Jack Tchen on early Chinese
Interview by Sara Kolbet
Date: May 9, 2005
2 Discs; Disc 1, 80:54, 5 Tracks; Disc 2, 14:18, 2 Tracks
TRACK 1 – 9:06
S: Introduce yourself.
J: I am Jack Tchen, director of Asian Pacific American studies at NYU. I’m a historian and cultural activist. I help to start museums and public policy issues and helped document the history of Asians in the Americans, plural.
S: Intro again.
J: I am Jack Tchen, historian and director of Asian pacific American studies at NYU. I’ve done cultural work with museums and public policy and working on documenting the history of Asians in the Americans plural.
S: First Chinese who came to America, the east coast.
J: Most Americans in the US believe that Asians first arrived in California, when California became part of the US after the US-Mexican war, but we need to go back before the gold rush in 1848 to when the china trade was developing and when this country was quite poor – was surviving the revolutionary war. New York was quite poor. And it sought to build up its wealth in trade with China. So trade routes began searching for a means to trade American made goods in exchange for goods desired by the American middle class. So the China trade was a way NYC and the nation could build up its wealth. And China, the romanticized image of China and the Indies drove America’s notion of how wealth could be built and what would constitute a happy life. It was the silks, the porcelain, teas, fabulous furniture. These were exotic and desirable goods for being a gentleman or gentlewoman. It was the China trade that established relationships to ports in Asia, goods, people and ideas would travel back and forth. So the origins of US/Asia relationships needs to go back to the US revolution and how Asia was always on the mind of Americans of who would be this new country. so part of the dynamic was this interest in finding wealth, but also the founding fathers were concerned about building up political culture of the nation. Consumption was part of that but ideas were part of it as well. How would Americans identify themselves in history, especially European history. European history was seen as rises and falls of civilization. there was a popular notion that civilization had risen in the east from the orient and risen in an arc to the west, the notion of civilization moving from cradles in China, in Egypt, and moving westward to Greece, to Rome, to Paris, and then skipping over the ocean to NYC and moving westward as a divine manifest destiny. That was a dominant notion. So this idea of America being a new nation and places like China and India being ancient civilizations was a binary that began to form strongly in American political culture. So on one hand borrowing from the luster of an ancient civilization was important, on the other hand Americans like to be new, progressive, modern, so they began to define themselves as not ancient, not old. So China and Asia became a foil in terms of the past, Asia was part of the past. But the future had to do with this brave new technological civilization, divorced from civilizations that weigh it down.
S: Move closer?
TRACK 2 – 0:11
TRACK 3 – 31:44
S: Were Asian countries more willing to trade with the US than Britain?
J: There’s a prevailing story told by Americans, by historians. That Asia and China in particular were basically closed and had closed-door policies to trade and the outside world and it was the western countries that began to open up these countries to global commerce. I think that version distorts what really happened. Asia was immersed in a vast inter-Asian trade that would expand from Japan, Korea, china, the Philippines, Africa, and in ancient times through the Silk Route into the Mediterranean. This was a vast network going back and forth. Places in China had districts with tens of thousands of workers manufacturing teas, silks, specifically for orders by merchants in tat Indian Ocean world. And if you go to museums in those countries you see how immense that trade was. The inter-Asian trade was prolific and quite open to new business, so in fact in the 18th century and 19th century China had a fabulous material culture for export but also court culture. Europeans and American patricians, trying to sort out were they like European aristocrats, as they sorted that out, many of them really wanted to emulate European patricians. And how they consumed goods. So Americans, the founding Americans, were very much part of this whole culture in that their status and sense of well-being was heavily linked to what they consumed from Asia. So Asian merchants were quite open to that trade and there would be lines of ships outside of China waiting to trade with Chinese merchants. the Chinese government heavily controlled trade through Canton, so in the opium wars what the British were doing was trying to reverse the balance of trade by trying to find something the Chinese were addicted to, this drug. That forced the opening of “treaty ports” along the coast of china which greatly magnified western countries to trade. It was a forced opening. So the opium wars was about forcing the doors open not because they were closed, but because they had a system of trade that was a rival system and it was forced on China. So we should not settle on some of the simple mythology.
