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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

May 31, 2007

Written by C.N.

Asian American Pretends to be a Stanford Student

I’ve posted before about the huge pressure on Asian Americans — particularly young people — to achieve material success in American society. Too often, those pressures to live up the “model minority” image lead Asian Americans to commit suicide or harm others. But as the Contra Costa Times reports, such pressures may have led an 18 year old Korean American to pretend that she was a Stanford freshman:

An 18-year-old Fullerton woman spent the past eight months posing as a freshman biology major at Stanford, buying textbooks, sneaking into meals and even moving into a dorm with an unsuspecting roommate. Because she never had a Stanford ID or a school-issued dorm key, she got in and out of her dorm by climbing through the first-floor window.

Her story started unraveling this month, and now the university — and her stunned circle of friends and dormmates — are looking back on how a woman described as a sweet student could have pulled off such a ruse. . . . Her story has set off a storm of reaction on campus, with some students disturbed by an apparent security lapse and others wondering whether the high pressure of academic achievement was a factor in why Kim sneaked into the elite university.

Although the article does not specifically note it, I am going to guess that the student, Azia Kim, was rejected by Stanford but was too ashamed to tell her parents, who undoubtedly had huge plans for her going to such an elite school like Stanford. Therefore, she went ahead and pretended to be just another regular Stanford student in order to not disappoint her parents.

If this is indeed her story, I can’t help but to feel very sad for her. Yes she made the wrong decision and deceived a lot of people who trusted her, but she obviously felt desperate under the weight of all the pressure and expectations foisted upon her by her parents and by American society’s image of Asian Americans as the super-smart, high-achieving “model minority.”

I hope her story is a lesson to all young Asian Americans out there — be realistic and be honest, with yourself and with your parents.

May 29, 2007

Written by C.N.

Asian American Interracial Relationships Today

As reflected in the numerous discussion threads across various message boards on the Internet, the topic of interracial relationships and marriages is a very popular and hotly debated topic among Asian Americans. As printed in Nha Magazine and New American Media, commentator Paulette Chu Miniter encapsulates many of the sentiments on both sides:

91 percent of Generation Y-ers say interracial dating is perfectly normal, according to a study by the Pew Research Center in March 2006. By far the most common interracial marriage in America today is one like that of my own—a white husband married to an Asian wife, making up 14 percent of all mixed unions. Interestingly, in 75 percent of Asian-white marriages, the husband is white.

Just about every Asian woman my age I know is dating or married to a white guy. And no matter how different their personalities or backgrounds, they all say the same thing—nothing against Vietnamese guys, but culturally they feel very American and therefore naturally end up dating “American” men, ie, Caucasians. “I have never dated an Asian guy, and will probably never date an Asian guy,” says my cousin Michelle Phi, a student at Texas A&M University. . . .

“I’m a very Americanized Asian girl who needs a very Americanized male,” Phi says. Also, “I fear the potential acquisition of another Asian family.” Another Vietnamese woman I know, a marketing professional in her early 30s, echoed those thoughts: “I think it is an issue of cultural assimilation. Overall, I have found Asian men too ‘Eastern’ in their thinking about women.”


As I noted, interracial relationships is often a very touchy subject for both Asian American men and women. Many readers to this site have cited my article and statistics to support both sides of the argument. As someone who has been interviewed a few times times by reporters doing articles and stories about this subject, I try to interject some objectivity and a sociological framework into the discussion as best as I can.

My position on interracial marriage has always been the same — it’s hard enough to find a person with whom you are completely compatible. When you find that person, his/her race may be one consideration but in the end, I think love, mutual respect based on a genuine appreciation of one’s racial/cultural identity, and interpersonal equality are the most important factors.

