Second Generation Asian Americans

Being a second generation Asian American is not easy. One must not only live by the expectations of their parents, they must also learn how to become accepted by their peers, particularly those who are not Asian. In order to gain acceptance from the latter, second generation Asian Americans must create an identity that is associated with the American way of life that they were brought up in. What many overlook is that second generation Asian Americans strive to create identities of their own, apart from the lives of their parents and this is often mistaken as “radical acts.” This self-identity is nearly impossible to reach as the new generation encounters a clash between the forces of the parent’s expectations and the American way they must adhere to, often leaving them in a liminal space and an identity crisis. Second generation Asian Americans are forced into isolation from the acceptance of their parents as well as the American way of life that encourages them to let go of their oriental ways in order to adhere to a more westernized style of doing things. The Character Jin Wang in American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, portrays a second-generation Asian American’s struggle to be accepted into a world where he is racially other. Jin then becomes stuck in a space between his Chinese heritage and the American culture the surrounds him.


According to Zhou and Lee, in the article, “Asian American Youth: Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity Among Asian American Youth,” the Asian American youth culture does not fit into popular images associated with youth culture or subcultures like hip hop artists, rapper, punk rockers, etc (p.1). Rather the second generation strives for a unique identity, which starts by separating themselves from the notion of “model minority,” a limitation that their parents endured upon arriving to America. This idea of model minority is also prevalent in American Born Chinese when Danny’s cousin, Chin-Kee, visits him from China. Not only does the reader automatically detect stereotypes about Asians, the model minority expectation of Asians in America is ubiquitous. Chin-Kee yelled out correct answers in class and replaced all the Ls in his answers with Rs. As soon as it comes to Danny’s math class, the answer Chin-Kee replies to the math problem is correct, including the annunciation. This is a stereotype that Asians are supposed to be math whizzes, gearing them toward a future of math and science professions. It is apparent that the idea of model minority strengthens the Asian stereotypes.


Second generation Asian Americans are not being radical to be unappreciative and disrespectful towards their parent’s wishes. They are trying to create their own identities for themselves that in turn benefits other Asian Americans. This individuality works as an antidote as it begins to break down the stereotypes that have limited Asian Americans from forming an identity that is purely Asian, and not Asian American. With this new identity that future generations of Asians can thrive and be noticed as their own entity.  

13 thoughts on “Second Generation Asian Americans

  1. Zhou and Lee discusses the invisibility of Asian Americans in the youth culture showing a lack of representation of Asian Americans on film or media. This limits the audiences’ perspective of the Asian culture and therefore rely on dominant beliefs and stereotypes such as being the model minority. In attempts to create their own identity and become visible, Asian Americans partake in various activities under different subcultures that some parents and guardians believe to be rebellious or radical. Asian parents may see this as defiance to their hard work and efforts into their children when they want the best for them, but neglecting to see that they have the potential to do more than academic achievements, giving them multidimensionality.

    I do not see it as a sign of defiance or radical behavior when Asian Americans, or youth in general, are experimenting to see what interests and excites them. It is more amazing to see that the youth skilled in different merits which gives them more character and more diverse in culture. It may seem like a challenge to the Asian parents’ authority and expectations, which causes conflict between family members when they seek to exercise freedom. Asian American youths want to become more than the model minority adding various achievements and skills allowing them to become known and recognized by something other than being smart, for example. This not only gives them the multidimensionality they seek and helps fellow peers recognize them from a different perspective.

  2. Second generation Asian Americans bear the problems of cultural differences in addition to the generational differences from their parents.The clash occurs when the parents do not understand that their 2nd generation children must grow in a multidimensional environment in which their traditional discipline is ineffective. Modern society, especially in American, is ever so shifting with changing ethnic paradigms and socially acceptable behavior. What is considered as “radical” or “rebellious” by immigrant parents and previous generations is the norm for 2nd generation Asian Americans, let alone the entire younger population.

