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Chang (2017) "Asian Americans and Education"

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(*Free to download at: https://www.academia.edu/31918267/_Asian_Americans_and_Education_) A review article on the state of educational research concerning communities that are included under the Asian American umbrella category. Abstract and Contents: The communities that constitute the racialized category of Asian Americans consist of approximately 20 million people in the United States, or about 5% of the total population. About 20% or 4 million are of primary or secondary school age, and over 1.1 million are in higher education. Both in popular and academic discourse, “Asian American” generally refers to people who have ethnic backgrounds in South Asia (e.g., Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), Southeast Asia (e.g., Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam), and East Asia (e.g., China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan). As “Asian American” is an umbrella term used to categorize a very diverse, heterogeneous, and transnational set of populations, Asian Americans as a group present various challenges to education and research in and about the United States. These challenges can concern paradigms of achievement, citizenship, family involvement, access (e.g., higher education, bilingual education), language and culture, race and ethnicity, and school community. In order to address these paradigmatic challenges, a great deal of scholarship has called for a disaggregation of the data on populations that fall under the pan-ethnic “Asian America” umbrella term, to gain a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of the many diverse populations and their historical, cultural, economic, and political experiences. To further address the problematic framing of Asian Americans in education and related fields, scholars have applied critical lenses to key tensions within conceptualization, policy, curriculum, and pedagogy. More recently, the notions of intersectionality and transnationalism have been generative in the study of Asian Americans, within not only educational research but also Asian American studies, which generally falls under the field of ethnic studies in the U.S. context, but has also been categorized under American studies, cultural studies, or Asian studies. While characterizations of Asian Americans as “the Model Minority” or “the Oppressed Minority” persist, the relevance of such static binaries has increasingly been challenged as the Asian American populations and migrations continue to diversify and increase. Contents: I. Introduction II. Demographics and Naming of Asian America (Key Demographics, History and Politics of Naming) III. Key Tensions within Education (Existing Conceptualizations, Intersectionality and Transnationalism) IV. Moving Forward (Current Issues, Next Steps and Pedagogies) V. Further Reading
Asian Americans and Education
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Summary and Keywords
The communities that constitute the racialized category of Asian Americans consist of
approximately 20 million people in the United States, or about 5% of the total population.
About 20% or 4 million are of primary or secondary school age, and over 1.1 million are
in higher education. Both in popular and academic discourse, “Asian American” generally
refers to people who have ethnic backgrounds in South Asia (e.g., Bangladesh, India,
Pakistan, Sri Lanka), Southeast Asia (e.g., Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam),
and East Asia (e.g., China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan). As “Asian American” is an umbrella
term used to categorize a very diverse, heterogeneous, and transnational set of
populations, Asian Americans as a group present various challenges to education and
research in and about the United States. These challenges can concern paradigms of
achievement, citizenship, family involvement, access (e.g., higher education, bilingual
education), language and culture, race and ethnicity, and school community.
In order to address these paradigmatic challenges, a great deal of scholarship has called
for a disaggregation of the data on populations that fall under the pan-ethnic “Asian
America” umbrella term, to gain a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of the many
diverse populations and their historical, cultural, economic, and political experiences. To
further address the problematic framing of Asian Americans in education and related
fields, scholars have applied critical lenses to key tensions within conceptualization,
policy, curriculum, and pedagogy. More recently, the notions of intersectionality and
transnationalism have been generative in the study of Asian Americans, within not only
educational research but also Asian American studies, which generally falls under the
field of ethnic studies in the U.S. context, but has also been categorized under American
studies, cultural studies, or Asian studies. While characterizations of Asian Americans as
“the Model Minority” or “the Oppressed Minority” persist, the relevance of such static
binaries has increasingly been challenged as the Asian American populations and
migrations continue to diversify and increase.
