"The attitude is fed by the media, and the way it presents things," Ong-Sakata says. "For instance when Mitsubishi buys something, it's reported as a Japanese buy, but if a British company buys something, it's not even news. Most people aren't even aware that the British and Dutch own a lot more of Arizona than the Japanese do."
She complains that reporters constantly equate being Asian with being "foreign," setting the stage for discrimination. One example she points to is a New Times headline in the September 1990 Best of Phoenix supplement that lumped Asian restaurants together as "Refugee Restaurants."
"My children are completely American. That's how they see themselves," she continues. "But others look at them and still see `Chinese.' It's very common for people to ask us where we're from and be surprised to find it is here."
Ong-Sakata says her parents never mentioned discrimination when she was growing up, and not until she reached adulthood did she realize even a family like the Ongs, with wealth and education, could not live where it chose in the Phoenix of the 1950s.
The city's unofficial Chinatown, called China Alley, had been located under the site of the new Phoenix Suns basketball arena (and is now under excavation). But efforts by anti-Chinese groups to pass laws forcing the Chinese to stay in China Alley, which in other places gave rise to the Chinatowns of today, fell afoul of the state constitution.
In Phoenix housing discrimination against the Chinese took less obvious forms. China Alley was a magnet for new arrivals up until the 1930s, but families such as the Ongs sought to move away as their businesses prospered.
"My father practiced law for a time in San Francisco, and when we returned to Phoenix in 1956, Mom and Dad looked around for a house for us," Ong-Sakata says. "I kept saying, `Ooo, let's live in the Phoenix Country Club, let's buy a house on East Camelback.' My mother would just drop the subject. Years later I found out it was because those neighborhoods all had deed restrictions prohibiting Chinese. Now they aren't enforced, but a lot of them are still on the books."
Ong-Sakata says, referring to her involvement in the city's Pacific Rim Advisory Council and other public activities, "Now I understand [prejudice] is out there, and it's one of the reasons I do what I do, because I can foresee my children encountering prejudice." Among the Ongs, as with other Chinese Americans, the shift from business to the professions began with Ong-Sakata's generation and has continued among their children, both boys and girls. Parents shouldered the extra expense necessary because it was used for education, which they valued, and because it nudged the ceiling a bit higher for their children. Fred Ong, for instance, notes with pride that all five of his daughters are professionals.
But even as the third- and fourth-generation Chinese Americans branch out into medicine, law and other professions, they are hitting the same barriers that stopped their grandparents. "My daughter is a CPA with a large accounting firm in Los Angeles and last year was assigned to help a client who was being audited," Ong-Sakata says. "When the client learned her last name, they called her boss and asked, `Is she Oriental? We don't work with Orientals here, send someone else.' They didn't even want to meet her."
Most expressions of racial animosity are not nearly so crudely expressed, ASU Professor Nagasawa says. But they are widespread, nevertheless, he maintains. "You enter a profession and run into this invisible ceiling," Nagasawa says. "You won't find Chinese at the top in City Hall; you'll find very few [ASU] deans or department heads who are Asian.
"And when we complain, the attitude is like, `They have education, they have a profession, what more do they want?'" he says. "We wear the label `successful,' but what does that really mean? That you're educated, that we make money?
"What kind of success is it when you are not allowed to rise to the natural level of your abilities?"
In 1983, a group of Chinese-American writers, in an anthology titled The Big Aiiieeeee!, took direct aim at the new stereotype developing around their community's success. While their grandparents struggled with labels like "opium peddler," "filthy heathen" and the like, writer Frank Chin and his colleagues argued they are still being categorized, albeit in more sophisticated terms: "The white stereotype of the Asian . . . is the only stereotype completely devoid of manhood. Our nobility is that of an efficient housewife."