Most New Yorkers know that over the past half century, Flushing Queens has transformed from a mostly white suburb to one of the largest Asian populated areas in the United States. But in recent years, another transformation has been taking place – a new wave of immigrants from Mainland China is crowding Main Street, while the old wave – mostly from Taiwan, is watching the changes with some reticence. Radio Rookie Helen Peng has been trying to figure out where, exactly, she fits into the changing landscape.
Broadcast: Monday October 18, 2010
Title: “The ABCs of Chinese Americans”
Radio Rookie Helen Peng is from Flushing, Queens -- the bustling Chinatown at the end of the number 7 subway line. Many of the first Asian immigrants to move to Flushing were from Taiwan, like Helen’s parents. In recent years the neighborhood has gone through a rapid transformation, with new waves of people arriving from mainland China. Lately Helen has been trying to figure out where, exactly, she fits into the changing landscape.
NARRATION: In my neighborhood there are two groups of Chinese kids - FOBS and ABCS. The FOBS … are recent immigrants. FOB stands for "fresh off the boat." And the ABCs are American born Chinese.
FRIEND: she's a piece of gum already been chewed?
NARRATION: I'm an ABC, cuz' I was born and raised here. But, two years ago, I went on a family trip to Taiwan, and came back infatuated.
NARRATION: My cousins transformed me into a total Taiwan-a-phile. My mom thought I was crazy because of the huge amount of time I spent just downloading the latest music and watching dramas. I even started bugging my mom to teach me Taiwanese.
NARRATION: By junior year, I was wearing headbands with big bows, very doll-like. I guess I was kind of envious of the FOBS … they had really cute outfits and all the girls look like dolls! I want to be a doll!
ANDREA: I see a lot of ABCs being a FOB, like you!
NARRATION: What?! ME?! I'm not a FOB. In Flushing, it’s pretty easy to tell who’s a real FOB and who’s an ABC.
FRIEND1: ABC always wear like American Eagle.
FRIEND2: When you see FOBS they’re like really bright and they want to stand out.
FRIEND3: The way they walk, I'm so gangster, and they put the cigarettes in their mouth, yeah i'm cool. Mmmmm.
NARRATION: The ABCs I’m friends with … we hang out with FOBs too.
ANDREA: I'm only interested in Asian entertainment.
NARRATION: But I’ve seen FOBs get picked on cause they’re so Chinese – some ABCs make fun of their English or their hairstyles.
FRIEND: The highlight hair and the really cool wannabe clothers
NARRATION: And the FOBs sometimes curse at the ABCs in Chinese. It can get really ugly.
Recently I started realizing that my parents and grandparents’ generation have some of the same issues. Old people have their own cliques too.
A lot of older Taiwanese immigrants spend their days at the Taiwan Center. They sing, dance, play ping pong and hang out with friends.
It was mostly these immigrants who transformed Flushing into a flourishing business center. A lot of them have been here a long time and consider Flushing their home.
But now when they walk down the street they hear lots of dialects and accents from Mainland China. And when I asked them about their opinions of the newer immigrants:
(UNCLE IN CHINESE)
One uncle told me, “He doesn't like going into Chinese supermarkets because people don't say thank you and it's not American if you yell at your customers.
(AUNTIE IN CHINESE)
And, an auntie said "she noticed that people from Mainland China spit more than others. And it's not good because they have no manners."
A lot of people talk about the spitting. Oh yeah, and people also complain about excessive smoking, littering, and J-walking.
The issue isn't just about immigrants from Taiwan and people from Mainland China, it's more about new immigrants and old immigrants. On the other hand, my mom says it’s important to understand where people are from.
MOM: Because China is a communist country and their thinking is very different from the other countries.
MR. CHOW: What do we need to talk about?
NARRATION: Mr. Chow is the parent coordinator at my school and he's from Mainland China. He told me many new immigrants went through a long period of political turmoil and deprivation in Communist China.
MR. CHOW: In China, when they run for the bus, everyone run in and jam the bus because they worry if they don't get on, because there's not enough to go around.
NARRATION: A lot of the new Mainland immigrants in Flushing come from the Fujian Province.
They're mostly from the countryside, and they're poorer and less-educated than older Taiwanese immigrants.
LOIS LEE: They're trying to assimilate, but it's not easy.
NARRATON: Lois Lee directs an after school program for the Chinese Planning Council.
LOIS LEE: They WANT to be a part of American culture - they don't have skills, someone has to teach them these skills.
NARRATION: I never thought about how much harder some of my FOB friends have it than I do. I often go karaoke with my friend Michelle. But the last time I went was the first time I asked her about her family.
She told me she was raised by her grandparents in Fuzhou and moved to the U.S. when she was eight.
MICHELLE: When I was 8 was the first time I met my parents.
NARRATION: Michelle also said her parents work in restaurants because they don't have a lot of education.
MICHELLE: They work more than 12 hours a day.
NARRATION: So when I told her other people said it's disgusting when Mainland Chinese spit on the street, she kind of ended up blanking out.
MICHELLE: I don't think it's fair because everyone has their own background. And. like you don't just say… um…
NARRATION: I felt kinda bad asking her this stuff… cuz it's hard to hear stereotypes about your own people. When FOBs say ABCs are ghetto, I'm just like ok.
HELEN: Mainly, majority who do you think spits?
MICHELLE: In Flushing Chinese, yeah like Chinese and FOBS.
NARRATION: *DING/LIGHTBULB GOES ON* Point of information: It is actually OKAY to spit in China. It's not considered rude or anything, but pretty normal for them.
I admit I still think spitting is BLEHHH. And Flushing does seem way over crowded to me now. Maybe new immigrants are changing Flushing maybe spitting will become normal here too.
But, my FOB friends also teach me Chinese slang. And update me with the latest CPOP - Chinese pop music.
To be honest, I don't care who's an ABC, who's a FOB, or who has ever been here the longest ---doesn't matter. What matters is that we're not all twinkies - you know, Asian face, totally American everything else. That would be one boring world.
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