Asian Americans and Education
Benjamin Chang
Subject: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities, Educational Politics
and Policy, Languages and Literacies
Online Publication Date: Feb 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.102
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education
Asian Americans and Education
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Keywords: Asian American, methodology, policy, pedagogy, race, ethnicity, intersectionality, transnationalism,
literature review
Introduction
The 21st century has been labeled by some as “The Asian Century,” which anticipates the
rise of Asian nations in economic, cultural, and political dominance. Indeed the People’s
Republic of China has already evolved into one of the world’s superpowers, with a
massive amount of access, migration, and investment into U.S. markets and other
institutions, including the education sector. As various forms of capital and people
continue to flow into the United States, Asian Americans have usually claimed the
designation of fastest-growing racial group in the United States (Paik, Kula, Saito,
Rahman, & Witenstein, 2014). This can be indicated by the U.S. Census’s statistics of 1.5
million Asian Americans in 1970, 7 million in 1990, and 19.4 million in 2013. With these
numbers, and a significant presence in areas ranging from pop culture to politics, and e-
commerce to education, Asian Americans are receiving considerable attention in popular
and academic discourse. Yet despite this growth and visibility, there is a significant
amount of tension and disparity in and across the groups that fall under the monolithic
term of “Asian American.”
Within the sociopolitical landscape of the United States and its racialization of ethnic
groups, there are generally five racialized groups: Latina/o, Black, white, Asian, and
indigenous peoples (Omi & Winant, 1994). While there are different nomenclatures (e.g.,
African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Oriental, Native American), subgroups, and
controversies associated with these racializations, they play a significant role in the
ongoing general discourse of the United States. As with the other racialized groups,
Asian American” is an umbrella category composed of vast and diverse peoples.
Although immigrants from Asia have been present in what is now the United States for
over 300 years (Cordova, 1983), they did not arrive in larger numbers until the mid-1800s.
Since that time, ebbs and flows of Asian immigration have been related to factors such as
colonization, imperialism, globalization, and political economy. Within the popular,
academic, and governmental discourse in North America, there are several subgroups
from different parts of Asia that are considered Asian American. These include those that
are referred to as being from South Asia (e.g., Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri
Lanka), Southeast Asia (e.g., Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam),
and East Asia (e.g., China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan). In some instances, peoples from the
Pacific Islands (e.g., Guam, Hawaii, Samoa) or West Asia (e.g., Iran, Iraq), are included
under the even broader umbrella term Asian Pacific Islander (API) or Asian American
Pacific Islander (AAPI). In addition, to distinguish the presence and experiences of South
Asians (sometimes referred to as “Desis”), the term “Asian Pacific Islander Desi
American” (APIDA) has also been utilized in recent years (S. Shankar, 2011). Here, “Asian
American” will refer to those of South, Southeast, and East Asian background living in
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the United States, which aligns with the U.S. Census. Although they share some common
experiences, Pacific Islanders are not grouped together with Asians here, given the
distinct histories and conditions of indigenous peoples from the Pacific Islands, which are
usually quite disparate from Asian peoples, including those who migrated to and settled
in the same Pacific Islands (B. Chang & Au, 2008; Labrador & Wright, 2011).
Key demographic features of the Asian American community with regards to education
will be discussed. The demographics discussion will be used as a springboard for looking
at the naming and typologies of the diverse communities considered to be a part of “Asian
America.” Several key tensions within the realm of education with Asian American groups
will be examined, particularly around conceptualizations, policy, and pedagogy related to
educational equity. This focus on conceptualizations and equity is informed by critical and
intersectional scholarship that critiques some of the existing paradigms of research on
Asian Americans and education that tend to frame the scholarship through a straight line
of historical progress, or a one-by-one analysis of each ethnic subgroup. Suggestions are
presented on generative areas of research and pedagogy to address key themes and
tensions raised.
