“Positive” Stereotyping of Asian Americans
Stereotypes, regardless of the nature of their intent, can be devastating for those expected to not only live up to them, but embody and epitomize them. In Stacey J. Lee’s Unraveling the “Model Minority” Stereotype, she explores how a certain stereotype affects Asian American youth. She conducted an ethnographic study at a prestige high school with a diverse Asian population and what she found was startling. In this paper, I will briefly discuss her methodology and the school she chose, the educational history of Asians in America, the groups she encountered and issues within those groups, Asian academic success and my reactions to the reading.
From January to June of 1989, Lee conducted her research at a school she calls Academic High. She was there four days a week and her research consisted mainly of observations, lunches with students and staff as well as sporting events and extracurricular activities. Out of 82 Asian America students, she conducted regular semi-structured interviews with 47 of them. As a researcher, she was aware that her identity, social class, gender, age, American Born Chinese and grad student status influenced how students and faculty interacted with her. Her graduate student status made it especially difficult for her to gain acceptance with students who weren’t high achievers in academics. At first, she attempted to hide her political attitudes and ideologies in an attempt to remain neutral. However, she later came to the realization that her silence wasn’t neutral; it could be misinterpreted for sanctioning racist or sexist acts she observed and she didn’t want to do that. Lee’s book wasn’t well received with the Korean-identified students. The Korean-identified students only spoke with her because they deemed her to be successful enough (Lee, 2009).
The school she chose, Academic High, was held in high esteem in its community. Students were required to pass an entrance exam in order to be admitted. During the time of the study, the student population was approximately 2,050 students. The ethnic breakdown of the student population is as follows: 45% white, 35% black, 18% Asian American and 2% other (Lee, 2009). The school’s desire to reward students based on achievement created competition among the students. There were three academic tracks at the school. The highest, or most prestigious track, included Advanced Placement courses and college level exams. The second highest track consisted of what the school called star classes, which were similar to honors courses (Lee, 2009). Then there was also the mentally gifted track; students in this track had to be identified as mentally gifted by the school district. It is important to note that there were no remedial courses available, unless of course one considered ninth grade English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses remedial. However, they are not considered remedial courses rather alternative language services for English Language Learners. While a majority of the student body was white, they dominated the highest tracks, while other minorities attempted to gain access into them.
The Stereotype and Brief History Asian American Education
A school that fostered and encouraged competition had little or no patience for those that were under achieving. This was especially true for the Asian American students. The “model minority” or “honorary white” stereotype reinforces the ideal that Asian Americans are hard workers and that their cultures, no matter how diverse, all value and encourage getting an education. The term “model minority” first surfaced in 1966 in a New York Times article entitled “Success Story Japanese American Style” (Lee, 2009). The article praised the Japanese on not being a problem minority, but one that worked hard and attained success the American way. Asian Americans were used to embody the American achievement ideology. Consequently, all Asian Americans were seen as “quiet, uncomplaining, and hard-working people who achieved success without depending on the government” (Lee, 2009, p.7). It was assumed that Asian Americans had strong, traditional families whereas blacks did not. Because of this idea, the stereotypical image of the Asian family was created: strict father, dutiful mother, and obedient children, which served the rhetoric of traditional family values desired by conservatives. This stereotype is an example of racist love; Asian Americans’ status as a “model minority” depends on the dominant group’s view of their position relative to Asian Americans (Lee, 2009). Asian Americans were compared to blacks, because even though Asians were a minority they were able to be successful. This stereotype not only put pressure on Asians to succeed academically, but also made it so that blacks appear to be a problem in American society. “The model minority stereotype pits Asian Americans against African Americans” (p.107).
The impact of this stereotype is two-fold: pressure on Asian American students to succeed and lack of consideration for Asian Americans that were unable to live up to the stereotype.
Despite the diverse educational realities of Asian American students, too many educators and educational policy makers assume that Asian America students are high-achieving model minorities, and rely on aggregate data that support the model minority stereotype (Lee, 2009, p.15).
Those students who do not live up to this stereotype are seen as broken. A teacher in the book referred to a student as “mutant Asian” because they were not comfortable with math. The pressure to live up to the stereotype can affect students negatively. Mei Mei Wong, a student who identified herself as Asian, felt like she wasn’t good enough. Wong had won scholarships and had good grades, still she didn’t feel as though she measured up. “Because the model minority stereotype sets the parameters for “good” and “acceptable” behavior, students like Mei Mei feared that failure to live up to these standards would mean being perceived as “unacceptable” (Lee, 2009, p.68). Low achieving Asian American students at Academic High were typically enrolled in ESOL and would rarely speak because they were ashamed of their accents. The stereotype has historical implications. For example, “The assumptions about the educational achievement of Asian Americans has excluded them from the debate over school desegregation” (Teranishi, 2001, p.255) as well as their immigrant status.
