Last night I went to a wedding. Very, very nice (and very, very expensive). Young couple, about 200 guests. Everyone was very nice, the ceremony was beautiful, the reception a lot of fun. The dance music was predictably eclectic, with old folks’ music – Marvin Gaye and the Beatles – and young folk’s music – don’t ask. All the bridal party was introduced, dads did their toasts, etc.A very typical American wedding if a tad on the high side.
This is interesting b/c 80-90% of the people were Chinese, or, as we used to say, of Chinese extraction. That’s a good term b/c they appeared to have been extracted from the old culture. The only thing Chinese besides the people was that both kids took their high school graduation trips to Hong Kong rather than to Switzerland or Paris. I didn’t even hear Chinese accents and only one time did I hear anyone speaking Chinese, two elderly ladies.
Naturally, a lot of the kids have had lessons in Chinese dance or calligraphy, a nod to their grandparents’ culture, and most of the grandparents speak Chinese. The groom’s dad, who is my age and whose parents both speak Chinese, speaks none, nor does his mom speak Japanese, though her parents did.
When you looked at the young people, I found it interesting that while there was a real mixture of ethnicities among their friends, there were a lot more Asians than would be found among a similar group of White or Black or Hispanic kids. Another item was that the younger Asian friends were not necessarily Chinese.
What struck me as I observed the whole event was what a contradiction it was to the complain often voiced that Hispanics aren’t “melting”, not assimilating, clinging to their language and culture, isolating themselves. The Chinese culture is a lot further from the general American culture than is the Hispanic, yet here we see the third generation so assimilated I couldn’t tell by anything but surnames and physiognamies were anything but typical suburban people.
That may not be good since we culture types like to see people retain some of the old country culture. I am third generation Italian and know nothing of the language or culture except what I have studied on my own. I feel no loss. I do know that the culture of my grandparents has had a great impact on American culture – from Dean Martin’s style to the popularity of spaghetti. Soon we’ll find people named Gonzalez who can’t tell us what ’enchilada’ means but neither will anyone think it is anything but an English word.
Nevertheless, as the cliche has it, THAT IS the story of America. African-Americans know next to nothing of Africa yet African culture permeates American culture; Scandanavian-Americans dance hip-hop instead of the polka but the North Atlantic culture underlies a good many American values; Irish-Americans no longer speak with the lilt of a Gaelic-inflected idiom, yet the expressiveness of Irish English has imposed itself on our American speech; and Jewish-Americans send their children to camps and Yeshiva school while bemoaning the inevitable loss of the “world of our fathers”.
We are creating something new, as we have done over and over again. Be patient and watch its birth.