Siu: AASA fails to meet its mission

Last week I received some interesting news from the Asian American Students Alliance (AASA). “AASA Serious Fact,” the newsletter read. “9.8% Poverty rate for Asian Americans in 2004. The overall rate is 12.5%.”

There we have it. We can all go home. Asians have reached socioeconomic equality with the rest of America.

Except AASA is wrong.

Compared to whites, blacks, Hispanics and women, Asian Americans face the lowest odds of reaching management positions in private industries, universities and the federal government, according to government data compiled by the 80-20 Initiative, a national, non-partisan, Asian-American political action committee.

This is despite the fact that Asian Americans have the highest educational attainment of any other group. The percent of Asian Americans with business degrees, for example, is 85 percent higher than the national average. According to 80-20, “If Asian-American workers were paid the average national salary according to their educational attainment, the average Asian-American income would be about 15% higher than the average Caucasian income.”

There is indeed a glass ceiling for Asian Americans in this country, which is why the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued a report recommending that the president issue “an Executive Order that addresses issues of discrimination against [Asian American and Pacific Islander] employees in the federal sector, and that supports programs to encourage professional advancement.”

AASA has failed in its mission of “educating the entire Yale student body … about Asian American issues,” going to the point of spreading misinformation. AASA has devolved into a purely social organization in which Asian students hang out together, perpetuating racial stereotypes about Asians as a group.

Last June, the College Board and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) published a report titled “Facts, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight,” which aimed to dispel myths about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. According to the report, Asian Americans are viewed by many in the United States as a model minority that “seeks advancement through quiet diligence in study and work and by not making waves; the minority that other American minorities should seek to emulate.”

While AASA celebrates the fact that the poverty rate for Asian Americans is below the national average, the College Board/CARE reminds us that there are large variations within the Asian American category, “despite the rosy picture of a highly affluent group painted by the ‘model minority’ stereotype.”

According to the 2000 census, the poverty rates for Hmong and Cambodian Americans were 37.8 percent and 29.3 percent, respectively, while the national average was 12.4 percent. For the U.S. Census, “Asian Americans” encompasses 24 different ethnic groups, ranging from Bangladeshi to Bhutanese and Sri Lankan. But when AASA claims to educate students about “Asian” issues, we know what kind of Asians they’re really talking about: the “good” kind of Asians — for the most part, the kind that get into Yale.

AASA’s idea of a single multi-ethnic culture is about as authentic as the Asian food in Commons. This skewed caricature masks the real problems faced by the individual subgroups that make up the “Asian-American” category.

I admit, however, that other people thrust the term “Asian American” upon those of us of Asian descent currently in the United States, and that we share some common experiences in becoming American. If AASA is not too busy holding “Asian” celebrations of “Asian” culture … with “Asian” food, it can unite these ethnic groups together to show off their individual distinctions, instead of the racial stereotypes that AASA works to promote. And perhaps then we can break through the glass ceiling.

Unless this happens, Asian Americans at Yale would be better off if AASA did not exist.

Gordon Siu is a junior in Ezra Stiles College and a former member of the political committee of the Chinese American Students Association, which is represented by the Asian American Students Alliance.


  • 2010

    Couldn't agree more.

    Also, this is completely true -- "AASA has devolved into a purely social organization in which Asian students hang out together…" This is the reason why I, as an Asian student, have zero ties to AASA, and I like it that way.

  • apa student

    you don't think that in stimulating this kind of conversation, aasa is already fulfilling a certain purpose that is lacking on campus?

  • Anonymous

    Wow, completely neglecting all the fantastic activism AASA has done on campus over the years.

  • Y '10

    Gordon raises some important points, albeit with some extremity. Overall, this is a well-articulated and well-reasoned piece, and should start a conversation too often shoved under the rug.

  • Y09

    From a 2005 census report:
    "# Black households had the lowest median income in 2004 ($30,134) among race groups. Asian households had the highest median income ($57,518). The median income for non-Hispanic white households was $48,977. Median income for Hispanic households was $34,241."

    Sounds like an oppressed minority to me…
    Maybe AASA shouldn't be anything more than it is (and probably less).

  • Y '07

    Thanks for this perspective, Gordon. I agree that the poverty statistic is misleading, especially given the disaggregated numbers on Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans. It's also worth noting that rates of poverty among Asian Americans are actually higher than white, non-Hispanic Americans even before disaggregation. The fact that median income and poverty are both high among Asian Americans shows the steep income disparities that must exist.

    That said, I would not dismiss the political activism that AASA has done in the past and present-—or can do in the future. Things have changed drastically on campus since my time at Yale if AASA is only having the cultural equivalent of high school "fiestas" in Spanish class. Your critique of Asian American political activism on campus is a worthwhile one, but it would be more productive to sit down with the PAEC chairs and try to proactively address problems that impact Asian American communities. In the realm of health, for instance, you could talk about high rates of uninsurance among Korean Americans. Also, you pointed some very disturbing statistics on glass ceiling effects that are worth addressing. There’s a lot of education and activism to be done, so help it get done!

  • Anonymous

    Why take an offensive attitude to create a hot topic, when the issue deserves attention without stooping to dishonorable means? Distort, defame, denounce! I actually think you make a couple good points, but the way you did it is strictly unacceptable. Well-articulated, no. Well-reasoned, certainly not. It is usually not the case when an angry writer decides to play journalist.

    I am once again appalled by the wannabe journalism of the YDN.

  • Anonymous

    In June 2008, I was on Capitol Hill attending the unveiling ceremony of the College Board/CARE report. I brought it to the attention of certain PAEC chairs, who now serve on the AASA board.

    It has been 8 months and nothing has been done about this issue.

    Shouldn't students take offense when their leaders take no action about an issue that they have been informed about? When their leaders care more about holding dances and basketball tournaments than addressing issues of importance?

    They should not be offended. They should be outraged.

    -Gordon Siu, ES '10

  • Anonymous

    A copy of the report, "Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Facts, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight," can be found here:

  • Yale 08

    This article could be more convincing if there were less oversimplification. While higher education from premier institutions certainly opens doors to many different kinds of degree-appropriate work, accomplishments in work settings -- which help form the basis for leadership selections -- rely on a multitude of "soft" skills that are not indicated by degrees. Capacities such as creativity, communication abilities, networking skills, and outgoingness are just a sample of the many requisite skills demanded of leaders for which there is no widely-acknowledged certification system that signals such competencies. That being said, if the author had been able to establish equality in these characteristics beyond sheer degree attainment, he would have a very strong article.

  • '09

    AASA is a completely useless umbrella organization and it should be dissolved. The board is too large for its own good, and the meetings really just consist of board members giving (fake) "updates" while no real work goes on.

    It has no real constituents, and the "member groups" of AASA are really only there for the funding they get every year. When it comes to "Pan-Asian Events", AASA practically has to beg its member groups to participate -- because ultimately, it is the member groups (cultural organizations) that students identify with, and not with AASA.

  • '10

    In response to #7, I only want to point out that (whether or not you agree with Siu) this is NOT the work of a YDN reporter, but rather an op-ed piece by a Yale student appearing on the opinions page.

    The question of whether the YDN has "wannabe journalism" is another matter. I'm just tired of people who confuse what the YDN staff produces and what appears on the oped page.