In 1965, an immigration law was passed in the United States that allowed formerly restricted groups, such as East Asians, South Asians and Southeast Asians, which increased the Asian American population in America (Tamura, 2001). From 1960 to 1994, the Asian American population increased by nearly 900% (Tamura, 2001). Before World War II, Chinese and Japanese were the largest Asian populations in the US (Tamura, 2001). By 1990, the Asian ethnic groups in the States – listed by numerical value – consisted of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Asian Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodia, Thai and Hmong (Tamura, 2001).
Like many immigrants and minorities, Asian Americans were not given the right to public education, but had to fight for it.
In 1885 the parents of eight-year-old Mamie Tape, an American child of Chinese descent, won their case in the California Supreme Court when it upheld a lower court’s decision that affirmed the right of Americans of Chinese ancestry to attend public school. (Tamura, 2001, p.65)
Segregation was still enforced around the country, which affected access to education for Asian Americans. Forty years later, Gong Lum fought to get his daughter – who was born in America – accepted into a white public school (Tamura, 2001). The United States Supreme Court ruled against him in 1927, but his case was the basis for future challenges and showed that Asian Americans would not have their rights denied (Tamura, 2001).
During the 1990s, race-based policies came under attack. Affirmative action and its intersection with college admissions were greatly criticized. Critics of affirmative action proclaimed that Asian Americans were victims of race-based admissions policies. It was their belief that the model minority was losing admissions to “less-qualified beneficiaries of affirmative action policies” (Lee, 2009, p.8). Throughout the decade, using Asian Americans as model minorities showed that they were achievers when discussions equated minorities with underachievers, this “deminoritized” Asian Americans, which served to combat race-based policies (Lee, 2009). The case of Ho, Wong & Chen v. SFUSD challenged affirmative action and desegregation in 1995; Chinese Americans were outraged at San Francisco’s School District’s ethnic and racial caps for attendance at all public schools. The plaintiffs fully embraced the model minority stereotype to help with their case, while consequently demonstrating that other minorities were not succeeding as they were. However, it went unmentioned that whites benefitted most from Asian Americans’ low population in the school district.
The term “Asian American” was used to refer to all Asian ethnicities without regards to the diversity among them. This term was used plenty of times throughout Lee’s book. However, she found that there were students who identified themselves as Korean, Asian, New Wave or Asian American.
While conducting her study, Lee found that Korean-identified students had generally emigrated when they were in elementary or middle school. Many came from middle-class or merchant family backgrounds, as well as urban, Christian and educated backgrounds (Lee, 2009). Korean parents of believed many Southeast Asians received public assistance and didn’t want to be associated with draining the economy or becoming a welfare sponge (Lee, 2009). This group tended to distance itself from other Asian Americans. One Korean-identified student, Lisa Kim, had this to say: “We think of ourselves as being more superior” (Lee, 2009, p.27). Many of the group’s members shared the belief that they were better than other Asians because they had a higher socioeconomic status than most Southeast Asians. The idea goes beyond class; Linda Park, another Korean-identified student, saw other Asians as hideous, while others of the same group viewed them as tacky. Jane Le felt insulted when one of her non-Asian teachers suggested she help Phum Ng (Chinese) with his homework. As far as she was concerned she had nothing in common with him even though the teacher saw them both as Asian.
Students in this group purchased their clothing at suburban department stores where whites shopped. Another attempt to get closer to white people was to learn American ways. That meant learning their culture or even taking up hobbies and sports they saw that whites were interested in. For example, many Korean-identified boys took up skateboarding because it was seen as a “white boy sport” (Lee, 2009). The parents were well of these attempt to learn American ways and become Americanized and encouraged their children to do so. While they wanted their children to learn and keep Korean traditions by staying in contact with other Koreans, they also wanted to make sure that they were socially acceptable to whites. However, because many of the families were merchant families, Korean students often felt like they were being scrutinized every time they would patron a store owned by a Korean.
