After Desegregation, Chinese American Students Still Face Uphill Battle

Duowei Times, News Report, Hubert Lu, Translated by Eugenia Chien Posted: Jun 16, 2007

Editor’s Note: Chinese-born and American-born Chinese may seem like two very different groups of students, but the American university/education system treats them as one group – “underrepresented minorities.” The stereotype of Chinese-American students as academic achievers overlooks the needs of many Chinese students, especially new immigrants.

NEW YORK -- Fifty years after the Brown act, the American education system has gone from an enforced racial segregation to an unofficial segregation by income level, residence, and language.

Where do Chinese students fit in with these waves of change? What kind of conflicts and contradictions do Chinese-Americans experience? Are Asian-Americans still the model minority?

Kevin Chu, a Chinese-American first-year student at New York State University, says he has seen the self-segregation of Asian students since high school. He recalls that before high school, students did not segregate themselves, but once he started high school, things began to change. White, Indian, and Asian students segregated into different tables in the cafeteria. Sometimes they even used colors to distinguish themselves – white or brown.

The beginning of self-segregation in school became a test of friendships, he says. If he sat at a table with white students, he says, “Other Asian students would call me a Twinkie – yellow on the outside and white on the inside.” But he couldn’t completely identify with Chinese students who were new immigrants. “I don’t share their common interest like Japanese animation or pop music from Hong Kong or China,” he says. Many students who do not speak English tend to bond together, he says.

Chu’s experience illustrates one of the biggest problems facing Chinese-American students today: Chinese-born and American-born Chinese may seem like two very different groups of students, but the American university/education system treats them as one group – “underrepresented minorities.”

The stereotype that Asian Americans are all model students has been made at the expense of many students. According to a 2002 study by Tulane University, among all races in the United States, Asian students have the lowest self-esteem, due to both cultural and family environments.

A study by the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) in 2004 called Hidden in Plain View studied New York City – with its significant Asian population-- in order to dispel several misconceptions of Asian-American students.

First, are all Asians the same? In fact, the study found that language, culture, and social characteristics of Asian immigrants vary greatly between South Asians and East Asians.

Second, are all Asians good students? For many children of new immigrants, language barriers and family economic difficulties factor into their academic success. In 1999, only one third of Asian students in New York City graduated high school.

Third, in the discussion of diversity, do Asians need to be included? Whether in education or daily life, mainstream society lacks contact with Asian-Americans, which leads to stereotypes and even discrimination.

Fourth, Asian parents do not like to participate in school activities? Asian parents put a great emphasis on education but they sometimes do not participate in school activities because schools disregard the cultural and language barriers with Asian parents.

In New York, Asian families have a medium income of $41,119, higher than the average medium income of $38,293. But because Asian families are larger, the average individual income in Asian families is only $18,739, lower than the city average individual income of $22,402.

From this observation, one out of four Asians lives below the poverty line. In 2002, the high school graduation rate of Asian students in New York City was 66.9 percent, second only to white students, who graduated at a rate of 70.5 percent, and far higher than African-American and Latinos at 44.4 percent and 41.1 percent, respectively. According to this study, the high graduation rates and test scores of Asian-American students are the main reason why educators ignore the needs of Asian-American students.

Compared to other major ethnic groups, Asian Americans have the lowest rate of registering for exams. This shows that at least 15 percent of Asian students are ignored in test result surveys. At least 37.8 percent of New York’s Asian students are foreign-born; among them, 22.4 percent were born in China – the largest group of foreign-born students in the city.

According to this study, 78.7 percent of American-born Asians pass the math test, 51.2 percent pass the reading test. Meanwhile, foreign-born Asians have a much lower rate: 53.6 percent passes the math test, 28.1 percent passes the reading test.

Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, who crafted the decision to overthrow segregation in schools in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, once said, “To separate children from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” Many civil rights activists at the time believed that his words would change American public education. But today, experts believe that the problem of self-segregation is more serious than ever.

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