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Negotiating Identity: Experiences of "Visiting Home" Among Chinese Americans

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"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 study of roots tourism, particularly about its influence on the tourists' identity. This exploratory study investigates the ways in which second and subsequent generations of Chinese Americans discuss their identity and feelings of belonging after visiting China. Face-to-face, in-depth interviews with Chinese Americans revealed that, contrary to the idea that roots tourism experiences provide individuals with strong feelings of belonging to one's ancestral land, interviewees did not return from their visit with a feeling of connection to China. Rather, they reported a need to negotiate and redefine who they were and where they belonged. This study highlights how physical markers of Chinese identity added complexity to the negotiation of one's identity. Because the interviewees "looked" Chinese, in a variety of situations they were automatically assumed to be Chinese while their American identity was ignored. Although Chinese Americans occasionally took advantage of such ascribed identity as Chinese, they often felt frustration, anger, and ambiguity about how they defined themselves and how others defined them. As a result of visiting China, although Chinese American tourists developed a certain sense of affinity to their ancestral land, they also affirmed that their true home was in the US. This study suggests a complexity and limitation to fostering a sense of belonging to their ancestral land through roots tourism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-03-01

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  • Tourism, Culture & Communication is international in its scope and will place no restrictions upon the range of cultural identities covered, other than the need to relate to tourism and hospitality. The Journal seeks to provide interdisciplinary perspectives in areas of interest that may branch away from traditionally recognized national and indigenous cultures, for example, cultural attitudes toward the management of tourists with disabilities, gender aspects of tourism, sport tourism, or age-specific tourism.
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