Upon reading Paulette’s article, I think she does a very good job at laying out the emotions and sentiments on both sides. It is very true that many Asian American men still have rather traditional and patriarchal attitudes about Asian American women and that is a large factor that leads many Asian American women away from Asian American men, and rightfully so.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel sad that at least among some of the Asian American women interviewees in the article, they also seem to be caught up in the exact same stereotypes about Asian American men that I presume they would cry bloody murder about if such stereotypes were applied to them. That is, they seem to be categorically rejecting any Asian American man available based on their belief that because he’s Asian, that automatically means that he’s not as Americanized or culturally “liberated” as them.

For example, the student at Texas A&M sadly states that she will probably never date an Asian guy — she’s not even willing to give any Asian guy a chance and would rather use the blanket generalization that since he’s Asian, that must mean that he’s patriarchal and sexist. End of story.

Ultimately, since this is America, that means that people have the right to believe whatever they want to believe and date whoever they want to date. However, that freedom also gives me the opportunity to say that using broad generalizations and stereotypes like the ones expressed against Asian American men in the article unfortunately only reinforce the larger societal stereotype that all Asians are foreigners and therefore, not real Americans.

While I believe that not all Asian American women have these stereotypical opinions, ultimately, it’s doubly tragic when such stereotypes are perpetuated by members of our own community.

May 27, 2007

Written by C.N.

Asians and the Duke Business School Cheating Scandal

Last month, officials at the Duke University Fuqua Business School announced that dozens of students were caught cheating on a take-home final exam and have received various degrees of punishment, ranging from expulsion, suspension, and/or a falling grade in the class. However, as Diverse Education reports, attorneys for some of the students claim that Asian students are being punished more severely than non-Asians:

Many of the students involved in the case at the Fuqua School of Business had been in the United States for less than a year and didn’t fully understand the honor code or judicial proceedings, says Durham attorney Robert Ekstrand. A faculty investigator pressured them to admit wrongdoing, so the students wrote confession letters, sometimes without understanding the specific accusations, he says. . . .

The students who were expelled from the university are all from Asian countries, Ekstrand says. If appeals fail, they’ll likely lose student visas and have to leave the country in the next couple of weeks. . . . Ekstrand also said honor code violations were mostly minor and unintentional. For example, some students shared a template in which data from the exam questions were typed into a spreadsheet, but no one shared the analysis or answers, he said.

The fact that the students from countries including China, Korea and Taiwan confessed instead of fighting the charges had to do with cultural norms, Ekstrand says. “Culturally, a confession or an admission of guilt can be a way to apologize.” Experts say students from other countries often arrive on U.S. campuses with different understandings about the boundaries on collaboration.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on this situation. On the one hand, as an educator, I take academic dishonesty very seriously and as such, I think those who cheated should be punished severely. As I’ve written about before on my other blog, many sociologists and other observers have noticed that cheating and other forms of dishonesty in society are increasingly commonplace, and even worse, being accepted as normal. In this case, the students involved also agreed to abide by the school’s honor code. With that in mind, I support full punishment for those who are guilty.

On the other hand, as an Asian American scholar, I also agree with the students’ attorney that there do seem to be cultural differences at play here. In most Asian countries, there has traditionally been an emphasis on the welfare of the group, rather than of the individual. As such, I can accept that many of the international Asian students felt that it was acceptable or normal to “collaborate” and share templates.

I also agree that there are varying degrees of cheating and academic dishonesty. For example, paraphrasing another source’s sentence without attribution is technically plagiarism but certainly would not be as severe as blatantly copying entire paragraphs verbatim from another source without proper attribution. In that sense, it seems to me that sharing a data template is different from sharing answers, which the students’ attorney argues did not occur.

In the end, I hope that Duke University will take all of these factors into consideration and punish those who are guilty in a fair manner — one that includes an understanding of any cultural differences that are involved.

May 24, 2007

Written by C.N.

Tainted Food Imports From China

You might remember that when pet food was found to be killing hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs and cats a few months ago, most analyses traced the contamination back to China. Since then, other poisoning episodes here and abroad have cast the spotlight upon Chinese food and household imports. As the Washington Post reports, tainted imports from China are much more common than most might think:

Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical. Frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics. Scallops and sardines coated with putrefying bacteria. Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides.

