Relevance of Race: Children and the Shifting Engagement with Racial/Ethnic Identity among Second-Generation Interracially Married Asian Americans

Relevance of Race: Children and the Shifting Engagement with Racial/Ethnic Identity among Second-Generation Interracially Married Asian Americans

Journal of Asian American Studies
Volume 16, Number 2, June 2013
pages 189-221
DOI: 10.1353/jaas.2013.0019

Kelly H. Chong, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Kansas

Asian Americans have historically enjoyed one of the highest rates of intermarriage of any racial/ethnic group. By exploring the dynamics of interracial marriages among middle-class, professional Asian Americans in Chicago, this article examines what interracial marriages mean for these putative racial/ethnic “boundary crossers” and what they signify about assimilation, racial/ethnic identity, and redrawing of color boundaries in America. This article finds that for Asian Americans in this study, interracial marriage is far from an unproblematic indicator of assimilation; rather, it is a terrain in which complex subjective negotiations over ethnic/racial identities are waged over lifetimes. For both female and male Asian Americans, personal struggles over racial/ethnic identity are thrown into full relief when they begin the process of raising mixed-race children, which forces a reexamination of their own identities, and of those of their children. This article makes a distinctive contribution to the interrelationship of intermarriage, race, and ethnic identity development by comparing the views of Asian Americans and those of their non-Asian spouses regarding marital dynamics and children, which helps to further illuminate the uniqueness of the Asian American experience.

Since the 1960s, Asian Americans have enjoyed one of the highest rates of ethnic/racial intermarriage in the United States. In recent years, overall racial/ethnic intermarriages have declined somewhat for Asian Americans, while interethnic marriage (pan-Asian) rates among them have increased. A number of works have examined aggregate trends in Asian American intermarriage over time to make sense of the structural reasons behind these trends/ but studies that focus on the subjective dimensions of intermarriage are relatively lacking. To understand fully why people intermarry, and what intermarriages actually signal about assimilation and changes in intergroup social distance, we need to gain a better understanding of the meaning of intermarriage for those who choose it, especially how it relates to their sense of group and individual identities and struggles over identity.

This article explores the meanings and dynamics of intermarriage for Asian Americans by examining the experiences of a group of interracially married middle-class, professional Asian Americans in Chicago and their non-Asian spouses. Given that the vast majority of Asian American interracial marriages are to white ethnics—about 92 percent in 2000—this study focuses mostly on those with white ethnic partners. By examining how ethnicity and race come to matter for these “boundary crossers” over time, particularly how ethnic/racial identities and relationships to ethnic culture evolve as they marry and begin to raise children, this article offers…

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