What comes to mind when you hear “Asian-American”? Perhaps you think of a scrawny, glasses-donning kid in the middle of a library, surrounded by books. Maybe you think of a doctor or engineer, pouring all of their energy into their work. Or perhaps you think about a harried mother taking her children to extracurricular tutoring, sternly telling them to improve their mathematics.
Such are the commonly held stereotypes surrounding Asian Americans. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (or AAPI) are one of the most diverse and quickly growing racial groups in the US. However, many regard the AAPI as a homogenous entity with similar characteristics. AAPI are often seen as naturally intelligent, good at math, successful, and law-abiding. Essentially, they are the “model minority” of the US. However, these kinds of stereotypes ultimately do more harm than good. Homogenizing the AAPI community serves to highlight only those who fit the stereotype, and ignores the current issues surrounding the AAPI community and their access to an equitable education.
The AAPI is highly heterogeneous and consists of a broad range of educational and socioeconomic levels. For example, the Southeast Asian community, often ignored in the common definition of “Asian American,” are commonly at a lower socioeconomic level than mainstream Asian Americans. As many are refugees and recent implants due to fleeing war in their home countries, they struggle in their new home, which in turn affects their education. The 1990 US Census lists 63.2%, 35.2%, 41.9%, and 26.9% of Hmong, Laotians, Cambodians, and Vietnamese people living under the poverty line. Despite the current and imminent growth of these populations, many find very little support in their communities, making access to certain resources difficult. This particularly affects education in their children—though resources such as after school tutoring or academic counseling exist, many find that because of their current economic state, they do not have access to such means of support or have to forego them in order to work and support their families. Lumping all Asian Americans into a homogenous group fails to acknowledge the socioeconomic struggle of some groups, and therefore ignores a discussion that needs to be had about Asian American access to education and advancement.
Another common misconception regarding the AAPI community is that the majority attend prestigious universities and go on to have successful careers. While this is true for some, it is hardly correct; in fact, 40% of Asian Americans who attend college are enrolled in community colleges. Though Asian Americans make up a sizeable proportion of the community college population, there lacks research behind how they are performing at these schools. The assumption that all Asian Americans succeed in higher education fails to examine the true conditions of how they are performing; aggregating all data does not allow for us to see whether certain groups are struggling, which in turn does not allow for support and resources to be allocated to those struggling students. We need to recognize that the AAPI community is largely heterogeneous in order to tackle educational issues on a smaller level.
Stereotypes surrounding Asian Americans only serve to homogenize; by doing so, we ignore the issues that certain subsets of the community face. In order to tackle educational inequities we must first recognize the diversity of the AAPI community. By disaggregating data and examining it more closely, we can further understand the issues that certain groups face, and work toward an equitable educational future.
Lew, Jonathan W. “UCLA Community Review: The Overlooked Minority: Asian Pacific American Students at Community Colleges.” Community College Review. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.
Um, Khatharya. A Dream Denied: Educational Experiences of Southeast Asian American Youth: Issues and Recommendations. Washington, DC: Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, 2003. Print.