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A New Community

By the end of the 1960s, the Chinese American community had been transformed. After long decades of slow growth under tight constraints, Chinese immigration exploded, and brought a new, and very different, group of immigrants to America's shores.

A new immigration law passed in the mid-60s changed the way the U.S. counted its immigrant population. This law, the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, allowed far more skilled workers and family members to enter the country than ever before, and eliminated the old quota system that gave preference to western Europeans. As a result, the Chinese American population in the U.S. almost doubled within ten years.

With the new surge of growth, the community changed. This new group of immigrants did not come from the same few rural provinces of China as the immigrants of the 1800s and early 1900s had. Instead, many came from urban Hong Kong and Taiwan. They had a different outlook on life than the earlier immigrants, who had created slow-paced, close-knit communities. The Hong Kong and Taiwan immigrants spoke different dialects, had more exposure to urban fashion and music, and had greater expectations of social mobility. Some were professionals, and they and their families integrated easily in cities throughout the United States. Others with less education and fewer skills tended to live in Chinatowns, and were subject to lower wages and worse living conditions than the previous generations. From the 1980s, many more people from China, including university students, joined the migration to the U.S., and many settled here permanently. As the flow of immigrants from Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong continues to remain steady, the Chinese American communities in both large cities and suburbs continue to adapt to the challenges that come with a growing and diverse culture.

In the meantime, Chinese immigrants and their descendants have had an increasingly great impact on U.S. culture. From the films of director Ang Lee and the novels of Amy Tan to the architecture of I.M. Pei and the hip-hop turntable skills of Kid Koala, Chinese Americans are becoming more prominent with every passing year, particularly in fashion and youth culture. As the community continues to grow, and as more movies, pop songs, and magazines that target young Asian American audiences begin to emerge, the role of Chinese Americans in American cultural life seems only likely to increase.

Looking back at the difficulties Chinese immigrants faced in their first hundred years in the U.S., would you have predicted their eventual success? What do you think accounts for this community's survival?

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