Chapter 7, Safe Harbor

In the last chapter of God in Chinatown, Guest presents us with five conclusions that he has come to through his ethnographic research. These conclusions are that Fuzhounese religious communities are a location for mobilizing social capital, hierarchies of class are replicated within the religious communities, there’s successful construction of Religious networks between home and host religious communities in Fuzhou and New York, Fuzhounese religious communities serve as sites for establishing alternative identities, and finally the immigration process engenders a search for meaning.

Guest however also makes the point to say that “while these findings are discussed specifically in relationship to Fuzhounese religious communities, I would argue that they suggest a paradigm for understanding immigrant religious communities in the United States in general and also serve to enhance the contemporary study of immigrant incorporation into U.S. society.” (196). I couldn’t agree more with this statement that Guest makes. I found that as I was reading this chapter, I kept thinking of many different ethnic groups that had so many similarities with the Fuzhounese communities. For instance, Guest mentions that the Fuzhounese come together with their shared status as non-citizens; when I read this I could not help but immediately think of the Our Lady of Guadalupe book and the struggle that those people faced with obtaining citizenship. While reading this part I was reminded of the discussion that we had in class one day. What makes a citizen a citizen? Is it legal status? Or is it the way they get involved in the community? What do we as a nation and society define as citizenship? As we saw in class, everyone has so many different opinions on this, so until we agree upon what it means to be a citizen, this problem will continue to remain.

One other example of how I saw connections between these two books was that both the Fuzhounese people and the Mexican people practiced transnationalism. Something interesting is that both of these groups however, because of their lack of citizenship in the United States, and the ways in which they’re brought into the country, cannot afford to actually leave the country and go back home; therefore they practice transnationalism in different ways from the wealthier people. For the Fuzhounese, the only people who really went back to China were the wealthier people, as they were the ones who could afford to do so. This goes with another point that guest makes in this chapter, that although the Fuzhounese people are united as a distinct group, there are many things internally within the group that separate them. I just found that very interesting since you would think that because all of these people are coming together to embrace their similarities, that within the group everyone would forget about their differences and focus upon their similarities, but as mentioned, this is not the case. Now i think it would be interesting to go back and see if this too was present in other ethnic groups as well.

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Chapter 7

Chapter 7 provided a nice summary of Guest’s ethnography on the Fuzhounese immigrants in Chinatown. Through their example, many themes were explored that have been discussed through this semester in the other readings, such as the concept of transnationalism that Foner discussed. In essence, we consider a question we first started with, the question of the identity one adopts as they develop transnational ties between the nation emigrated from and immigrated to. The answer lies in religion, and it always has been. The flexible nature of practicing religion enables immigrants to prosper and work towards their goals despite the difficult social and financial climate that they are not well suited to. Thus, the religious events that transpire because of the immigrants’ efforts are not just a means of devotion, but of maintaining social order (such as the domus of Italian Harlem) and advocacy (like the Muslim Day Parade) as well. It is interesting to observe the sources of assistance that the immigrants rely on. As seen with the Fuzhounese and Mexican immigrants, divine help is a branch of solace, but the community holds the same significance. Only such is possible, however, because of religion, for it brings about the community. But in this community, there is social stratification as described by Guest. This order is expected as those who are better adapted due to time tend to be higher on the social ladder, but ultimately it occurs to provide guidance and maintain order within the community. The domus had strict roles, but it achieved its goal of preserving the Italian family. But, one must wonder, is it all worth the trip to adapt to an unknown environment and undergo financial struggles through tough labor experiences? The answer for most is yes, and that’s how these groups developed recognizable identities fighting for a better status as an immigrant. Overall, the conclusion was a concise read that encompassed our discussions throughout the semester.