S: Hong Kong changing over?
J: The opium wars erupted in the 1840s and continued in the 1860s. And as the British gained a firm foothold after having won the opium wars against china and Americans being much a part of that process, it colonized Hong Kong. The Portuguese had already colonized Macao and it meant a foothold for Britain into China. So Hong Kong ahs long been a colony into China representing western interest. So when the changeover of Hong Kong going back to china happened it was an important moment for Chinese and many Asians in the world and people who believed in anti-colonial struggles, because it was a change back of property that was basically stolen. So Hong Kong is not this diamond-like shopping district. Often Hawaii is seen as that kind of stomping ground, and Shanghai, but we have to know how these places are seen historically…I have more stories, the whole story about John Jacob Astor’s ship the Beaver.
S: How Asian countries were sailors, had sailing skills.
J: The maritime tradition and shipbuilding tradition has been very strong in China and in Asia. if you look at any map and see the coastline from Japan down through southeast Asia and all the islands that are there, and then of course throughout the Indian ocean, you see there are many ports in Asia and when you have many ports you have a strong seafaring tradition. Those who were involved in trade, the inter-Asian trade but trade with Europeans, developed the basis for an important historic shipbuilding tradition. This was in evidence with the development of the Manila – Acapulco trade. So in the 1500s part of what he Spanish wanted was not only looting gold in the ancient civilizations already there, but they wanted to find a quicker route to the fabulous wealth of the Indies. That’s what Columbus had set out for. so when they arrived in Mexico they realized if they went west they would hit Asia, and those voyagers who had developed those routes began to find that from Manila to Acapulco there were favorable winds that would take the galleon ships directly from Acapulco to the Philippines and then other currents would take them back to what is now northern California and they could go down the coast to Acapulco. So several ships a year would take that voyage and great wealth was exchanged so a lot of the wealth of the Spanish empire was not just the Americas but also the Spanish trade. Where were these ships built? They were built in the Philippines by a mix of the Filipino, Chinese, and southeast Asian workers who were part of that tradition. So when we understand the history of the Americas and that trade as already taking place in the 1500s and we get records of Filipinos and Chinese showing up in Mexico, that tells us the history of Asians in the US needs to be put in context of Asians in the Americas. As early as the 1600s you get petitions by barbers in Mexico cities of the dominance Chinese barbers are making in the barber trade. That needs to be pursued, but we know by the time of the American Revolution we already have Filipinos working as fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. So in fact Asians have been in the Americas for a very long period of time, but also the skills they brought with them to the Americas is important. They made the galleon trade possible, they boarded the ships and became the crew members, being responsible for the early trade between the Americas and Asia.
J: Can we talk about how people are linked? In 1784 the very first ship of the new American revolutionary nation, called the Empress of China, sails to trade with china. It tries to figure out what china wants, when to get to china, the directions are very vague, about going around the cape of good hop and through the straits in what is now Indonesia, and ending up in Canton and having to get there at the right time to be there early to trade with ships. This Empress of China, was looking for anything that the Chinese merchants might want to trade for. One of the items was ginseng, an herbal root Americans now have in soda and vitamin pills. In fact, an American form of ginseng grows in the foothills of the Appalachians. So merchants in NY and Philadelphia would contract Sang diggers, bring it to ports, and load it onto ships. The empress of china loaded many pounds of ginseng root. Among the Sang diggers were American Indians who were trading ginseng for Chinese tea or porcelain teacups. Now the tea was being picked by Chinese farmers in Fujian and Jiangshi and they would send it to their ports. So as early as 1784 you have the linking of Native Americans, drinking teas, shipping their ginseng root to Philadelphia, shipping to Canton, and have items that were picked by Chinese women. Globalization has been going on for many centuries and in fact this form of globalization was at a moment when china as powerful and America, especially NYC, was quite poor. So Americans were constantly trying to find out what Chinese wanted and imitate Chinese goods. These days Chinese goods are considered cheap. For a while, things made in china were cheap, but to this day there are accusations of Asia copying goods in this country but early on there were goods made in china and Americans were trying to copy Chinese goods. So the rise and fall of political powers. How Americans represent their own identities, are things that change over time. It’s important for us to explore these longer histories. These things that happen in the present are not just new, but are linked to patterns that are going on for a long time.