Gender roles were frequently complained about, as far as Korean-identified girls were concerned. The girls felt that their parents treated the boys better. They didn’t feel as though they were given the same rights, privileges and respect as the boys were. Many believed that Chinese men would make good husbands because they would be respectful and treat them well. This was contrary to what their parents wanted, which was for them to marry an economically successful Korean man. Boys, on the other hand, believed in traditional gender roles for girls; they thought females should stay at home, take care of the hose and children, be respectful and obedient to their husbands, and not to discuss anything sexual in public. These students refrained from speaking about sex while Lee observed them. Kay Rowe, tutored two other Korean boys, and even though she was helping them they still thought of her as nothing more than just girl.
Racial identity was almost fully rejected by this group. They were trying to gain white acceptance by acting like their white peers. This included, but was not limited to, sharing similar interests, extracurricular activities, and physical appearance. For example, Korean boys took up skateboarding because it was considered a “white boy sport”. “Imitating of white behavior evolved into idolizing all that was associated with middle-class white people” (Lee, 2009, p.37). This included physical features. Linda Park, for example, believed that she and other Koreans were the most similar to whites socially and physically. One of her white friends agreed saying that Koreans were more white looking (Lee, 2009).
Academics were very important for Korean-identified students. They viewed education as vital for social mobility. Their parents came to the United States because of the educational opportunities available for their children. They found their own way of living up to the stereotype by working hard and viewing education as way to better their socioeconomic status as well as prove they were smarter than even the American students. When there were low achieving Korean students, Kay took it upon herself to help those students. She felt as though it was her responsibility to help them succeed.
The second group Lee study was the Asian-identified groups. The members consisted of immigrants from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Instead of distancing themselves from other Asians, they were a group of diverse Asian ethnicities and felt most comfortable with other Asian-identified students. “Students would stress their pan-Asian identities in interracial situations and would stress their specific ethnic group affiliation within Asian circles” (Lee, 2009, p.39). They were comfortable with maintaining a pan-ethnic identity because they believed in sticking together because they had similar cultures. Students in this group “looked beyond social-class, ethnic, and other differences in order to forge a pan-ethnic identity” (Lee, 2009. p.44).
They felt that their similarities brought them together, while faculty and staff thought it made them all the same. These students felt that non-Asians treated all Asians the same. They recognized the non-Asians couldn’t distinguish among Asian ethnic groups despite their differences. Teddy Lee, a Chinese immigrant with Southeast Asian refugee friends, recognized that they had their differences but that they all still experienced racism. However, they didn’t confront the discrimination that they faced. They instead altered their expectations to fit what they assumed their limited opportunities were. For example, Thai Le wanted to be a lawyer or politician, but because of his accent and mother’s advice against choosing a public-speaking career with an accent like his, he opted to strive to be an engineer.
This group was most likely to live up to the “model minority” stereotype. Many believed that they should live up to the stereotype and be proud they had such a positive stereotype to aspire to. They participated in math club or physics club for their extracurricular activities. Similarly to Korean-identified students, these students believed that hard work would lead to success and ultimately respect from the dominant group (Lee, 2009). They wanted all Asians to live up to this stereotype and saw those they resisted to do so as an embarrassment. Ming Chang was one student from this group who was having trouble achieving, but he didn’t let his peers know because he felt that his problems should not be discussed.
This was another group that advocated traditional gender roles as well. Han, Vietnamese wanted to marry an old-fashioned Vietnamese wife because he believed that she would be obedient (Lee, 2009). Parents and boys in this group believed that girls should marry from their respective ethnic group. So although they were friends regardless of ethnicity, interracial marriage and relationships were looked down upon. They also refrained from talking about sex.
New Wave students were very different from the other two groups, with a few similarities. Like the Asian-identified students, New Wavers identified with a pan-ethnic identity in front of non-Asians but expressed their respective ethnicities among each other. They exhibited what Lee referred to as resistant behavior. This group did not see education as necessary for success. Many planned to work, join the military or attend community college after graduating. A lot of the boys began to hate school after attending Academic High. “They reported that prior to high school they had liked school and had been good students, but negative experiences in the hyper competitive culture of AHS had led them to dislike and distrust school” (Lee, 2009, p.130). The students would cut classes and smoke out on the school’s lawn. However they thought of their friends that attended other high schools as the “real New Wavers” because they drank, gambled, owned weapons and some were even in gangs (Lee, 2009).
Unlike the other groups, they were easily identifiable. They would have spiked hair and wear “black” clothing. At first I was confused on the use of “black”; I was unsure if Lee meant the color or was referring to people. The New Wave students shopped in urban areas or bought their clothes at inexpensive stores in and around Chinatown. They would also wear gold chains and pieces of jade jewelry.
