One parent asked on my FB group: I noticed many other parents have voiced concerns about social isolation in the quest for CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem)…….. I am curious to hear from parents or parents of kids who are happily assimilated without compromising Chinese language/culture. Is this utopia possible for us in small town USA?
My answer: It is entirely feasible. My girls (11 & 14 now) grew up in a small city of 35,000 in rural eastern North Carolina. Though there are some new immigrant Chinese families in the restaurant and poultry industry, we travel in completely different circles as we immigrated here several decades ago and are in the medical field. Except for ~20 months of homeschooling, my daughters attended all English small private schools (class of 9 students for dd#2 and ~ 16 for dd#1 initially then another school with each class of ~ 60 students, ~90% white). Our CLE is conducted at home and through summer sojourns in Taiwan, comprising ~2/3 of their waking hours as school is only ~ 25% of their waking hours. Except for a few Asian/Indian/Pakistani American classmates and friends amongst their two classes, all their friends are white. These friends are not the most popular queen bee types, just nice southern girls.
For many years, I was very frustrated that we couldn’t find any Chinese speaking playmates for them. Then, as their Chinese got better by mid-elementary school, I grew more confident and decided along the way that my DDs don’t really need Chinese speaking playmates anymore. They have each other. Besides their summer sojourn abroad, we watched many Chinese movies, cartoons, and TV shows, which they enjoy tremendously. They read Chinese poems, literature, a few classic Chinese pieces, comics, and many Chinese books (many translated edition of English books). They listen to Chinese pop songs by Jay Chou, S.H.E., and others and sang some karaoke. Their Chinese language proficiency and cultural awareness are almost certainly much stronger than most heritage children.
At the same time, over the past few years, I strongly encourage them to develop and maintain friendships with their white classmates. Their best girlfriends are all white and they are a lovely bunch. They have play dates, sleepovers, birthday parties, and pool parties on occasion. DD#1 had several white guy friends in middle school also. My DDs enjoy watching some popular American TV shows and listen to English pop music also. All their extracurricular activities are taught by white instructors (that’s pretty much all we have here really…). DD#1 played middle school JV tennis with all white teammates. Here in our small relatively rural southern city, I feel that they are able to be somewhat of a “chameleon”.
So, yeah, it is absolutely possible in small town USA to be happily assimilated without compromising Chinese language/culture. In fact, it is probably easier to assimilate in small town USA, as cultural cliques can readily develop in large metro cities with larger Asian population. This rural city didn’t stop them from developing relatively strong Chinese language/cultural proficiency and our CLE didn’t stop them from assimilation. The two are parallel ecosystems, “happily coexisting”.
I hope this helps.