    Like the character Jin in American Born Chinese, most 2nd generation Asian Americans face difficulty in defining their identity and conforming with the majority. They are not completely Asian nor are they completely American– I agree with @riceliamay in how the Asian Americans are trapped in a space of liminality between their ethnic origin and the American lifestyle. The term “liminality” originates from the middle stage of rituals that transform boys to men. It is when they are neither boy nor man while they stand at the threshold. Using the space of liminality to describe 2nd generation Asian Americans’ identities suggests that they are ambiguous and nonexistent to the norm. As a result, Asian American popular culture may be considered deviant from the regular popular culture.

    As a 2nd generation American Born Chinese, I have experienced the obstacles that Jin faces while growing up (especially in high school when popularity was cool). I wanted to be Americanized and confident like the blonde girls in my class, but my Asianness was holding me back. I wanted cultural citizenship, or citizenship that extends beyond legal paperwork. Just because I have an American passport and California on my birth certificate does not mean that I felt like I absolutely belonged in the majority circle. On the other hand, I did not consider myself completely like my parents who believe that success comes from good health, studying, and no social life…

  3. I agree that 2nd generation Asian Americans suffer from an identity crisis during their youth- as they are torn between identifying with their parents indigenous roots and culture, and pressured to assimilate to American culture in order to “fit in” with their peers. Jin Wang and Danny from “American Born Chinese” are great examples of the extremes that these attempts to fit in can become. Jin Wang ends up being labeled by his classmates by racial stereotypes such as when they try to pair him with the one Asian American girl in their class – even though Jin is Chinese and his classmate is Japanese, following the racist “Alllooksame” assumption about Asians. Jin later tries as much as he can to look white in order to be accepted by his peers and get the attention of a girl he likes, and in doing so, becomes Danny (A white-washed portrayal of himself).

    Danny represents Jin Wang as if he were to identify completely with his American side, abandoning his Chinese heritage. Chin-kee, who is said to be Danny’s Chinese cousin, displays all of the racist stereotypes about the Chinese (such as chinky-eyes, buck teeth, good at math, etc.) that Jin abandoned in order to become Danny. So, in a sense, Chin-kee represents the opposite end of the youth assimilation spectrum, in which Jin identifies completely with his parent’s Chinese side, and almost not at all with American youth culture.

    Overall, 2nd generation Asian Americans have a difficult time adjusting their identities in America in order to honor their parents culture, but at the same time, be able to belong to their American communities. Its a complicated balancing act that will not work unless the individual learns to that it is O.K. to identify with both identities, and that doing so does not mean that one is “rebellious” or does not respect their parent’s culture. I have experienced the same difficulty with my own family, and sometimes feel like I ended up like Danny in “American Born Chinese,” when my Filipino family members act surprised that I don’t speak Tagalog. They often question my mom for not teaching her children and in the process my siblings and I appear white-washed.

  4. Zhou and Lee’s article as well as this blog post really got me thinking about the movie we watched in class, Ping Pong Playa. The main character C-Dub is an exaggerated example of the young Asian American’s struggle to establish a new identity for him/herself, while embracing both his/her Asian heritage as well as his/her identity as an American. C-Dub is seen as a rebel in the film and this is achieved by contrasting him to the rest of the Asian American community in the film (especially his stereotypical Asian American parents as well as his “model minority” brother). C-Dub’s obsession with the NBA is symbolic of him striving to assimilate into the American culture, while his rejection of the family tradition of playing ping pong is symbolic of his wish to establish a new identitiy for himself as a young, second generation Asian American. C-Dub aspires to be in the NBA, however it is clear to the audience of the film that he does not have the skills to accomplish this goal. This is symbolic of the fact that C-Dub will not be able to totally reject his Asian heritage. The following quote from Zhou and Lee nicely exaplains C-Dub’s dilemma in the film: “Native born Asian Americans find themselves caught between two vastly different social worlds and at ease with neither” (14). At the end of the film C-Dub wins the ping pong tournament, while still wearing his NBA jersey instead of the traditional ping pong uniform. This is symbolic of the resolution of C-Dub’s dilemma; he is able to create a new identity for himself as a young Asian American. He embraces elements from both cultures and makes them him own.

