Hyphenated identity of Asians in the United States
Identity Crisis amongst Asian Immigrants in the United States
Massive immigration to the United States from Asian countries is witnessed through an influx of immigrants that covers 6 percent of the total population with US born children. It was just 1 percent in 1970s and very less if we go back to early 1900s and late 1800s ,when the Asians were called as 'yellow peril caricature' that were uneducated, undesirable and inassimilable (Lee and Zhou 2014, 8). In 1917, congress also banned the immigration of Asians. An anti-Asian sentiment grew more. During World War II, more than one hundred thousand Japanese immigrants forcibly from Pacific Coast moved to internment camps. Similarly, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, that singled out Chinese ineligible to become US citizens. Hyper selective immigration of 2000s favors the immigrants to come and live in the United States with hyphenated identities, such as Asian- American or Pakistani-American or Indian-American. This dual or hyphenated identity is showing heterogeneity, distinctiveness and ethnic diversity. The main questions or problem this paper aims to explore through critical analysis and discussion is: How first and second generation respond to this dual identity? What does this hyphen signify? Whether it shows aloofness of two separate identities or inassimilable behavior? How does ethnic diversity divide the American society in the perspective of Pakistani-American immigrants in Trump's era?
Beginning with the dilemma of dual identity amongst first and second generation, Asian-American gives an explicit image of dual identity that leads to war between first generation and second. When Asians enter the United States, they do carry with them their strong ethno-centric identity .The new land demands a homogeneous American identity by assimilating their ethnic idenitiy into the melting pot. They settle and get permanent residency, welcome intermarriages with other ethnic groups, particularly natives or Americans. Everything goes smooth unless children are born. The question of identity arises and brings rivalry and antagonism, that begins from home, under one roof and expounds out through windows gradually and slowly that wraps all the surrounding in its cage. It puzzles whether children are Asians or Americans or Asian- American. In Coping with such dual identity creates an aggressive behavior among children; hence they cannot represent themselves fully in dual identity. They feel hesitant in schools, universities and public places. One of the winning essays, "Growing up a Muslim in America" explicitly highlights the experience of US born Pakistani boy who undergoes through the dilemma of dual identity. He confesses that neither he is fully Pakistani like the native Pakistani, nor he is fully American. So, representing themselves as Asian or Pakistani becomes problematic for them. Likewise, calling themselves American again shows an underestimation of ethnic identity, and when they call themselves Asian-Americans, again it shows a divisive attitude, neither American nor Asian. They are swinging between two identities, which are far apart from each other. These children neither resist the American values and ideals nor accept and reject Pakistani culture. When parents are both Asians, then again the war of identity breaks out in the form of strong ethnic inclination towards grandparents and their strong commitment and belonging to their ethnic identity. Thus, second generation is confused about its identity, whether to align with grandparent's ethnicity or live in a multiracial American society and enjoy the diversity. The first generation pushes them towards distinct, ethnic group that is inassimilable. They find their roots in their ethnic identity and stay anchored to their traditions and values unaltered. "Our grandparents were ethnic, not us" (Campbell and Kean p.51). This explanation by the second generation is assimilating the ethnic, first generation into the main stream homogeneous American identity. Many immigrants feel alienation and seclusion in their adopted country which makes them confused and alienated.
Pakistani-Americans are of the view that one day they have to return back to Pakistan and this lack of integration and alienation make them confused in choosing their identity. According to different estimates by Dawn News analysis, up to 500,000 Pakistani-Americans live in the US, with the largest populations concentrated in New York, Houston and Chicago, followed by northern and southern California. With a near 100% increase in numbers since 2000, Pakistani-Americans are the second fastest growing Asian immigrant group in the US. Despite this huge immigration, still Pakistani-Americans are not integrated into the socio-economic and cultural fabric of America. One of the Pakistani-Americans says, "I have been working as a physician for the last 15 years and am settled with family here, in the town of Alexandria, Virginia. "But it is also a fact that eventually we have to go back to Pakistan permanently as the US is not our country". Likewise, another immigrant M.Asim Sidiqi, who works with a local Urdu newspaper for Pakistani community in Virginia, says that after 9/11 Muslim population in general and Pakistani community particular feel insecure and prefer to stay within their community. Many live in ghettos, near mosques and Islamic centers. It shows that Pakistani-Americans are confined to their ethnic circle. A New York based research analyst Pir Zubair Shah observes Pakistani-Americans and he says that those who are having professional jobs like doctors, physicians, IT engineers, etc are integrating themselves into the main stream American identity, while those Pakistanis who have low income and have immigrated to US through illegal means or asylum are marginalizing themselves and remain ethnic in their outlook. "Pakistanis like to live close to each other and socialize only among themselves," declares Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi, a political analyst and former president of the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce USA. "This cuts them off from the mainstream, and reduces contact at the cultural and community level." (Zia Ur Rehman, DAWN News, 25 January 2015)
Radicalization and Aloofness of Separate Identities
The dual identity is not just confined to nationality as Pakistani-American rather it is linked to Muslim Pakistani- American identity. The complication with identity is multiplied with the negative image of Muslims after 9/11 incident. The Muslims are suspected and labeled as radicals and threat to the US way of life. A Pakistani American immigrant says that life in America was very peaceful, but 9/11 changed everything. "My wife, Saeeda, and I became naturalized citizens of the United States in 1979. Our son and daughter were both born here after we became Americans. They went to University of Maryland, College Park, following the tradition of their father. My son operates my construction business and my daughter works for the state of Maryland. We lived a life of respect and dignity in America, as did all American Muslims, until 2001 that changed everything". This reflects post 9/11 crude reality of ethnic rivalry in a racially diverse country that recreates binaries of prejudice and discrimination. Hence, Pakistani-Americans see their identity through many lenses such as Islam, Muslims, Pakistani, radicals etc. The first generation, as well as the second generation suffers. Eventually, this dual identity is responsible for creating aloofness and segregation of American society that is divided within. The opposing cultural background repels the connection of hyphenated identities and imbalances the weight of each side. As post 9/11 literature depicts dual identities through different works such The Unknown Terrorist and Terrorist by Richard Flanagan and John Updike. The former novel depicts the misconception or misconstruction that is created by the main stream west about Asians and Muslims particularly, that the attire of the protagonist is Arabic and has a beard that is linked to radical Muslim identity. While the later novel shows the protagonist as a young Muslim, second generation, torn between two opposite identities, who finds his American identity as an anti-Islamic identity and develops his inclination towards religion by developing connection with a religious mullah and eventually he turns into a home grown terrorist or radical Muslim. This aloofness of hyphenated identity brings division in the American society that is racially diverse but divided at the same time. "This gives propensity to crimes and social deterioration". (Buchanan, 2006).