S: Causes of the coolie trade.
J: In 1807 the anti-slavery crusade in England had mounted to the point that the government relented and officially banned slavery in their colonies. This revived the practice of indentured servitude and contract labor. you get the British, who already in India, it being a major territorial colony, and colonized Hong Kong and opened up ports in China and other parts of Asia, you get the British beginning to realize that not only is opium a profitable activity, but trading in human labor is equally profitable in Asia. They already knew this through the slave, the triangular trade in the Atlantic world. Smuggling Africans in exchange for sugar and rum. what we tend not to know is the history of the “Coolie trade” in which these same ships, British and American, would be packing hundreds of thousands of south Asians and Chinese into some of those same ships that would traffic enslaved Africans and bring them to plantations and trick them through gambling debts or getting them high, smuggling them onto ships and making them sign an X onto a contract they couldn’t read or knew was misleading, into agreeing to eight year, seven year contracts on plantations. From 1838 to 1870 there were over half a million Chinese and south Asian men shipped in this coolie trade. They worked on plantations in Peru, in Jamaica, in Cuba, in a lot of the plantations that the slaves had been freed from. They would be the replacement labor. The conditions were horrible. The contracts were for a limited amount of time. They supposedly were paid a regular amount of money but the poor food and lodging was taken out of that. Many people sought to escape these harsh conditions but also as the word of what the coolie trade was about, there were rebellions on these ships.
S: Good. And the American involvement was?
J: We’ve all heard the term ‘Yankee ingenuity.’ Part of that was how to take advantage of the natural resources in the Northeast. You had long and straight timbers from Maine that served as long masts for clipper ships. Clipper ships were an American invention in that ships that took a long time to get across the Atlantic could get across quicker in these ships with tall masts and many sails. It was those ships that began to speed up the process of goods being traded around the world including opium. Some of the competition that Americans, who owned a smaller percentage of the opium than the British, forced the British to increase the opium trade. That competition caused the expansion of the coolie trade as well. The Americans were a junior partner in that trade, but they were important to expanding those practices. Opium and the coolie trade. If it wasn’t for the American ships the British would not have been as aggressive. And American merchants, NYC merchants profited greatly from those activities. We forget how about the practice of slavery was a NYC banking or trading activity. We blame the south for practicing that peculiar institution. But the bankers of NYC knew no ethical bounds. They also were deeply embedded in the trading of opium. John Jacob Astor made some of his earlier profits from smuggling opium. Later those profits were converted into real estate profits. He became known as a real estate mogul. He died the most wealthy man in this country with an estate of 20 million dollars. We remember him through the Astor place subway station and the Astor library which became the NYC library. Lowe also founded Columbia University and other leaders. They were connected to the opium trade these ships, when looking for cargo, also would be engaged in the trafficking of coolies as well.
S: The official US line on the coolie trade?
J: Americans have always liked to think of themselves as not like the British. It’s part of the revolutionary spirit as divining themselves as different. So Americans have always said they didn’t agree with the coolie trade. But American merchants would always be competing for the bets possible way of making a profit. So even as the government said the coolie trade was evil, merchants were heavily involved in trafficking of human bodies as well as drugs. So you’d have the official position and then what went on. And we shouldn’t be surprised when we read in the papers today that the government is not officially doing certain things but they’re really going on. This is not only the US but because the US has such intense economic activity it’s part of what’s going on. Piracy is part of the US revolution. Part of the Boston tea party and part of the American Revolution.
TRACK 4 – 24:58
S: One more history question. What was the cause of the British importing opium?