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Demographics and Naming of Asian America
Key Demographics
Some of the years of the sources of the demographic information pertinent to issues of
Asian Americans and education vary, as not all relevant statistical information is collected
or available each year, such as with the U.S. Census taken every 10 years, or the
American Community Survey (ACS), which is conducted annually but with limited areas
of data. In some instances, data from before 2010 are cited, but these are usually in the
context of an academic article that names trends still pertinent to the conditions of
education emphasized. Aside from providing a quantitative snapshot of Asian Americans,
the data also serve to illustrate how diverse and disparate “Asian American” subgroups
can be. The data point to the urgent need of clearly and consistently disaggregating data
on Asian Americans in an effort to debunk flawed and stereotypical discourse found
across scholarship, policies, and pedagogy.
According to the 2013 ACS, approximately 19.4 million of the United States’ total 320
million residents were categorized as Asian American (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013A). The six
largest Asian American ethnic subgroups were those who indicated they were of the
following descent: Chinese (4.3 million, not including Taiwanese), Filipina/o (3.6 million),
Asian Indian (3.5 million), Vietnamese (1.9 million), Korean (1.8 million), and Japanese
(1.4 million). Other large subgroups included Pakistani (409,000), Cambodian (276,000),
Hmong (260,000), Thai (237,000), Laotian (232,000), Taiwanese (230,000), Bangladeshi
(147,000), and Burmese (100,000). Of the 19.4 million who indicated they were Asian
American, the number includes those who stated they were at least partly of Asian
heritage from one or more of 24 possible ethnic groups subsumed under the Asian
American umbrella. In addition, the Census reported that more than 15% of Asian
Americans indicated they were of “mixed race” heritage (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012), also
known as “Hapa” in some contexts. More than 60% were born outside of the United
States, the largest of any racialized group.
The 10 states with the largest Asian American populations, and their approximate
number as of the 2013 ACS, were California (6.1 million), New York (1.8 million), Texas
(809,000), New Jersey (743,400), Illinois (592,000), Florida (547,000), Hawaii (531,000),
Washington (516,300), Massachusetts (455,000), and Pennsylvania (358,000). Some
three-quarters of Asian Americans reported living in urban areas, and the 10 highest
concentrations of Asian Americans were living, respectively, in the general metro areas of
Los Angeles–Orange County (about 1.9 million); New York–New Jersey; San Francisco–
Oakland; San Jose; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Honolulu; Seattle-Tacoma; Houston; and
Dallas–Fort Worth (about 342,000). In popular discourse, using the term “urban areas”
populated by Asian Americans may stir the image of low-income ethnic enclaves like
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inner-city Chinatowns; however; there are also large numbers living in suburbs of the
metro areas just listed (J. S. Lai, 2011; Saito, 1998).
The median age of Asian Americans was 36.3, with the national median at 37.5; 21.1%
were under the age of 18, while 10% were 65 or older (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013B).
Linguistically, over 71% of Asian Americans over the age of five speak a language other
than English at home. The 2013 ACS shows that the Census categorizes languages in one
of four groups, namely Spanish, Other Indo-European Languages, Asian and Pacific Island
Languages, and All Other Languages. This creates something of an issue when extracting
particular language data for Asian Americans, as Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, and Urdu are
separated from Asian and Pacific Island Languages. Nevertheless, some statistics can be
determined, including the following on languages most frequently used in households:
Chinese (2.38 million, not disaggregated for dialect), Tagalog (1.44 million), Vietnamese
(1.2 million), Korean (1.04 million), Hindi (527,000), Japanese (458,000), Urdu (326,000),
Gujarati (304,000), Punjabi (210,000), Bengali (188,000), Mon-Khmer or Cambodian
(185,000), Hmong (182,000), Telugu (171,000), Laotian (148,000), Thai (142,000), Tamil
(133,000), Malayalam (117,000), Formosan (76,800), Ilocano (75,000), and Indonesian
(58,000).
One Asian American demographic that is rather under-researched is sexual orientation
and gender (Kumashiro, 1999; Ocampo & Soodjinda, 2016). While national data are not
widely available, the first of such large-scale studies looked at over 860 participants from
38 states, with the sample’s geographic representation matching the national
demographic of Asian Americans in general (Dang & Vianney, 2007). Among the study’s
participants, 10% identified as transgender, 41% as women, and 53% as men.