  5. I can relate to the character Jin Wang in the graphic novel American Born Chinese, because there are a lot of similar struggles that he goes through throughout the book that I can identify with. I wanted my peers to look at me without any racial labels or stereotypes, just get to know me with out any pretenses or preconceptions of how I might act or talk because I am Asian. In the graphic novel, the protagonist Jin (asian american) completely changes himself and becomes Danny (caucasian male), ridding himself of his cultural and ethnic identity because he felt being an Asian American was a disadvantage in an americanized world. However in the end he learns to show his true nature and accept himself as an Asian American. Though I identify with Jin’s struggles, I do not agree with how he chose to completely cut off all ties with his racial heritage and become “Danny” in attempt to conform to an American society. There is so much rich history and culture that comes from being Asian that I felt he took for granted when upon deciding to change mentally and physically. In a way, by Jin assimilating and becoming a white american, he gave up his identity which made him different and unique. He essentially surrendered with out a fight instead of trying to change his peers’ minds about how they perceive Asians. As second generation Asian Americans we possess the gateway to alter society’s perception of Asian Americans. Because we were born in America, speak fluent english, and embrace american culture (but not totally to the point we forget our cultural heritage), we have the power to change how people think of us, because we already have that foot-in-the-door, something that our 1st generation parents did not necessarily have when they came to America. By informing and educating where there is ignorance it will generate understanding and less marginalization

  6. Being a second generation Asian-American is indeed difficult because we must be able to find an identity that balances both their ethnic heritage and the American culture that we are growing up in. And the pressure from the stereotypes, either to conform or to break it, does not help. I would love to break the stereotype that Asians can’t drive cars but stereotypes like “Asians are smart and they are good at math” are bit harder to break. I don’t think anyone wants to say “People think I’m smart because I’m Asian but I’m really not.” So now there is the added pressure of keeping up with the stereotype.

    Although I can relate with Jin’s struggle in “American Born Chinese”, I really do not agree with how he went about dealing with his identity crisis. I rooted for Jin, hoping that he would get the white girl. But when things began to fall apart and he turned into Danny, I began to hate him for it. In order for him to change into Danny, he has to be “willing to forfeit his soul.” This showed how much he hated his Asian heritage. He abandoned everything that made him Asian and became 100% Caucasian. I think that having both the Asian heritage and the American culture makes us unique compared to others and we should keep both. We should be proud of our heritage but also embrace the American culture. Rather than thinking that we are 50% Asian and 50% American, we are 100% Asian and 100% American. Having both cultures provides us with the flexibility to be either one whenever we want. We don’t have to pick just one.

  7. There are some really interesting points brought up in here! I do believe that the all -encompassing theme of the second generation’s middle ground is portrayed in both the movie and the novel. Ping pong Playa and American Born Chinese emphasizes the attention towards a teenager who stands in a transition phase. As the audience, we can see C Dub’s attempts to separate from the traditions of being automatically associated with Ping Pong. In Jin Wang’s case, he enters a phase as he tries to assimilate with the social norms of his peers. Both the main characters are shown to be dissatisfied with the common assumptions of them, and consequently resort to progresses away from Asian expectations. Peer influences engage in a battle against parental values as they try to effectively persuade the confused second generation Asian American towards their side.

    Stereotypical remarks stood as another problem for these characters as it was used to both encourage and discourage their Americanizing efforts. As already mentioned by other classmates, American Born Chinese plays with many stereotypical ideas such as ‘Chinese people eating dogs’, and arranged marriages. Such beliefs inevitably pressured second generation Asian Americans to at least try and change that image. C Dub wears nearly every NBA jersey there is to escape being pictured as a dorky model minority individual who always had his or her shirt tucked in. Nevertheless, he was blatantly told by his best friend that he never possessed any basketball talents from the beginning due to his racial limitations. Invariably, C Dub counters with a stereotypical response of his own by pointing out how his buddy’s business attire was equally ridiculous. This retaliatory statement clearly signals that Asian Americans were by no means the only ethnicity that encountered challenges from ideas of social construction.

