TheLife of Chinese in America — Approaching Culture Diversity fromPratt’s Perspective
InArtsof the Contact Zone,Mary Pratt coins the concept of ‘the contact zone,` which she usesto describe the social space by which diverse cultures interact,grapple and clash with each other over different stances that theyhold. Such a scenario is common in the context of asymmetrical powerrelations, for instance, colonialism, slavery and their aftermaths asexperienced in different parts of the world. In doing so, Pratt goesfurther to describe scenarios for the linguistic and culturalencounters, the points at which power negotiations and relatedstruggles occur. While the term was originally applied to literacyand learning theories, it has been extended and appropriated todifferent humanity conversations, including the feminist theory,postcolonial theory, and critical race theory. To a certain extent,the parallels can be drawn between the contact zone and the conceptsassociated with standpoint theory, relationality, positionality, andintersectionalities, among others. One of the areas that the contactzone concept can be seen to be applicable is linguistics. Here,languages are perceived as existing within the speech communities andtend to be theorized as self-defined and coherent entities that areintegrated by the homogenous competence shared by members of a group.The stance of the speech communities tends to reflect the utopianperspectives by which the modern communities define themselves. Inthe real sense, however, the stances create the allowance to perceivesuch societies as ‘imagined communities.` This paper explores theway of life of the Chinese and the Americans at the contact zone.
Alook at the way of life of the Chinese communities in the UnitedStates, including how they define themselves, validates the conceptof the contact zone. The relations traces to history. First, thehistory of Chinese occupation in the United States traces to thewaves of migrations starting in the early 19th Century. The firstimmigrants were employed to work as laborers in the constructing therailroad, especially the Central Pacific Railroad and theTranscontinental Railroad. Apart from the railroad construction ofthe railroads, many others also sought to work as laborers in themining industry. These workers had to contend with harsh workingconditions, racial discrimination, and different forms ofvilifications (James 23).
Despitethe fact that the early companies were privileged to employ the cheapChinese labor, the mainstream white population was angered by thegrowing presence of the community, whom they called the “yellowperil.” Although there were provisions that stipulated equaltreatment of the Chinese labors, especially the Burlingame Treaty of1868, the political circles of the time continued to rally againstthe Chinese migrations into the United States, regarding them as adegraded race. The negative demonstrations were popularized by thenewspapers, which condemned the employment policies, and even thechurches were equivocal in denouncing the entry of the ‘aliens’in the country they believed it was intended for only the whites. Infact, the opposition was so persistent that, in 1882, the Congresssat and passed the 1892 Chinese Exclusion Act. This legislationhalted any further migrations of the Chinese into the United Statesfor a period 10 years. A similar act, the 1892 Geary Act was enactedto extend the continued Chinese movements (Robert 67).
Lynntraces the beginning of the Chinese migration to the United States tothe early 19th Century trade between China and the US. Initially,only a few Chinese migrated into the United States. The first batchof the immigrants reached the US in the 1815. The second wave ofimmigrants arrived between 1820 and 1840s, and these were mainlycomprised of men. The subsequent period ushered in an increasednumber of migrants. As of 1850, the number of Chinese people livingand working in the country was over 25, 000. By 1880, the number hadincreased to over 300, 000, with as many as 10 percent leavingCalifornia, motivated by the desire to make fortunes from theCalifornia Gold Rush. However, the author is keen to note that notall the Chinese immigrants had come to the America to make a fortunefrom gold mines, but also work as laborers in the construction of therailroad networks and the southern plantations. The discriminativelegal provisions of the time made it very difficult for the Chineseimmigrants to enjoy life in the United States. In fact, Dianadiscusses that the group faced the most challenging of livingconditions compared to any other ethnic groups in the United States.
Inconclusion, the Chinese community has been somewhat treateddifferently from the mainstream American community. At the zone ofcontact, one can experience different ways in which power is beingnegotiated between the Chinese and the mainstream culture. Thediscussions reveal the Chinese are imagined as outsiders.
