iSunWeekly (HK) Editor and Writer Jia Jia (贾葭) has written a rather tongue-in-cheek article (translated into English on Seeing Red in China) poking fun at the phenomenon of Chinese parents seeking American citizenship for their kids:
With regards to America, it seems that everyone’s stuck between love and hate. When I was small, the image of imperial America was extremely evil where milk flowed in abundance but people died of hunger left and right. When Bill Clinton visited China in 1998, a female student named Ma Nan (马楠) at Peking University stood up and denounced the appalling human rights condition in the US. She was supposed to file a question, but she sounded more like she was delivering a lecture. Later on, she married an American man, gave birth to a son, became the mother of an American, and departed China for good where “the human rights are at least five-fold better than in the US.”
… Stories of Chinese getting rich in the US are everyone’s favorite. Even dimwits want to make money off the American stock market. The problem then comes to: How does a Chinese citizen become an American citizen? Singles always have hopes to marry an American and thus reinvent themselves. But what about those who have already married? Well, Chinese people are known for their diligence. Stowing away in a big container on a ship going from Fujian to the US is one way, but it is illegal. There are a lot of other ways, readily available and perfectly legal. For instance, to deliver a baby in America, the return on such investment is considered greater than robbing a bank. If we cannot become Americans, then we can at least become the parents, or the grandparents, of Americans. As long as the children can get a green card, the parents can then get in line to wait for one. After five or six years it will go through. .
.. Nowadays, a typical Chinese dream is to go to college, take the civil service test, make money, and immigrate. Or, go to college, become a white-collar worker, make money, and immigrate. Or go to college, become an engineer, make money, and immigrate. For Beijingers, it is much simpler: sell the apartment and immigrate. Being the capital, there are always people from Shanxi or Zhejiang to fill the space up right away. In the past, I always thought that those who sought residence overseas were people made of special materials who took pains persuading the rest of us to love China and love socialism. Now, thanks to skyrocketing housing price, Beijingers have the opportunity to enjoy clean air and dependable education of their young—in the US.
Things are always lost in translation when it comes to satire, but Jia’s jab at the paradox between Chinese nationalism and Chinese pragmatism is most definitely not. Much of what Jia is satirizing resonates with the experience of my parents, who emigrated from Taiwan to the US in the 60s. When I was young they would often phrase issues in the terms of "we Chinese vs them Laowai" – as in "We Chinese do this, those ‘Lao Mei‘ (老美, roughly ‘Yanks’) do that…"
But over the years and the longer they stayed in America, their perspective gradually shifted to a more nuanced view in which I believe my parents were able to reconcile our Chinese heritage while appreciating their American-ness as well.
I especially noticed this change in my mother as I got older – after spending several years living, traveling and working in China in the late 90s and early 2000s, she began referring to Chinese people (中国人）from an outside perspective as often as she would refer to them in a "We Chinese" perspective – something that would have never happened back when I was a child.
Self-identity is a complex issue and something that is very hard to pin down – my parents never gave up their "Chinese-ness" in fundamental ways (which I think is ultimately a good thing), but their self-perceptions definitely changed over time to encompass their own American identities (an equally positive thing).
The same could not be said for every immigrant in the world – how easy one can assimilate into another culture is very subjective – but given time and a few generations, the point of Jia’s satire will become less and less the case for these newer Mainland immigrants in America.