These were among the 107 food imports from China that the Food and Drug Administration detained at U.S. ports just last month, agency documents reveal, along with more than 1,000 shipments of tainted Chinese dietary supplements, toxic Chinese cosmetics and counterfeit Chinese medicines.

For years, U.S. inspection records show, China has flooded the United States with foods unfit for human consumption. And for years, FDA inspectors have simply returned to Chinese importers the small portion of those products they caught — many of which turned up at U.S. borders again, making a second or third attempt at entry.

Now the confluence of two events — the highly publicized contamination of U.S. chicken, pork and fish with tainted Chinese pet food ingredients and this week’s resumption of high-level economic and trade talks with China — has activists and members of Congress demanding that the United States tell China it is fed up.

Dead pets and melamine-tainted food notwithstanding, change will prove difficult, policy experts say, in large part because U.S. companies have become so dependent on the Chinese economy that tighter rules on imports stand to harm the U.S. economy, too.

The article basically explains that although the U.S. government considers tainted imports from China to be an important issue, they’re hesitant to crack down too hard on China because they don’t want to jeopardize the ability of American companies to access to the booming Chinese consumer market. In other words, capitalism and dollar signs are ultimately what’s driving how the U.S. government acts, or does not act.

As an Asian American, normally I would defend China and its efforts to become a legitimate international economic power. But the problem here is that the lack of quality controls in China is directly harming China’s attempts at becoming a legitimate power. In other words, if China wants to play on the big international economic stage, they need to make sure their products are up to standard, not second-rate, wrinky-dink knockoffs that cause illness and death. That’s not the way to become legitimate.

History has shown time and time again that in order for a company or an entire nation to earn international respect and be taken seriously, they need to have high quality products from the beginning. Witness how Hyundai is now producing some of the highest quality cars in the world, but is still struggling to overcome its lingering image for making cheap, unreliable subcompacts when it first entered the U.S. market in the 1980s.

While most Chinese imports might be fine and are up to industry standards, what most people focus on and remember are those products that do not. China has some work to do in this area, and the U.S. needs to rein in their profit motive for once and insist on decent quality products from China before more people and their pets get sick or even die.

May 23, 2007

Written by C.N.

Effects of Immigration Reform Proposal on Asian Americans

As you may have heard by now, earlier this week, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced an immigration reform proposal that would significantly overhaul the current immigration guidelines. Much of the media’ attention on this proposal has focused on how the new guidelines would affect the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Unfortunately, much less attention has been given to how this proposal would impact Asian Americans.

As the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) argues, it turns out that the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 will, among many things, will no longer allow American citizens to sponsor any child over 21 years of age, terminate the ability of citizens to sponsor their siblings, and ultimately cut the immigration visa quota for parents by half. In other words, the proposed bill would radically shift the current preference system for family reunification toward one based on education and job skills. As Rep. Mike Honda, Chair of the CAPAC argues,

The proposal would undermine this nation’s long tradition of family-based immigration by eliminating several family-based categories. The proposed points system would fail to adequately account for the economic contributions made by family members, who rely on one another to start and run businesses, purchase homes, and send children to college. They provide care for young children, the sick, and elderly.

Rep. Honda’s assertions are consistently backed up by social science research that shows how the presence of family members and relatives have a significantly positive effect on socioeconomic mobility and structural assimilation for immigrants in general, but particularly for Asian immigrants.

Not only do they provide the psychological support network necessary to aid in the process of adjusting to American society, but family members and relatives also provide material support in terms of loaning money, sharing information on available jobs, housing, and social services, labor to help run small businesses, and providing childcare that allows parents to work and increase their education, to name just a few benefits.

In this context, proposals that would severely curtail the family reunification preferences are unfortunately short-sighted and ultimately disastrous in terms of promoting assimilation and socioeconomic integration into American society, which I presume is one of the goals of any legitimate immigration legislation.

