Despite the fact that Asian are labeled as the group who are achieving, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders still struggle with the inequalities in higher education. As a first-generation, low-income Asian American, I never questioned my identity. I grew up in Oakland and it’s a very diverse place; therefore there is a large Black, Latinx and Asian community. However, since coming to college, it has been difficult finding a safe space. I usually identify myself as Chinese and Vietnamese, however, a fellow AAPI at UCLA once told me that I should drop my Chinese identity because I was born in Vietnam or say I am Chinese because I am achieving in education.
This statement definitely misguides the truth and reinforces the stereotype that ALL Asians are achieving in higher education. As I mentioned, I consider myself Asian American and I also include Pacific Islanders as well. Southeast Asian Americans – Vietnamese Americans, Hmong Americans, Cambodian Americans, and Lao Americans – are individuals who came to the United States as refugees, not immigrants; thus they had “lower English proficiency, less experience with formal education, and fewer transferable skills” (Ngo & Lee, 2007). It’s crucial to differentiate that society should not view Asians as a homogenous group who are successful. Often, high schools are dismissing the backgrounds and histories of these students, and therefore fail to address the inequalities.
Although the racialization of Asian Americans lumps all Asians into a high-achieving category, Table 1 data by ethnic groups reveals striking differences. There are similar disparities when the data is disaggregated. Contrary to the Model Minority belief, Southeast Asians are underrepresented and underserved because their experiences are racialized.
As I mentioned, I struggled with finding a safe space. I was culturally shocked when I entered UCLA. As an immigrant from Vietnam, with both Chinese and Vietnamese backgrounds, I never found a space to truly connect and share my experience. As author Michelle Samura mentions “Asian Americans often are viewed as overrepresented on college campuses, yet they remain underserved by campus support programs and resources” (2016). I feel like there are not enough campus supportive programs that help students, like myself, and adjust to this drastic transition. I often find myself choosing only one side of my identity when I am sure there are better ways to address this issue.
The ideology that Asians are overrepresented because of the Model Minority Myth is debunked by the clear subpopulations under the Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders’ umbrella. There should be recognition of intersectionalities within the community and how further research can consider educational opportunities for those who identify differently.