J: By the 1830s opium accounted for 2/3 of British imports into China. It was becoming the chief trade item exchanged for tea. It dramatically shifted the balance of trade, which was always in deficit for the British, to a surplus. So in the 1830s and 40s it produced a drug crisis in china, where so many people became addicted, you have a commissioner, Lin Zieu Shu, in 1838, from Fujian province. So by the drug crisis becomes so severe, that by 1838…start again…the opium crisis becomes so severe in china you have a commissioner in 1838, Ling Zueu Shu, in Fujin province that has to make a dramatic statement and he decides to burn opium, that’s in Canton. That precipitates the opium wars, in which the British, who feel that in their best self-interests opium is best for their national economy, then send the navy and the military to defend their self-interests. so this spawns a series of battles in which the British and then the Americans are defending the right to “open” trade in the name of a drug traffic as a wedge to further open access to markets in China and the goods in China. …. in that year, 1838/9, China had been inflicted with 40,000 chests of opium which amounted to 5.3 million pounds of opium. That is an important indication of how the British merchants supported by the British government were the major drug dealers of the world at the time and how important it was for China to defend itself and take dramatic action.
S: I do want to talk about the first immigrants to NY.
J: Can I talk about this merchant, merchant Chong, part of John Jacob Astor, because that’s the first recorded person? On August 12, 1808 President Jefferson imposed an embargo of all American trading vessels leaving American ports as a way of boycotting the British that precipitated the war of 1812. Those are what we know about as the penultimate battle against the British. A story that is not known is john Jacob Astor’s ship the Beaver and his ploy to break the embargo in saying he had an important “mandarin” who John Jacob Astor wanted to return to china to help promote diplomatic relationships with China. The NY advertiser proclaimed this mandarin was a dock loafer and this was a hoax. Astor was a merchant who believed America’s wealth lay in the trade. Jefferson, we know, was looking for alternative trade partners and build a nation of small landholders. Hence, the Louisiana Purchase this “mandarin,” his name was Mr. Chong. There is a bit of mystery as to who was this person. Some people claimed he was an actor, some he was a Native American. I saw a letter at the American historical society that had a plausible explanation. This letter was signed by Columbus and he sent it to James Madison and he said Mr. Wing Chong was a merchant who had come to NY to claim debts owned to him by the two principals of the Empress of China and the Palace, the ship that followed the Empress. When he came here he found Shaw had died and Randall was serving hard labor and didn’t have a cent to be collected. I find this an amazing story because the first recorded incident of a Chinese man being in NYC is a merchant trying to collect a debt from the first ship that sailed out of NY to trade with China. This is an example of the unresolved relationships between a poor place like NYC and a Chinese merchant simply trying to claim the money owed to him. This is indicative of the free-wheeling nature of merchants in NYC and how powerful China was. It also is indicative of how Chinese begin arriving in NY, Baltimore, Philadelphia. These are the first Chinese and there are other Asian son these crews who being showing up on the northeast. These people show up I think as early as the 1700s. We’ve yet to fully document the range of these people but I think the first Asians come into the NE through trading lanes exchanging goods with parts of Asia.
S: Did they stay?
J: We don’t know. The documents are scanty. Well now when we look at Herman Melville that there are pacific islanders, Hawaiians, registered as “Kanakas” in Salem and the NE ports. We read about them in Moby Dick but don’t realize he’s referring to real people. Some of these people stay, they show up as Christian converts in the NE> we have bits of information about Chinese sailors staying in NYC, marrying Irish women and having children. Listed as seamen traveling between NY and Liverpool. Having bank accounts, having property. So it’s clear there are people of Asian descent settling in these ports in the NE as early as the 180ss, well before we think of the beginning of Asian American history in the gold rush in California in 1848.
S: Why would they stay?
