- Contemporary Chinese America: Immigration, Ethnicity, and Community Transformation
Min Zhou is well known for her pioneering work on post-1965 Asian America and her theoretical approach to ethnicity. Beginning with her first monograph, Chinatown: The Socioeconomic Potential of an Urban Enclave (Temple University Press, 1992), she has conducted one case study after another, illuminating economic, social, and cultural relations among Asian Americans and ethnic structures of Asian American communities. The studies on Chinese America laid a solid foundation upon which some of her most influential theoretical frameworks have been developed. Zhou's studies of the enclave economy and segmented assimilation have been frequently cited by scholars in the fields of immigration, ethnicity, and Asian American studies.
This book includes Zhou's ten original case studies on different aspects of contemporary Chinese America, representing some of the author's finest research products. Each case study is refreshingly distinctive yet coherently linked to one another. Trained as a sociologist, Zhou is as concerned with the unique opportunities the ethnic community provides to its members as with the large theoretical concerns of social scientists. She does not make grandiose claims, nor does she quickly jump to sweeping conclusions. Genuinely seeking a good understanding of how ethnicity affects communities as well as individuals in an individualistically driven American society, she thoughtfully frames relevant research questions and selects specific sites in which to investigate a fast-growing ethnic community, and she situates Chinese immigration in a historical context and identifies unique features of contemporary Chinese American population as impacted by international migration to the United States and other parts of the world. Including parts of the author's now classic study of New York's Chinatown, the book carefully examines [End Page 243] the Chinese communities in New York City as well as the ethnoburbs in the San Gabriel Valley, California. There are also chapters focusing on Chinese-language media, Chinese-language schools, and new forms of Chinese immigrant families. Zhou's inquiries are derived from simple but theoretically significant questions: What has made it possible for new immigrants who lacked English proficiency and marketable skills to climb up in the United States? What is the role of ethnicity in social mobility? How did Chinese immigrants, especially those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, adapt to new lives in American society? Each case study examines ethnicity from a particular angle and focuses on a set of specific issues. Yet with an unusual intellectual acumen, Zhou never fails to situate her research into a broad scope of academic inquiries. Even when her evidence and data are very detailed and nuanced, Zhou always manages to contextualize her research findings and engage her analysis with larger theoretical issues. The themes that Zhou has long advocated, especially those on ethnic enclave economy, segmented assimilation, and ethnic capital, reappear in several of the chapters. The reader will be impressed by the steps the author has taken to advance these social theories using different data and new evidence. Zhou's ability to skillfully combine original research with broad theoretical discussions and to reveal the larger significance of specific examples sets her apart from many of her peers.
Zhou argues passionately and effectively that ethnicity has provided powerful and positive linkages in a highly diverse modern American society by offering tangible benefits to entrepreneurs and immigrant workers alike in areas that the primary labor market of the mainstream economy tends to overlook. Using Chinese garment workers in New York's Chinatown as an example (chapter 8), she shows how the enclave economy helps new immigrant women meet the challenges of both family responsibilities and financial pressures. She contends that social structures based on ethnicity have provided economic and cultural resources to new Chinese immigrants and paved an "alternative path toward social mobility" (109). She also argues throughout the book that ethnicity inherently interacts with immigrant selectivity and group-level socioeconomic characteristics, as illustrated in her conceptualization of "ethnic capital" (12–24).
Contemporary Chinese America has much to offer to both scholars...