Topics & Articles

Home

Culture

Ethnic Groups

History

Issues

Links

Viet Nam



Search

or Browse the Archives

or Gets Posts by Tags



Most Popular Books on Asian-Nation

Miscellaneous

All posts copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le.
Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.

Blog powered by WordPress


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.

June 14, 2013

Written by Jerry Z. Park

Hmong, Indian, What’s the Difference?

(Article cross-posted from BlackWhiteandGray)

Recent news on the higher education scene has turned attention to the Asian American case, or cases we should say. A team of education researchers led by Dr. Robert Teranishi used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the University of California higher education system to make the case that Asian American ethnic groups are not all performing in the “model minority” way. As some readers know, Asian Americans tend to be grouped together as if they were a racial equivalent to “white” “black” and sometimes “Hispanic.”

When this kind of grouping occurs, scholars and interested citizens look for similarities and differences between racial groups on outcomes like educational attainment, household income, poverty levels, health etc. From this classification approach Asian Americans tend to appear exemplary on a number of outcomes. Take for example, last year’s Pew report on Asian Americans. Using the American Community Survey, Pew shows an aggregate figure for bachelor’s degree attainment and median household income in 2010 for Asian Americans. As the title of their figure states “Asian Americans Lead Others in Education, Income.”

Teranishi and colleagues’ report disaggregates, that is, splits into smaller groups, the Asian American classification using the same data, and this is what they find. In this first graph we see bachelor’s degree attainment across multiple Asian American groups and we find surprising differences across the board. At the one end, Taiwanese and Asian Indian Americans report over 71% within each group with a bachelor’s degree. At the other end, about 12% of Laotian and 15% of Hmong Americans claim the same educational attainment. So while it is the case that Asian Americans as a group appear to have a lot of education, the reality is that only certain groups are showing this level attainment.

Now let’s look at household income. Using the median household income ($66,000 according to the Pew report) for all Asian Americans, Teranishi et al. disaggregate that figure and show the following.

As you can see, at one extreme, Asian Indian Americans exceed the Asian American household income mean by over $21,000 on average. Hmong Americans are below that same mean by almost the same amount. In fact 9 out of the 15 groups are below the Asian American mean. And 7 of these groups are lower than the white American average.

What this suggests is that Asian Americans are highly diverse socioeconomically. To the extent that the model minority myth is applied to this collection of SES-diverse groups, it masks the evident differences among them. Read the full report here to find out more about the benefits of disaggregation especially in higher education within the University of California system. Similar kinds of analyses were conducted by Dr. Paul Ong and associates who disaggregated homeownership and cash public assistance rates across Asian ethnic groups in several different areas of the US.

The slide show report on some of their findings is here, and the regional reports are here. Like Teranishi et al.’s report, disaggregation of Asian American homeownership, other assets and public assistance shows that the rates of these socioeconomic patterns vary a lot by Asian ethnic group.

Some might ask: then why is the overall Asian American average so high to begin with. The answer is a matter of population size. Look back at the disaggregated figures. Pick out these groups: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. These groups take up 83% of all Asian Americans. Statistically, the other groups are not numerically large enough to alter the educational attainment or household income average of the largest six groups since they take up a greater share of the population. We should remember too, sizable numbers of Asian Americans in the larger groups do not share in the picture of “success” that their same-ethnic peers experience.

In our racialized society, we like our groups to be simple; we prefer to ignore the diverse realities within the groupings we create. By using “Asian American” as shorthand for “the successful minority” we mask major differences in the outcomes that presumably all Asian Americans share. Notably, our social programs often utilize this assumption and give next to nothing for vulnerable Asian Americans. This in turn makes Asian American inequalities invisible.

Hopefully more leaders and concerned citizens will grow aware of the problem we create when we use the stereotype of “the high –achieving, hard-working minority.” Reports and studies, like the one produced by Dr. Teranishi that disaggregate the Asian American data story expand our own understanding that this story is not just diverse culturally, but socioeconomically as well.


October 12, 2012

Written by Calvin N. Ho

Leftover Women


Photo: anemoneprojectors (Peter O). Flickr/Creative Commons.

My colleague Leta Hong Fincher published an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday about China’s “leftover women,” or shengnü (剩女). “Leftover women” is a very direct translation–the character 剩 is the same as in shengcai, or leftover food.

The confluence of a traditional preference for boys over girls and a strict one-child policy for urban families has led to a surplus of men. Changing social norms and greater educational and career opportunities for women mean that many women are delaying marriage; when they partner up, they have higher standards than ever before.

Worried that a glut of unmarried men and women will be detrimental to social stability, the state has begun to promote the stigmatization of unmarried women in their late 20s and beyond. They are particularly targeting educated women, since those are the least likely to marry:

In 2005 fully 7 percent of 45-year-old Shanghai women with college degrees had never married, according to Wang’s research. […] “It’s a sharp departure from before, from near-universal female marriage.” Indeed, there’s a common joke that there are three genders in China: men, women, and women with Ph.D.s. Men marry women, and women with Ph.D.s don’t marry.

How exactly does the government scare educated women into marrying? By making the state feminist organization tell educated women that they are in school because they are ugly, and that their expiration date is fast approaching! For her article, Fincher translated some excerpts from the All-China Women’s Federation website. Among them was this gem:

Pretty girls don’t need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family, but girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult. These kinds of girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls.

How are Asian American women dealing with pressures to marry? The government might not be comparing them to cold pizza, but many have families with “old country” ideas about marriage and relationships. To boot, some Asian American groups have higher levels of educational attainment than the national average, meaning more years in school–years in which all genders might feel like they are off the marriage market.

Asian American women: what do you think of this shengnü business? Are your families pressuring you to get married? How do you deal with that? Please tell us in the comments.


September 30, 2012

Written by Calvin N. Ho

The Stigma of Immigrant Languages

Photo by Lulu Vision (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Photo by Lulu Vision (Flickr/Creative Commons).

As an undergraduate majoring in linguistics, I was fascinated with the concept of endangered languages. Colonization, genocide, globalization, and nation-building projects have killed off untold numbers of languages. As linguist K. David Harrison (my undergrad advisor) tells NPR, speakers of stigmatized or otherwise less-favored languages are pressured to abandon their native tongue for the dominant language of the nation and the market:

“The decision to give up one language or to abandon a language is not usually a free decision. It’s often coerced by politics, by market forces, by the educational system in a country, by a larger, more dominant group telling them that their language is backwards and obsolete and worthless.” (emphasis mine)

These same pressures are at work in immigrant-receiving countries like the United States, where young immigrants and children of immigrants are quickly abandoning their parents’ language in favor of English.