Indians encounter similar identity crisis, but they are flexible than Pakistanis, in terms of religious openness. Shalini Thonivil an Indian girl living in US shares her experience. She says that the first generation Indians are called as "American Born Confused Desi" because they are more tempted towards their Indian language, dress, and food. On the other hand the second generation is free of such confusion and she admits that she is not confused at all in her identity. She confesses American identity and equally respects her Indian background. ( Shalini Thonival, India Abroad 2017, 6)
An alarming identity crisis appeared in US in 1990s that the people from India got mixed and confused with native Indians of centuries old ethnic group. The Americans assumed that they were speaking Spanish. So, the Indians had to fight with three identities which were constructed by American society; Indian and native Indian or Indian- American or native Indian-American (Serena Vora, Brown Girl Magazine 2018).She further shares her own experience that when she returned back to India after 21 years, she got confused about her identity. She says that living in US did not make her confused about her identity and she remained Indian-American, but when she came to India she got the label of "American" by the locals. It reflects the misperception of her society about the immigrants that they do not know about their culture of native land. Hence, identity splits in the eyes of society. She further says, "It's time we stop judging people for being too"Americanized" or too "Indian-ized" and just let people balance their identity, however they feel comfortable. I will always think of myself as an Indian-American." So, it justifies that second generation accepts the dual identity with confusion which is created by American society and their ethnic background.
One of the famous writers, Madison Grunt in The Passing of the Race (1916) says that the immigrants wear the American clothes; they steal their names and beginning to take American woman, but seldom adopt American religion or ideals. It is very justifiable that the Pakistani-Americans enjoy the dresses, they marry Americans and keep American names to their US born children, but they never align their children towards American religious outlook. A Pakistani muslin parent would always ask his or her children to offer Namaz, go to mosque, but he would never allow his children to go church or get Christianized. The hyphen is intact in its place, and does not lose its place. Hyphen ironically signifies connection, but in reality, it diverge the identities. The two identities are always opposite in their outlook and apart from each. When hyphen is removed, it means there is fusion of two identities and the result would be assimilation and assimilation leads to death of ethnic identity and consequently identity becomes adrift, in motion, changing and not fixed. A very postmodern identity comes to existence, where identity is not territorial, rather it is universal and it has no fix hyphens or boundaries, it is rootless. (Handlin, p.67)
Trump's Populism: America First (Us and Them Binaries)
The new policy of Trump begins with the ban on legal and illegal immigration of Muslims particularly. His approach is very "xenophobic and racist" (NBC, News). Mexicans are equally suffering under this new immigration law of Trump. The construction of Mexican wall and separating the young children from their parents show a division within America. Trump Says, "Make America Great Again". This remark clearly revives the bi racial American society that shows white supremacy and power by negating multiracial identities. Trump says that those who do not accept this white superiority and power should go back to their ancestor countries. If they are here in the United States they should be grateful. This high nativism and nationalism of Trump openly gives a threatening call to leave the country. He says, "If they don't like it here, they can leave." This paraphrases the classic insult "love it or leave it". It targets the three members of Congress who do not belong to the United States, even though two of them are US born, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, came from Somalia and became a citizen of the United States. Moreover, it brings an immense divergence of identities and refuses to accept their adopted identity. Many Asians are frequently questioned as "Where are you from?" "No, where are you really from?" though they know and have intimacy but still they ask and reinforce such questions in order to make them confused and realize their non white existence or identity and make them feel inferior . Trump expands the divergence of identities and revives the binaries of self as superior and them as inferior. Nobody asks Robert Mueller's ancestry, because he is white and American but Asians, particularly muslins are questioned daily about their Identity. Eventually Asians become neither ethnic nor Americans. (Democracy Dies in Darkness, the Washington Post, 2019).
It is concluded that identity crisis amongst Asian- American, particularly Pakistani- Americans is getting intensity in the era of Trump administration. The diversity and immigration is a threat to white American identity, which doesn't want an infiltration of America as they call it, "laundered world". (Yezierska, p.68 ). That is clean without any impurity of ethnic minorities, who live in the United States. Consequently, the Asian- Americans neither belong to their ethnic identity of their first generation or native land, nor they are accepted by the Americans as fully Americans. They keep on swinging between ethnic identity and American main stream identity. Hence, their life becomes a tug of war between dual identities.
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