Race relations were difficult to navigate for the New Wavers. They felt that while they had problems with whites, it was blacks or African Americans that gave them the most problems. A student by the name of Lee Chau, New Waver, was a victim of a racially motivated attack. It isn’t mentioned what race attacked him; however there were African Americans (outside of the school) who would harass Asians at the bus stop.
Another significant difference is that this group spoke openly about sex. Girls flirted a lot with guys not even in their same ethnic group. Being aware of the “model minority” stereotype, girls attempted to appear more sexually mature as a way of resisting authority and the good girl image (Lee, 2009). Dorothy Chin was a girl in this group who flirted a lot and talked openly about sex. The boys, while friendly with her, said that they would never date or marry a girl like her because she was too promiscuous (Lee, 2009).
Asian American-identified Students
The final group is the students who identified themselves as Asian American. This group consisted of Koreans, Chinese, and Vietnamese student whose families ranged from merchant and middle-class to working-class. These students didn’t view academia as a social equalizer, but as a means to benefit them in the future and as a tool to fight racism. They also dislike the “model minority” stereotype because it was racist and didn’t consider low achieving Asian American students. Still, many had plans to attend college after graduating high school and were pretty successful academically.
Identifying themselves as Asian American meant different things for them. It helped them to feel empowered to challenge racism and sexism directly. They fought racism and criticized groups that reinforced the stereotype. For example, the Korean Student Association (Korean students only) organized a luncheon for the faculty. The students dress in traditional Korean clothing and served the teachers Americanized Korean food. Asian American-identified Korean student, Young Han Pak, thought it made the students, and thus other Asian Americans, appear as stereotypical subservient, exotic Orientals. Asian Americans didn’t want to be referred to as such because they felt the term gave an image of the passive, exotic Asian (Lee, 2009). Xuan fought against sexism and thought of it as her right to do so. “If I were Asian, I wouldn’t support feminist things, but as an Asian American I can,” Xuan said (Lee, 2009, p.56). Speaking out discrimination gave Xuan and other Asian Americans roots in the United States and it made them feel like they belonged (Lee, 2009).
Asian American Educational Achievement
It is important to note, that one’s academic success and ability to assimilate into the dominant cultures depends on a variety of factors. One of the biggest ones that is rarely considered is immigrant status: voluntary or involuntary.
Voluntary (immigrant) minorities are those who have more or less willingly moved to the United States because they expect better opportunities (better jobs, more political or religious freedom) than they had in their homelands or places of origin. The people in this category may be different from the majority in race and ethnicity or in religion or language. (Ogbu & Simmons, 1998, p.164)
Voluntary immigrants chose to come to the United States; that choice in itself can be empowering. Immigrants from this category are more likely to see education as a tool for social mobility and take advantage of the system by learning how to navigate it so that their families may have a better life.
Involuntary immigrants came to this country involuntarily, having the choice made for them. Ogbu and Simmons defines this group thusly, “Involuntary (nonimmigrant) minorities are people who have been conquered, colonized, or enslaved. Unlike immigrant minorities, the nonimmigrants have been made to be a part of the U.S. society permanently against their will” (1998, p.165). Many of these people were forced out of their native lands due to war, violence, famine or disease. This group consists of refugees seeking asylum. School is typically interrupted for those having to reside in refugee camps.
Psychologically, these two different immigrant groups have had different things impact the reasons why they are in America. Choosing to better your life typically empowers you to do so, while being forced out of your own country with nowhere to go, might make you resent the country you are being forced to live in. Not only that, but many refugees may have seen or experienced violence firsthand and become disillusioned to the purpose of social mobility through education, or fail to see the benefit of it. One of the New Wavers, for example, experienced interracial violence and did not see how an education would protect them. The ones that choose to be here are generally the ones who are seen as most likely to achieve.
Considering that three of the four groups identified were academically successful, it’s easy for the staff at Academic High to assume that, for the most part, Asians are academically successful, as long as they go American the white way. Asians that resisted middle class values (educational or otherwise) had a difficult time becoming academically successful. Many of those low achievers also had difficulties acquiring the English language. The book made no mention of accommodations for ESOL students or even tutoring programs so I cannot begin to speculate on their effectiveness. Those students that were resistant took on attributes of blacks and because of such these Asians were considered to have gone American the “wrong” way.