(more…)


September 14, 2012

Written by Calvin N. Ho

Balancing American, Mainland, and Taiwanese Influences in Chinese Language Schools

Students at a Chinese language school in Vancouver. Photo by Felex Liu (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Students at a Chinese language school in Vancouver. Photo by Felex Liu (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Thank you, C.N., for inviting me to write for Asian-Nation. I hope to contribute to this blog a perspective on Asian America that looks both within and beyond the United States. The Asian American experience has been transnational since the very beginning, and has only become more so with economic globalization, the increasing affordability of travel and communications technologies, and the acceptance of multiple citizenship. Though the boundaries of the nation-state have not become irrelevant, I believe that we must look at Asian Americans as situated in the United States and in the larger global context.

With that frame in mind, I would like to introduce you all to some of the transnational dimensions of my current research on extracurricular Chinese language schools. What kinds of influence do the US, Mainland Chinese, and Taiwanese governments have in these schools, and how do the schools handle these influences?

I am currently conducting an ethnography of two Chinese schools. One school is located outside of an ethnic enclave and serves a predominantly upper-middle-class student body. The other, in the heart of an urban Chinatown, serves mainly students from working-class backgrounds.

It is in the interest of the Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese governments to support extracurricular Chinese language programs like these. As anthropologist Gladys Nieto (2007) argues, these schools foment cultural and linguistic ties between children of immigrants and their ethnic homeland. Not only do these programs open up the possibility that these children “return” to their ethnic homeland and invest in the homeland state’s economic and political projects, but they may also make them more sympathetic advocates for the homeland in their country of residence.

The US government has been marginally involved in these schools for decades. For example, many schools do not have their own facilities and will rent public schools or community centers for the day. With the designation of China as the world’s emerging superpower, federal and local government investment in Chinese language programs has increased dramatically. There are national initiatives for teaching and learning “critical languages” such as Chinese, and at least one school district has mandated that all students learn the language. Though these initiatives have generally ignored privately-run extracurricular programs like the ones I am researching, the opportunity is wide open.

These extracurricular programs are often in need of space, financial support, and affordable materials. They will apply for help from the three governments as they are able. What kinds of assistance they seek and from whom they seek this assistance depends on community politics, language ability, and connections (or, in Mandarin, guanxi 關係). How they balance the competing influences coming from the three governments depends on the same three factors.

(more…)


February 8, 2012

Written by C.N.

Welcoming an Immigrant & Racial Minority to a New School

As regular readers to this blog know already (and as I write in the top section of every Asian-Nation post I write), I feel very strongly “public sociology” — to make sociological theory, research, and data as accessible to as wide of an audience as possible, and as applicable to real-world issues and situations as possible. I recently received an email that gave me just that opportunity.

Specifically, one reader wrote to me:

I am a full time elementary school teacher and I will have a new student in a few days from China. He and his family do not speak English–they are opening a restaurant in our small community. In our community, he will be the only Asian child. What can I do to help him not feel so alone and alienated? I know language will be a problem, but what could I as his teacher do to help? I was scanning the internet trying to find resources and found your site. Thank you for your time.

I replied back:

I commend you on trying to find ways to make this new student feel welcomed. Although my expertise is not in education, these are some suggestions that come to mind:

Young Chinese student © Justin Guariglia/Corbis

(1) Some time ago, there was a commercial (I forgot what the actual product or service was), but it showed a young Chinese boy about to enter a predominantly White school for his first day. Before entering, he was speaking in Chinese with his mom outside and told her, “My English is not good. What if the other students hate me?” His mother calmly replied, “You’ll be fine.” As he entered his classroom escorted by the principal, the teacher introduced the new student to the class. Then the entire class welcomed him by saying in unison, “Ni hao [student’s name]” — translated, it means “Hello [student’s name].” It was very sweet and it would be great if your class would do the same.

(2) You may already have plans to do so already, but I’ve heard from many educators that it helps new students if one or two other students are assigned to be their “guide” or someone who will spend time him the new student, show him around the school, eat lunch with him, introduce him to other students, and basically act like an ambassador for him to make him feel more comfortable.

(3) You may know Google Translate already , but if not, it’s a great tool to assist in translating between different languages. In the meantime, you’ll probably be surprised how quickly the student will learn English. Just stay patient and positive while he does.

(4) Perhaps some time in the future, your class can make a field trip to his parent’s restaurant to learn about Chinese food, running a small business, etc. This would be a great way to welcome the family to the community and to show the other students that he is welcomed in their class.

(5) Finally and perhaps most importantly, I hope you and the rest of the teachers and administrators can do whatever possible to stay on top of any incidents of racial teasing. Nothing will alienate the new student more than if other students start making fun of him because he’s Chinese — because he’s different than everybody else around him. With that in mind, it is absolutely critical to let the other students (in your class and elsewhere) that it is not acceptable to make fun of him because he’s Chinese and that any such incidents will be punished. This how we start to break the cycle of racial prejudice — one student at a time.

The teacher wrote me back and thanked me for the ideas and seemed very excited about them.

This question of how a school, administrators, teachers, and students can best welcome new student who is both an immigrant and a racial minority to their class got me thinking that, rather then just giving her my ideas, I should “crowdsource” this question and ask all of you for your suggestions on how to best welcome this new student.

If you have been in this situation, either as the new student, one of the existing students, or the educator, what were some ways to make this new student feel welcomed and comfortable? Or even if you were never in this situation, what are some strategies to try? If you are a researcher who is familiar with this issue, what are some “best practices” that have been shown to be effective? I would love to hear from others with your ideas and suggestions.

As globalization and demographic changes keep taking place and as U.S. society and more communities around the country like this become more diverse and multicultural, this kind of situation is likely to become more common. In other words, this is sociology taking place in the real world.


September 10, 2011

Written by C.N.

Links, Jobs, & Announcements #50

Here are some more announcements, links, and job postings about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other related opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.

Youth Advisory Council: Immigration & Entrepreneurship Conference

The Asian American Justice Center is searching for up and coming youth advocates to represent the 2011-2012 Youth Advisory Council class. Flex your social entrepreneurship to address issues of racial equity pertinent to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Due Sept 15. Apply online now or contact ochow@advancingequality for more info.

