The point of American life is to take Eddie Huangs and let them fuse the styles of rappers and foodies and hipsters and more--and thereby redefine "American." This is the great U.S. advantage. But there is nothing automatically self-renewing about our inclusive civic ecosystem. It must be cultivated continuously.
People like me can offer what I call the Chinese American way--tempering raw individualism with a sense of community; adding a corrective dose of duty and propriety to a society rooted in rights and self-expression; paying heed to context and history, not just what's shiniest here and now.
This fusion is perhaps best embodied by the second generation, children of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants who grow up at the intersection of cultures. Consider Ai-jen Poo, the New York-based founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She advocates fearlessly for a workforce of poor women of color. How American. But she does so using the language of love, intergenerational care and family responsibility. How Chinese.
Or take Tony Hsieh, the founder and CEO of Zappos.com, who moved his company to dilapidated downtown Las Vegas and put $300 million of his own fortune into revitalizing it. His goal is to foster community in perhaps the country's most atomistic place--audaciously American, profoundly Chinese.
Let China make it hard for outsiders to become Chinese. The great competition today isn't really between China and the U.S. It's between the static illusion of purity and the propulsive reality of hybridity. If we choose well, my country will still prevail.