Chinese Americans show what makes America: author

Updated: 2015-02-02 11:56

By Niu Yue in New York(China Daily USA)

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A Chinese-American author is urging his fellow citizens to ask themselves a fundamental question: "Who are we?"

"Americanness" means to welcome newcomers, integrate them into American society and to constantly redefine America, said Eric Liu, a speechwriter for former US President Bill Clinton and the author of A Chinaman's Chance: One Family's Journey and the Chinese American Dream.

"The United States, I believe, retains its deep and enduring competitive advantage, which I boiled down very simply this way: America makes Chinese Americans." he said.

Liu was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1968 to parents who had emigrated from Taiwan. He is now the founder and CEO of Citizen University, a Seattle-based non-profit organization that teaches community-building and civic leadership.

His book reviews his exploration of "Chineseness" and "Americanness" as well as their integration by going through his childhood studies of Confucianism and Chinese language, rich academic and historical archives, and his parenting experiences.

"But there are two profound ways that we can blow it," said Liu. The first way is xenophobia and fear of newcomers. The other is being "structurally and permanently unequal in two nations", and the evaporation of the middle class, which would undermine the country's unity.

Chinese Americans, said Liu, are a fusion of the two problems, and "there is no better way to look at it through the lens of Chinese-American identity".

Even though the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882 to 1943), which legally forbid any Chinese from becoming US citizens, has long been repealed, Chinese are still likely to be scapegoats for America's problems, Liu said.

The author listed two examples in his book. Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese-American scientist, was wrongfully indicted in the theft of US nuclear weapons secrets in 1999. He later condemned racial profiling in his book My Country Versus Me.

Vincent Chen was killed by Chrysler employees in 1982, as he was mistaken to be from Japan, whose automobile industry drove Detroit into trouble.

"Every cascade of ethnic exclusionary impulse begins with one case and one guy, if we let it get contagious," Liu said.

The narrative of Chinese Americans as a "model minority" is also flawed, the author believes. "It obscures a great deal of the picture," Liu said, as it not only suggests that other ethnic minorities are "not so model," but also ignores the large population living under the poverty line in Asian-American societies.

The poverty rate among Asian Americans in New York City is 29 percent, higher than Hispanic (25.7 percent), non-Hispanic black (22.5 percent) and non-Hispanic white (14 percent), according to the Center for Economic Opportunity of the New York City government.

"The only way this national economy can remain robust is that everybody could participate in it," Liu said. "When I say American, you think white man. It is passing demographically, but not yet passing politically and not yet passing culturally."

The danger still exists that Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans are "presumed foreign until proven otherwise," he said. He urged more visibility of Chinese Americans in all spectrums.

"I hope there is going to be a larger trend of Chinese Americans stepping into the public square, having our identities and our stories and our full diversity of our very backgrounds woven into the fabric of the American narrative," Liu said.

Lu Huiquan in New York contributed to this report.

 Chinese Americans show what makes America: author

Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University and author of A Chinaman's Chance: One Family's Journey and the Chinese American Dream, speaks at National Committee on United States-China Relations in New York on Jan 29. Lu Huiquan / for China Daily

(China Daily USA 02/02/2015 page2)