What is the connection between how the U.S. media views China — and how it views Chinese Americans?
By Judy Chu
Chinese Americans have always had to face the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype by the U.S. media. This is a stereotype in which it doesn’t matter how long the Chinese American has been in this country, or how many generations, the Chinese American is seen as really being loyal to China.
When Matt Fong, who was then California State Treasurer and a fourth- generation Californian, was running for U.S. Senate in 1998, he was asked by reporters which country he would support if war broke out between China and the U.S. When Tara Lipinski won the Olympic Gold Medal over Michelle Kwan in the 1998 Olympics, MSNBC wrote the headlines, “American beats Kwan.”
Then there is the case of Wen Ho Lee, the 60-year-old Chinese American scientist who was accused of spying for China. Wen Ho Lee was a U.S. citizen who worked at the Los Alamos Nuclear Lab. Though he went on a trip to China with 13 other colleagues from the lab, he was singled out as the spy and charged with 59 counts of security breaches. Hysteria against Lee was particularly heightened by the New York Times, who ran a series of unsubstantiated leaks from the U.S. Justice Department on its front pages. Lee was put into solitary confinement for 9 months, chained and denied the ability to get out on bail. In the end, due to a lack of evidence, 58 of the 59 charges were dropped.
People perceive the media to be neutral and objective. When the media reports such stereotypes as fact, they influence millions of people to believe that stereotype. In reality, the media has its own biases, and it is time to do some self-examination, especially when it comes to Chinese Americans and China.
[keywords: perpetual foreigner, Michelle Kwan, Wen Ho Lee, media biases]