American-born Chinese

From Academic Kids

An American-born Chinese or ABC is a person born in the United States of Chinese ethnic descent. Many, but not all, are first generation born after the US Immigration Act of 1965 relaxed limits on immigration from East Asia. Because their parents often came from academic or professional backgrounds, ABCs as a group, on average, tend to be better educated (with at least an undergraduate college degree) than the general population. As a result, they are often stereotyped from within the U.S. as bookish and nerdy (model minority), with an emphasis on talents in math and science. However, this stereotype overlooks the fact that there are also quite poor and blue-collar ABCs in the United States, and that older communities of Chinese have assimilated and have statistics more in line with the general U.S. population.

ABCs tend to be assimilated into the English-language environment of the United States and often have more reduced facility in Chinese than other members of the Chinese diaspora. In many first-generation Chinese-American households, ABCs can often speak the Chinese dialect of their parents, but their ability to read Chinese is diminished. However, there are numerous Chinese schools, with the sole purpose of teaching Chinese language and culture to ABCs.

The connection ABCs have with the Chinese culture is varied, depending very much on the area where they live. Those who live on the East and West coasts tend to have Chinese communities to associate with, while those in middle America tend to assimilate quicker.

One institution well-known among ABCs is the Overseas Chinese Youth Language Training and Study Tour to the Republic of China, almost always referred to as "the Love Boat." It is a summer program sponsored by the Taiwanese government whose explicit purpose is to teach overseas Chinese about Chinese culture but, just as importantly, to allow ABCs the opportunity to establish romantic attachments with other ABCs.


The stereotypes surrounding Chinese Americans are few, but they have exacted a toll by creating an image to which many Asian-Americans typically do not or cannot conform.

The first stereotype is of the Chinese Americans as the "Model Minority." Chinese Americans tend to be labeled the smart, hard-working kids, more specifically, gurus of math and science just by virtue of being Chinese. Studies have shown that while many sons and daughters of Chinese immigrants tend to excel in school, subsequent generations have borne Americans of Chinese descent with similar attributes and skills little different from the typical American.

The second stereotype is that they can play a musical instrument--typically the piano or the violin, instruments of professional and high prestige. Again, this is typically seen prominently only in sons and daughters of immigrants, the immigrants themselves holding the capability to play the violin and piano as symbols of the high-class living that they hoped for themselves or their children to achieve.

The third stereotype is that the children usually attend Chinese schools - Many Chinese American youth will attend Chinese school on their weekends, if they are not already going to a Chinese private school as an alternative to public education. Many times they are held at local churches.

The fourth stereotype is that all American-born Chinese can speak Chinese, and/or a variety of other languages, including Greek, Latin, French, etc. There is a certain dual perspective in this. Sometimes people will view Chinese Americans as slow and incapable of speaking English, so they will patronize them by speaking slowly. Other times, they may see Chinese Americans as typically over-achieving group of individuals who know everything, but are alien to popular, mainstream American culture.

The fifth stereotype is that all Chinese Americans attend Christian churches, or if not, that they are Buddhist.

The sixth stereotype is that Chinese men know Kung Fu, like Bruce Lee, and can do fancy acrobatic moves. They also never get the girl.

The seventh stereotype is that Chinese women are completely feminine and of great sexual beauty, propagated by movies like Madame Butterfly.

Representations in Media

Traditionally, Asian Americans have not been well-represented in mainstream media. Bruce Lee, a native of San Francisco, is the foremost icon of the middle-America's view of Asian Americans. Before Bruce Lee came onto the scene, Asians (women in particular) were mostly viewed as docile, obedient, and hard-working servants. Bruce Lee broke the mold of Chinese people as being completely docile and asexual by demonstrating that they too can be tough and masculine, but in opening new doors, he also created new stereotypes. This time, the stereotype was that all Chinese (typically male) know Kung Fu but despite being the hero, never gets the girl at the end of the movie.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li, among other actors, follow Lee's modus operandi by acting in movies involving martial arts. Many Asian Americans have privately complained that they never have the chance to extend beyond the stereotypes because directors and movie producers typecast them.

See also


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