It’s cap and gown time, and along with it come thoughts that threaten to break
apart Asian America. You’ll notice it when you are at your child’s commencement
this graduation season (my Jillian, the rock star, gets her B.S. in Geology this
week at San Francisco State, where the graduation speaker is Mayor Ed Lee).
It’s hard to imagine there are some unhappy Asian Americans, given the number
you are likely to see on campus.
But what if after four years, you are graduating from your “fall back” school
and not your number one choice?
Instead of joy, some Asian American parents are actually wondering how
differently they would feel if their kids were not at UC This and Cal State
That, but at their real number one choice, that private school or that Ivy
League place, the one that rhymes with kale?
That’s the school that said no to your offspring’s resume of perfect grades,
SATs, and tireless extracurriculars, and instead let in a few others who
couldn’t hold your son’s high school jock.
What’s next to come as Asian American adults–more discrimination?
That’s the logic that’s going through the minds of many Asian Americans these
days as they grapple with this question: Should race-neutral policies replace
More than anything else, it’s the single biggest threat to the notion of an
Asian American community. And it’s brought out the opportunists who want to use
Asian Americans to break up the solidarity on the issue among people of color.
The Asian American group 80-20 launched an online petition drive and now claims
it has 50,000 signatures of Asian Americans who want to end the unfairness of it
They are sadly deluded.
It all comes about as the Supreme Court contemplates the latest assault on
affirmative action, Fisher v. Texas, later this year.
If the Sandra Day O’Connor-less court swings further rightward, it would mark
the real end of a policy that has assured Asian Americans equal opportunity in
education for decades.
LOWELL HIGH SCHOOL
San Francisco has dealt with this issue in the past with the caps on Asian
American admissions at my alma mater, Lowell High School. I said back then that
the issue is not about race, but about limited resources. Besides, if a
super-majority white population is not considered good, why would a
super-majority of Asian Americans be any better? The answer in my mind has
always been to make more Lowells.
But how would you do that on a national level? It’s harder given all the budget
cuts on education, but adding resources, not dumping race-based admissions, is
still the real answer.
In California, where the alternative to affirmative action–race-neutral
admissions–has been the law and upheld since the passage of Prop. 209,
inequality still exists. All 209 did was codify the ideal (a colorblind world),
but it de-codified the groups that are less than equal now. The colorblind 209
has left us with a policy that gives us results like UCLA, where 91,000
applicants vied for 5,400 spaces.
The numbers don’t work.
Qualified applicants will still be denied, not just Asian Americans.
Race-neutral approaches don’t come close to addressing the real problem of the
need for more resources.
In addition, the race-neutral system only exacerbates the problem of inequality.
When it comes to Asian Americans, the political umbrella term includes 24 ethnic
groups, and all have varied experiences based on when the first immigrants
arrived. Asian Americans are far from being just Chinese, Japanese, or Korean.
Among Southeast Asians, for example, 40 percent of Cambodians and Laotians in
California haven’t finished high school, double the state rate. After 209, those
groups continued to be severely underrepresented.
As President Obama said last week, the day before he came out for marriage
equality, he urged a group of the wonkiest Asian Americans at the Asian Pacific
American Institute for Congressional Studies dinner in Washington to consider
the importance of affirmative action:
“And I know it can be tempting–given the success that’s on display here
tonight–for people to buy into the myth of the “model minority” and glance over
the challenges that this community still faces. But we have to remember there’s
still educational disparities like higher dropout rates in certain groups, lower
college enrollment rates in others. There’s still economic disparities like
higher rates of poverty and obstacles to employment,” said the president.
“Dozens of different communities fall under the umbrella of the Asian Americans
and Pacific Islanders, and we have to respect that the experiences of immigrant
groups are distinct and different. And your concerns run the gamut.”
Any real solution needs to address all of us, not split us apart.
But there are those who have lost that community feeling and can only see public
policy as it applies to me, myself and I.
80-20 is circulating the story of “Martin,” with his weighted 4.35 GPA, four
subject SATs, 10 AP tests, ranked 7th out of 455, captain of the tennis team,
city teen council member, president the last two years, volunteer tennis coach,
and paid camp counselor.
His results: Rejected by Harvard, Penn, Cornell, Georgetown, Duke.
But he was accepted at UC Berkeley? Is the difference the virtues of race-blind
Well, maybe yes and maybe no. We’ve already seen the inequities 209 has left us
And what about the Southeast Asians who remain underrepresented?
College admissions are imperfect. It’s not simply a matter of rounding up the
top scores and letting just those people in. Building a vibrant, diverse student
body is far more complicated than that. And if it is all about resources, budget
cuts on education, which are being imposed throughout the land, certainly are
But in dealing with these issues, Asian Americans, and all Americans, need to
understand if you’re not for affirmative action as the continuing remedy to
educational inequality, you are really for the non-diverse America we’ve left
behind, a country where segregation and inequality ruled the day.
Going forward, as Americans, can we really afford to stand for that?