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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.
As the spring semester gets underway at many colleges and universities around the country, that means that new groups of students get their first introduction to Asian American Studies. With that in mind, these recently-published books provide some more details and sociological context about the history and contemporary dynamics of the Asian American community.
Asian Americans are often stereotyped as the “model minority.” Their sizeable presence at elite universities and high household incomes have helped construct the narrative of Asian American “exceptionalism.” While many scholars and activists characterize this as a myth, pundits claim that Asian Americans’ educational attainment is the result of unique cultural values. In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, sociologists Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou offer a compelling account of the academic achievement of the children of Asian immigrants.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with the adult children of Chinese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees and survey data, Lee and Zhou bridge sociology and social psychology to explain how immigration laws, institutions, and culture interact to foster high achievement among certain Asian American groups. For the Chinese and Vietnamese in Los Angeles, Lee and Zhou find that the educational attainment of the second generation is strikingly similar, despite the vastly different socioeconomic profiles of their immigrant parents. Because immigration policies after 1965 favor individuals with higher levels of education and professional skills, many Asian immigrants are highly educated when they arrive in the United States.
They bring a specific “success frame,” which is strictly defined as earning a degree from an elite university and working in a high-status field. This success frame is reinforced in many local Asian communities, which make resources such as college preparation courses and tutoring available to group members, including their low-income members. While the success frame accounts for part of Asian Americans’ high rates of achievement, Lee and Zhou also find that institutions, such as public schools, are crucial in supporting the cycle of Asian American achievement. Teachers and guidance counselors, for example, who presume that Asian American students are smart, disciplined, and studious, provide them with extra help and steer them toward competitive academic programs.
These institutional advantages, in turn, lead to better academic performance and outcomes among Asian American students. Yet the expectations of high achievement come with a cost: the notion of Asian American success creates an “achievement paradox” in which Asian Americans who do not fit the success frame feel like failures or racial outliers. While pundits ascribe Asian American success to the assumed superior traits intrinsic to Asian culture, Lee and Zhou show how historical, cultural, and institutional elements work together to confer advantages to specific populations. An insightful counter to notions of culture based on stereotypes, The Asian American Achievement Paradox offers a deft and nuanced understanding how and why certain immigrant groups succeed.
A New History of Asian America is a fresh and up-to-date history of Asians in the United States from the late eighteenth century to the present. Drawing on current scholarship, Shelley Lee brings forward the many strands of Asian American history, highlighting the distinctive nature of the Asian American experience while placing the narrative in the context of the major trajectories and turning points of U.S. history. Covering the history of Filipinos, Koreans, Asian Indians, and Southeast Indians as well as Chinese and Japanese, the book gives full attention to the diversity within Asian America.
A robust companion website features additional resources for students, including primary documents, a timeline, links, videos, and an image gallery. From the building of the transcontinental railroad to the celebrity of Jeremy Lin, people of Asian descent have been involved in and affected by the history of America. A New History of Asian America gives twenty-first-century students a clear, comprehensive, and contemporary introduction to this vital history.
Born out of the Civil Rights and Third World Liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Asian American Studies has grown significantly over the past four decades, both as a distinct field of inquiry and as a potent site of critique. Characterized by transnational, trans-Pacific, and trans-hemispheric considerations of race, ethnicity, migration, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class, this multidisciplinary field engages with a set of concepts profoundly shaped by past and present histories of racialization and social formation.
The keywords included in this collection are central to social sciences, humanities, and cultural studies and reflect the ways in which Asian American Studies has transformed scholarly discourses, research agendas, and pedagogical frameworks.Spanning multiple histories, numerous migrations, and diverse populations, Keywords for Asian American Studies reconsiders and recalibrates the ever-shifting borders of Asian American studies as a distinctly interdisciplinary field.
While there are books on racism in universities, few examine the unique position of Asian American undergraduates. This new book captures the voices and experiences of Asian Americans navigating the currents of race, gender, and sexuality as factors in how youth construct relationships and identities. Interviews with 70 Asian Americans on an elite American campus show how students negotiate the sexualized racism of a large institution. The authors emphasize the students’ resilience and their means of resistance for overcoming the impact of structural racism.