J: A lot stayed for the same reason other migrants stayed in these ports. As people were jumping ship or migrating, they began to find that places like NYC and Baltimore and Boston would have a port district made up of the working people who were tied to the ships and trade. As people were loading and unloading they would be from all around the world. So these ports created port cultures that were intermingled and the forerunner to what we think of as multicultural America. These were people rubbing elbows, trying to figure out how to communicate with each other. Exchanging food ways, trying to find a common language. Pidgin English became one way, exchanging stories. And this port culture is different from what we think of as cosmopolitanism. But this port culture is a tradition we haven’t quite recognized. This culture is part of what makes NY distinctive and a comfortable place for people of diversity to settle. It’s different from the cultures they leave and even if they marry an Italian or an Irish person, they are exposed to his mix which is quite freeing because they could be different but also find similarities across differences.
S: How were these early Chinese treated?
J: I think these polyglot port culture folks created their own culture that was quite comfortable but as you get more elite New Yorkers, those who were protestant fundamentalists, believing some prevalent science of the time where racial intermingling was seen as. I think among the port culture denizens, they loved this intermingled culture. At the same time, there were those in power and those who believed in a national cultural purity who believed that all Catholics were not capable of being self-possessing because they would be ruled by the pope. Jews? They were too different. Who was considered to be an acceptable American was contested by these elite forces. You had always a tension between people who were part of a port culture and those who were concerned about being the custodians of national political culture. Chinese marring with Irish were quite provocative. They were seen as heathens marrying heathens. Irish were seen as the “niggers” of Europe and the characters of Irish were drawn as ape-like. They were not considered white. So when you have Chinese marrying with Irish, these fundamentalists believed this was quite dangerous. This would lower the vitality of the nation. You have the beginnings of what would be later seen as fascist thinking of race. So you have both of these views contested in the streets and newspapers and life of NYC and other port cities in the US.
S: Genetically it was probably the bets thing.
J: Immigrants keep reviving this country. Immigrants come in with work ethic. There are lots of debate even now as to whether people coming in are destroying American stock or invigorating American ideals. These are endemic debates.
S: What is the difference between immigration to the east and the west coast?
J: Asian immigration to the NE was mainly through shipping routes and eventually you start getting labor recruiters trying to break a strike of Irish women working in laundries or men working in show and boot factories in Massachusetts, bringing in Chinese as scabs. In the west coast you have a shortage of workers to develop the raw resources and convert them into something profitable, so you get massive efforts to find American Indians or Mexicans to do this labor and the solution becomes bringing in people from china and finding other people to do that. Chinese reclaimed land, did fishing industries, worked in factories, especially in the civil war. The NE has been involved more with the symbolic meanings in what Asia means for the nation and defining what the core political culture of being an American would be. Asia and china has always been a part of that process. Coolies and what it meant to have freedom or bee a laborer, were essential to the debate around the civil war and around reconstruction and then also essential to what it means to be a citizen. Would you be able to think of yourself and how is that tied to race and biological inferiority? Should blacks be citizens because they were not self-possessed, they did not believe in John Locke. Native Americans were not considered proper citizens because they did not cultivate the land in the way that Locke proscribed. Chinese fell within that debate as did south Asians. Coolie labor was considered inferior labor, not the labor of self-possessed rational males. So the NE was engaged in these kinds of debates and the Chinese and Asians represented were in two categories. One was the category of the John Chinaman, the noble, merchant oriented Chinaman considered the equivalent to American merchants. Someone to be reckoned with. The canton merchants were seen as shrewd as Yankee traders and then there were the masses of heathen chinee, seen as racially inferior, the yellow hordes controlled by the brokers, and ultimately in 1882 those were the Chinese considered not fit for American citizen ship and had to be excluded from this country. This extended later on to women as well and this idea has been deep into the foundation of American political culture. Today we have the image of the model minority which is tied to the historic idea of representation. Someone who works diligently and is good to hire for the country is also tied to this negative image, someone who works too hard and is too competitive and is threatening.