While I applaud the Senate for their bipartisan efforts to compromise on this immigration reform proposal (something quite rare these days), in its current form, I cannot support this proposal. If you or your family have also benefited from the advise, assistance, or presence of family members or relatives, I urge you to also tell Congress that they can do better than this.

May 22, 2007

Written by C.N.

Report on LGBT Asian Americans

In my writings and my classes that I teach, however paradoxically it may sound, I’ve always felt that the more that we unite under the collective identity of “Asian Americans,” the more power and authority we will have in asserting the specific needs of unique subgroups within our community, whether they relate to different ethnic groups, or to those among us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). In that context, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force has come out with its annual report on the state of LGBT Asian Americans. Some major findings are:

  • Nearly every respondent (98 percent) had experienced at least one form of discrimination and/or harassment in their lives.
  • Nearly all respondents (89 percent) agreed that homophobia and/or transphobia are problems within the broader API community.
  • 78 percent of respondents agreed that API LGBT people experience racism within the predominantly white LGBT community.
  • Only 50 percent of respondents said that English was their native language. Yet nearly all LGBT informational and advocacy materials are produced in English.

Thanks, Cynical Anti-Orientalist, for reminding me of the report. In my former life, I used to be the Director of Education for the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS in New York City, and can personally concur with many of the findings detailed in the report in regard to the continuing challenges that LGBT Asian Americans face from both the predominantly heterosexual mainstream Asian American community, and from the predominantly White mainstream LGBT community.

Like I also tell my students and readers, the social injustices that we face are all interrelated and in the words of the immortal Martin Luther King Jr., “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As Asian Americans, we cannot effectively address the racial inequalities we as a collective group face without also addressing the homophobia (or for that matter, the sexism, class inequality, xenophobia, etc.) that many of our brothers and sisters face as well.

May 21, 2007

Written by C.N.

When Too Much Pressure Leads to Suicide

I’ve written before about how pressures on young Asian Americans to conform to the “model minority” expectations of American society in general and their parents in particular, can become overwhelming and lead to suicide. As we commemorate May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, CNN has an article that reminds us that this is an issue that continues to be relevant in our community:

Moved by [her sister’s suicide], [Assistant professor of Asian-American Studies at California State University at Fullerton Eliza] Noh has spent much of her professional life studying depression and suicide among Asian-American women. Noh has read the sobering statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services: Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic group in that age group. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Asian-American women in that age range.

Depression starts even younger than age 15. Noh says one study has shown that as young as the fifth grade, Asian-American girls have the highest rate of depression so severe they’ve contemplated suicide. As Noh and others have searched for the reasons, a complex answer has emerged. First and foremost, they say “model minority” pressure — the pressure some Asian-American families put on children to be high achievers at school and professionally — helps explain the problem. . . .

But Noh says pressure from within the family doesn’t completely explain the shocking suicide statistics for young women like her sister. She says American culture has adopted the myth that Asians are smarter and harder-working than other minorities. “It’s become a U.S.-based ideology, popular from the 1960s onward, that Asian-Americans are smarter, and should be doing well whether at school or work.” Noh added that simply being a minority can also lead to depression.

The article makes two very important points. The first is that “model minority” expectations — on the part of Asian parents and American society in general — can produce expectations of success that can be overwhelming to many Asian Americans. As I’ve said before, the quest for material success has to have its limits — there’s nothing wrong with working hard, but pushing young Asian Americans so much that it leads them to want to kill themselves is obviously going too far.

Just as important, the second major point to keep in mind is that because the U.S. is such a race-conscious society, the very fact of being a person of color can also be stressful.

In very simple terms, being a person of color means that you are constantly aware that you are not part of the majority in this country, that those who control the social institutions that affect your daily lives do not look like you, and that you have to deal with the lingering legacies and continuing patterns of systematically being treated unfairly because your skin color and physical appearance are different from the White majority.

With those two factors in mind, it’s no wonder that Asian Americans can be prone to depression and mental illness. On top of that, Asian American women have the added challenges associated with gender inequality and discrimination as well.

