyes and light hair cos I thought maybe life would be easier thatway.” (see Appendix: Interview 2).3.3 Cultural acceptance and understandingGiles’ ethnolinguistic identity theory (1987) suggests that individuals opt for positive socialidentities that are beneficial to their self-esteem (cited in Fishman Liebkind 1999:143). Culturalstudies are beneficial in helping Australians deconstruct stereotypes, and gain a betterappreciation of Asia; thus developing a new outlook of the ‘Australian identity’ that is inclusiveof Asian-Australians (Clark 2006: 107). An interviewee, who had previously been ashamed ofhis Chinese identity, explained how he came to gain respect for Asians: “…my high school began to allow international students from places like China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and stuff to come study at the school… and… after befriending many of them, I started to slowly love the different Asian cultures and their ways that I had learnt from all these different people…” (see Appendix: Interview 5).Gaining cultural awareness helps individuals get the best of both worlds (see Appendix:Interview 2) to integrate into their identity-formation, as indicated by a participants’ quote: “I love the clothing there (Hong Kong), music, looks etc. So I feel damn superior when I come back to Australia… I feel that Chinese have pretty cool work ethics… Meanwhile I feel damn superior while in Hong Kong as well since I come from a multicultural country and my English is better.” (See Appendix: Interview 1).I argue that ‘integration’ is the most beneficial acculturation strategy in defining one’s identity,where one can confidently accept their heritage background whilst identifying with themainstream society. A participant defines her hybrid Asian-Australian identity as being proud tobe Chinese, but having the freedom to live with her Australian values without denying herancestors’ culture (see Appendix: 2). In confirmation for my argument, a participant quotes: 7
  • Janice Fung 20711603 “The conversion process from being an Asian to a True blue Australian-Asian has helped teach me how to respect myself, have dignity, a strong sense of willpower and a healthy, optimistic mindset…” (See Appendix: Interview 5).4. ConclusionIn the past, the basis of identity-crisis for second-generation Australian-Chinese was theirsusceptibility of being racially rejected in the society. Australia now promotes racial toleranceand freedom of cultural practices; however, this does not prevent the occurrence of identity-crisis. The disparity of cultural values between immigrant parents and their children is a majorinfluence of the identity-formation of second-generation Australian-Chinese. It was found thatchildren of traditional and culturally inflexible parents viewed Chinese culture to be a burden, asa result of the cultural clashes experienced at home. Hence they were more likely to reject theirChinese identity. The Australian media plays a significant role in the construction of social attitudes andopinions. In western film and television, Asians are notably underrepresented, andrepresentations of Chinese are generally negative and narrowly defined. Thus the Australian-Chinese become victims of undesirable racial stereotyping and social marginalisation. Inconsequence, children of non-traditional parents also become inclined to reject their racialidentity by conforming to these social perceptions. I argue that the solution for reducing the issue of identity-crisis in second-generationAustralian-Chinese is to break down the negative stereotypes of the Chinese. This can beachieved by increasing cultural education, positive intercultural interactions, and non-segregatingrepresentations of Asians in the media. Subsequently this would encourage Australians toinclude the Chinese in their notion of the Australian-identity; and decrease cultural-clashes inmulticultural households. It would also encourage second-generation Australian-Chineseindividuals to assimilate with the mainstream society while being able to confidently identifywith their Chinese heritage. 8
  • Janice Fung 207116035. ReferencesClark, J. (2006) “Asian Studies in “Crisis”: Is Cultural Studies the Answer?” International Journal of Asian Studies, 3 (1), pp. 95-110.Edwin, A. L. (2004) “The Greatness of Western Civilization” (Capitalism Magazine article). [Online] (Updated 30 September 2004) Available at: http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=3234 [Accessed 23 May 2009].Jupp, J (2001) The Australian people: an encyclopaedia of the nation, it’s people, and their origins, Cambridge University Press, New York.Larson, S. G. (2005) Media & Minorities: the Politics of Race in News and Entertainment, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham.Liebkind, K. (1999) Social Psychology, in Fishman, J. A., Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity, Oxford University Press (US), New York.Liu, H. (2007) “The Identity Formation of American-Born Chinese in the 1930s: A Review of Lei Jieqiong’s (Kit King Louis) Master’s Thesis”, Journal of Chinese Overseas, 3 (1), pp. 97-121.Ricento, T. (2005) Considerations of Identity in L2 Learning, in Hinkel, E., Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning, LEA, Mahwah.Uskul, A. K. et al., (2007) “Views on interracial dating among Chinese and EuropeanCanadians: The roles of culture, gender, and mainstream cultural identity”, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24 (6), pp. 891-911.Williams, A. M. (2005) Constructing and Reconstructing Chinese American Bilingual Identity, in Cohen, J. et al. ISB4: Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, Cascadilla Press, Somerville, MA.Wu, C. T. (2003) New Middle-Class Chinese Settlers in Australia and the Spatial Transformation of Settlement in Sydney, in Ma, L. J. C. & Cartier, C. L. (ed.) The Chinese Diaspora: Space, Place, Mobility, and Identity. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham.Zhang, X. (2005) “Communication, Language and Identity- Attitudes towards Preserving Children’s Linguistic Identity in the UK among Parents from Mainland China”, Journal of Chinese Overseas, 1 (1), May, pp. 110-120. 9