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God IS in Chinatown

The last chapter of God in Chinatown seems to tie the book together neatly with a small ribbon. Over the past few weeks, after reading individual stories of Fuzhounese, exploring various histories in relation to religion and several religious organizations, it was helpful to see the conclusive points of all this research brought out so clearly. The religious Fuzhounese share countless connections within their religious communities and develop an identity, are many times exploited, have stratified based on different waves of immigrants and keep transnational ties alive through international temples or things of that nature. Most importantly, I believe, the respective religious communities seem to be places where the Fuzhounese have found the answers to discovering themselves as people. What makes this book so phenomenal is that it captures the intricacies of the religious Fuzhounese; I say “intricacies” because Grant touches on both the positive and negative effects of coming to the U.S. and settling down with a religious organization. There isn’t such a simple, concise message of religion being a wonderful source of pure joy and happiness, like it is often perceived in relation to the hardships the immigrants have endured. This is also what I took away from this course in general: that religion, people and issues mustn’t be compartmentalized or simplified into one single entity. Everything is capable of being taken apart, just as the religious life of the Fuzhounese immigrants is.
Despite all and any intricacies, there is no doubt that belief in a higher power has helped so many of these immigrants muster the courage and stay strong in such a frightening, strange place. This is, in fact, undeniably what we have been studying all along: the immigrants’ relationship to God, with The Madonna… and Our Lady of Guadalupe, etc. It is fascinating that religions, although we may not think of them as such, are always morphing and becoming whatever the followers need them to be at the time. God is truly in Chinatown in the way that “Fuzhounese immigrants reconnect to social networks based on kinship, surname, village associations, religious affiliation, or even specific theological principles” (197), the fact that “Fuzhounese religious communities serve as sites for establishing alternative identities to the dominant hegemonic structures…” (204), the way that “Fuzhounese religious immigrants [are] determined, ingenious…actors in constructing transnational migration” (201) and the way “the religious community serves as a transitional place…touching both New York and China” (205).

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#7 Safe Harbor

The final chapter of God in Chinatown is titled “Safe Harbor.” As the title suggests, the chapter provides five conclusions on religious Fuzhounese immigrants and their religious communities and how these interactions aided in “survival” by acting as a haven for immigrants (195). These conclusions were drawn from the data that was discussed throughout the duration of the book. Guest makes the following conclusions:

  1. Fuzhounese religious communities act as a key location for mobilizing social capital.
  2. Hierarchies of class may be replicated within the religious communities and may reinforce the stratification of the enclave.
  3. Religious Fuzhounese immigrants have constructed networks between home and honest religious communities that affect the migration process.
  4. Fuzhounese religious communities serve as sites for establishing alternative identities.
  5. The immigration process engenders a search for meaning.

Of the five discussed, numbers one and four immediately caught my interest and sparked comparisons between the other readings, but in particular from The Madonna of 115th Street and From Ellis Island to JFK.

Through their religious communities, the Fuzhounese immigrants have managed to reconnect to social networks based on factors, which include kinship and religious practices. It was mentioned that for immigrants working outside the New York area, many would schedule visits to return that coincided with religious holidays and festivals. This clearly reminded me of Italian immigrants who returned to celebrate the festa of the Madonna. Family and extended family would travel and return to New York for this celebration. Through these activities and interactions, Fuzhounese immigrants have formed stronger internal communities that serve additional functions such as the exchange of information and the exchange of financial resources (198).

These religious communities also serve a larger purpose as well. Undocumented immigrants in the United States are often alienated and unable to establish full citizenship rights in their new context (205). Through their participation in religious events, Fuzhounese immigrants have managed to construct a secondary role in the United States society. The religious community serves as a focal both that reaches both New York and China. This perspective reminded me of the transnational ties discussed in From Ellis Island to JFK. Although the Fuzhounese may not be able to acquire citizenship they are certainly considered somewhat “American” in a sense.

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Chap. 7

Before reading all the books we have read in the semester thus far, one would never think of  how big of a role religion actually plays in the lives of immigrants. It helps unite them in a new land far away from home and also helps them cope with their everyday struggles. As the title of this chapter is cleverly called, the religious institutions really become “safe harbors”.

