Asians in U.S. share reasons they're now looking at opportunities abroad
After Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, KEFF, a Taiwanese American artist, began to think that despite his US passport, who lived in the country for nearly two decades and English was his first language, he may never be considered "American Enough" would be perceived. Endured several racist incidents, including verbal harassment and anti-Asian slurs, he soon began to think about what life could be like elsewhere.
When the opportunity arose to shoot a film in Taiwan in the summer of 2019, he took it.
"I've tried being American and it doesn't seem to work that way," KEFF, 30, told NBC Asian America. "Why don't I try to be Taiwanese?"
His film "Taipei Suicide Story" was selected for the Cannes Film Festival last year.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Asian immigration to the United States increased. Many came for work opportunities, higher education, and to give their children a better life, and were often naturalized.
But today, many Asian Americans - most of them of East Asian descent - are "moving back" to Asia, citing better job opportunities abroad and a desire to experience life in Asia, as well as anti-Asian racism and other social problems at home. Despite being a trend that started before Covid-19, the United States motivated young people to do so by mistreating the pandemic and being able to work remotely.
Compared to Covid-19 concerns and personal factors, "the visibility of anti-Asian hatred and violence came much slower," said Lok Siu, associate professor of Asian-American and Asian diaspora studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
According to Siu, concerns about anti-Asian hatred didn't become mainstream until late last year or early this year, and many Asian Americans decided to move last summer. These movements are most likely temporary.
For Clara Park, an aspiring junior at Yale University, the pandemic and the move to virtual learning drove her decision to take a gap year and move to South Korea.
Clara Park works as an extra in drama
"I hated online classes when I took them this spring," said Park.
Now she is working as a production intern at Times, a time travel drama.
But their responsibility goes beyond their job. As the only person in her immediate family in Korea, she has the additional duty to “act as a representative” at large family gatherings such as birthdays or traditional grave visits.
After more than six months there, she reconsiders her plans for the time after graduation. She used to think she could not take root in Korea due to language barriers, but now it feels not only doable but also desirable.
For others, moving to Asia was less of a choice.
At the end of January 2020, Noniko Hsu, a professional flautist who has performed on cruise lines since graduating from the University of Michigan, was ready to take on a new contract. But a few days before she was about to fly from Taiwan to meet her ship, she received an email asking crew members from Asia not to come because of Covid-19.
"We are unable to register Taiwanese residents who have been in Thailand in the past 15 days," the email said. She wrote back to clarify that the Taiwanese are from Taiwan, not Thailand, but never received a response.
So Hsu watched the pandemic progress while working as an event coordinator for a hotel in Kaohsiung.
In addition to the linguistic and cultural differences expected, many find that moving to Asia raises questions about immigration, privacy and their future careers. Some in these countries renounced or never sought citizenship in order to avoid compulsory military service. Others have little to no connection with the countries they are in now.
While some are fortunate enough to escape the pandemic, many are also struggling with the privilege that allows them to be in Asia in the first place.
Melody Chen is a student taking a gap year to enroll in engineering courses in Chinese and apply for Taiwanese citizenship. In addition to avoiding Covid-19 and improving her Chinese, she also wanted to experience life in Taiwan for a few months to see if it was a place she "might want to consider living in the future."
Melody Chen. (Courtesy Melody Chen)
"I'm just so disaffected with the idea of America," said Chen. "People can go bankrupt with a medical bill - it doesn't feel like an American dream."
However, she admitted that there was a risk of spreading Covid-19 to the local population with this decision, something people quickly reminded her of when she posted a video on TikTok documenting her trip to Taiwan.
Until recently, places like Taiwan and Singapore were largely untouched by Covid-19, making them desirable places to escape the pandemic. Some Asian Americans have chosen to continue to work or study in US companies and universities despite the 13-16 hour time difference. In their spare time, they attended concerts, went to clubs, and ate at restaurants earlier in the year while much of the United States was under lockdown.
The motivation to avoid Covid-19 restrictions, however, has been hampered by the increase in cases in several Asian countries this spring, which could lead some to return home when the US reopens thanks to vaccine availability.
While some have moved overseas during the pandemic, Siu said only a fraction of the Asian-American community is capable of doing so
It wasn't every Asian American who has access to this type of mobility, ”she said. Those who did so represented an emerging "elite population of transnationalists who have the privilege of being mobile in these different spaces and having the ability to move quickly and respond to situations like these".
This type of mobility is not only reserved for Asian Americans. At the beginning of the pandemic, Asians who had funds also moved to the US, and many Americans who lived in urban hotspots such as. For example, those who lived in York City moved to less populated areas where they had more space to quarantine.
Anabelle Pan, 21, recognized her privilege of having a U.S. passport and the ease that allowed her to enter Singapore in January. After working in a lab to track the Cothe ronavirus in wastewater in the United States last fall, she switched to a six-month research project in Singapore asking Chinese migrant workers about their health care experience.
"On paper it looks like I'm doing something service-minded - which is what I want," Pan said from her quarantine hotel room. "But that was in large measure for my own mental health."
She said she was grateful for the institutional support she received, something that was not available to her own mother after immigrating to the United States about 25 years ago.
For many, life in their parents' country of origin has brought new insights. S.
nny Huang extended her 2019 Fulbright English Tetching Asaistantship in Taiwan to continue working with children in the indigenous community. She said she learned "a bit of her ancestry" which gave her an appreciation for "the practical choices" her parents made to survive in the US, which meant her community and traditions behind allow.
"In the US," she said. "We don't see how much they lose."
Family history aside, many find that the United States looks different from the country they left. Covid-19, mass shootings and the ongoing hate crimes in Asia complicate the prospect of return.
Helen Li, 24, who had worked in Asia before the pandemic, took a trip to Nepal in February last year. She planned to stay for three weeks, but after the borders were closed, she was faced with the choice of returning to the US or seeking shelter on the spot. She chose Nepal, where she has been working remotely ever since, and her time there has changed her view of happiness and her Asian-American identity.
"Often times I've defined my identity as producing something - the more you do, the better you are," Li said. After living in Nepal, she enjoys slowing down and activities like making Enjoying soy milk from the ground up - something she used to do with her father but stopped because her time was “more valuable in other places”.
Due to Covid-er19isa restrictions, Li could be forced to return to the US in the next few months and is afraid of burning out of a relentless news cycle and culture of productivity.
In the long run, it remains to be seen what major impact these steps could have on the future. Factors like fluency in the local language, the economy, and the pandemic all affect the lessons people will learn from their time in Asia.
"I wonder if this will have any - hopefully positive - impact on Asian-American people," said Wen Liu, an assistant research fellow at InAcademia Sinica stitute of Ethnology, c Taiwan, who moved to Taiwan from New York last year . G
Despite the cism and assimilation pressures that many grow up with, she said that Americans who have spent an unexpectedly large amount of time in Asia can "find a different way of dealing with Asian culture that is not so static or something - a way - , dear. "
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