The changing perception of immigration in America was discussed over cups of green tea and peanut butter cookies Thursday night at the Asian Culture Center’s “A Changed America?” panel discussion.
“For the first time, Asian immigration has surpassed Latino immigration in America,” said Sarah Moon, fourth-year graduate student in music performance and assistant at the ACC. The discussion was part of the ACC’s “Over a Cup of Tea” series, which is a monthly forum on topics relevant to Asian Pacific Americans.
The ACC joined with the La Casa Latino Cultural Center for the event in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, which spans from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Two professors and a student speaker talked about the way America has viewed immigrants throughout the years, and how those immigrants have been
“America has two sides,” junior Fred Diego said. “When there is prosperity, we welcome immigrants, but in times of economic recession we pass laws that restrict them. America’s like an amnesiac. We forget things, especially when it helps us.”
Diego also talked about how Americans use metaphors to describe and discriminate against immigrants, comparing them to, among other things, “indigestible food the American body can’t process.”
Diego said these metaphors arise out of fear and are a powerful force.
Jennifer Lee, professor in the sociology department, discussed the evolution of discrimination.
“In 1840s gold rush in California, we had a very open immigration policy,” Lee said. “Chinese men came over to make money and go home. When the gold rush dried up they had to look for other work.”
Lee described how the discrimination against the Chinese began when they were increasingly hired more than white workers.
“Chinese laborers with no family were willing to work for a lot less,” she said. “Only then were they depicted as animals.”
Aide Acosta, visiting professor of Latino and American Studies, discussed her research of immigration in small Midwestern towns.
“We have seen new patterns of migration occur recently, with influxes of Latinos in places where there hasn’t been before,” Acosta said.
She then talked about her studies, in which she examined patterns of migration within a small town in Illinois. The town experienced an increase in its Latino population.
“In the 1960s, seven men were recruited to work in (the town’s) broom industry,” Acosta said. “They brought over their families and communities.”
As the Latino population increased, he said, the town began to see an increase in anti-Latino acts.
These changes, she said, are representative of the Midwest and the rest of the
Though the speakers were worried about discrimination in America, they remained hopeful about immigrants’ futures.
“If the small town is the heart of American culture, then immigrants are sustaining these towns and creating vibrancy,” Acosta said.