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.