    Despite making bold moves towards assimilation, both C Dub and Jin Wang seem to make a return back towards their Asian origin identity in the end. Such cases would accurately illustrate a typical situation for these second generation Asian Americans. They strive for recognition from both parties, but really only manage to settle in an area in between.

  8. I think it is interesting that there isn’t much study on the subject of Asian American youth culture, and any research that is available is either explaining the lack of ubiquity in Asian American culture or of the struggle of keeping their own culture and assimilating to a Western lifestyle. I feel like this lack of study and information is a cause of the notion of “model minority”, where stereotypes of Asians in America reinforce the need to be a “model minority”. Finding a balance between American youth culture and traditional cultural values is difficult because parents want you to still retain all cultural aspects, while living in America which has a different expectation for it’s youth. However, I don’t believe America or American youth wants to completely ‘wash away’ any ‘Asianess’ from second generation Asians.

    Asian American stereotypes, smart, professional, hardworking, etc. although they are still stereotypes and should be negated, they aren’t bad stereotypes and it is almost expected and preferred that Asian Americans live up to these stereotypes because it makes them complacent and predictable to the American populous. However it would also be unacceptable to completely retain all traditional aspects of an Asian American’s original culture and tradition. I don’t think the issue of assimilating to American culture will ever change, because it isn’t necessarily American culture that makes it difficult to assimilate it is merely just ‘cultural clash’.

    I do believe that stereotypes make it hard to define oneself among the culture, but even if an American is born in the United States and moves to a foreign country while young, they will too struggle with assimilation to a place that is unknown to them, especially socially. Jin Wang’s character in American Born Chinese, and the subject of this week’s class reminded me a lot of the scene in Yankee Dawg You Die when Bradley talks about the cows who pretend to be dumb cows to the masses but talk to each other and relate to each other freely. On one hand they’ve adapted completely by being obedient to the dominant ‘culture’, but they’ve still in a way retained their culture and heritage by thriving in it amongst each other discretionally.

  9. In their excerpt, Lee and Zhou mention immigration to play a critical role in molding culture for young Asian Americans. Their research indicates how the immigrant family and ethnic community are primary sources both of support and conflict, perpetuating ambivalence within youth culture that “in turn, expands their repertoire for cultural expression” (p.15-16). Here, a duality shown to connect the first generation with the second.

    This segment was most engaging since I made notice of a cyclical nature in Lee & Zhou’s argument; a continuous cycle of problems created in place of problems solved. This system of exchange presents itself an eternality where the relationship holds no progress. Actually, my interpretation was the constant negation of progress that neither establishes a beginning nor end to a relationship. This idea further adds ambiguity in association. These notions along with the factors of generational differences signal implications to the foundations of first–second generation relation as being counterintuitive. From this counterintuitive model, younger generation Asian Americans enter a state of contradictory to find themselves less affiliated with the elder. It is this contradicting component that Lee and Zhou make the claim to be the force of influence on Asian American youth culture. In my understanding, youth culture for young immigrant Asian Americans values highly on the concept of rejection against the traditional and the acceptance of an identity that makes sense to their hybridity mix culture that defines them.

    Now I was particularly drawn to the immigration part of the chapter because in making their argument that young Asian American immigrants respond culturally to the immigration experiences by their older family, I consider the reverse. I think now more than ever, first generation Asian American immigrants also are beginning to construct their own image. For example, it was not too long ago that divorce in Vietnam was something unheard of. Divorcing a marriage was culturally taboo and frowned upon. Fast forward a few decades later divorce in Vietnam is booming.