Participants who indicated woman or man and one of the transgender identities were
tabulated in both categories. Of the participants, 9% self-identified as bisexual, 19% as
lesbian, 20% as queer, and 47% as gay, with women being more than twice as likely as
men to identify as queer. Some 75% of participants reported being discriminated against
for their sexual orientation, and 86% reported racial or ethnic discrimination.
For the 2013 ACS, the median income for Asian American households was $72,400, while
the U.S. median was $51,900. It should be noted that this seemingly higher median for
Asian Americans may be misleading, as Asian American households tend to have more
members than the median. It should also be noted that there are wide disparities across
subgroups, including in areas such as ethnicity and class or socioeconomic status (E. Lai
& Arguelles, 2003). For example, in 2013 the median income for Asian Indian households
was $100,500, while it was $51,300 for Bangladeshi homes, thus indicating high disparity
within the Asian American umbrella, and the South Asian subgroup. The poverty rate for
Asian Americans was 12.7%, compared to a national median of 14.5%. Again, however,
statistics tell a different story when disaggregated for ethnic groups. For example, 15.4%
of Cambodian Americans reported living in poverty in the United States, with a rate of
28% in New York City (CAAAV, 2011).
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Regarding primary and secondary schools, there are approximately 2.56 million Asian
American students in attendance, or about 4% of the total number of K–12 students in the
2013 ACS. There are about 28,000 Asian American teachers, which is around 1% of the
U.S. teaching force, although the number of Asian American teachers continues to
decrease, similar to other communities of color (Philip, 2012; Rong & Preissle, 1997). Some
86.6% of the U.S. population over 25-years-old were indicated as having a high school
diploma, with Asian Americans slightly less at 86.2%. However, there were significant
disparities across ethnic groups, with over 94% of Taiwanese and Japanese Americans
having a high school degree, while Laotian and Hmong Americans were under 66%.
Language use and needs in education are a bit challenging to determine, as the data are
categorized inconsistently. For example, the 2009 National English Language Learner
Status data do not distinguish between Asians and Pacific Islanders (National Center for
Education Statistics, 2009). Thus, the statistic that holds that 16% of Asian and Pacific
Islander Americans are English language learners and should therefore be receiving
support in schools, although appropriate support has long appeared to be an issue (Olsen,
1997; Redondo, 2008). Appropriate support also appears to be an issue in terms of Asian
American special needs students. Similar to many Latina/o and Black students,
mislabeling of Asian American students as “special needs” can occur when the issues are
more related to language, poverty, racism, parent involvement, inappropriate support,
and other factors (J. M. Chang & Liu, 1998; Poon-McBrayer, 2011). As with the two larger
communities of color in the United States, Asian American males are much more likely to
be placed in special education (over 70%), than females. However, unlike Latina/o and
Black student communities, Asian Americans are underrepresented in special education
(Lo, 2008), which seems to be more about underreporting than the fulfillment of the Model
Minority stereotype of Asian Americans. Some statistics show that Chinese, Indian,
Korean, and Vietnamese students make up the majority of Asian Americans in special
education (Doan, 2006). However, other than Filipina/os, it should be noted that those
groups are also the largest Asian American ethnic subgroups, which may affect the
findings.
Levels of education have been discussed by many as a reason to support the discourse
around Asian Americans as the Model Minority in some form (Center, 2013; Covarrubias &
Liou, 2014). ACS 2013 data show that 21.6% of Asian Americans 25 and older had a
master’s degree or higher, and 51.3% had a bachelor’s degree or higher. These statistics
are notable considering the respective national averages of 11.2% and 29.6%. In terms of
attendance at higher education institutions, Asian Americans have been portrayed as
“taking over” university campuses (M. J. Chang, 2008; Teranishi, 2010), especially at elite
institutions. In reality, the increases in total higher education attendance mirror those of
other racialized groups between 1987 and 2004, with 1.1 million Asian Americans, 1.8
Latina/os, and 2.2 African Americans (CARE, 2008). The same data show some two-thirds
of Asian Americans concentrated at 200 campuses in eight states, with the majority being
at public institutions, and an even distribution across four-year and the generally open-
enrollment two-year schools. For fields of study, despite the stereotype of Asian
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Americans focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)
subjects, there were about 29% majors in business, 26% in social science and humanities,
22% in engineering, 14% in education, and 9% in health or life sciences.