TRACK 5 – 14:52
J: July 14, 1847 new Yorkers were treated to a sight they’d never seen before. At the tip of Manhattan Island 160 foot Chinese vessel called the Keying sailed into NY harbor. Reporters used this opportunity to begin narrating all sorts of stories about china, the exotic orient and some of the Chinese people on this ship. 1847 is the year before gold was discovered at Sutter’s mill that sparked what we normally think of as Chinese history in the US. One reporter described this ship as “a queer looking concern. A snail shell set on edge with sticks set perpendicularly through it.” This is a Chinese junk. People began to flock to this. it was operated by an Australian by the name of Charles Kellet who had purchased the Keying for display in NY at…the Keying was captained by Australian-British captain Charles Kellet who had brought the ship from Hong Kong to the US to be displayed in NY and in the Crystal Palace in London. He was a shrewd man who had immediately set up 25 cent tours. Thousands of New Yorkers thronged to see the ship. He brought a Chinese crew and there were lots of Chinese made items on display as well as the very first recorded incident in which a chow dog with a black dog appeared in American culture. He made a tiny sum of money. Former mayor paid 25 cents and he noted a Chinese Junk is moored off Castle Garden, something we never saw and her long-tailed crew a means of amusement. The story of the Keying is longer than just a simple tourist venture. Not all was well on board the ship. As newspapers reported daily about what was happening, a number of months into the visit they report, the NY herald reports a row on board the Chinese junk. About five o’clock the previous afternoon, captain Killet went onboard top ay their wages when the Chinese, under the affects of opium, turned on the captain. Seven of the mutineers were locked up and the rest were left on board the junk. Seven were brought to he tombs and charged with assault. As this went through the courts, it was discovered this so-called mutiny was not based on poppy-induced anti-social behavior but captain Killet had set up a contract with them that they would be paid when they got to NY and then taken back to Canton. Once they were on the ship they were threatened with the rope, lashings, in which they would be imprisoned. Kellet never paid them and had detained them well passed the eight-month time period. So this was a strike to gain back wages. so as this case became reported, it became clear this was another example where the commercial culture of NYC was a means of representing Chinese culture a certain way and the media played along with it in emphasizing the exoticism of how different these Chinese were, how they were learning American ways in a crass way, and represented them as opium-included or unruly, not grateful, but what was really going on was a breach of promise where the captain was exploiting them. Thinking them of no better than coolies. They would become part of a museum display of curiosities shown to eager westerners.
S: What happened to them?
J: Ultimately a number of these crewmen decided they would leave the ship and petition to be sent back to china. Well-meaning Christians and NYC citizens then began to help them out, raise money, and one report was that a group of them did sail off out of NY harbor to go back to China.
S: I know these first were very few who came. When was the first large amount of Chinese to NY?
J: After the first recorded Chinese incident of a Chinese man, MR. Chong, arrived in 1808 and then left, you have evidence of Chinese showing up in the census from the early 1800s decade by decade onwards. They’re small numbers, taking on Anglo names, but you see where they’re born, China. They’re often married to Irish women. These are merchant men, mariners, in the port cultures. They’re small numbers but significant because they represent the experience different from the California experience. The numbers increase in the 1870s as the anti-Chinese violence increases in the west and those who want to stay in the country move eastward. Many stay in the Midwest and take on a laundry occupation. It’s inexpensive, so increasingly Chinese men, at the bedrock of forming west coast economy, are forced to go into more marginal types of work such as washing dirty clothes, considered woman’s work. And they move east, so you start getting in NY the arrival of Chinese men opening up laundries in the metropolitan region in areas of white collar workers. So it’s the laundry workers in the 1870s and 1880s who form the basis of what is now NY’s Chinese American community.
S: Studying Asian American history – is there a definition of how it’s studied?