People come to America for numerous reasons but one of the main reasons the Fuzhounese came here was to build “a better life for themselves and their families” (Guest 195). The sad part is that they usually were met with a ” swirling vortex of a ravenous labor market”(Guest 195).  This is where religion comes in as it serves as a “lifeline to others” (Guest 195). Religious communities also served as an exchange of ideas and information by providing immigrants with “employment opportunities available housing, transportation methods and location of low-cost and reliable health care” (Guest 198). It’s always a long and scary process adapting to a new place but having a place to go to where people speak your language and share your beliefs helps to speed up this process.

Why and how is this possible? The fact  that people within the community try to keep certain aspects of China alive is what bands them together and helps in creating a link between the mother country and the New World.

As Guest best describes it, ” religious communities allow Fuzhounese immigrants to imagine themselves differently in the midst of a hegemonic discourse that describes them in unflattering and dehumanizing terms” (Guest 205). It gives them a chance to escape the cruel reality of sweatshops and discrimination and enter a world where they can reminisce of their family and friends in their hometown. All in all religious communities played a key role in the lives of Fuzhounese immigrants by serving as a safe haven in a new land as well as a link to their homes on the other side of the world.

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The Importance of a Religious Community

Many immigrants who arrive to this country without any formal ties of family or friends are faced with the struggles in attempting to achieve that American dream. By coming here with only a dream makes it very difficult for the immigrants to create a life for themselves, such as finding jobs, housing, or healthcare. But what Guest has shown in his study is that religious communities have made it easier Chinese immigrants to easily create ties with other fellow immigrants, allowing them to increase their knowledge, which will bring them closer to their goal of the American dream.

I have always knew that religion is a strong unifying factor between individuals and after reading this book, I have found supporting evidence of this theory. It is astounding that these religious communities help the Fuzhounese immigrants mobilize social capital, exchange useful information, exchange financial resources, and increase support for the legalization process. These communities have grown so strong that it has become a source of reconnection “in the midst of dislocation”, which help Fuzhounese immigrants reconnect with fellow villagers, friends, family, and of course, members of the same home church. There is a greater chance for useful information such as knowledge of the American culture and language to be exposed to new immigrants, which will help them with their future in looking for jobs or just surviving in the fast paced urban life. Some of this useful information includes methods that will improve or quicken the legalization process.

I find these religious communities to be a positive aspect of the immigrant group, but at the same time, this occurrence allows more isolation to occur within a community. I think this is true for any ethnic group because once an individual is “settled” in a certain demographic, it will be very difficult for them to leave since they will always be associated or “tied” with them. With these religious communities, isolation from other different ethnic communities are bound to occur, which can lead to dependence on living or working at places where Fuzhou is the dominant language. So, to what extent are these religious communities really benefiting the new immigrants?

I also found it interesting that religious networks were able to form overseas. I really enjoyed the personal accounts from different immigrants in this book because it provided insight into the thoughts of the immigrants about why they decided to purse the American dream. As I can see, their faith in God played a major role in allowing them to search for meaning.

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Great Conclusion

I really liked the way Kenneth Guest ended the book.  I thought he outlined the previous chapters just briefly enough and made his conclusions clearly.

At the beginning, Guest described the struggles that a lot of Chinese immigrants went through to get to the United States.  He talked about the large amounts of money immigrants owed snakeheads that they spent years under horrible working conditions and oppressive living conditions trying to earn and pay back.  He talked about how recently Chinese immigrants got citizenship (way too recently, it should have been longer ago).  Then, he focused on the religious institutions and communities within Chinatown.

In Guest’s conclusion, he summarizes that religious institutions and communities in Chinatown provided territory for the immigrants to recreate their previous social conditions (family, friends, congregation, etc.), exchange news and information from China, exchange money, and fight for legalization rights.  However, religious institutions and communities also served as forums for stratification wherein discrimination could follow the immigrants and reestablish itself as a pattern in Chinatown.  Despite this, many successful communities and institutions have been established whose leaders, like Chen Shufan, Master Lu, and Rev. Liu Yangfen), extended them full circle back to Fuzhou.