Call for Proposals: Immigration & Entrepreneurship Conference

Immigration & Entrepreneurship: An Interdisciplinary Conference, co-sponsored by:
The Center for the History of the New America (University of Maryland)
Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (University of Maryland)
The German Historical Institute (Washington, D.C.)

Conveners: Prof. David B. Sicilia and Prof. David F. Barbe, University of Maryland, College Park; Prof. Dr. Hartmut Berghoff, German Historical Institute and University of Göttingen

The United States has long been an immigrant society as well as an entrepreneurial society. This is no coincidence: immigrants launch new enterprises and invent new technologies at rates much higher than native-born Americans. As the volume of in-migration again approaches that of the “new immigration” at the turn of the twentieth century, it is time to measure how immigrants have shaped the American economy in the past and how immigration policy reform in 1965 has fostered the transformation of business and economic life in the United States.

How have newcomers shaped and in turn been shaped by American economic life?

There are striking parallels between nineteenth-century immigration and contemporary immigrant entrepreneurship. Then, as now, immigrants brought considerable education, ambition, and capital, yet often were marginalized or excluded from mainstream opportunities by law, custom, and prejudice. Particular immigrant groups ultimately dominated particular industries and services. Immigrant entrepreneurs built and circulated through trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, and at times global networks of people, capital, and know-how.

However, the two eras of heavy migration also differ in significant ways. Newcomers from East and South Asia and Latin America have supplanted Eastern and Southern European immigrants who dominated in the late nineteenth century, and German and Irish immigrants who arrived in the early nineteenth century. And whereas many recent immigrants, like their predecessors a century ago, have worked in low-skilled occupations, in construction, or have created small businesses, a significant portion of recent immigrants have arrived with advanced degrees and have launched businesses in the most advanced sectors of the economy, from Silicon Valley to Rte. 128, from biotech to the digital economy.

The Center for the History of the New America, the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, and the German Historical Institute invite proposals from scholars working in a variety of disciplines – including but not limited to history, sociology, economics, business administration, entrepreneurial studies, anthropology, and cultural studies – to submit research paper proposals. Comparative studies across time and place are especially welcomed.

The conference will engage these and related research topics:

  • immigrant group styles and patterns of entrepreneurship
  • immigrant entrepreneurship and U.S. economic development
  • geography of ethnic entrepreneurship
  • journeys of successful high-tech entrepreneurs
  • immigrant entrepreneurs as small proprietors
  • succeed and failure narratives and other discourse surrounding
  • ethnic immigrant entrepreneurship
  • barriers to immigrant entrepreneurial success
  • policy implications of historical and contemporary research on immigrant entrepreneurship

For full consideration, please submit a 200-word abstract and a short c.v. to immigrant-ent@umd.edu by September 15, 2011. The conference will take place in College Park, MD, and Washington, D.C. in mid-September 2012. Presenters will be given accommodations and a travel stipend. Selected conference presenters will be invited to publish their work in an edited scholarly volume of essays that will grow out of the conference.

‘Be The Change’ Day of Service

WHAT: Be the Change (BTC) is a national day of service organized by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) to commemorate the spirit of leadership through service. With this, we hope to inspire South Asian communities and their allies to strengthen their commitment to public service! Last year nearly 4,000 people volunteered from across the country!

WHERE: In nearly 80 locations across the country! View a complete list of cities and campuses holding Be the Change. Don’t see your city? Contact us to make it happen!

WHEN: On October 1st (unless otherwise noted).

HOW CAN I HELP?: You can participate in whatever volunteer activity you like – anything from youth empowerment to environmental justice! Register for BTC and local coordinators will contact you with the activities they have planned.

WHO MAKES IT HAPPEN: Many volunteers just like you including South Asian community members, activists, professionals, students, and allies!

HOW YOU CAN REGISTER: Please register to volunteer in your local city or campus.

WHO SHOULD I CONTACT FOR MORE INFO?: Please contact the National BTC Coordinator at btc@saalt.org or call SAALT at (301) 270-1855.

CAN I STILL ORGANIZE THIS FOR MY LOCAL COMMUNITY?: Yes! Please contact the National BTC Coordinator at btc@saalt.org . SAALT will provide you many resources to implement a meaningful service project for you and your community!

Grad Student Paper Contest: Amerasia Journal

Amerasia Journal invites faculty to nominate exceptional graduate student essays (masters and doctoral level) in the interdisciplinary field of Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies for the Lucie Cheng Prize. The winning article will be published in Amerasia Journal, and $1000 will be awarded.

The Lucie Cheng Prize honors the late Professor Lucie Cheng (1939-2010), a longtime faculty member of UCLA and the first permanent director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center (1972-1987). Professor Cheng was a pioneering scholar who brought an early and enduring transnational focus to the study of Asian Americans and issues such as labor and immigration. Submission: Nomination must be submitted via email by the graduate advisor no later than October 1, 2011 and include:

  1. Graduate Advisor Name, Title, Institution, and Contact Information
  2. Graduate Advisor Recommendation (500 word limit)
  3. Graduate Student Brief CV (2 page)
  4. Essay (5000-7000 words) in Word file according to the Amerasia Journal Style Sheet

Submit Materials and Queries to: ajprize@aasc.ucla.edu

Dissertation Fellowships: Education Research

National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship Program seeks to encourage a new generation of scholars from a wide range of disciplines and professional fields to undertake research relevant to the improvement of education. These $25,000 fellowships support individuals whose dissertations show potential for bringing fresh and constructive perspectives to the history, theory, or practice of formal or informal education anywhere in the world. Fellows will also attend professional development retreats and receive mentorship from NAEd members and other senior scholars in their field.

This highly competitive program aims to identify the most talented emerging researchers conducting dissertation research related to education. The Dissertation Fellowship program receives many more applications than it can fund. This year, up to 600 applications are anticipated and about 20 fellowships will be awarded. Additional guidelines and the fellowship application form are available from our website. Deadline: October 3, 2011.

Call for Proposals: Immigration Research, Univ. of Arizona

Summer 2012 BORDERS Awards in Immigration Research

The National Center for Border Security and Immigration (BORDERS) led by The University of Arizona is pleased to invite faculty and young researchers to submit proposals for its summer research funding competition in Immigration Research. Applicants will submit proposals utilizing data from the New Immigrant Survey (NIS) to examine immigrants’ integration and participation in American civic culture.

