Earlier this week, I went to a really interesting seminar on the history of Irish and Chinese/Taiwanese immigration in Chicago. I never knew there were so many similarities between the two stories. The guests got to share their perspectives on immigration. At one point, we went around the room talking about photographs that resonated with us personally. I picked this one:
These little girls reminded me a lot of myself. I’m not only second generation, but I also have one American parent and one immigrant parent. So, as a kid, I always felt like I was holding two flags. Now I know that those feelings are very common to the “born here, but part of an international family” experience.
Personal stories and anecdotes are really moving, but understanding someone’s immigration story goes a lot deeper than just the memories and the photographs. There are complicated dynamics on many levels. We discussed a few:
- We talked about generations –> What are some differences between an immigrant’s culture and his children’s culture if they are born here? What traditions and parts of culture get passed on and what is lost?
- We talked about history and context –> Why did people immigrate to the US? Were they escaping a bad political situation? Were they here to pursue education or other opportunities?
- We talked about legal issues –> What were the immigration policies of the US at various times? How have the quotas shaped immigration patterns? Who is included and excluded?
- We talked about social status and economics –> How did people immigrate? Did the immigrant have plenty of money to support himself when he arrived?
- We talked about prejudice –> How were different populations treated at different times? What were some examples of xenophobic or racist things “mainstream” Americans did?
- We talked a little bit about everything else!
But I left with more questions than answers about the uniquely Taiwanese character of the Chicago immigration story. The U.S. labeled most of the immigrants arriving via Taiwan as “Chinese,” so the records aren’t clear. In reading the Encyclopedia of Chicago’s “Taiwanese” entry, I notice that a lot of the above questions reveal quite a bit about what made Taiwanese immigrants unique.
For example, most Taiwanese came to Chicago as graduate students and then stayed with professional jobs. Thus, the population here is generally well educated and part of the middle class. Most live in the suburbs. And the city officially devotes an entire week in Asian-American history month to Taiwanese American Heritage. That’s kind of a big deal!
Immigrant and second-generation identity is always fun to talk about no matter what the culture. What are your immigrant/ second generation stories?