I am one of those so-called “anchor babies.” Along with “illegal immigration,” the term has become one of the buzziest issues of the 2016 presidential election and if going along by strict definition, I — as the first American-born child in my family, am one of those “complex issues” (as the LA Times so cleverly puts it) the GOP continues to speak about.
As an ABC (American-born Chinese), a young Millennial, and a girl who has been fortunate enough to have what many immigrant families would consider a blessed and ideal childhood, such rampant use of the term “anchor baby” in current news is quite surprising, not to mention a bit offensive.
Of course, I did grow up in Southern California (the king of Chinese ethnoburbs) — around certain areas occasionally deemed as the “Asian Beverly Hills.” Tapioca pearls, Chinese characters, and non-stop use of Chinglish were (and still are) the norm, and thanks to a couple of wildly vocal politicians in the past month, I’m beginning to see that there really is so much more to all of this than I had previously thought.
Just last week, while visiting a local pizza parlor with friends, my eyes and ears caught wind of some jibbing, jabbing, and incessant whispering over at a nearby table. A group of elderly Caucasian couples were glancing disapprovingly in our direction — at me and the several other minorities specifically — within an otherwise diverse group of young adults. Let’s just say that the recent fervor over immigration, undocumented residents, birthright citizenship, and the validity of individuals who were once seen as cute bundles of joy, has now caught my complete attention.
One popular allegation is that we use our birthright status to manipulate the system into helping out our parents. For what it’s worth, my parents have been permanent legal residents since the late ’80s. My status as an “anchor baby” certainly did not accelerate or change that process. The same goes for other members of my extended family, who’ve arrived from places as far as Taiwan and China or as close as Canada and England.
Of course, Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty did aid in the naturalization process, but their stories (our stories) aren’t that different from many of the various other Chinese-American families spread out all across the fifty United States. Each and every one have managed — through hard work, personal achievements, painful heartaches, and lots of prayers — to carve out brand spanking new lives in a territory that may have once been unfamiliar, but now, is a place they are proud to call home.
These families are as American as any other groups of people under these spacious blue skies and within these amber waves of grain. Undocumented or not, what connects them is the fact that they, like their fairer-skinned next-door neighbors, have one ultimate desire: to improve their lives as well as the lives of their loved ones.
They have bravely given up the known for the unknown in the hope of achieving this goal. They share a somewhat naïve optimism that the future will indeed be better than the past. They are fully aware that actions often control a person’s destiny, that privilege is not at all a given, and that with the benefits of citizenship comes the responsibility of being American.
Contrary to popular belief, their offspring do not (and cannot) have much to do with their individual journeys towards success, much less qualify them for a lifetime of free government support, as Misters Trump, Bush, and others have so bluntly put it in recent weeks. All they have asked for is the opportunity to work hard and to live free. And they will continue to pay their way, as will you and I.
That being said, it’s pretty safe to assume that all this angst — i.e. the hype surrounding “anchor babies” — really has nothing to do with money, or the overcrowding in American schools, or the strain on America’s social safety nets, or any one of the other excuses that have surfaced recently. No, when all is said and done, it all comes down to just one simple thing: Fear.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the dawning of an Anchor Baby nation is near, not to mention inevitable. Multiple studies are already showing that as soon as 2020, American-born children will be majority-minority, and unfortunate though it is, we young ones will be the ones to pay a price. We are the easy targets, the go-to scapegoats, and it is Saturday night encounters such as the one previously mentioned that make it all the more hurtful.
Obviously, all this doesn’t make me any less American than I already was. And even if my family members were undocumented, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Children should not have to constantly prove their legitimacy nor should they be responsible for justifying past decisions made by their parents. This only further pulls me away from any sort of stable identity I continue to try to find. It also unnecessarily polarizes all too many minority Millennials who are aspiring to achieve big dreams, to better the world, to better this nation — our nation — as a whole.
Sure, I am technically not a hundred percent American, but I am also not entirely Chinese, much less an “anchor” that is no longer a baby. I’ve been reminded of that again and again since my early years.
Compared to most Chinese-American kids, I could not have been more “Wonder-bread white” and was often chided for my mispronounced Mandarin or inability to grasp (and make proper use of) many of the Eastern traditions my parents had been brought up with. I’m reminded of that to this very day. I’m reminded of that awful “outsider” feeling every time some people go about hoping to make America great again by eliminating birthright citizenship.
Needless to say, there is “a lot of variation in the community” and “quite a bit of complicated thinking about where Chinese immigrants fit into the larger racial landscape.” There is no sense of “belonging.” There are perceptions of foreignness as well as “layers and layers of cultural pressure in addition to [other] kinds of pressure, like economic demands.” Let’s not even get started on the intergenerational family issues, “the peer culture, the school culture, the parental home culture, and the general environmental culture.”
As of 2013, there are approximately 20 million people in the US sitting in the same boat as I am. We were born to immigrant parents, we are the second generation. We are the only remaining links between past and future. We are a force to be reckoned with. Through culture, love, change, and hope, we have anchored ourselves into American society.
So am I an anchor baby? Yes, I believe I am. And though this political mess rages on (and on), I will continue on as one.
This article originally appeared on XOJane, it is republished here with permission.