Awards will be given based on the innovativeness and quality of the proposed research for faculty ($30,000/project) and young researchers – postdoctoral fellows or doctoral students ($12,000/project). Teams are encouraged to apply. Project findings will be presented to academics and government policymakers at the conclusion of the award. This peer‐reviewed competition is open to U.S. citizens researching in any social science‐related field.

Application deadline: October 28, 2011. For more information, contact Riley McIsaac rmcisaac@borders.arizona.edu

The National Center for Border Security and Immigration (BORDERS) is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center of Excellence (COE) led by The University of Arizona. As a consortium of 15 premier institutions, BORDERS is dedicated to the development of innovative technologies, proficient processes, and effective policies that will help protect our Nation’s borders, foster international trade, and enhance long‐term understanding of immigration dynamics.

Call for Submissions: ‘What’s Your Story?’

There is nothing more powerful than the stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Our stories define who we are, and they reflect our impact on the community around us. At the White House Initiative on AAPIs, we seek to amplify these voices nationally. We are pleased to announce the first ever White House Initiative Video Challenge, called What’s Your Story?”

We’re calling on you to produce a video, up to three minutes long, telling us who you are and how you have impacted those around you. In your video, answer the questions: How have your unique experiences shaped who you are today? And in what ways are you making a difference in your community? Everyone is welcomed to participate.

We will review the submissions and post a select number of entries on the White House website. In addition, we’ll invite a group of exceptional AAPI leaders to share their stories in person at the White House this fall as special guests in a White House Initiative on AAPIs event. To learn more about the challenge, watch our call-out video below:

To submit your video and learn more about the challenge, go to www.whitehouse.gov/whatsyourstory. The deadline for video submissions is midnight on November 1, 2011. Thank you and we look forward to hearing your stories.

Sincerely,
The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WhiteHouseAAPI
Follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WhiteHouseAAPI
If you have any questions, email us at WhiteHouseAAPI@ed.gov

Postdoc: Education Research

The National Academy of Education /Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
supports early-career scholars working in critical areas of educational scholarship. Fellows will receive $55,000 for one academic year of research, or $27,500 for each of two contiguous years, working half time. Fellows will also attend professional development retreats and receive mentorship from NAEd members and other senior scholars in their field.

Applicants must have had their PhD, EdD, or equivalent research degree conferred between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2011. This fellowship is non-residential, and applications from all disciplines are encouraged. Up to twenty NAEd/Spencer Fellowships will be awarded. Additional guidelines and the fellowship application are available from our website. Deadline: November 4, 2011.

Student Internships: Natl. Coalition for APA Community Development

National CAPACD is seeking undergraduate or graduate students to work with a dynamic, progressive nonprofit organization committed to advancing the well-being of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities through advocacy, organizing and leadership development.

Interns will have the opportunity to meet community and congressional leaders, engage in substantive research and writing, organize and/or attend local and national events, participate in AAPI social justice networks and learn about AAPIs in nonprofits and community development. Interns will support National CAPACD’s work, which may entail but is not limited to opportunities to engaging and building the capacity of community organizations across the country and planning outreach events.

Policy and Communications
National CAPACD is utilizing its website and portfolio of new media tools to strengthen its advocacy work with member organizations across the country. The intern will work with the Policy team to ensure messaging for campaigns and policy working groups are enhanced by the new media tools and technology.

Planning for the National Convenings
Intern will play a role in supporting the Policy and Program team to prepare for the Annual National Convention and Community in the Capital.

Development/Fundraising and Nonprofit Management
Intern will support the development/fundraising/nonprofit management arm of the organization’s operations to ensure database for the organization is comprehensive and accurate to reflect the organization’s 110 member organizations.

Qualifications
Candidates must be committed to serving low-income AAPI communities and enrolled in an academic program at a college or university. Excellent verbal and written communication skills, strong analytical ability, and research experience are desired.

To apply, visit our website to download the application form. Deadline: Rolling basis, until positions are filled.


January 24, 2011

Written by C.N.

Thoughts on the ‘Tiger Mother’ Controversy

I presume that by now, all of you have heard about the debate and controversy over Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, her accompanying article in the Wall Street Journal provocatively titled, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” and the resultant backlash throughout American society and on the internet from Asian Americans and non-Asians alike.

Although I have not yet read her book, from her various public appearances lately and based on other people’s summaries of her points, I understand that her main arguments are that American parents tend to be too lax in their parenting styles, particularly when it comes to not emphasizing hard work, persistence, and total commitment to education and other tasks necessary for your child to be a high achiever in contemporary American and global societies. In her own words on the Wall Street Journal article, she writes:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

Tiger mother © Michael K. Nichols/National Geographic Society
  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin . . .

To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America.

I’ve been meaning to comment on her points for a while and I also know that there are plenty of other writers and bloggers who have already weighed in on this subject. However, I’ve been occupied with preparing for the start of the new semester and have not been able to read many of their responses yet. Therefore, I apologize if I am restating points that others have already brought up.

As I describe in more detail below about the specific arguments Chua makes that I agree and disagree with, the main point that I want to emphasize is that parenting does not have to be an “either-or” proposition — there does not have to be a rigid line drawn between “rigorous” and “permissive” styles, nor does there have to be a complete separation of “Chinese” and “American” styles. As I have consistently emphasized throughout this blog, frequently there is an artificial division between these two identities that inevitably creates unnecessary barriers, misunderstandings, and tensions between all those involved.

Instead, I want to emphasize that it is possible to achieve a balance between these two identities. This is what Asian Americans have been doing for a while now — taking different elements of each culture to meld and synthesize them into their own style that includes the best of each. As I discuss below, I believe this applies to parenting styles and the drive for achievement and success as well.

In Defense of Chua

One of her points with which I agree is that for whatever reasons, it is very common and indeed beneficial for many (as in a large number, but certainly not all) Asian, Asian American, and immigrant parents to place a very strong and heavy emphasis on educational achievement and success. Many native-born American parents do so as well, but I am reminded of an article that I used for a previous course on racial/ethnic demography, “Test-Score Trends Along Racial Lines, 1971 to 1996: Popular Culture and Community Academic Standards,” written by Ronald F. Ferguson (a chapter in America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, 2001). The article described data to show that when it comes to parental expectations of their children’s academic performance, Asian parents who were high school dropouts still had higher expectations of their children than White, Black, and Latino parents who had a college degree.