James,Tracy. The Rise of merchant empires: long-distance trade in the earlymodern world, 1350-1750. Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print
Robert,Wicks. Money, markets, and trade in early Southeast Asia: thedevelopment of indigenous monetary systems to AD 1400. SEAPPublications, 2012. Print
PartB: Annotated Bibliography
Schorch,Philipp.ContactZones, Third Spaces, and the Act of Interpretation. Museumand Society11(2013)68-81. Pdf. Scorch begins by acknowledging that the concept of‘contact zones’ has been widely featured in the literatureconcerning museums, describing museums as the contact zones. However,such discussions have often lacked empirical support, especially inrelations to the question of what connection means about those whoexperience it, and how it is contested and negotiated. To answerthese questions, the author utilizes the hermeneutic analysis of thevisitors in the museums, focusing on how they interpreted andconceived certain cultural experiences. He finds that the perceptionsare varied and relate to the concept of the contact zone. Thisarticle is relevant in understanding the subject because it exploresand gives examples of how people think differently of other cultures.
Somerville,Margaret, and Perkins, Tony. Border work in the contact zone:thinking indigenous/non-indigenous collaboration spatially, Journalof Intercultural Studies,24. 3 (2013):253-266. Pdf. Somervilleand Perkins`s article examines how the concept of the contact zoneplays out between people across the borders, focusing on theindigenous and non-indigenous intersectionalities. The authorsdiscuss that the manner in which people are seen to be different by acertain group of people is dependent on certain political and mediainvestments. To realize unity between any two competing culturaldimensions, it is necessary to strike a power balance at the contactzones and turn the discomfort zones into collaboration zones. Thisarticle is relevant because it discusses the relationships betweenindigenous and non-indigenous communities in the lenses of thecontact zone terminologies.
Bizzell, Patricia. "Contact Zones" and English. CollegeEnglish,Vol. 56, No. 2 (2014), pp. 163-169. Pdf. Bizzel discusses ways thatcontact zones interplay in the English language. According to theauthor, one of the areas that the contact zone concept can be seen tobe applicable is linguistics. Here, languages are perceived asexisting within the speech communities and tend to be theorized asself-defined and coherent entities that are integrated by thehomogenous competence that is shared by members of a group. Thestance of the speech communities tends to reflect the utopianperspectives by which the modern communities define themselves. Inthe real sense, however, the stances create the allowance to perceivesuch societies as ‘imagined communities.` This article is relevantbecause it highlights how the politics of the contact zone plays outin linguistics.
Morrissey,John (2005) `Cultural geographies of the contact zone: Gaels, Gallsand overlapping territories in late medieval Ireland,` Socialand Cultural Geography,6 (2013): 551-566. Pdf. Morrisseyexplores ways that his concept of the contact zone plays out indifferent cultural geographies, focusing on the case of Ireland. Theauthor asserts that the idea of the contact zone is applicable inunderstanding how power is negotiated between different geographicalterritories. Although the concept has gained popularity in the moderncontext, it is still relevant in understanding the interculturalrelationships in the medieval times, such as in the case of themedical Ireland. The author uses Gaels’ and ‘Galls’ todemarcate the native and foreign worlds. This article is relevantbecause it explains ways that the concept of the contact zone playsout in different geographical contexts.
Rodriguez,Karen. Re-ReadingStudent Texts: Intertextuality and Constructions of Self and Other inthe Contact Zone. TheInterdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad3(2015): 34- 37. Pdf. Rodriguez explores the problem of how powerand status is negotiated in learning. He argues that the Americanmainstream education system is flawed because it fails to acknowledgethe very essence of cultural diversity and the challenges inherent tothe contact zone. In particular, the author is concerned that thesystem is limited to interpreting knowledge and systems based on asingle cultural lens, which otherwise excludes other availablecultural perspectives. This article is relevant because it exploresthe concept of the contact zone from the perspectives of the desiredinclusive education.