The bottom line is, there are many, many risk factors for depression and mental illness for Asian Americans. We cannot assume that we are somehow immune to these issues, or that we can just fall back on cultural traditions of stoically suppressing them in silence, or even worse — taking out our frustrations onto others. If you find yourself with these kinds of emotions, please seek help before it’s too late.

May 16, 2007

Written by C.N.

Blending Tradition and Modernity

Historically and continuing today, a popular issue among Asian Americans is assimilation, otherwise described as the process of combining their traditional Asian ancestry and heritage with their modern lives as young Americans. In fact, this process of negotiating new vs. old, traditional vs. contemporary happens all over the world. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, a very interesting example exists among young Egyptian women and their choices regarding wearing of the hijab:

When she’s not watching Egyptian fashion TV, Ms. Mohammed is checking out what other young Muslim women are wearing on the street or on the subway. “If I like any of their ways of putting [on the] hijab, I can ask them how to do it,” she says of other women she sees in Cairo’s Metro. Mohammed’s two head scarves – aquamarine blue peeking out from under a sea foam green – match her knee-length dress over the top of blue jeans. . . .

Mohammed is like a growing number of young Muslim women in Egypt who have taken to transforming the hijab, the Islamic head dress, from tradition to fashion statement. As head scarves have come to mean many things to Muslims and non-Muslims alike – a sign of piety, a declaration of identity, a center of controversy, a political statement – in Cairo today they sparkle. . . .

As more women began to wearing the scarf, they experimented with new ways to tie it, such as braiding the ends of the scarves or pinning them up to look like flowers. There is even a magazine called Hijab, one of several that feature tying techniques and scarf styles.

The article emphasizes that this growing popularity of the hijab comes at a time when Muslims in Egypt and all around the Arab world are becoming more religious. In other words, they are truly embracing both their traditional culture and their new contemporary sense of aesthetics and fashion and in the process, weaving together their own personal identity that combines elements from both worlds.

Nowadays, Asian Americans have the same opportunity. The reality is that these days, whether we like it or not and with the good and the bad, the world in general and American society in particular is becoming increasingly globalized and transnational — true international community. As nations such as China and India rise toward global superpower status, we as Asian Americans have the opportunity to capitalize on this situation and to leverage our knowledge and ties to our Asian roots, for our benefit and that of American society in general.

In other words, our expertise is increasingly in demand, here and abroad. In contrast to decades past where being “Asian” was a mark of inferiority, it now has the potential to represent progress into the future. With that in mind, we as Asian Americans have the chance to be at the forefront and lead American society into the 21st globalized and transnational century.

May 14, 2007

Written by C.N.

APA Heritage Presentation at CNN

In commemoration of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, CNN has an online special presentation about the Asian American community. They seem to do a good job at presenting basic demographic and historical data, along with contemporary pieces about what it means to be Asian America today, including personal reflections from several of their Asian American anchors and correspondents.

May 10, 2007

Written by C.N.

Charles Wang Accused of Fraud

In the world of high-profile Asian Americans, Charles Wang used to be one of the richest and arguably most powerful of them all. He founded Computer Associates (CA) and built an empire that eventually included owning the New York Islanders professional hockey team. Unfortunately he was forced to leave the company he founded a few years ago and is now accused of committing fraud while he was running CA:

The committee was formed to investigate what it called in its report “a massive accounting fraud perpetrated by the Company’s senior-most executives from as far back as the late 1980s through 2001, and their cover-up of that fraud, which lasted through mid-2004.” . . .

The committee’s report charges a “profound failure of leadership” and says it never outgrew a “start-up mentality… that was incompatible with a publicly-traded, multi-billion dollar, international software enterprise.” Furthermore, the report stated, “The fraud pervaded the entire CA organization at every level, and was embedded in CA’s culture, as instilled by Mr. Wang, almost from the Company’s inception.”

The committee charged Wang with causing additional harm to CA by creating a “culture of fear” and surrounding himself with young executives whom he and Kumar could easily dominate.

