Achievement Level: Asian

By: Jee Eun Kim

A few days ago I was on the Internet and stumbled upon a video that contained an Asian person defying laws of gravity through doing incredible acrobatics. I scrolled down to the comment section and saw a comment that said: “There’s different levels of  achievement – Easy, Medium, Hard, Extremely Difficult, and ASIAN.”  I laughed it off but it made me think where does this stereotype bleed into so often?  There’s a widely known stereotype that Asian Americans excel in various parts of life, but it is especially seen in academics. That stereotype is known as the “model minority” myth. Model minority myth as Poon et al define it as “AAPIs, especially Asian Americans, as a monolithically hardworking racial group whose high achievement undercuts claims of systemic racism made by other racially minoritized populations” (as cited in Osajima, 2000). This common misconception of Asian Americans puts an expectation on them to always succeed and achieve at the highest level. Asian Americans success in education is not because of “culture” but rather the privileges some Asian American immigrant groups have in socioeconomics.

When people think of the success of Asian Americans in education, they tend to think that it is due to Asian culture of hard work, ethics and strong families. This is myth that needs to be addressed, redefined and looked at again with accurate facts that the beginning of some Asian American “success” has been through their  socioeconomic origins. We need to go back to where those origins start and that starts with those who are part of “elite groups of immigrants are among the most highly educated people in their countries of origin and are often also more highly educated than the general U.S. population” (Lee). When they settle in the United States, they create an ethnic capital, which creates after-school tutoring programs and academies. These are extra resources for their children to attend to achieve higher levels of academic success. Those programs are situated in neighborhoods that have large Asian American demographics, so it is basically embedded into their daily lives. On top of that, many Asian American families circulate “invaluable information about which neighborhoods have the best public schools, the importance of advance-placement classes and how to navigate the college admissions process” (Lee), so even working class Asian American families can put their children through this track. The stories where you hear an Asian American student from a working class achieving academic success is because of the hidden extra curriculum that he or she attended. Not everyone can afford after school programs for their children to attend to. Even within Asian American groups, there are many Southeast Asian families that cannot put their children in this path. But they still have the model minority myth attached to them. After school programs also creates disparities among other minorities, hence creating an achievement gap. After school programs themselves are not inherently bad but it does cause a problem when not everyone can have access to them. These programs have become a privilege that only the well off can afford.

What is a solution to did this problem? As Jennifer Lee states we  “should stop talking about Asian culture and start making supplemental education available to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Asian ethnic groups that lack ethnic capital and don’t get a boost from this privilege, such as Hmong, Laotians and Cambodians.” Much of Asian American academic success comes from the accessibility of after school programs, so stop associating Asian American success is through Asian “culture” of just hard work and strong familial ties. It undercuts the struggles and hardships many families go through, and places the general assumption that Asian Americans are academic geniuses and do not need the educational help.

Lee, Jennifer. “The Secret to Asian Americans’ Success.” CNN. Cable News Network, 4 Aug.       2015.

Poon, O., D. Squire, C. Kodama, A. Byrd, J. Chan, L. Manzano, S. Furr, and D. Bishundat. “A    Critical Review of the Model Minority Myth in Selected Literature on Asian Americans          and Pacific Islanders in Higher Education.” Review of Educational Research 86.2 (2015):    469-502.

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