My point is, it is not necessarily a bad thing to expect your children to not just perform well, but to excel, academically or otherwise. Particularly in this age of globalization, the need for advanced educational and professional skills in order to stay competitive in the global marketplace is readily apparent and increasingly stressed by almost everyone from all backgrounds. We also know that, as it currently stands, the American educational system needs much improvement in terms of preparing our young people to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In other words, as a society, we as Americans should not and cannot settle for mediocrity if we expect to retain our standard of living.

As other sociological research as also shown, many Asian and Asian American parents also understand that as a racial minority in American society, almost by necessity, they need to push their children a little further to make sure that they are able to overcome some of the hurdles and barriers that stand in our way when it comes to socioeconomic success and full institutional integration into American society, especially in tough economic times when competition for jobs and other resources is even more intense and potentially filled with racial tension and hostility.

With this in mind, I also find it quite unfortunate that some of the criticism directed at Chua includes elements of racism that link her to China’s recent emergence to become the new “yellow peril” threat to the U.S. and even death threats against her personally. Time magazine’s recent article on this debate summed up the global context of this debate nicely:

The tiger mother’s cubs are being raised to rule the world, the book clearly implies, while the offspring of “weak-willed,” “indulgent” Westerners are growing up ill equipped to compete in a fierce global marketplace. . . .

These national identity crises are nothing new. . . . In the 1980s, we fretted that Japan was besting us with its technological wizardry and clever product design — the iPod of the ’80s was the Sony Walkman — and its investors’ acquisitions of American name-brand companies and prime parcels of real estate. . . . [Now] our rivalry with the Japanese has faded as another one has taken its place: last year, China surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy.

The U.S. is still No. 1 — but for how long? We’re rapidly reaching the limit on how much money the federal government can borrow — and our single biggest creditor is China. How long, for that matter, can the beleaguered U.S. education system keep pace with a rapidly evolving and increasingly demanding global marketplace?

Such fears about the U.S. losing its position as the unquestioned political, economic, and cultural superpower are real and valid. At the same time, it is one thing to criticize Chua for her parenting style, but it’s a different matter altogether to reinforce and perpetuate anti-Asian stereotypes and advocate committing violence towards her and others who are perceived to be threats to the “American” way of life. In fact, for many Asians and Asian Americans, such racism only confirms the ongoing challenges we face and the need to overachieve as a reaction to such racial hostility.

Criticisms for Chua

On the other hand, Chua’s style of parenting is certainly not for everybody and in many respects, has the danger of creating some very negative consequences. When it comes to Asian Americans and the model minority image, I’ve written many times before in this blog about the need to balance the drive for success with caution against excessive parental and societal pressure. As a community, unfortunately Asian Americans have experienced too many incidents in which too much parental pressure on their children has led to incidents of suicide and violence. In fact, it is well worth repeating that Asian American women between 15-24 years old have the highest suicide rates of any racial, ethnic, age, and gender group in the U.S.

More generally, I also feel that Chua unnecessarily and unfortunately reinforces this artificial distinction between “Chinese/Asian” and “American.” Beyond the inherent overgeneralizing that Chinese mothers do this while American mothers do that, Chua does not seem to give much credence to the possibility that many Chinese Americans and Asian American parents do both — that we combined the best elements of the different cultures with which we’re familiar. In fact, this is just another example of the kind of “transcultural” assimilation that Asian Americans have done ever since we first arrived in the U.S.

As this CBS News video shows, even parents in China are increasingly rethinking their “success at any cost” approach to parenting that Chua insists is “superior”:

As it relates to parenting, I also do not believe it is not a contradiction to instill a drive for achievement and excellence while also nurturing a sense of independence and an understanding that there is more to life than just material success. Toward that end, I personally do not feel that, in order to stress the importance of personal achievement, parents need to berate, criticize, or shame their child. Chua’s “tough as nails” methods may eventually instill a sense of confidence and achievement in her daughters but I am pretty sure there are less harsh and extreme ways to accomplish the same thing. They might include letting our children work out herself many of the interpersonal difficulties that they encounter everyday and explaining to the child the various individual and institutional challenges that lie ahead of her them and that if they expect to have a comfortable standard of living, they will need to accomplish and at times, master certain tasks toward that goal.

Perhaps I am being too idealistic to think that my daughter has the ability to truly understand these multi-level and long-term issues about what she needs to do now in order to have certain things later. But then again, isn’t that what Chua is basically telling her daughters as well?


December 6, 2010

Written by C.N.

Racial/Ethnic Relations in 2010: The Best & Worst

As we near the end of 2010, it’s fitting to review the major events, developments, and trends in U.S. racial/ethnic relations during the past year. Therefore, below is my look back at some of the positive highlights as well as the setbacks in terms of achieving racial/ethnic equality and justice, with a particular focus on Asian Americans (my area of expertise). This list is not meant to be an exhaustive review of all racial/ethnic news in 2010, but rather the ones that I covered in this blog and ones that I believe have the most sociological significance.

The Best

The Worst


September 8, 2010

Written by C.N.

Job Postings #3

The following are announcements about jobs for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.

Sociology, University of Connecticut

The Sociology Department at the University of Connecticut invites applications for tenure-track position at the Assistant Professor level to begin August 23, 2011. The successful candidate will pursue rigorous research programs, contribute to graduate and undergraduate teaching, provide service to the university and the profession, and seek external funds to support their scholarly activities. The typical
course load is two courses per semester.

Minimum qualifications for the position include: an earned doctorate in Sociology; possess strong quantitative skills; ability to teach quantitative research methods; and substantive research interests in at least one of the following areas of specialization: health and health care organization; work, stratification, or labor markets; environment; and racism and ethnic group relations. Equivalent foreign degrees are acceptable.

Preferred qualifications include the ability to contribute through research, teaching, and/or public engagement to the diversity and excellence of the learning experience. Candidates may work at the University of Connecticut’s main campus in Storrs and/or the campuses at Avery Point, Hartford, Stamford, Torrington, Waterbury, and West Hartford. Salary is competitive and will be commensurate with background, qualifications, and experience.

Applicants should visit Husky Hire to upload their curriculum vitae, a statement describing research plans and teaching interests, selected scholarly papers and publications, and three letters of reference. Review of applications will begin September 6, 2010 and continue until position is filled.