When looking across education data in general on the Asian American umbrella group, it
can be observed that the numbers tell a different story than that of the Model Minority
that is often narrated in the popular discourse. When disaggregated across class,
ethnicity, immigration, and other categories, the numbers present much more complex
narratives. Indeed, a clarion call across scholarship on Asian Americans and education is
the disaggregation of Asian American groups, toward better understanding and
addressing the issues and moving toward greater educational equity (Ng, Lee, & Pak,
2007). Although there has been relatively little discussion of inter-group differences in the
popular media since the “Model Minority” was coined in 1966 (Wang, 2008), an
assemblage of tensions and disparities between Asian American subgroups has been
addressed for several decades in fields such as ethnic, cultural, and Asian American
studies, as well as spaces of political organizations and community groups (Ali, 2016; Chin,
1971; Omatsu, 1986; A. Ong, 1995).
History and Politics of Naming
Although Asian American is the official term of the U.S. Census, there are numerous ways
Asian Americans are referred to within education and related areas like social services,
NGOs, and community agencies and scholarship that addresses Asian American
populations, like cultural studies, ethnic studies, and Asian American studies. A partial
list of names used would include Asian, Asian American, Asian Pacific American (APA),
Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA), and Asian Pacific Islander Desi American
(APIDA), with other variations that call for the removal of “American” at the end of the
term, or the inclusion or exclusion of hyphens (e.g., Asian Pacific Islander, Asian-
American). The term Asian American was actually not used widely until the late 1960s.
During the preceding 100 years, as the total Asian population came to number in the
thousands, Asian groups were framed more by their nationalities (e.g., Japanese,
Filipino), and were racialized differently (e.g., Chinese as Mongol, Indian as Aryan or
Caucasian) (Prashad, 2000; Takaki, 1998). These disparities were often tied to the United
States’ engagements with foreign Asian nation-states such as in the Philippine American
War (1899–1902), as well as in domestic experiences within the United States like the
Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans (World
War II). Other factors that served to divide Asian groups in the United States were linked
to histories between their home nation-states, such as Japanese imperialism in China,
Korea, and the Philippines, and the multiple divisions of the Indian subcontinent into
Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and other states.
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Moving Toward the “Asian American” Umbrella
By the late 1960s, the conceptualization of Asian Americans as a group was catalyzed by
several factors, including U.S. wars with Korea and Vietnam, the civil rights movement,
the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, and Third World liberation movements around
the world by peoples of color against their colonial rulers (Kochiyama, 2004; Liu, Geron, &
Lai, 2008). More specifically, these developments helped consolidate an Asian American
identity through framing Asians as the enemy in war, categorizing Asians as a U.S.
minority group (along with blacks, Latina/os, and American Indians), enabling
unprecedented numbers of educated and middle-class Asians and their families to
immigrate into the country, and challenging the notion of whites as the saviors and
leaders of peoples of color. These domestic and international factors helped to push
diverse Asian populations together in the United States, even if they did not see
themselves in the same light. Although the umbrella term and identity of “Asian
American” began to be used more widely during the late 1960s, it was not yet the
common term, as it was associated more with radical politics and activism. Popularly
attributed to Japanese American scholar-activist Yuji Ichioka (Leong, 2002), the term “Asian
American” was an identity of resistance that challenged the framing of Asian peoples as
the Oriental, the binary opposite to white and European peoples as the Occidental. In this
grand narrative of history and civilization, Orientals were the exotic, the uncouth, the
“Yellow Peril,” and “The Other,” while Occidentals were the civilized, the beautiful, the
intelligent, the enlightened, and the standard (A. M. Y. Lin, 2012; Luke, 2009). Given this
narrative, whether white Americans were in the role of missionary, statesman,
entrepreneur, soldier, or teacher, the duty was to “save the Asian races,” as almost an
extension of the “Go West” and Manifest Destiny ideology (Palumbo-Liu, 1999; Pascoe, 1990).
