The American ”Collective” (Day)Dream by Jay Mechlingn”Some races inerease, others are reduced, and in anshort while the generations ofUving creatures arenchanged and Uke runners relay the torch ofhfe. “n—LucretiusnKevin Starr: Inventing the Dream:nCalifornia Through the ProgressivenEra; Oxford University Press; NewnYork; $19.95.nReading student applications fornscholarships, as I have done onnand off now for a dozen years on thenundergraduate scholarships committeenof the University of California, Davis,nhas some of the qualities of watching anFrank Capra movie. It wasn’t always sonin the early 1970’s, when the typicalnsuccessful high school student wasnborn into a comfortable suburban Californianmiddle-class home. But by thenend of the decade, the “personal statement”nessays by some of the studentsnbegan to resemble 19th- and early-n20th-century novels, autobiographies,nand oral histories about the immigrantnexperience in America.nIt was not unusual, by the earlyn1980’s, to read a well-written statementnexplaining how the candidatenhad escaped Southeast Asia on a boatnwith a remnant of his or her family,nhow the student thankfully arrived innCalifornia to enter junior high schoolnbarely speaking any English, and hownthe student’s hard work and familynsacrifice led to the student’s graduatingnas valedictorian of the high schoolnclass. Teachers’ and counselors’ recommendationsnconfirmed that, if anything,nthe students were modest innwriting their personal statements. Bynmost accounts, these students do asnwell at the university as they did innhigh school.nWhen I remarked on this pattern tona group of colleagues, a friend innAsian-American studies cautioned mennot to make too much of this. “We arenseeing only the successful ones,” henwarns. “What about all those whondon’t ‘make it’?” He caught me, ofnJay Mechling is professor and directornof American Studies at the Universitynof California, Davis.ncourse, in the positive stereotypingnthat is the mirror image of the negativensort, assuming that a handful of successfulnmembers of an immigrant ornnative racial group “proves” that theynall could “make it” if only they tried.nStill, there is evidence that the “boatnpeople” of the 1978 immigration, asnopposed even to the more Westernized,nbetter-educated, EnglishspeakingnVietnamese immigrants afternthe 1975 fall of Saigon, combinenstrong work and education ethics thatnwe white Americans like to think characterizednour first-generation grandparentsnand great-grandparents. Fornexample, a July 19, 1985, AssociatednPress story reported on the researchnproject directed by Nathan Caplan atnthe University of Michigan’s Institutenfor Social Research. Caplan and hisncolleagues studied nearly 6,000 SoutheastnAsian refugees—Laotian, Vietnamese,nand ethnic Chinese boatnpeople—in 1,400 households in Boston,nChicago, Seattie, Houston, andnOrange County, California. The successnof these immigrants stunned thenresearchers. Nearly two-thirds hadnfound jobs, over a quarter of theirnchildren were getting “straight A’s” innschool, and within four years of arrivingnin the United States the “averagenrefugee family had achieved a steadynincome of nearly twice the povertynlevel.”nThere is a dark side to this story, asneven Frank Capra would have seennand included in a film version of thisnstory. The fact that these Indochinesenchildren are “shattering grade schoolncurves” (as the Associated Press put it)nmeans that many of their fellow studentsncome to resent their success, andnthe resentment easily becomes racist.nThe national news media earlier thisnyear paid special attention to the risingntide of racist expressions and violencenagainst Asians in America, but I see itnin other forms in the ethnic jokes, folknbeliefs, and graffiti I collect from mynstudents in folklore classes. How ironicnnnis the American immigrant experiencenin discovering that success brings scornnand discrimination almost as surely asndoes failure.nIf there were not a California,nAmericans would have to invent her.nThe state is the ideal testing ground fornAmericans’ working out the sort ofnsociety that will emerge when then”new immigration” meets establishednAmerican traditions and institutions.nThe July 8, 1985, issue of Time magazinendevoted most of its space tonarticles exploring the dimensions ofnthe “new immigration” and explainingn(rather simplistically, as one mightnexpect) the impact of this immigrationnupon the nation. The numbers ofn”new immigrants” admitted sincen1961 under various refugee acts arensurprising even to those who pay attentionnto these things, and these numbersndo not even include the illegalnimmigrants.nCalifornia represents an intensifiednversion of the cultural drama unfoldingnas these new immigrants settle innU.S. communities. California is rapidlynbecoming part of the HispanicnAmericas; there are very large communitiesnof Indochinese in both the northnand south; and San Francisco’s Chinesencommunity has a steady influx ofnnew immigrants. Bilingualism is a hotnpolitical and cultural issue, representednmost dramatically last year by formernSenator Hayakawa’s ballot propositionnto make English the officialnlanguage of the state. The propositionnfed on a panic born of a demographicnreality—namely, that the “Anglos” innthe state will soon be the minoritynpopulation. America would be wise tonwatch California closely as we at thenedge of the continent work by designnor accident toward a modified Americannsociety.nCalifornia has a history of “newnimmigrants,” in a sense, from thenSpaniards to the present. And mostnCalifornians native to this country arenonly first or second-generation mi-nDECEMBER 1985 / 9n