Projects & Events Assistant, Institute for Asian American Studies, UMass Boston

Job Description:
The Projects & Events Assistant will assist the staff at the Institute for Asian American Studies with administrative tasks, and assigned special projects and events. Duties may include, but are not limited to, organizing events and meetings, providing administrative assistance on research projects, and providing support on a video oral history project.

Requirements:
The ideal candidate will have: excellent oral and written communication skills and excellent organizational skills; the ability to follow complex instructions, maintain efficient office procedures and work independently; experience working on projects and events. S/he should be able to function well in both community and university-based settings. Knowledge of Asian American issues and experience working with Asian American communities preferred.

Additional Information:
Among the procedures which may be used to select personnel to fill vacant positions are review of work experience, reference checks, and interviews. All qualified applicants will receive consideration without regard to age, race, color, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability or status as a Vietnam era or disabled veteran. All appointments and promotions will be effective on a Sunday.

Application Instructions:
Please apply online with your resume, cover letter and list of three professional references.

  • Classified. Union. Benefited.
  • Grade 15.
  • Part time: 50% time
  • Bi-weekly salary: $659.30
  • This is a one-year temporary position
  • Grant Funded.

Closing date for applications: September 13, 2010.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Southern Education Foundation

The Southern Education Foundation, Inc. (SEF), located in Atlanta, GA seeks outstanding candidates to fill a Post‐Doctoral Fellow Position. This is a 12 month position with two renewable terms. This position is dedicated to the advancement of higher education research, analysis, and programing intended to improve access to college and degree completion among low‐income and minority students. Candidates interested in this position should have working knowledge and genuine interest in Minority‐Serving Institutions and the students most likely to attend them.

Since 1867 the Southern Education Foundation, Inc. has been an organization with a timeless mission: To improve educational excellence and equity in the South. Today, in a more global society, SEF maintains a prime focus on the South as the poorest and least educated region of the U.S., yet it also works to improve education systems and opportunity nationally. SEF, as a public charity, aims to advance creative solutions to ensure fairness and excellence in education for all.

Through a variety of Pre‐K‐16 programs involving research, analysis, advocacy, technical assistance, and outreach, SEF works to:

  • Improve education policy and practice
  • Promote high quality education systems that are universal
  • Improve access to higher education and degree completion for poor and minority students
  • Enhance the capacity of higher education institutions dedicated to serving low‐income and minority students
  • Inform the public and policymakers about education issues and plausible policy solutions
  • Strengthen parent, school, and private sector efforts to better meet the needs of underachieving students

Completion of the doctoral degree in higher education, public policy, or a related field is required. Candidates should be no more than three years beyond completion of the doctorate. Candidates should have experience in conducting higher education research and reporting, competence in statistical and analytical research methods as well as experience with data collection, analysis, and report preparation. Excellent written and oral communication skills, including the ability to work collaboratively are also required.

Interested candidates should submit: 1) a letter of interest; 2) a current curriculum vitae; 3) academic transcripts; 4) writing sample or publication (other than a dissertation) and; 5) names and contact information of three references. Materials and inquiries should be addressed to: Dr. James T. Minor, Senior Program Officer & Director of Higher Education Programs; Southern Education Foundation, 135 Auburn Avenue; Second Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303. Materials may be sent electronically to Carmen Holman (cholman@southerneducation.org). Deadline for receipt of application materials is September 10, 2010.

Faculty Director, Institute for Global-Local Action and Study

Pitzer College invites applications and nominations for the tenure-line position of Founding Faculty Director of the emerging Institute for Global-Local Action and Study (I-GLAS). I-GLAS is dedicated to promoting interdisciplinary curricular and research programs and activities that link the global and the local, and addressing key issues of globalization and its effects on communities and nations.

The Founding Faculty Director will provide strong academic leadership and vision for I-GLAS, infusing the College curriculum with critical community-based learning, research, and action initiatives that connect the global and the local, and encouraging faculty/student global-local research projects and new courses that build on the College’s successful community engagement and study abroad programs. He or she will also oversee the Institute’s budget, teach two courses a year related to global-local issues, and advise students.

The successful candidate will hold a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline and have a strong record of research and teaching on global-local issues as well as extensive experience with community-based pedagogies, research, and intercultural education. In addition, he or she will have the intellectual expertise to engage with globalization as a multilayered, uneven, and contested process, complicated by race, social class, gender, sexualities, diasporas, immigration, and unequal citizenship. The Director will hold an endowed chair; the rank of this position is open.

Pitzer College has a strong institutional commitment to the principles of diversity in all areas and strongly encourages candidates from underrepresented social groups. We favor candidates who contribute to the College’s distinctive educational objectives, which promote interdisciplinary perspectives, intercultural understanding, and concern with social responsibility and the ethical implications of knowledge and action. Pitzer College is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. For the successful applicant with relevant interest, affiliations are possible with the intercollegiate departments of Africana Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, and/or Women’s Studies.

To apply, send in PDF format, a letter of application, curriculum vitae, selected evidence of excellence in teaching and research, statement of teaching philosophy, statement on diversity, a description of your research, and three letters of recommendation (at least one (1) of which addresses your teaching effectiveness) VIA EMAIL to IGLAS_search@pitzer.edu. The deadline for applying is December 1, 2010 or until the position is filled.


March 22, 2010

Written by C.N.

Interview with Asian American Filmmaker Christopher Wong

I recently had the opportunity to interview Asian American filmmaker Christopher Wong about his first feature-length documentary Whatever It Takes, scheduled to premier on PBS stations nationwide on March 30, 2010. The documentary profiles Chinese American Edward Tom, Principal of the new Bronx Center for Sciences & Mathematics:

Christopher Wong’s Whatever It Takes offers a fascinating inside look at the first year of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics (BCSM), a small public high school in the South Bronx headed by the idealistic Principal Edward Tom, an Asian American man who gave up a lucrative position as an executive with Saks Fifth Avenue for the underpaid, supremely challenging career as an educator in the inner city. . . .

This deeply emotional, character-driven documentary focuses on the school’s dynamic rookie principal and a spunky ninth-grade girl with big dreams but even bigger obstacles. The personal stories of the school’s students and staff call to mind larger themes of school reform and the need for educators, parents and policy makers to prioritize the transformation of the public school system so that all children can receive a quality education.

Grittily realistic, yet ultimately triumphant, Whatever It Takes paints a compelling picture of cutting-edge ideas and dedicated individuals, united in their vision to restore hope to a broken community.