I’m not a corporate analyst and don’t know all the details surrounding these allegations. My only comment is that it in this instance, an Asian American achieved economic success and attained a high-profile position in America society, only to eventually fall from grace and end up in scandal. Like I said, I don’t know to what degree he’s at fault or whether he’s guilty of the allegations against him — it’s just sad to see one of the early Asian American corporate successes end up like this.

May 8, 2007

Written by C.N.

Top Companies for Asian American Workers

Diversity Inc. magazine has come out with its annual list of top 10 companies for Asian American workers, based on the percent Asian composition of boards of directors, its general work force, new hires, management, along with pay, rates of promotion and retention, and finally, work/life benefits and employee-resource groups. Their top 10 are:

  1. Cummins
  2. Ernst & Young
  3. Novartis
  4. Pricewaterhouse Coopers
  5. MetLife
  6. Coca Cola
  7. Merrill Lynch
  8. Bank of America
  9. Proctor & Gamble
  10. Wells Fargo

My expertise is not with business management or the corporate world, so I guess I’ll have to take their word for it. One observation did pop out at me though — most of these companies are in the accounting and financial services industry, which only accounts for a small portion of all Asian workers. I bring this up because there are a significant proportion of Asian and Asian American workers in technical, science, and research-related industries, but no companies from that sector are in this top 10 list. Hmmm . . .

How about my readers out there — does anybody have any personal experience with any of these companies and how they treat their Asian/Asian American workers?

May 6, 2007

Written by C.N.

Interview With Earlier Asian School Shooter

I was rather surprised to learn that Seung-Hui Cho was not the first high-profile school shooter in recent American history. In fact, 15 years ago, another young Asian American student at Simon Rock College (in Massachusetts) named Wayne Lo shot and killed two people on campus and wounded four others. Newsweek magazine recently interviewed him to get his reaction to the shootings at Virginia Tech:

Newsweek: What was your reaction when you heard about the Virginia Tech shooting?
Wayne Lo: When they said it was a perpetrator who was Asian, that really shocked me. The stereotype is that Asians don’t do these things. The Secret Service came and interviewed me for a report on school shooters that they put out in 2002, and even they said Asians don’t really do this.

Did you relate to Seung-Hui Cho because you’re both Asian?
At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but as more details came out, there were just too many eerie similarities to me. He was an immigrant, like myself. The events leading up to the shooting, the warning signs he gave out really reminded me of what happened at Simon’s Rock. They said he had mental-health issues. I don’t really think I had mental-health issues, but I did give out those warning signs. He harassed women, and I also had an incident where I was accused of stalking a female classmate. He went and purchased a gun at a store 40 minutes out of town; so did I. He wrote papers that got people’s attention; I did that, too. . . .

Do you think that Cho’s writings should have been more of a red flag than they were?
It’s ludicrous that they didn’t stop this guy with all the warning signs. I mean, come on, I did this 15 years ago. I was one of the first school shooters. The question is, how don’t we learn from it? They’ve done studies; they know the typical warning signs now. How could they not see this coming? . . .

You also mentioned relating to Cho because you are both immigrants.
The issue of mental health and stuff like that is not talked about in the Asian community, even within families. It puts a lot of pressure on you as a young person. As it builds up and builds up and builds up, [Cho] acted out just like I did. Asians tend to be passive aggressive: we don’t get in fights, so it doesn’t come out in little bits; it all comes out in one big act.

For someone who committed a heinous, unforgivable act, Lo actually makes a lot of good points in this interview. He pointed to authorities missing warning signs that could have prevented Cho’s rampage, and to how the strong stigma associated with mental illness may have prevented Cho from getting the psychological and emotional help that he desperately needed.

Finally, he makes a point that should ring true for everyone involved — with all of these schools shooting that have taken place within the past 15 or so years, haven’t we learned anything from them? Or more specifically, why couldn’t we have used what we’ve learned to prevent Cho from doing what he did?