J: As true with any nation, Americans know certain things about their past and are taught certain things and the stories we tell about our selves are a certain nature. But there are certain things not told and ignored. I think the darker side of Asians and pacific islanders in the US are not known except the Chinese built the railroads and the Japanese were in internment camps. Those are minimal. Those are not explored in a deeper historical context because if you do this digging you begin to look at a side of American culture that is not as flattering. And it’s hard for a national history to be self-critical of itself. but the experience of not only native Americans but enslaved blacks and early Asians begin to reveal the complex role that American traders and missionaries and those imbued with the notion of manifest destiny, to expand into the territory of the Americas, not just the US, but also Latin America, the Caribbean, the pacific coast, Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and china, that fantasized luxurious place of Asia itself. This expansive notion of American dominion offer the world is fundamental to American character. Henry Luce, the media mogul, coined in 1941 that that was Henry Luce in 1941 coined the term the ‘American century’ and in effect he was describing the culmination of the American growth from a very poor nation in 177…
END OF DISC 1
J: In 1941 the media mogul who founded Life magazine and Time magazine and the whole media empire, coined the term ‘The American Century.’ Luce himself was born in china, the son of missionaries, and his life experience embodied the enormous expansion of the US from the early 19th century when this nation was a poor, striving nation trying to build trading partners to build its wealth, expanding into the vast wealth, developing its agricultural resources, so he’s looking back at the most rapid period of expansion in which it becomes a nation of great wealth and expands into China. He was also talking about a way of thinking about this country which was positive, optimistic, and naïve. It was a way of glorifying what had happened without taking responsibility for the consequences and byproducts of what this expansion was about. this dual quality of American expansionism, optimism, thinking it should be the most modern of peoples and leading the way for the world’s peoples to follow, that strong feeling ahs always been undergirded by the actual results of some of this optimism. The results of American expansion into the pacific and not all peoples being happy when it’s their lands being taken over or carved up and how American culture and education, thinking and knowledge, also operate. So it’s now the norm to think that English is and should be the global language. But Americans tend to not only not know about their own history, but they tend to know very little about eh rest of the world. They know very little about Asia, where the countries are, and the histories and cultures of those countries. I think we’re at a point where this ignorance cannot continue anymore. Our universities are not training people about these languages and histories and cultures. these people think the future belongs to them when in fact with eh European union and Asian counties it does not belong to them and it is important for us to develop a deeper historical understanding that with the rise of American cultures there are other cultures that are also rising and this culture’s ability to keep its own economy will depend on it’s ability to recognize other cultures and how it sees its past mistakes. So we’re at a critical moment now. Is china going to be seen as the new enemy, will it bee seen as the yellow peril in the same way the British saw Chinese sovereignty as a problem? Is this country going to be able to understand there are differences and they need to respect the history of other countries, or will they expect the history is the manifest destiny of the US alone.
S: I liked some of that rambling. Any other points?
J: Yeah. So much of American identity has been formed by a nation of us versus them. At first, during the revolution, it was a notion of us versus the British, we’re the good guys, we’re fighting to be a free and independent people. But at a certain point at the process of expanding into Native American lands, the American identity shifted from a liberationist identity into one in which it thought it had divine racial rights to displace other peoples. This dual character is one we have to reckon with and we have to perform some serious soul-searching about what is right and what is wrong about that. The notion of divine right to expand endlessly into the world is the one that is…the American identity of finding some foil to identify itself against is understandable, but a problem. if different parts of Asia, the middle east to Japan to Korea to china are seen as perils, then we’re never going to be able to get beyond a historical cycle where the American self is defined as new and progressive and foreigners are seen as dangerous, potential spies, or perpetual foreigners, those who can never be a part of the American dream or we the people. If that is the case, we can never understand Asia and the pacific in a way that is respectful of difference and cooperative with that future. If America always has to be supreme and its efforts are defined by American difference only, it will only get into wars with other countries that are equally prideful of their own stories. If America can’t read its own character in redefining itself, we are heading to a negative process.
S: Would understanding America’s multicultural identity help?
J: What I’m doing as a historian is trying to find traditions that have not been recognized. Multiculturalism is not recent, it is founded on a deep cultural heritage. These port cultures are fundamental and border cultures, places in which people from different sides of the border would intermingle. These places are just as defining as nay notion of American purity. They represent what the American experiment is all about. We need to recognize this deeper history that defines this American character as polyglot, as intermingled. It’s not the kind of America that those who yearn for mythical purism look for, but it is a deeper understanding of what America is all about.
TRACK 2 – 1:44