East Asians of the United States - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Each of the four East Asian-American groups is a diverse ethnic group composed of a number of distinct subgroups. Across all four groups, two internal divisions are most obvious. First is the distinction between those who settled before World War II and their descendants and those who arrived after the war. Second is the distinction in the post-World War II group between the parental and second generation, with the latter composed of those who were born in the United States or came when they were young. Beyond these two categories, each East Asian group displays additional diversity as well as various social institutions developed in the United States.

Chinese. Major divisions within the Chinese-American community include those based on place of origin (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia), Cantonese or non-Cantonese ethnicity, rural or urban residence, and support for Taiwan or recognition of the People's Republic of China. Localized in Chinatowns and excluded from full participation in American society for over one hundred years, Chinese-Americans developed a complex set of interlocking organizations that enabled them to maintain elements of their traditional culture while adapting to their new life. In the early years, when the population was mostly male, clan and regional associations with affiliation based on surname and region of origin served to affiliate men in the United States and maintain ties with the homeland. Other organizations including secret societies (tongs), guilds, and credit associations were also developed, all of which served economic, political, and social functions. With the arrival of more women and the formation of families in the twentieth Century, the second generation of Chinese-Americans appeared. Although they were socially and economically isolated from mainstream society, they learned English in school and formed organizations based on mainstream models and interests. At the same, they were less interested in the traditional culture, and membership in the clan and regional associations declined. In the post-World War II immigrant group, the clan and regional associations and tongs have declined in importance as the focus has shifted to forming organizations that will help Chinese-Americans secure full rights as American citizens.

Filipinos.For Filipino-Americans, the major internal distinction is based on the region from which one emigrated: the Ilocanos from northern Luzon, the Tagalogs from central Luzon, and the Visayans from the central Philippines. Although the three groups are no longer as separate as they once were, regional endogamy is still stressed by the post-World War II parental generation, and a preference for affiliation with people from the same region has contributed to the absence of a pan-Filipino organization in the United States. In the mostly male pre-World War II Filipino community, few social organizations developed. Instead, social cohesion was achieved through the maintenance of family and kin groups based on traditional practices. Today, the Roman Catholic church is the social center of many Filipino communities, and kinship and friendship networks are also Important agents of social cohesion.

Japanese. Within the Japanese-American community a major distinction is made on the basis of generation in the United States with the issei being the first generation, the nisei the second, the sansei the third, and the yonsei the fourth. These categories are applied to those who arrived before World War II. Those who arrived after the war are technically issei, but are not referred to as such. Japanese in the United States also include Japanese businessmen and wives or ex-wives of Americans who worked in Japan after World War II. Both these groups exist outside the Japanese-American community. In the prewar years in California, Japanese-Americans formed a network of interlocking businesses, such as rooming houses, laundries, groceries, and so on, which served the Japanese-American and other East Asian-American communities. At the same time, the issei maintained a cohesive community through educational and cultural organizations, a credit association, and regional associations. The nisei moved away from the more traditional groups and chose instead to form their own organizations often based on existing mainstream models and activities such as recreation leagues. Today, the Japanese-American community is socially complex with distinctions made on the basis of generation, age, political affiliation, life-style, and Occupation. At the same time, Japanese values emphasizing group interests over individual interests, deference, loyalty, and reciprocity govern everyday behavior for many Japanese-Americans and are a major source of social cohesion.

Koreans. The Korean-American community today is composed mainly of people who immigrated to the United States after World War II and their children. One basic distinction in the community is made among those born in Korea (Ilse), those born in the United States ( Ese or samse), and those who came to the United States when they were young. The Ilse tend to speak Korean rather than English, have strong ties to Korea, and emphasize the role and authority of the family and the husband/father. Those in the younger generation are more assimilated into American Society. Unlike the other East Asian groups, organizations based on kinship or regional affiliations rarely formed among Korean-Americans. Rather, most organizations have formed on the basis of common interests and include clubs, churches, associations, and political groups. One of the more important are the alumni associations (high school and College) which enmesh Korean-Americans in lifelong social and economic networks. Living outside the Korean-American community are perhaps as many as 100,000 wives or ex-wives of American servicemen who served in Korea, their children, and thousands of Korean children adopted into White Families.

Political Organization. Because they were denied citizenship and the right to vote, East Asian-Americans before World War II were essentially powerless to directly influence local, state, or federal policies and actions that affected them. Within the mostly male, relatively isolated East Asian-American communities, social control and decision making was based on traditional beliefs and customs that usually accorded much authority to the older men in the community. At the same time, the regional and clan associations, guilds, secret societies, and other organizations served as special interest groups to advance the interests of their members. East Asian-American interests within American society were often handled by umbrella organizations, which included the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and later the Chinese-American Citizens Alliance, the Japanese-American Citizen's League, and the Korean Association. A pan-Filipino political organization did not develop, though Filipinos were active in labor movements in Hawaii and California.

Politics in the homeland have and continue to be a major concern and a source of conflict especially in the Chinese-American and Korean-American communities. Some Korean-Americans affiliate on the basis of ties to factions in Korea, and a major division in the Chinese-American Community involves those who emphasize ties to Taiwan versus those who recognize and want ties strengthened with the People's Republic of China.

Japanese-Americans have been active in Hawaiian Politics and hold many elective offices, a development that has sometimes led to conflict with other ethnic groups. On the mainland, especially since the 1960s and to some extent as a result of the civil rights movement, Chinese and Japanese-Americans especially have been more active in voicing their concerns, participating in the major political party politics, running for office, and seeking government employment.

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