Asians Transforming America And The World

Two great transformations are occurring, one domestic, another global. They are related: the changing face of America and the ascent of Asia. The trends have been underway for some time but without attracting attention until recently. They test our commitment to principles we espouse.

Within our lifetimes, we Americans will witness a transformation never before made by any society anywhere on the globe in recorded history peacefully much less successfully. We will cease to have a single identifiable racial majority. We will participate in this profound process. It has already happened in Hawaii (never majority white), California, major cities, and on elite college campuses.

Along a parallel timeline, we also are entering a Pacific Era. The publisher of TIME magazine, Henry Luce, said to be the most important private citizen in his day, declared the American Century on the eve of our entry into World War II. The child of missionaries, he had been born in China, so he might not be discomfited by the transition toward the east. 

Luce meant that the sun had set on the British Empire, and he encouraged America to abandon isolationism. In a lengthy essay, he posited that America was "gloomy" in outlook despite the world having achieved success in meeting human needs. He closed predicting that there would be more than one American century.

The developments within America and as America interacts with the outside have a common core in China, which has since antiquity called itself the Middle Kingdom. The fastest growing racial group on our shores of the new world is Asian American. A plurality among them are of Chinese ethnicity. The increase of Asian Americans, once dismissed as an oxymoron of an identity, is primarily due to immigration (rather than birthrate).

Places that would not have been imagined to be Asian have become so. The major American city with the most significant boom in its Asian population is Las Vegas. It is more than busloads of Asian tourists coming to gamble and gawk; it is hotel maids, blackjack dealers, and high-end investors.

Yet the decisions -- individual, familial, and collective -- of Asian adventurers to travel abroad, whether temporarily or permanently, comes as China exhibits economic growth at a staggering rate. It likely exceeds what any other nation has been able to sustain. 

The Asian "Four Tigers" (South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan) also are advancing in their gross domestic product and standard of living. Even a country such as Vietnam, indelibly associated with tragedy for older Americans, is increasingly impressive. The material gains are enviable -- and envied.

The role of diaspora in international relations, not to mention internal politics, is complicated. Mao joked with Kissinger about exporting millions of Chinese women, transferring a problem overseas. Now thousands of Chinese girls are adopted by American parents happily. Deng Xiaoping responded to Jimmy Carter chiding him for China restricting exit by inquiring how many Chinese would America welcome. The borders indeed have opened on both sides.

My friends who are white Americans sometimes have said that they do not doubt my description about demographics. But they are honest in telling me they cannot help but be anxious about their place in the world. They wonder, they confide in me, whether their grandchildren will be able to compete with my grandchildren. My reply, which I can only hope assures them, is that their grandchildren will be my grandchildren.

That ultimately is the great advantage America offers. It is open to all. Our enthusiasm for its experiment is not only about democracy but also diversity.