In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States. But as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day.
An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II.
Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States. Published to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the United States’ Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that has remade our “nation of immigrants,” this is a new and definitive history of Asian Americans. But more than that, it is a new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.
Below is an announcement about a research project and online survey in need of Asian American respondents. Usually, I add a disclaimer that the announcement is provided for informational purposes only and does not necessarily imply an endorsement of the research project. However, in this case, the researcher (Oiyan Poon) is a friend and colleague of mine and I have no doubt that her research will be an important contribution to understanding the Asian American community in more detail. I hope you will take a few minutes to participate in her survey.
My name is Oiyan Poon, and I am a research fellow at the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. I am currently conducting a research study to better understand how 1.5 and second generation Asian Americans (those who immigrated to the U.S. at age 12 or younger, or who were born in the U.S.) are informed about applying to and enrolling in post-secondary education. The project seeks to inform practice, policies, and future research on Asian Americans, inequalities, and college access.
This study is being supported by a research grant from the UMass Boston Asian American Student Success Program, which is funded through a U.S. Department of Education Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) grant.
In order to participate in the study, you must:
Be between the ages of 18 and 23
Not be enrolled in high school
Self-identify as a 1.5 OR 2nd generation Asian American
1.5 generation: Identify as an Asian American who immigrated to the U.S. before the age of 12
2nd generation: Identify as an Asian American who was born in the U.S. to at least one Asian immigrant parent
Social scientists know that one institution of American life that is crucial to either alleviating or perpetuating inequalities is our education system. With that in mind, I would like to highlight a few recent news stories, articles, and announcements that include positive news as they relate to Asian Americans and higher education. With each step that the Asian American community (and other racial/ethnic communities as well) takes, hopefully it represents another positive development in reducing social inequalities for all Americans.
Wallace Loh Named New President of Univ. of Maryland
Dr. Loh and his family left China in 1961 to escape communist oppression, first immigrating to Peru (Dr. Loh is also fluent in Spanish) and then coming to the U.S. for college. He completed his Bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College in Iowa in Psychology (take note of that young Asian Americans — he is not an engineer or physical scientist), a Master’s from Cornell, a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan, and finally a law degree at Yale. He was also Dean of the University of Washington’s law school (where he was also a close advisor to then-Governor Gary Locke) and most recently, Provost at the University of Iowa.
As you can see, Dr. Loh is extremely accomplished and as an Asian American in higher education, I am thrilled to see another Asian American attaining the Presidency of a major university. I wish Dr. Loh the best success in his new position.
Special Issue on Asian American and Pacific Islander Higher Education
The academic journal AAPI Nexus (2010, Volume 7, Number 1 and published by UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center) has just released its second issue of a three part education series, focusing on Higher Education, guest edited by Mitchell J. Chang (UCLA) and Peter Nien-chu Kiang (University of Massachusetts Boston). Below is a listing of the articles included in the issue:
Ling-chi Wang: Establishing a Chinatown campus of the City College of San Francisco
Rick Wagoner and Anthony Lin: Southeast Asian American community college students who transfer to four-year institutions
Jillian Liesemeyer: Historical comparison of exclusionary quotas against Jewish and Asian American college students
Oiyan Poon: Recent policy changes in eligibility of admissions in the University of California system
Julie Park and Mitchell Chang: Improving the future influence of AAPI communities on educational matters
While I have yet to read the articles in this issue, from their descriptions it looks like they each tell a story in which Asian Americans — individually and collectively — have faced and continue to face various challenges when it comes to achieving educational access and success. In their own ways, each article seems to highlight ways in which Asian Americans have worked individually and collectively to confront those barriers and in the process, they have not only empowered themselves but others around them to work toward greater inclusion.
Not Just Scientists & Engineers: Asian American College Students Diversify Their Majors
International Business Times reports that Asian American college students are increasingly turning to other fields of study and majors, rather than the more stereotypical ones of physical sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics:
Larry Shinagawa, director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland, said that . . . First-generation immigrant Asians typically pursue STEM careers — fields that are secure, prestigious, pay well, and have low barriers to entry. He added that two generations ago, Asian Americans (even those born and raised in the U.S.) also largely pursued stereotypical STEM careers.