Still, how can Asian academic success be explained? Many assume the cultural theory is the reason for Asian Americans succeeding in education. This theory asserts that Asian cultures promote education; Asian families value learning and teach their children to do so as well. This theory fails to explain the reason for low achievers in this specific community. Students whose families are voluntary immigrants, moving willingly, are more likely to achieve success, whereas involuntary minorities – refugees, descendants of the slave trade, or victims of conquest – are less likely to succeed. Schooling may not have been viewed as a means of valuing education, but as a way of ascertaining social mobility.
Since very few other options existed, they very likely saw schooling as one of the only avenues left for their children’s upward mobility. This almost desperate faith in schooling was undoubtedly reinforced by the traditional veneration accorded to education in Asian societies. The schools in turn, reaffirmed this faith by rewarding compliance, good behavior, perseverance and docility of Asian children. (Lee, 2009 p.63)
Education wasn’t valued because it was considered good, but because it could be used to help poorer families gain upward social mobility. Faculty and staff at Academic High did not view Asian American academic success merely as a means for them to gain social mobility but thought of them as proof that the system was color-blind (Lee, 2009). While all students at Academic High had access to a prestigious education at a highly esteemed school, that didn’t necessarily to mean that all students would be successful; equal access does not equate to equal outcomes (Lee, 2009).
Asian American Education in the Southwest and Beyond
Coming from a school district that had a large Asian migrant population, I was naturally curious about Albuquerque’s Asian American population and their academic achievement. Unfortunately there was not much information available about the history of Asian Americans in New Mexico specifically. However, I did find some statistics on reading and math for all ethnicities in Albuquerque Public Schools (APS).
When it came to reading proficiency for ethnicities in APS, you can see from the graph that Asians were behind whites only in the 2007-2008 school year. They tied with whites the following academic and were above them each year after that according to the graph. It was a fairly different story when it came to math proficiency.
Asian students led the way with the highest scores for all years listed on the graph. According to the 2010 United States Census Bureau, Asians and/or Asian Americans make up approximately 2.6% of the population in Albuquerque. With that information is interesting to see how a group of such small numbers are doing better than the rest of their peers in schools.
Looking out at another southwestern state, Texas, Asian Americans have the highest graduation rate. Compared to national average of graduation rates, Asian Americans still have the highest.
Students on Race
White students spoke proudly of the diversity at the school. A student named Dan McCarthy believed that the school found a good balance between “celebrating diversity and sharing a common identity as AH students” (Lee, 2009, p.100). A common practice among the students was joking around or "busting." Students could “bust” on each other using racial slurs, which they believed was all in good fun. However, no slurs were observed directed at white students, only at minority students. Blacks and Asians felt offended by racial busting. By not challenging the busting, the students of color accepted Whites at the top of the social hierarchy. Silence about whitness served to normalize it.
When the students employed humor and self-mockery of themselves or their ethnic and/or racial group with which they identified, they were employin "self-protective and resistant strategies that racial minorities use to deal with the dominant group” (Lee, 2009, p.101). While White students believed that they were celebrating diversity by busting on other students of color, they demonized Asians who did not partake in busting were perceived as not having a sense of humor. Most White students did not distinguish among the identity groups, but saw all Asian Americans as Asians. “At AH white students’ perspectives on Asian Americans were influenced by white relationships with African Americans and by their position relative to Asians” (Lee, 2009, p.102). Working class Italian American students had a problem with Asians and used derogatory terms as well expressing their belief that those Asian students should "go back to their own country."
Black students felt that, overall, the student body was segregated. Jackie Brown, president of the Black Student Union (BSU) said, “Everyone gets along, but nobody mixes." Students in the BSU were very upset that they were underrepresented in the top tracks and believed that there was an overrepresentation of Asians in the high tracks. Because of such, they viewed Asian Americans as a threat. “African American students interpreted Asian American student success at Academic High as confirmation of their fear that Asian Americans were taking over” (Lee, 2009, p. 106). Still, those in the top tracks weren’t liked by other blacks. They were accused of wanting to be White. For example, a Black student named Keesha was called an Oreo, black on the outside and white on the inside. Like the White students, Black students did not distinguish between Asian ethnic groups. They used terms like Asian, Chinese, and Korean interchangeably.
This group of students assumed that Blacks had AIDS. This idea was so prevalent among them that they would not drink after Black students at a water fountain. They associated African Americans with disease, poverty and crime. Because of this sentiment, they also believed that Blacks threatened the nighborhood. Their attitudes were influenced by their desire to gain upward social mobility. Their relationship with Whites was to gain social capital, while they relied on each other to keep their traditions and idelogies alive.
