Differences among Asian American Cultures

There are, of course, many differences between the various Asian-American cultures as well. On one level, traditions and customs, language, and dress differ from group to group, while on another level, differences exist in the immigration practices and regulations of the different groups, as well as in historical experiences. These differences may cause Asian Americans to develop culturally in different ways.

The Effect of Immigration Practices on Asian-

American Children

Chinese Americans are the Asian-American group that has been in America the longest. Many Chinese individuals immigrated to the United States to find jobs and fortune in the early 1800s and were welcomed at first because of the cheap labor they provided. Soon sentiments turned negative, however, leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This act prevented immigration from China and lead to discriminatory practices in the United States, including lack of access to certain legal rights and segregation.

In addition, the prevention of immigration created a Chinese-American population comprised mostly of men, leading to lower numbers in subsequent generations. This act was not repealed until 1943 and had extreme influences on both the physical and psychological well being of Chinese Americans. Such practices had an effect on the children of these Chinese immigrants as well, as feelings of shame and the results of discrimination and poverty were passed on from previous generations. Good education is often a main focus for these families and is a key reason for their immigration to the United States. Thus, educational achievement remains an immensely important goal for Chinese-American children.

Korean individuals arrived in America about a century later than the Chinese and also served as laborers. Again, attainment of better education was a major goal of these first Korean immigrants. The anti-Asian sentiments that continued to effect all Asian-American populations at this time in the United States caused many Korean and Korean-American families to settle close to one another, forming tightly knit communities. It is important for those working with Korean-American children to respect these communities and to try to work within them, making attempts to involve parents as much as possible. Though most Korean-American parents are highly respectful of teachers and educational administrators, they may not see it as their place to enter into the educational forum, deferring instead to teachers. Using material in the language of the parent is one way of ensuring more involvement.

Japanese individuals first immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a desire for better education and financial opportunities as the primary force behind their immigration. While welcomed at first, anti-Asian sentiments resulted in the halting of immigration practices from 1931 to 1940. Whereas immigration was prevented quickly for the Chinese, this process took longer with the Japanese, allowing time for both males and females to immigrate to America. Thus, the Japanese-American population was not affected by the same setbacks suffered by the Chinese-American population. As a result, the Japanese-American population continued to thrive with two-thirds of the Japanese population being American-born by the 1940s. The discriminations directed against the Japanese-American population during World War II affected the acculturation of these citizens drastically, however, leading to less identification with America in some and highly overt identification, to the destruction of some of their own customs and practices, on the parts of others. World War II's relative recentness means that many Japanese-American children might come from families directly affected by its events.

The central roles of family and culture are common tenets in most Asian populations. A young girl wearing traditional Southeast Asian clothing holds an American flag for Independence Day festivities in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. (Kevin Fleming/Corbis)

The Effect of Historical Experiences on Asian-

American Children

Historical experiences also differ for the various groups of Asian Americans. As mentioned before, during World War II, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were interned in concentration camps in the United States, an event that continues to affect many Japanese-American families. Though two-thirds of these individuals were Nisei, or second-generation individuals who had been born in America, the U.S. government viewed them as a danger to their country following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This indignation resulted in most Japanese-American families losing all that they owned, leading to a step backward in their solidification as productive landowners and business owners. Because of the emphasis placed on the tenet of honor in Japanese societies, many of these families did not speak of the internment for many years afterwards, and Japanese-American children might be just beginning to understand the effects of this imprisonment on their own families.

The end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the immigration that followed provides another example of a historical influence on a different group of Asian Americans. This group of Southeast Asian immigrants came from three different countries: Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Although the first immigrants who came to the United States around 1975 were generally wealthy and quickly established themselves in their new country, immigrants that followed came from more desperate circumstances, escaping refugee camps and war-ravaged conditions in their homelands. Following these immigrants came the people released from reeducation camps and many biracial Asian children whose American fathers were in the service during the Vietnam War. Understanding which group the families of Southeast-Asian-American children are associated with can provide those working with them in schools and elsewhere with crucial information about their backgrounds, value systems, and behaviors. In the Southeast-Asian-American community, there is a high level of respect for education and those who provide it, and thus good grades and hard work are emphasized by these families.

Having more knowledge about the value systems, practices, and histories of Asian-American children can aid all those who work with them in better understanding their differences from and their similarities to non-Asian-American individuals.



California State Department of Education. A Handbook for Teaching Korean-Speaking Students. Sacramento: California State Department of Education, Office of Bilingual Bicultural Education, 1983.

Leung, Brian. "Who Are Chinese-American, Japanese-American, and Korean-American Children? Cultural Profiles.'' In Valerie Pang and Li-Rong Cheng eds., Struggling to Be Heard: The Unmet Needs of Asian Pacific American Children. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. Pang, Valerie, and Li-Rong Cheng, eds. ''The Quest for Concepts, Competence, and Connections: The Education of Asian Pacific American Children.'' Struggling to Be Heard: The Unmet Needs of Asian Pacific American Children. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. Tran, My Luong. ''Behind the Smiles: The True Heart of Southeast-Asian-American Children.'' In Valerie Pang and Li-Rong Cheng eds., Struggling to Be Heard: The Unmet Needs of Asian Pacific American Children. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti

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