Opinion

Debunking the misconceptions about Asian-Americans in societ

In Portland, Maine's public high schools, the girls bearing pregnant bellies are not African-American or Hispanic nor are the boys who are being arrested and dropping out. Maine is as homogenous a place as it gets but diversity does exist in Portland, and with diversity, unfortunately, there is also a social dichotomy. The kids dropping out of high school are Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai and Somali. These are newer immigrant populations who have found a home in southern Maine, or North Carolina, or poorer sections of California. With respect to the Somali population, the other three groups are about as Asian as it gets. We are, theoretically, the smart kids. We are, theoretically, the kids who outperform even the white kids in academics and standardized testing. We are, theoretically, the kids whose parents make more money than the white kids. We are, as many of my white acquaintances sometimes joke, Twinkies. But let's get a few things straight.

Asia is a continent that makes up half of the world's population and has hundreds, if not thousands, of ethnicities and races. The term "Asian" is meant to embody more than simply people of Indian, Chinese or Japanese descent. When conservatives consider the abolishment of affirmative action, using Asian (also known as Japanese, Chinese and Indian) success rates to argue against other minority groups as well as other struggling Asian groups is a crude and deceptive method. For the most part, these groups have been part of the U.S. longer and have been accustomed to the American lifestyle more so than newer Asian groups who were forced to migrate here from war-torn, ravished countries.

Let's break down the generic term "Asian." In Portland, an Asian student is either an honors student or one whose future is bleak. Consider that only 58 percent of Vietnamese students are graduating from high school and the percentage for Cambodian students is in the forties. From my own experience observing my family and the families of close friends, many parents of Vietnamese or Cambodian students in Maine are not fluent in English and work extremely long hours. The lower income neighborhoods in Portland are largely made up of Cambodian, Vietnamese and Thai populations. With all this mind, these students, who are as authentically "Asian" as any other, are subsequently expected to excel in school and become model citizens.

These hardships concerning the everyday realities of many Asian-Americans are practically unexplored in contemporary academia. They include but are not limited to: the large percentage of recent Asian-Americans living in poverty, the idea that Asian-American boys are somehow geekier and less capable athletes than American boys, the bullying and discrimination of Asians caused by accents and the difficulties of balancing both Asian and American identities. Because we've been brainwashed to believe that "Asians," as an entirety, are the model minority, the gravity of these issues continues to be overlooked. Conferences held to create more diversity in higher education rarely include "Asians." There is no discourse.

I take extreme offense when people generally assume that because I am Asian, I am inherently a good student in math and science, while they do not make these same assumptions for my Hispanic or African-American friends. First, most, if not all of my friends are far superior to me in those fields. Second, I am of mixed blood and assumptions on my race are not appreciated. And last, those cultural expectations are fabricated by dominant society to do nothing more than pit one group of people against another by arguing that some minority populations shouldn't have certain rights others enjoy. I myself am guilty of researching American inequalities as they pertain to African- Americans and Hispanics. I do so for a variety of reasons, mainly because this ingrained racism in America that causes social discrepancies are heart-breaking and must be addressed; but I also can't help but think that it may also be because the inequalities that Blacks and Hispanics endure are more clearly laid out than issues affecting the Asian-American community.


But if we were to group all Asians together in America, let's consider that there are almost no representations of successful Asians or Asian couples in American television or theaters. Let's consider why advertisement, music and media in general are (almost completely) absent of Asian representatives. Let's consider why the political field is lacking Asian-American representation. Let's consider why most non-Asians don't know anything about Asian cultures besides Chinese New Year, Chinese food, geeky students and docile women. And lastly, consider how "Asia" and "Asian History" are taught with an extreme bias in American schools.

We live in a dichotomous society dominated by whites and the term "Asian," whether it be sub-groups of different Asian races or merely all Asian-Americans ourselves, still face discrimination and racial inequalities just as any other minority in America does.