The American Dream or “That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.” This is the dream that many Asians, including my parents subscribed to when they immigrated to the United States from Asia. For a lot, this is still the case. The foreign-born population in the U.S. (13.7%) is reportedly the highest it has been in over a century. Asian immigrants make up more than 30% of that group, and since 2010 41% of all immigrants have been from Asia, quickly overtaking the number of people coming from Latin countries.
But for some, there is a shift, a shift in where the land of opportunity is. In a previous Dose of Asianess, I wrote about being a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and becoming an Expat, where my dad took an opportunity in Asia working for a US company to help better our lives. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he might have been way ahead of the curve! In 1999, the State Department estimated that only 4 Million American Citizens lived abroad and now that number is over 9 Million and growing. So many Asian Americans are moving back to their parent’s home countries, but why?
For many Americans seeking greater opportunity, International experience has a great allure. In an article I recently stumbled upon from Fast Company, several young individuals describe why they are leaving the United States to venture back to their parents’ home countries for employment. In their mind, the opportunity is obvious but in many of their parents’ minds, it does not make sense. This differing perspective and changing view on the world between generations has created a gap in understanding. Older generations left everything, sacrificed everything so their children could have a better life in America, not in their home country. If their home country had great opportunities to begin with, they would have never left everything they know behind. With globalization and growing Asian economies, things have completely changed in a matter of a few decades. Trying to describe to an older immigrant generation that the place they left is now a place of significant opportunity, greater than what they can achieve here in the United States is quite nearly impossible. The country that the new generation will experience going abroad as an expat will be a completely different experience their parents had growing up in that same country.
“This reverse immigration speaks to the fact that in a few decades, Asia has become almost as much the land of opportunity as the U.S. was–and continues to be–for Asian immigrants. Today, China boasts the second-largest economy in the world, after the U.S.; Japan and India follow closely. Countless tech companies have made their homes in Asian cities, while some of the biggest players in the U.S. have spent years jockeying for market share in China and India.”
Although on the surface, it seems that the only real reason many Asian Americans are going abroad is for employment opportunity, I think there is a deeper need to fulfill a hole that many of us Asian Americans have missed growing up as immigrants in the United States. Growing up here was not always easy for immigrants. The need to assimilate and integrate into American culture was always stressed by parents. Not knowing whether it was ok or not to represent your own culture created great internal turmoil and identity crisis. Maybe by repatriating to our parents’ home countries, we may finally get the opportunity to really experience the full value of our own heritage.
For many Asian Americans, the American Dream is quickly becoming the Asian Dream.