As a challenge to these notions of a white supremacy, Asian activists in the United States
during the 1960s saw the Asian American identity as one that aligned itself with other
peoples of color in the United States and Third World peoples abroad, who sought to
challenge white hegemony and its teachings and preachings of “minorities” having to
reject their sociocultural backgrounds in order to assimilate toward whiteness (Aguirre &
Lio, 2008). These notions were directly connected to the Third World liberation movements
in the United States (e.g., American Indian Movement, Asian American Movement) and
their related calls for community-based ethnic studies (e.g., black studies, Asian
American studies) that caught international attention in 1968 (J. P. Chan et al., 2009;
Maeda, 2009).
Since the late 1960s, “Asian American” has come to be widely used and institutionalized.
While some factors that urged Asians to the pan-ethnic term have significantly changed,
it continues as a salient term and grouping. In studying the propagation of Asian
American pan-ethnicity during the 1970s and 1980s, Espiritu cited culture, emotion,
economy, and politics as major factors, with examples including anti-Asian violence,
electoral representation, and social service funding (1992). This development of the Asian
American pan-ethnic identity has brought substantial benefits to communities affiliated
with it, including greater socioeconomic and political clout (Geron, de la Cruz, Saito, &
Singh, 2001; D. G. Okamoto, 2006). Yet despite such factors that provide the impetus for
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Asians to come together and identify under the umbrella, there are also numerous factors
that disrupt it. The historical divisions between Asian groups and their nation-states have
already been alluded to, such as Japan’s imperialism and wartime atrocities across Asia.
Another example of historical nation-state divisions that are still relevant is the diversity
of groups in Taiwan, such as the aboriginals, the Chinese who lived in Taiwan for many
generations, the more recent Chinese who fled their country’s civil war to Taiwan, and
the Nationalist Party elite who also fled mainland China but took control of Taiwan in the
1940s. While many of those who can trace their aboriginal ancestry do not come to the
United States, members of the other three groups have been doing so for decades. In
terms of education, the identities, practices, and schooling pathways of Taiwanese
American students can be highly correlated to which groups in Taiwan their families
came from, such as the Nationalist Party elite or the engineers and doctoral students who
came to the United States via the 1965 Immigration Act (Glenn & Yap, 2000; Louie, 2004).
The children of such families enter the U.S. educational system with significant amounts
of economic, social, and cultural capital whether they are first generation (born outside of
the United States) or second generation (born in the United States to immigrant parents).
These types of students are often spotlighted in support of the high-achieving Model
Minority Myth (MMM) of Asian Americans (S. J. Lee, 2009). Contrary to the MMM, students
of working-class Taiwanese origin that are 1.5 generation (those who immigrate at a
young age) may not have the capital of the aforementioned groups, and may engage in
self-defeating forms of resistance whether in Queens, New York, or the San Gabriel Valley
in Los Angeles (B. Chang, 2015A; Ta, 2005). Despite the significant differences in
backgrounds and pathways of these groups of students, their diversity may be masked
when lumped together as Taiwanese Americans, or perhaps Chinese Americans more
broadly and Asian Americans in general.
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Further Disruptions under the Umbrella
Aside from longstanding historical divisions related to the nation-states that different
Asian Americans come from, there are also developments within the United States that
serve to disrupt the unitary identity and construct of Asian America. One development is
the predominance of East Asians over South and Southeast Asians within the popular and
academic discourse, which may largely omit South Asians from the discussion (L. D.