However, Asian Americans (second-, third-, or fourth-generation) have recently begun to defy the STEM stereotype. Now, a greater number of them study humanities and social sciences versus STEM disciplines. And after completing their studies, an increasing number of them are entering into law and business.
Shinagawa said that many Asian Americans feel more “Americanized” and believe they have a broader range of occupational choices. As to why they choose business and law specifically, he explained that many Asian Americans do not feel they can compete with immigrant Asians in STEM fields, so they opt for law and business, which offer the same or better pay and prestige compared to STEM jobs.
As I’ve always said, there’s nothing wrong with becoming a scientist, engineer, mathematician, etc. if that’s what you truly enjoy doing. But if it’s mainly the parents who are pushing their children towards these occupations, that’s a recipe for future alienation and resentment. For Asian American college students in that position, you owe to yourself to have an honest talk with your parents about what you want to do for the rest of your life.
Further, as diverse as the Asian American population is, so too should be our occupational distributions. We need Asian Americans as doctors, scientists, engineers — and also as musicians, authors, professors, corporate executives, journalists, actors, etc. The take home message is: do not limit yourself.
Frank Wu Named New Dean of Univ. of California Hastings Law School
I also offer a belated congratulations to Frank Wu, renowned civil rights scholar and activist, for being named as the new Dean of the Law School at the University of California, Hastings:
Wu, a Michigan native, has said he changed his career plans from architecture to law as a teenager in response to the racially motivated murder of a young Chinese American man in Detroit in 1982 (Vincent Chin).
He first practiced law with a San Francisco firm and later taught at Columbia, the University of Michigan and Stanford. He became the nation’s youngest law school dean at Wayne State University in Detroit in 2004 and served until mid-2008.
Wu was chairman of the Washington, D.C., Human Rights Council in 2001-02. He is the author of the 2003 book Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, and was a co-author of the 2001 textbook Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment.
As with the cases of Wallace Loh (mentioned above), Jim Young Kim at Dartmouth, and other accomplished Asian American leaders in higher education, it is very gratifying to see Asian Americans in these positions of leadership. With these accomplishments, Asian Americans continue to demonstrate that, contrary to some stereotypes, we can be excellent leaders in helping the U.S. succeed in the age of globalization and transnationalism.
Chinese College Students Flocking to U.S. Campuses
Last year alone, 98,510 Chinese graduate and undergraduate students poured into U.S. colleges and universities, lured by China’s emphasis on academic achievement and the prestige of U.S. higher education.
China is second only to India when graduate students and undergrads are counted. But undergraduates are the newer phenomenon. Nationally, an 11% growth in undergrad enrollments last year was driven largely by a 60% increase from China, a report by the Institute of International Education says. Grad student enrollments were up 2%. . . .
The increase also reflects a “strong dialogue” between the two countries, says U.S. State Department deputy assistant secretary Alina Romanowski. She says the recent growth can’t be pinned to specific changes in visa policy, but some U.S. college officials say they detect a friendlier attitude among U.S. embassies and consulates, which review visa applications. One key question for any country is whether visa-seeking students can prove they will return to their home country upon graduating from a U.S. college.
“Because the Chinese economy has improved, students feel there are opportunities there waiting for them,” says Gretchen Olson, director of international programs at Drake University in Des Moines, where there are 28 undergraduates from China this fall, up from one in 2003.
Overall, I agree that these increases in “academic exchange” (the proliferation of Confucius Institutes around the U.S. are another example) are a positive development in terms of fostering more interaction between Chinese and Americans, which according to the “contact hypothesis” should by itself result in more understanding and tolerance between two groups, which the USA Today article discusses.
However, Chinese educational and government authorities, along with Chinese students who come to U.S. colleges, should remember that they need to conform to American norms and expectations in regard to things like who gets to determine curriculum (in China, the government does — in the U.S., the colleges, departments, and faculty do) and lax standards when it comes to academic dishonesty.
Overall, each of these recent news items represent a positive step forward for Asian Americans and all of American society in general. The next steps of course, are to keep the momentum going and to ensure that all racial/ethnic groups are also included in what will hopefully be a rising tide of greater empowerment and achievement as we move forward.