Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Questions about Asian American movements & quotas

So as I noted in yesterday's post, I am going to be taking the time to answer some questions that students at Private U. had written down on index cards--I'm tackling 2 today and will try to get to the rest in three or more blog posts. I am abashed that time did not allow us to have a longer conversation about these questions and other important issues related to race/racism/white privilege, but I'm hoping that some of the students at the workshop as well as anyone else in the blogosphere, will feel emboldened to chime in with their comments/observations/questions. Just one word of caution to any new commenters--please respect the rules on the right hand side of this blog, and please respect my pseudononymous identity on this blog--thanks!

1) Why do colleges have a ceiling/quota on us? Why was the SAT's emphasis on math decreased and English increased?

I'm not sure if this was a question specifically about Private U. or colleges/universities in general. Public vs. private colleges have different criteria and restrictions/guidelines that they must follow in terms of how many students they are allowed to admit in-state vs. out of state, international vs. U.S., legacy admits, need based admits, athletic admits, etc...

Inherent in the question it the assumption that there are more Asian American college applicants than there are spaces--in other words, unlike with "other" minority groups (African American/Latino/American Indian) Asian Americans are being treated like they are "white" and certain restrictions are being put on the number of Asian American students being admitted. The other assumption in the SAT question is that an emphasis on English vs. Math is automatically going to hurt Asian students.

So let me tackle the SAT question first. I don't know if that's true--in other words, I have not read nor heard anyone in Southern U.'s office of admission that there is a change of emphasis in terms of the SAT Verbal vs. Math sections. If there has, in fact, been a national trend to de-emphasize math scores, I'd be suspicious and find it odd since math and science are being so heavily touted as something that every college student should focus on (and that U.S. students, K-college are woefully behind in terms of their student peers around the globe).

I also think the SAT question assumes Asian Americans are going to spank all other racial groups in math but that they will be at a disadvantage in terms of their verbal skills. All I can say to that is I'm a walking refutation of this since in both my SATs and GRE scores, I *squeaked* by a decent # in math but excelled in the verbal section (no surprise there I guess).

In terms of quotas, I will say that trying to keep colleges balanced in terms of diversity is very important--racial and ethnic diversity of course, but also gender/sexuality, class/region/religion. I also think that this is a red herring in terms of the model minority myth--and the U.C. system is a perfect case study for this. Over 10 years ago, the U.C. system abolished affirmative action--and the assumption was that every U.C. campus would be overrun with Asian students. But the reality of what happened was that Asian American admits did not increase in huge #s--in fact, if you broke it down by ethnicity, certain Asian American ethnic groups decreased in terms of admissions--among Filipinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotians. So getting rid of racial quotas means that there is a decrease in black and Latino students (which definitely happened in the U.C. case) but no appreciable increase in Asian American freshmen--the reality is, getting rid of affirmative action seems only to benefit white college students.

2) Did pan-Asian political/social movement launch the first articulation of "Asian American" as a race, or did other earlier factors/influence cause it?

Yes. Very specifically, two graduate students, Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka, coined the phrase as a way to reject and replace the term "Oriental": as Ichioka notes, an Asian American “gives a damn about his life, his work, his beliefs, and is willing to do almost anything to help Orientals become Asian Americans” (qtd in Chinese America: The Untold Story of America's Oldest New Community Kwong and Miscevic 267-268).

But it's important to understand that political consciousness did not just suddenly appear in the 1960s--it was galvanized by the political foment of the 1960s, particularly the civil rights struggles of the African American community, but the group soon to be known as "Asian American" were agitating in legal and extralegal ways from the time of the first waves of Asian-ethnic immigration--Chinese men fought racist laws taxing them for their queues, Japanese men fought for the right of naturalization, Filipino men fought for the right to be recognized as American citizens (I could go on and on, but I'd recommend reading a work of Asian American history -- any by Ronald Takaki, Sucheng Chan, or Gary Okihiro are quite exceptional).

Anyway, my main point is that while Asian American as a term, a racial group, became solidified in the 1960s (and as part of the anti-war agitations/civil right fomentations), many other factors were in place to allow for that political agitation to come to fruition (the injustices of the Japanese American internment foremost among them as well).

OK, that's it for today's post--I'll try to blog again with more questions (and answers) tomorrow--but please feel free to leave a comment and start the conversation!


healthygrl said...

when will you put up the next set of answers to questions?

Also, a question on the profession - how did you experience the obstacles to becoming an Asian American English professor rather than a doctor/engineer/scientist/professional?

Jennifer said...

Hi healthygrl,

love your handle because right now I'm laid up in bed with a virus (confirmed by my doc yesterday when I decided I needed to go see her after day #5 of waking up with a fever, aches, chills).

So that explains why I've been in blog silence--I've literally been bed bound.

But I will try to get to another set of questions today (maybe even right now) if my energy holds out.

But to answer your question, it's hard for me to answer comparatively since I never attempted a career in the hard sciences (or any science for that matter). In fact, I never had any aspirations for any tech or science jobs. And my parents were pretty untraditional in the Asian sense because they never pushed me to get straight A's or to be a doctor or to be anything I didn't want to be. They were really great that way--I never went to Chinese school, I was never put down because I was a girl (in fact, I think that they really fostered my feisty spirit) and they never put limits on what I could do.

So maybe that helped me to figure out that I wanted a career where I was with people--teaching or law, that was the question.

But I think you are asking perhaps what obstacles I faced in terms of racial discrimination or stereotypes. I have to say that institutionally, I didn't face too many obstacles--and what I mean by that is I had supportive grad advisors and I didn't seem to face obstacles that were institutionally tied to the university.

However, emotionally and psychologically it was difficult being the only Asian American woman working on Asian American literature. I was one of 3 Asian women in grad school -- 1 woman was from Malaysia and the other was from LA--both were studying British lit without a focus on race. It was also just difficult being in a program where not a lot of people wanted to talk about race and issues of intersectionality (with gender/class/sexuality, etc...). So for my own interests in social justice, that was hard. And it's hard not to have role models--which is why when I started to go to the Association of Asian American Studies conference, I felt like I was "home" because I was with other academics, grad students and faculty, who were great role models for me.