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At the western edge of America, where the continent falls into the Pacific as it follows the sun, the coast has always seemed an image of Eden, a garden of earthly delights. “There is an island called California, on the right hand of the Indies, very near the Earthly Paradise,” wrote a 16th century Spanish fantasist in a novel that gave the Golden State its name. California, and other stretches of North America’s Pacific shore, would become the fated and fateful destinations of adventurous journeys westward by European settlers, cowboys, miners, Forty-Niners and dreamers. There the travellers would pass, or so they hoped, from their old lives � and the Old world � into a heaven on earth.

In spite of the seemingly inexorable European settlement of the Pacific Coast, there are strangers in the Western paradise. Other peoples, too, have sought the “good country,” though instead of crossing the continent, they have crossed an ocean; instead of looking back to Europe, they trace their bloodlines to Asia. They blend in � and yet they do not. Today Anglos in the North American West � in the U.S. and in Canada � are discovering that they have Asian shadows, that the Pacific Coast has become a subcontinent of peoples and cultures that mirror one another in a vague, amorphous antagonism. With Asians bringing vitality and a renewed sense of purpose to the region, is history repeating itself with a twist? Is this the rewinning of the West � by Korean entrepreneurs, Japanese financiers, Indian doctors, Filipino nurses, Vietnamese restaurateurs and Chinese engineers?`

Yet even as they stake their claims to the North American West, Asian migrants are encountering problems racism, the ambivalence of assimilation, the perils of prosperity, ethnic jealousies and the sometimes dire inequities that come with a laissez-faire society. Asians in general are still strangers in the Western paradise, and they are keenly aware of their status.

Many have found prosperity in their new home. Yet there is no pan-Asian prosperity, just as there is no such thing as an “Asian-American.” There are comfortably middle-class, fourth-generation Japanese Americans, and there are prospering new immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong and South Korea, all driven by an admirable work ethic. There are also fragmented Filipino families headed by women, and Hmong tribesmen who know little of technology and find themselves dependent upon public assistance. “There are people without hope in the Asian-American community,” says Michael Woo, the lone Asian member of the Los Angeles city council. It is a notion that probably sounds strange to those whose only awareness of Asian Americans is of whiz-kid scholars and hardworking greengrocers.

The economic success of some Asians works against others. Labeled a “model minority” rather than a group of separate communities requiring specific kinds of help, Asian Americans are often shut out of affirmative-action programs, even though many Indochinese refugees are in dire of need them.

Paradise is paradise, but it has turned out to be less than perfect and more than a little disconcerting. What was it they set out to find, and why is it yet to be found? Even as their numbers � and their economic and political influence � expand on the Pacific Coast, Asian immigrants are pondering those very questions.

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