What were your experiences in elementary and high school growing up?

I grew up in a relatively well-to-do neighborhood, so the area schools were excellent. I had good teachers, clean school facilities, and small class sizes. Since my parents were both college-educated, they always checked my homework every night, and made sure I studied for my tests. There was never any question in my mind that I would go to college; it was a foregone conclusion. However, for the kids profiled in my film, college is only a dream — something that only “privileged” people get to experience.

How did you decide to become a filmmaker, rather than a ‘safer’ occupation more typical of Asian Americans, such as an doctor, engineer, etc.?

Believe me, I always thought that I would end up working a high-paying, white-collar job in a Fortune 500 corporation. While being a lawyer or businessperson wasn’t exactly my dream, I thought those careers would be good enough to provide me with a comfortable and happy life. But after graduating with a degree in economics, two years at a law firm, and five years in banking, I finally realized that I was meant to do something more creative, something that was a better fit for my talents.

Right before I quit my last corporate job, I started watching a lot of documentaries (e.g., “Hoop Dreams,” “Salesman,” “Roger & Me”). Those films taught me that the two most important qualities of a documentary filmmaker were 1) the ability to listen well, and 2) the willingness to invest oneself completely in someone else’s life. While I didn’t have the brains to become a doctor or the genes to be a professional athlete, I knew I could produce good documentaries. And so, I quit my job, started taking video production courses at a community college, and 10 years later, here I am.

Why did you decide to focus on Principal Edward Tom and his school?

When you see Principal Ed Tom on screen, you instantly understand why people find him so compelling. He’s a born leader, and people absolutely listen to what he has to say. Leaders like Principal Tom are rare, but those are just the sort of individuals that we all want to see running our nation’s public schools. When I went to school, I never had a principal like him; in fact, I don’t even remember seeing my high school principal more than once or twice a year. But Ed is always with his students, and they know that he cares, and that he will fight for them with everything he’s got.

But I didn’t want to just portray Ed only as a hero. I was also equally curious to see if good intentions and constant effort were enough to bring about change in one of the nation’s worst school districts. After all, Ed was a rookie principal, and failure was always looming around the next corner. Then add to the mix the potentially explosive racial dynamic of Ed as an Asian American amidst a student body almost entirely comprised of African American and Latino children. I remember telling Ed that while I wished him the best, my documentary might show him falling on his face and getting fired midway through the year. When Ed said he was OK with that level of honesty, I knew that I could go ahead and start filming.

There’s a debate about whether race or social class are the bigger barrier for African Americans and Latinos these days. What are your thoughts on this question?

In the South Bronx district of New York City, race and social class are almost identical. The South Bronx is the poorest district in the entire country, and it’s no coincidence that you almost never encounter a white face on the street (unless it’s a cop). So, for a kid who comes from a low-income, African American/Latino family, they have so many hurdles to overcome just to make it into college. They often have no support from their parents, no role models who have gone to college, and few friends with high career aspirations.

And they certainly don’t have the financial means to afford college, or other things that are sometimes necessary to get admitted (e.g. SAT prep courses). Having said that, I don’t think that South Bronx kids should use these barriers as excuses for lack of achievement; however, when we do see someone from that kind of environment make it to college, we should recognize that accomplishment as something truly great.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Asian American students these days?

Just like there are poor African American and Latino students, there are also very poor Asian American students. So, a lot of the challenges are the same. But what seems to be different is that there is an ingrained cultural respect for education and the value of a college degree. Thus, as a whole, Asian Americans have significantly higher college attendance and graduation rates. Therefore, the challenge to Asian American students generally has nothing to do with access to college or finding jobs that pay well. Rather, the real challenge for our community is to seek after jobs that are truly meaningful, and that have positive effects on society at large.

For too long, Asian Americans have been satisfied with replicating the financial success of their white American counterparts, all the while neglecting to invest themselves in causes greater than themselves. Truthfully, much of that selfish motivation comes directly from our Asian American immigrant parents, whose main goals were survival, stability, and social conformity. Liberating ourselves from our parents’ dreams for us is not an easy battle.

Asian Americans as a whole have done pretty well occupationally and economically but in many ways, are still not perceived to be “leaders.” Individuals like Edward Tom are slowly emerging as exceptions to this image, but what else do Asian Americans need to do to change this perception?

To be seen as leaders, Asian Americans need to get more involved in issues that extend beyond their own ethnic community. I think that’s what makes Edward Tom such an amazing figure, because he is absolutely putting his life on the line for people that neither look like him nor can give him back anything in return.

Leaders are made through sacrifice and commitment (e.g Martin Luther King, Jr.), and Asian Americans need to do a better job of understanding that. On a positive note, I should say that I have recently seen more and more Asian Americans pursuing unconventional careers and being willing to take risks on the behalf of others.


February 11, 2009

Written by C.N.

New University of California Admissions Rules

A popular topic on this blog is university admissions and the representation of students from all racial/ethnic groups, especially at the University of California (‘UC’), the nation’s largest, most diverse, and in many ways, the most controversial higher education venue in the country. With the debate on affirmative action still on high boil and as American society continues to become more diverse, the issue of university admissions is likely to be on the front burner of American educational policy for the foreseeable future.

The latest flare-up involves recently-approved changes to the University of California’s admissions requirements that tries to expand the pool of students who are eligible for admissions (as opposed to the actual criteria for deciding who actually is admitted). As Inside Higher Education reports, according to data from the UC itself, they project that under these new eligibility rules, the racial/ethnic group that would be affected most negatively in terms of admissions are Asian Americans:

36 percent of those admitted to the university system in 2007-8 were Asian Americans. Applying the new admissions standards, that percentage would drop to 29-32 percent. In contrast, white applicants made up 34 percent of those admitted in 2007-8. Under the proposed reforms, they would have made up 41 to 44 percent of the entering class. . . .

But university leaders are playing down the demographic projections and defending the admissions plan, which emerged from the Academic Senate, a system-wide faculty group. . . . The proposal before the Board of Regents today would do the following:

  • End the requirement that applicants submit two SAT Subject Test scores.
  • Narrow from the top 12.5 to the top 9 percent of high school graduates the percentage who will be guaranteed admission to the university system (although not necessarily to the campus of their choice).
  • Expand the definition of applicants eligible for a full admission review to include all who complete 11 of 15 required high school courses by the end of their junior year, and achieve a grade-point average of at least 3.0

The last shift is expected to greatly expand the pool of those entitled to a full admissions review, where personal qualities and other factors may help some win admission. Indeed those deemed eligible for a full review would go up in all racial and ethnic groups. But the gains in eligibility are not necessarily going to translate into gains in admissions for all groups. . . .