Shankar & Srikanth, 1998). An instance of this is when a characteristic can be found
somewhat applicable to Chinese, Japanese, or Korean Americans (e.g., Confucianism-
inspired practices), it is portrayed as the norm for all other Asian Americans despite their
immense differences. A specific example can be found with students of Korean heritage.
While behaviors and interventions summarily assigned to all Korean American students,
teachers, and families is problematic within itself (Lew, 2007), it presents an even larger
issue when applied to other Asian Americans. What makes this issue more complex in
addressing is the reification of these problematic tropes by some Asian Americans onto
the rest of the umbrella group’s communities. A pop culture example includes viral videos
on YouTube about things “Asian Americans” supposedly do, created by East Asian
Americans (Bros, 2013). In educational scholarship we may not see such blatant
generalizations, but at times publications with titles and keywords that denote “Asian
American” may be more about specific groups, most commonly East Asians or sometimes
Southeast Asians (J. A. Gordon, 2000; Zhang, 2003). There are sometimes disclaimers about
the focus, sample, and limitations of the studies, but an unintended result may be the
continued lumping and homogenizing of Asian American issues by readers and in the
greater discourse. At times the use of these frameworks and representations are
defended in terms of numbers, whether that is the longer length of the time that East
Asians have been in the United States, their larger populations, or the more numerous
policies and historical sources that address them (Odo, 2002; Tamura, 2001). An example of
this can be found with curriculum about Asian Americans that follows “traveling
spotlight” or add-on approaches (Davé et al., 2000). These approaches may attempt to
spotlight various subgroups during parts of a semester, but as they tend to follow
chronology or readily available literature, the overall pedagogy still tends to reify East
Asians as the primary actors, with others added in almost supplementary roles.
Issues of region with ethnic subgroups may also skew scholarship and pedagogy on Asian
Americans. Echoing the previously mentioned “by-the-numbers” approach, certain ethnic
groups have come to overshadow others within the same region. For example, there tends
to be more scholarship and dialogue on Vietnamese Americans when addressing
Southeast Asia, and more on Indian Americans when it comes to South Asia. As might be
expected with the largest Asian American ethnic group, Chinese Americans tend to have
the lion’s share of emphasis when it comes to East Asia, as well as Asian Americans in
general. Aside from ethnic subgroups, parts of the United States enjoy a certain
hegemony when it comes to Asian Americans. In an effort to disrupt the hegemony of the
Golden State, the term “East of California” was coined within Asian American studies
(Sumida, 1998) to draw attention to how the conditions and experiences of people in
California are not representative of those from other states and regions. Finally, the
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paucity of scholarship on “mixed” or “Hapa” Americans who have Asian ancestry also
interrupts the conceptualization, naming, and pedagogies for the pan-ethnic Asian
American project that is largely constructed around static and singular notions of race
and ethnicity (B. Chang, 2013; Harris, 2016).
The purpose of examining the naming of Asian Americans, especially around issues of
ethnicity, region, and nationality, is to illuminate how important issues can be masked and
homogenized by nomenclature and typology (Jain & Turner, 2011), whether it is within a
nation like “Taiwan,” a region like “South Asia,” or a race like “Asian American.” In other
words, if one simply asks “What are the educational issues of Asian Americans?” he or
she may very well be given an answer that really pertains to only one subgroup but is
essentialized to all. Ultimately these disparities are not solely relevant to identity politics,
but they also concretely materialize as issues of social and educational inequity. As with
other groupings of peoples, how Asian America is named and categorized affects the
operations of government and private support, as well as educational scholarship and
practice (Kiang, 2004; Kwon, 2013). If research on Asian Americans has largely been on
Chinese and East Asians, or students in California and New York, subsequent approaches
to educational issues will be biased toward characteristics of those subgroups although
they are supposedly for the entire racialized group; the end result is that some subgroups
may be left behind. Examples of these effects can be found in how public funding is
allocated for staffing at social service agencies, or how multi-million-dollar funding
agendas are established at private philanthropic corporations, which are increasingly
important to schools and community organizations in the neoliberal economy and model
of school management (Lipman, 2011; D. Okamoto & Gast, 2013). More specifically, how
Asian Americans and other groups are categorized and named can affect the agendas of
national research bodies that steer the research agendas of scholars and universities. On
a more local level of practice, it may influence the training of school personnel and how
they identify and designate children’s linguistic or special education needs (Jo & Rong,
2003).