The school district I attended for high school – Kansas City, KS Unified School District 500 – was what is known as a minority school. The minority races in the states made up a large part of the student body with few students of the dominant group in attendance. My group of closest friends consisted of an African American girl, a Chippewa male, and a Hmong girl. Tang, Hmong, was the one I was closest to. I didn’t see her or her race as competition or the reason why blacks feel like they are getting the short end of the stick, she was simply my friend. One thing we did share in common was a desire to do well in school. We never really discussed why we wanted to do well we just felt that it was important. She and I desired to be Valedictorian and Salutatorian for our graduating class. We didn’t care who was number one, we just wanted to be the top two. I think we also had a feeling of superiority, that we were smarter than most of our classmates. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, we were numbers two and three, at the top but still not quite. There were things outside of academia we could converse about, such as our families. Her parents spoke limited English, so did my father (a Puerto Rican). We both loved tropical fruits, a product of our upbringing and cultural dishes. Our mothers both hoarded food in a deep freezer. We had a lot of similarities. Not once, however, did it come up that our parents wanted us to do well so we could get a job.
Moving on from high school and into the university, I can’t remember if I saw many Asian American students in my classes. I was working on my undergrad at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and was in the Communication Studies and Film departments. Now that I am working on my Master’s degree in Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies with an Emphasis in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), my classes are noticeably more diverse. There are more Hispanic or Latino students in my classes, as well as Native Americans and Asian Americans. One classmate of mine, I have worked with on group projects in a couple of classes. For the sake of privacy, I will call her Rei. She is an older Japanese woman with a bit of an accent. She told me she is a national board certified teacher and about how hard she worked when she got to schools in America. Rei would recount how she could teach a class of 60 students in Japan without any help, but in America as a Special Education teacher, she had Educational Assistants and Paraeducators to help her. Classes where she taught sounded more regimented and disciplined. Still, the topic of Japanese people teaching their children to value school never came up.
As a Paraeducator for my former school district at a middle school, I saw many different types of Asian American students. We had students that had voluntarily immigrated to the United States, but many of our Asian migrant students were refugees. The Asian population at the middle school consisted of the following ethnicities: Chinese, Korean, Hmong, Thai, Burmese, Nepal and Bhutan. I would assert that a majority of them were very hardworking while others were still trying to come to terms with their new life that had been thrust upon.
After reading the book and thinking about my encounters with Asian Americans in education, it is difficult to place such a rigid label on them, or anyone for that matter. The problem with stereotypes is they attempt to create a norm based on general information without considering those who do not fit that mold. Asian American students who do not succeed academically are seen as inferior by society. The stereotype places so much pressure on students, that many fear they will never live up to it or seek to rebel against it instead.
The desire for upward social mobility is an American ideal as well as achieving success through hard work and determination. Since many Asian Americans were denied opportunities and access to education, many saw that their only chance for bettering life for themselves and their descendants. Their status before they immigrated is linked to their success as Asian Americans. Asian students that had willingly immigrated to the United States in search of a better life were more likely to succeed. Students that were refugees had a much more difficult time. The emotional trauma that these children must have gone through probably affected the way they interacted with students and how they viewed education. For example, New Wavers didn’t see how education could protect them from being attacked and therefore did not value it. Students that were enrolled in ESOL classes had a difficult time at Academic High. They rarely spoke in class because they were ashamed of their accents. Unfortunately for these ELLs, they are living in a place that finds certain accents undesirable, which only served to make them seem more foreign and feel uncomfortable in the school setting. This coupled with the fact that many believe that all non-Asians treat all Asians the same regardless of their ethnicity, might also hurt potential relationships with teachers as well as make it difficult for them to establish trust for non-Asians.
As educators, we have a responsibility to our students to make them feel welcomed and valued in the classroom. I was vaguely aware of the stereotype, but having not been around many Asians having grown up mostly in Puerto Rico, I did not expect my Asian peers to live up to a standard I was unfamiliar with. I think this fact works in my favor, because I don’t get upset or confused and start wondering if my Asian students are broken if they aren’t whiz kids. I try to consider what is going on in their life and where they came from in order to be helpful to them and ensure academic success for them. It is important to exam your biases and what stereotypes you subconsciously believe and why. That being said, we must also remember that each child is unique and we must not force them to fit a label simply because society wants us to.
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Lee, S. J. (2009). Unraveling the “Model Minority” Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
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