Chinese Americans in China: Ethnicity, Transnationalism, and Roots Tourism



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In the era of advanced communication and transportation technology, immigrants and their descendents can be reunited with their ancestral land from where they or their forebears once were displaced. Visiting the ancestral land as tourists, or "roots tourism," is a major and easily accessible means through which people can recreate and retain the social ties with their ancestral communities. Roots tourism is loosely defined as a type of tourism in which ethnic minorities visit their ancestral lands to discover ethnic roots and culture. Despite the recent popularity of this type of tourism, many gaps remain in the research of roots tourism especially about its influence on ones' identity and sense of home among second generation of immigrants. Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation is to explore the experiences of visiting ancestral land among second generation immigrants. For the purpose of this study, I focus on experiences of roots tourism among Chinese Americans. By investigating their motivation to visit their ancestral land, experiences and encounters in their ancestral land, and feelings toward the ancestral land and toward the United States after the visit, I attempt to explore how roots tourism influences ways in which second generation define and redefine who they are and where they belong under the transnationalism. Face-to-face, in-depth interviews with forty Chinese Americans revealed that, contrary to the idea that roots tourism generates strong feelings of belonging to one's ancestral land, a majority of the interviewees in this study felt foreign in their ancestral land. Although they felt a certain sense of connection to China or Taiwan, the feeling was overwhelmed by the differences in language, norms, class, culture, upbringing, citizenship, and family and gender composition. Analysis indicated that among forty interviewees, only three interviewees felt a sense of belonging to their ancestral society after their visit, and the rest of the interviewees realized their home is the United States. This study revealed the limitation of roots tourism as a tool to foster an identity and sense of home attached to the tourists' ancestral land. At the same time, the findings also suggest that roots tourism played a significant role to assist the interviewees to develop a positive sense of being Chinese Americans.