In the 1930s, there was a Chinese-American actress named Anna May Wong who was quite well-known in Hollywood. She made every head turn when visiting pre-World War II Shanghai. But back home -- America -- she had to live with all the stereotyped roles assigned to her, which made her cry deep inside. She had no doubt that she deserved better, much better. But she could only do so much.
Anna May Wong’s fellow Chinese Americans did not generally fare better. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act kept Chinese from entering or reentering America. Dr. Sun Yat-sen was once held up under this racist act.
Slowly but surely, though, racial tolerance had been working its way into mainstream America since World War II and the F.D. Roosevelt administration. For the record, however, the number of Chinese Americans only inched up because the slope was too steep. In 1960, there were no more than 240,000 Chinese in the Beautiful Country.
Then ice broke. In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Naturalization Act. This opened the floodgates for Chinese immigrants among other Asians and along with Africans, Middle Easterners, and Latin Americans. The 2020 U.S. Census reports that there are 5.2 million Americans claiming the Chinese heritage as theirs.
Minority or otherwise, we are Americans first and foremost. Like every American, we are entitled to freedom and dignity, no more and no less. Meanwhile, we must understand that freedom is not free and never will be.
Personally, I am looking forward to the day when the term “hyphenated American” becomes obsolete.
--- Lingyang Jiang
Anna May Wong