Chinatown and Chinese Food: The Identity of Chinese Diaspora in U.S.
The term “overseas Chinese” derives its origin from the first mass migration from China during the mid-19th century. Following the discovery of gold in California in 1848, the first generation of Chinese immigrants arrived at the port of San Francisco and formed the oldest and largest Chinatown in the United States. The massive influx of immigrant population led to the friction between the local community and Chinese, giving rise to the discrimination and xenophobia that culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Act banned Chinese immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens and confined them to limited types of jobs. At that time, Chinatowns serve as an enclave of asylum for Chinese against the prevailing violence and injustice.
The last century witnessed the transformation of the pattern and functions of Chinatowns as the population of American Chinese increased and grew diversified due to the changes in immigrant legislation and global policies. Different from their parents who remained politically and culturally loyal to their homeland, the American-born second-generation Chinese Americans were less likely to pledge alliance to their motherland. The fact that being a Chinese often meant being ostracized and abused made them oscillate between the identities they were born with and they identify with themselves. Growing up outside the Chinese communities and lacking contact with Chinese people and culture, they had to search for their identity in a land where they seemed to be in between two worlds. It is Chinatowns that helped them retrieve their cultural heritage and embark on a journey of self-discovery. They once served as the safe havens for the newly arrived Chinese immigrants. Now they are places as well as concepts, expressing a desire to go back to find those things that make up the culture and identity of Chinese expatriates.
Apart from serving the practical needs of Chinese community, Chinatowns are a primary means through which Chinese-style foods have been introduced and sustained in the United States. As Chinese cuisine thrives in the United States, American Chinese continue to negotiate their ethnic identities through food, carrying with them their cultural values and traditions while adapting themselves into American society. The ubiquity of Chinese restaurants in the United States reflects the degree to which Chinese food has transformed the American palate. In addition, restaurateurs and chefs are constantly negotiating between new flavors and accommodating the American stomach. The mix of Chinese spices and cooking methods with American ingredients shows how American Chinese are immersed in both Chinese and American values and culture. For those who grew up eating dishes such as orange chicken, crab Rangoon, and General Tao’s Chicken, their taste of home is American Chinese food, which is a sign of a cultural identity remaining in a state of flux. Its abiding appeal demonstrates how culture keeps itself alive through dynamic, diverse, and transformative interactions.
xenophobia n. 排外心理
culminate v. 告终
ostracize v. 排挤
oscillate v. 摇摆
ubiquity n. 无处不在