Acculturation: Four Chinese American Groups in the Continuum

A Chinese American individual’s degree of acculturation may be influenced by a host of variables, such as the age of immigration to the U.S., the length of time spent in America, educational level and experience, socioeconomic status, and the desire to assimilate to the dominant American culture. As a broad framework, four Chinese American groups can be categorized according to their level of acculturation: (Hsiung & Estwing-Ferrans, 2007)

1. Elderly

1. Elderly Chinese American Immigrants (most traditional and least acculturated)

Primarily from China and Taiwan, these immigrants mostly have come to the US to be with their children, often to help care for their grandchildren.

Group Characteristics:
  • May be strongly connected with traditional Chinese roots
  • Speak primarily Mandarin or other Chinese dialects
  • Know little or no English
  • Socialize with other elderly Chinese American immigrants
  • Retain cultural/religious beliefs of Taoism and /or Buddhism
  • Tend to hold on to traditional values of gender expectation, age hierarchy, filial piety, and collectivity

2. Working Class

2. Working Class Immigrants (less acculturated)

This group consists of more recent immigrants of working class. Most people in this group arrived after the Immigration Act of 1965 and primarily came to the US seeking relatively low socioeconomic jobs.

Group Characteristics:
  • Group has commonly gathered in Chinese sections of large urban areas, such as San Francisco and New York City.
  • In general, the underlying cultural values embraced by this group are still very traditional, but they might speak more proficient English and are somewhat more malleable to the dominant American society.

3. Professionals

3. Bi-Acculturated Professionals

This group consists of highly educated people, such as scientists, scholars, and professionals. This group commonly has immigrated from relatively affluent areas of Taiwan or Hong Kong after 1970.

Group Characteristics:
  • Because of their language advantage, they generally live and work among the general American population rather than Chinese enclaves.
  • Considered bicultural, they are Americanized in some aspects but traditional in others. For example, they may be moderately acculturated in their work lives but remain strongly attached to traditional culture in their personal lives.

U.S. Born

4. American-Born Chinese Americans

This group is the most acculturated and least traditional. Although their foreign-born parents and grandparents may influence their values and beliefs, this group’s value system tends to be predominantly American and their attachment to traditional Chinese culture is generally lower than that of the other three groups.