Are generational differences a conflict within the API community?
By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Can you speak the language?”
“Is your dad white?”
“You don’t eat that, do you?”
For many second generation Asian Americans (who were born in the United States), these questions are commonly asked by first generation Asian Americans (who emigrated). For many Asian American children, there can be a natural separation from their parents, both between generations and culturally.
“Not being born in or having visited the Philippines is a cause for some [people] to indicate that I am not genuine in my Filipino ethnicity,” said Devin Cabanilla, a 28-year-old fourth generation Filipino American.
Cabanilla also notices that there is a personality difference between the first and second generation. “It is quite frequent that my actions and requests with people are seen as assertive by either Asian coworkers or older family members.”
Rose Holbrooks, a second generation Japanese American, felt a similar tone from her peers who were Japanese immigrants. “When I used to go to Japanese school, I felt a little prejudice from the kids born in Japan,” she said.
Most American-born Asian Americans noted that brashness or assertiveness is the most notable cultural difference between the generations.
Kimberly Koba is a fifth generation Japanese American and she has observed the cultural struggle of being Japanese and American in her grandparents (third generation) and her parents (fourth generation).
“My parents and grandparents felt that [they] kind of [had] a dual identity problem during World War II and the eras that [followed],” said Koba.
During World War II, Japanese Americans were interned in camps because the United States was at war with Japan and viewed Japanese Americans as more Japanese than American.
This identity problem is something that also affects Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who were born in another country, but spent the majority of their lives in the United States, known as the one-and-a-half generation.
Thydakeo Kim came to the United States from Cambodia when she was 2 years old.
“[I’m] not really brash, but [Americanized] in the way we respond to things,” she said. “[However], my parents taught me a lot about my culture, so it’s been maintained. Even the language is still spoken at home. … In my opinion, it’s dependent on the family to maintain the culture.”
While there is a natural separation between American-born Asians and first generation Asians, for many Asian Americans, like Kim, a constant cultural presence tempers the Americanization of subsequent generations.
However, for American-born Asians, the question of how “Asian they are” is often called into question.
“Although I’ve performed in the Filipinyana dance troupe and speak conversational Ilocano, interactions I have with other Filipinos have been, at times, condescending,” said Cabanilla. “[First generation ideals of] nationalism and ethnocentrism are very difficult to tackle with the [American-born] ideas of equality and individual merit.”
Though Cabanilla’s experiences mirror other American-born Asians and Pacific Islanders, it would be a generalization to say this is true of all cross-generational interactions.
“As an immigrant, I have no qualms with American-born Asians,” said Lu-Hiep Phan.
Holbrooks’ relationship with her family echoes Phan’s feelings on the matter.
“[My] relatives, including the ones that live in Japan, understand that I was raised in a different culture,” she said.
The differences that Asians have among one another reveal the internal stereotypes that exist within communities. However, with an open dialogue, perhaps there’s much to be learned from one another.
“At times, I feel as though it is defeating for Asians to keep what Americans may see as a ‘cowed’ attitude when it is everyone’s opportunity to be empowered and equal,” said Cabanilla. ♦
Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.