    According to Financial Times, “Vietnam has also seen a particularly sharp rise in the number of divorces, which have increased by nearly 50 percent since 2005”. Ouch.

    For more at

  10. Zhou and Lee make a critical point that second generation Asian Americans must not only live up to their parents expectations, but create an identity that has not truly been solidified in society. I believe these Asian Americans are pioneers in their field, building from the ground up their identity, culture, and symbolisms of “Asian Americanness” that they exclusively can identify with. The struggle can be heard through a language barrier that second generation Asian Americans face with their parents. A change of culture, language, and expectations alter the entire game, as parents are left unsettled while their kids unhappy due to the lack of understanding.

    On another note, Jin in American Born Chinese decided to completely adapt himself to the American culture, ignoring his Chinese roots in the process. “Danny” as he wants people to call him, represents the shift from his Chinese cultural one in an attempt to assimilate to the American culture. While I believe that his actions are wrong, I can completely understand his motives. However, I believe that it is better to have the best of both worlds, to adapt to both your birth culture as well as your new American culture. Keeping tradition and culture alive makes a person rich in background and provides diversity. After all, the United States is a country built on immigrants. Needless to say some immigrants have been here longer than others and have contributed to a melting pot of cultures. It is time that Asian Americans contribute to this melting pot. It is what makes life in the United States (or LA actually) so rich. Think about it; you can get an array of cultural food within a 5 minute drive.

  11. Zhou and lee make an important point in the cultural challenges of asian american youth in america. For first generation as well as second generation asian americans, conflicting parental and peer influences are day to day life. Conforming to parental expectations creates social exile in school and in the eye of peers. On the other hand, conforming to the “american” culture puts one at odds with the parents. The difficult solution is to find a balance between the two.

    Personally I am a first generation asian american so I had to make these choices. However growing up in a community of asian americans with similar expectations from both peers and from their parents made the burden a lot lighter. The move to college was quite a different experience and proved more difficult to adjust to.
    I am quite proud of my asian heritage and would not dream of sacrificing it completely in an attempt to assimilate.

  12. Zhou and Lee pointed out some critical values that are true to the second generation Asian Americans. Not only do they have to satisfy their parent’s expectations but they also have to fit the expectations of their peers, like he mentioned in his blog, “being a second generation of Asian Americans is not easy. The Second generation Asian Americans have to fulfill many difficult tasks that the first generation could not complete, while trying to satisfy social standards.

    There have been many articles and film written about the second generation Asian Americans that depict their many difficultie, like Zhou and Lee’s passage of “Asian American Youth: Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity Among Asian American Youth,” In this article, they talk about the many challenges of stereotypes, and minorities of being Asian American. However, they also mention that Asian Americans are the “model minority”. Asian Americans are not the normal minorities who have come to America to hope to make it big. They came to America knowing they will make it big. Asians have been filling up the slots both in colleges and in society. It is within the Asian American culture to work hard and be obedient; on top of that, the second generation Asian Americans must also face the social challenges of being Asian, thus, creating a new identity for the second generation Asian Americans as a culturally matured and Americanized people.

  13. It is always hard for second generation Asian Americans to fill up the expectations from their parents while chasing their own dreams and I think that is the main point of the article. Personally I think Asians do have some “positive” stereotypes (I mean people assume that they work hard in different field) , but the problem for the second generation is how to jump out of this stereotypical frame and add some new images upon Asian Americans seem to be a challenge now.
    For example, when we think of NBA, we think of those great players such as Kobe and LeBron but we hardly think of any good Asian players since most of African American players already dominate this field. However, Jeremy Lin did show to the public that Asians can play and will play hard too. What I am trying to say this, there are many fields in America that are already dominated by other ethnic groups,, it is hard to be excellent in that field (music industry, sports..etc) However, we do see some Asian Americans doing quite a nice job on Youtube, stand-up comedy and movies and it is always nice to see the second generation Asian Americans trying and excel in different field.

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