I think Guest’s conclusion that the immigration process “engenders a search for meaning” is an interesting one.  It seems that is true in any experience where someone is going through something difficult that challenges their devotion to a particular way of life.  However, I am left with the question of what happens to the immigrants who do not come to the Church.  Is there any discrimination from religious Fuzhounese against secular Fuzhounese?  Or between people of different regional backgrounds who are religious versus secular?  He focused on the churches and religious congregations in Chinatown, but all of this analysis sort of left me with the impression that non-believing Christian immigrants are very out of place in Chinatown, kind of like the downtrodden minority.  Guest never said that, but I just went there in my head.  Maybe I should look up statistics about religiosity in Chinatown.  But anyway, I really enjoyed the concluding chapter of the book.  I found it the most concise, and I learned more than from any other chapters of the book as a result of its succinctness.

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I got the impression from reading last week’s readings that the churches described in Guest’s book were very much sanctuaries for their congregants.  The fact that services were given in Fuzhounese at the churches mentioned on page 155 helped create a familiar atmosphere for the congregants, since most Fuzhounese weren’t fluent in English, Mandarin, or Cantonese.  I personally have experience with language barriers and how foreign, or even intimidating, they can make the most harmless situations.  I would imagine that the 1988 establishment of the Fujian Agape Fellowship’s Fuzhou-dialect-speaking congregation in Chinatown brought a lot of comfort to the involved practicing Fuzhounese Christians.

According to Guest, the split between the Church of Grace and what would later become the New York House Church happened as a result of a lack of a successor for Reverend Liu (lack of new, strong leader), differing opinions about how often communion should take place (religious disagreement), and regional and class tensions (social divide).  This sounds like a classic “a house divided cannot stand” scenario.  Despite the differences between the Church of Grace and the New York House Church, Guest still says that the two churches are very, very similar to churches in Fuzhou, China.  I thought that was kind of cool that even churches whose congregants had differences to the point where they split off from each other were similar enough to their congregants’ place of origin.  The differences outlined in this chapter between the two churches made me think about Judaism, and how the littlest differences between these churches that sound rather insignificant to me as a non-Christian, but are most likely similar to the differences between the synagogues in my community that also caused splits.

I also found responses of the leader of the Sisters Fellowship, who was also a church deacon (page 176,) to be curious.  “No matter in the house, the family or the church, women should respect men because G-d first created men and men are created from G-d’s image and glory.  Women are helpers of men.”  I don’t like the idea that the essential role of women in this world is to help men, but it is far from the first time that I have heard this idea expressed.  In comparison to other nationalities, the Chinese have been in the United States for not that long.  Although Guest’s analysis states that men are still very much at the forefront of leadership positions in both the Church of Grace and the New York House Church (page 176), living in the United States over a certain period of time tends to influence immigrants to drop some of their previous cultural values.  It might take a very long time, maybe even 50 years from now, but I would posit that eventually, women will take on more leadership roles in these churches the longer that the Fuzhounese community is here.

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Questionnaire about New York accents

A student in a class called Voices of New York is seeking volunteers to complete her brief survey that asks questions about the differences between Italian-American and Greek-American English in New York. Her teacher has asked me to make the survey available to students who might be interested in participating. It takes only a few minutes and you’d be helping out a fellow student in her research. Give it a try!

Here’s the link:

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Chinatown Chapter 6

Chapter 6 of this book focuses on some complications that erupt when trying to create Protestant churches in Chinatown.  Particularly, Fuzhounese Protestant churches.  The chapter begins by discussing the split in the Church of Grace.  The congregation there began to resent the growing Fuzhounese immigrants in the congregation.  They were afraid the Fuzhounese immigrants would dominate the congregation.  This resentment was linked to ethnic stereotypes of Fuzhounese people.  This caused the congregations to split in two.  The congregations also had different views in how the church should be run.

What’s sad is that the concerns of the Fuzhounese congregation within the church was ignored.  For example, many Fuzhounese leaders felt that their concerns were not taken into account withthe Board of Deacons on how the church should be run.

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