Asian-Americans, the "Mosque" Furor, and Immigrant Idealism

Previously here and here. I'm quickly cycling out these dispatches about the meaning of outsider status, insider-acceptance, security, diversity, resilience, etc because they bear on two big questions of the moment: what we're learning about America through the "mosque"/Koran flaps, and what we've learned about America and the world in the past nine years.

This message, from a Korean-American, is sent in support of the original dispatch from a young Chinese-American student who was puzzled and shocked by the anti-Muslim mood:

"Perhaps my stomach curdles because through this debate, I've seen a shadow of that type of hysterics I've always associated with history. I suppose it's still around, and seeing it gives me a great shock. "

Your Chinese-American e-mailer described my feelings pretty well with these statements. I'm a first generation immigrant to this country as well - I was born in Korea and came over for school. I think the shared first generation immigrant experience may be a reason for the similarity of our reactions to the Park51 controversy.

Having had a privileged life thus far as an educated immigrant, the America I know is open to strangers (at least to my "kind"), generous, and free. It's a competitive place but where meritocratic principles are honored. In a word, it's a "fair" society. It's not like Korea or China, Mexico, or America of another age. It's the young, cool, confident, can-do America that I immigrated to. So, when I see echoes of "history" in a nation that is beyond history, I'm gripped by the same shock. Can we regress, even in America?

No one has more honest to goodness faith in American exceptionalism than the immigrant who just got here with big dreams. So we shock easier, I guess.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

The Man Who Owns 40,000 Video Games

A short documentary about an Austrian gamer with an uncommon obsession


The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm


Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."


Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."


An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground


The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In