Asian and Jewish Americans Shared Distinctions

Rise of the Tiger Nation
Asian-Americans are now the country’s best-educated, highest-earning and fastest-growing racial group. They share with American Jews both the distinction and the occasional burden of immigrant success.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

[image]The Image Works: New U.S. citizens take their oaths in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Asian-Americans have become the immigrant group that most embodies the American promise of success driven by will and resolve. When, six years ago, the Korean-American management consultant Yul Kwon won the 13th season of “Survivor,” it must have been a social scientist’s dream come true. The show’s producers had separated that season’s contestants into ethnically and racially divided groups: white, black, Hispanic and Asian-American. Never mind the sorry lack of taste. The crude segregation also served as an illumination, bringing to the surface America’s eternal subterranean scrimmage between newly arrived tribes. Mr. Kwon’s victory made abstract social trends vividly concrete. Not only had Asian-Americans gone beyond Hispanics as the most populous group of new American immigrants. They had risen to the top in the pursuit of the American dream.

Contrast the Asian-American saga with that of American Jews, the immigrant group most like them in terms of accomplishment and stability. Central and Eastern European Jews also began coming to America in the late 19th century, but because they didn’t incite the ferocious racial hatred that Asian-Americans first confronted, they established themselves more quickly. At the same time, since they were less culturally reticent and more socially ambitious than Asian-Americans, Jewish immigrants also faced more egregious obstacles to mobility than Asian-Americans did when America once again allowed them in.

By the 1930s, when the only Asian presence in American movies was Charlie Chan, Jews had invented Hollywood out of whole cloth. Back in New York, Jews began redefining stagecraft and acting with the founding of the Group Theater in 1931. Though barred early on from elective office by the Irish, who for a long time had a monopoly on the insurgent ethnic side of mainstream American politics, Jews had already reached the highest political echelons as close advisers to President Wilson. In the 1930s, they were the core of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s so-called brain trust, his inner circle of wise men. By the end of World War II, Jews had achieved prominence in just about every realm of American life… Click here to read more

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