Mary Croughan, an epidemiologist at the university’s San Francisco campus and chair of the systemwide Academic Senate, said that the apparent disadvantage for Asian Americans is actually a result of their success. Such a large share of Asian American high school students already are eligible to be considered and win admission that their numbers couldn’t go up as much as those of other groups, she said.

It appears that there are two separate issues here. The first is, changing admissions eligibility rules so that more students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (specifically, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians) will be eligible for admissions. On that count, I have always and continue to wholly support such efforts.

If these changes do in fact allow students from a more diverse set of backgrounds to have a chance at admission, they would be very similar to the kind of “holistic admissions” changes that I and other scholars support that do not focus specifically on an applicant’s race/ethnicity but would still give underrepresented minority students a better chance at admissions. So in this context, I think everybody involved is basically on the same page and share the common goal of wanting to improve the admissions chances of underrepresented students.

But it’s the second issue here that is much more controversial — will these proposed changes affect Asian Americans in a disproportionately negative way and will their proportions of all admissions decline as a result? The first question to ask is, how accurate are the UC’s own estimates and predictions? How likely is it that Asian American applicants will be hurt by these new changes? If it turns out that these changes do not affect the proportion of Asian Americans, the question is basically moot.

A regular reader of my blog (Oiyan Poon, graduate student in Education) is writing an analysis paper on this issue and makes several good points. First is that because the new eligibility rules basically expands the number of California students eligible for admissions (from 46,795 to 76,141), in terms of raw numbers, all racial/ethnic groups, including Asian Americans, will see an increase in the actual number of students eligible (about 4,000 for APAs).

But since the number of the increase for Asian Americans is small in proportion to their existing number of eligible students, the percent change represents an increase relative to the new overall total of students eligible for admissions. However, Oiyan points out that these projections are very tentative (projected to affect the first eligible class four years from now) and are based on several debatable assumptions — for instance, not all eligible students actually apply for admissions to the UCs. Finally, most of the increase in eligibility for APAs will benefit low-income and first generation students.

So as Oiyan points out, there are valid questions over whether the dire projections about fewer APA students being admitted under these new rules. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the new rules do end up lowering the proportion of each entering class that is Asian American. If so, the question then becomes, how fair are these changes? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to that particular question.

On the one hand, as the article points out, the number of Asian American applicants to the UC’s is already disproportionately high so that as a matter of simple mathematics, there’s not much room to go any higher and almost by default, their numbers would decline somewhat as a result of these changes.

On the other hand, we can validly argue that even if Asian Americans as a whole have disproportionately high application and admissions numbers, the fact is that every one of those Asian American students has worked hard and earned that position. Therefore, these changes would unfairly hurt them when in fact, they did everything right.

Inevitably, if these changes result in lower Asian American admission rates, there would certainly be a loud outcry from many critics of affirmative action — many of whom are already Asian American — that once again, “good” students are being denied admissions in favor of “mediocre” ones.

My position on affirmative action has always been two-fold: first, whether it relates to university admissions, government contracts, job preferences, etc., these areas of contention do not have to be zero sum propositions. That is, one person’s gain does not automatically have to mean another person’s loss. Instead, we can have a system that includes plenty of opportunities for everyone.

I understand that the number of university admission spots is not infinite and you have to draw the line somewhere, but if we as a society make higher education a higher priority, we can provide more opportunities for more students. In the process of doing so, we can also depressurize this atmosphere of intensity and hostility over a resource that in many ways, has been artificially limited.

My second point is that rather than focusing disproportionate attention on the symptoms of the problem, we need to address the fundamental cause of it — the unequal quality of education that underrepresented groups such as African Americans and Latinos face. In other words, through no fault of their own and even if they are extremely bright and hardworking, many such students receive a substandard education that puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to university admissions.

For this reason, affirmative action was created to help them overcome these structural (as opposed to individual) disadvantages. So to really cure the root problem, we need to focus more attention on ensuring that all students, regardless of their race or where they live, receive access to a high quality education that will ultimately put everyone on the same level of competitiveness.

These are issues that we as a society have been dealing with and trying to address for generations and obviously, such solutions are easier said than done. However, for the first time in a long time, I think we have a realistic chance at making such changes. Hopefully this new administration can begin to take constructive steps toward more equality in elementary and secondary schools that can put underrepresented students in a better position to compete for university admissions.

With any hope, such disagreements around these admissions eligibility changes and the entire debate around affirmative action will fade into the background, if we tackle the root of the problem, rather than just trying to alleviate the symptoms.


December 4, 2008

Written by C.N.

Asian American Named as a Top Educator

As an educator myself, this news item was particularly significant for me: San Francisco elementary school teacher Mindy Yip just won the prestigious Milken Foundation award for being the country’s best teacher (thanks to New America Media for the tip):

The Visitacion Valley children and their teachers had been on the hard floor for nearly an hour. They had no idea why they were assembled – told only that the politicians and other important people were there because of the school’s great test scores. That was a ruse. . . .

Then Mike Milken, prominent financier and philanthropist, started talking about money. He said he had a big surprise. He told the students he was there to give one teacher $25,000, no strings attached – a prize described by some as “the Oscars” of teaching. . . .

Yip pointed to the back of the room, mouthing to a parent that the winner must be one of the fourth- or fifth-grade teachers. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, opened the envelope to announce the winner of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

“Mindy Yip,” Pelosi announced, smiling at the first-grade teacher who looked shocked, but also wary, apparently wondering if she heard right. She looked around, confused. Then she started crying. . . .

Yip never knew she was under consideration for the award. The state Department of Education asked principals last spring to recommend excellent teachers with more than five years in the classroom and fewer than 10. Her name was submitted by Visitacion Valley Principal Vincent Chao. . . .

The Milken Foundation noted that Yip has been a leader at her school, using creative ways to motivate students, including asking them to design homework for her. She also speaks six languages, including Cantonese, Lao, Hmong and Vietnamese, which enables her to communicate with the diverse students’ families.

Although I don’t know Ms. Yip, I am nonetheless proud of her and inspired by her accomplishments. Congratulations to Ms. Yip for her dedication, hard work, and for serving as a role model for all Asian Americans.