After the U.S. immigration policies were changed in 1965, the United States experienced a large influx of immigrants from Asia. When Chinese immigrants first came to this country, they faced a lot of challenges.In order to become successful in American society, they needed to develop a whole set of cultural knowledge and adapt different types of cultural behavior.
Of course, as they assimilated into the mainstream, immigrants became worried that they would lose the cultural connection to their homeland. Therefore, they made sure to pass on Chinese cultural knowledge to their children, telling them about the major holidays, the important foods and traditions, etc.
In highly diverse areas of the country, such as San Francisco, these cultural practices have created a lot of trouble within the Asian American community. Recent immigrants, and their second generation children, often accuse the descendants of earlier Chinese immigrants, those who came in the 1800s for example, of being “not Chinese enough.” This, in turn sparks a debate about cultural authenticity.
I find the concept of cultural authenticity to be troubling for a variety of reasons. First of all, it essentializes the Chinese culture. There are only a handful of items, practices, and beliefs that are deemed to be authentic enough. Second, it provides a very static image of what is an evolving culture. When new immigrants revisit their homeland, they will often be confronted with many changes, and discover that the current Chinese culture does not match the outdated image in their minds. In fact, I would hypothesize that the practices that they believed to be representative of Chinese culture a decade ago, might not be considered “cool” or Chinese any longer.
While it easy to reject the idea of cultural authenticity, doing so brings up a lot of unnerving questions. How is globalization changing how we draw the boundaries between cultures? Is it changing how culture works? Is globalization truly leading to cultural homogenization?