Some of the diversity among Asian American subgroups, such as Indian and Bangladeshi
Americans, has been identified and several convergent and divergent pathways for Asian
American groups were explored, to put forth some of the benefits and disadvantages of
the Asian American umbrella term. In taking a step back it can be observed that the
lumping of Asian American groups together is problematic, given the tremendous
diversity of subgroups that becomes hidden. As with Mexican for Latina/os, and perhaps
Cherokee for native peoples of the United States, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other
dominant subgroups have often come to be representative of Asian Americans. These
conceptualizations have material consequences for the umbrella and its subgroups,
ranging from the development of teacher preparation to the accumulation of political
power. While the conceptualization of race and ethnicity of all groups in the United States
is highly problematic in general, Asian Americans lack some of the more unifying traits or
experiences that other racialized groups may share, such as the trans-Atlantic slave trade
for African Americans, genocide for Native Americans, or the Spanish language for most
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of those categorized as Hispanic Americans. In an effort to develop a more dynamic
conceptualization of Asian Americans within education, some of the major approaches to
how Asian American education has been theorized and studied will be outlined.
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Key Tensions within Education
Existing Conceptualizations
Within the racial typology of Black, white, Latina/o, Native, or Asian in the United States,
a plethora of issues occur if the objective is to at least somewhat accurately name and
categorize large groups of people, such as the 19.4 million under the Asian American
banner. In order to address such numbers and diversity, many of the first book-length
volumes that looked at Asian Americans across education tended to be conceptualized
along lines of ethnicity or general issues thought to affect Asian Americans as a whole
(Nakanishi & Nishida, 1995; Pang & Cheng, 1998; C. C. Park & Chi, 1999). These publications
represented some of the earlier empirical education scholarship on and by Asian
American scholars. This research was commonly arranged by age or theme (e.g.,
language, achievement), which came with the hefty task of trying to generalize across the
many different ethnicities. Other works looked at ethnic subgroups under the Asian
American umbrella, such as Korean or Japanese, and then sections on Southeast Asians
(sometimes disaggregated), and perhaps Pacific Islanders (Weinberg, 1997); it was not
unusual for these works to scarcely discuss or omit issues of South Asians, gender, and
sexual orientation. Popular conceptual frameworks among this educational research on
Asian Americans included multiculturalism, cultural difference, and learning styles
(Cheng, Ima, & Labovitz, 1994; Chuong, 1994; C. C. Park, 1997).
Since the late 20th century, research on Asian Americans and education has become more
interdisciplinary and influenced by critical, postmodern, sociocultural, and postcolonial
theories that critique previous scholarship on culture and education as being too static,
essentializing, or positivistic (Goodwin, 2010; C. D. Lee, 2001). While there continues to be
scholarship that focuses on specific Asian ethnic groups, the types of data, theory, and
pedagogy are more eclectic, and analysis of Asian Americans as one group is frequently
approached with a certain amount of tentativeness along with the previously discussed
calls for data disaggregation. These perspectives draw from the significant scholarship
across humanities and social science disciplines, which includes those that critically study
race, ethnicity, and difference in the United States, including with Asian American groups
(Espiritu, 1992; hooks, 2000; Lowe, 1996; Matsuda, 1991; Okihiro, 2001; Omi & Winant, 1994;
Said, 1978). These approaches vary greatly, including some that address the markedly
different experiences and epistemologies of indigenous peoples, and their implications for
Asian Americans (Saranillio, 2013). But all of the aforementioned lines of scholarship
critically problematize the construction of race and ethnicity and their varied roots in
colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacy by Europe and the United
States. When applied to Asian Americans, this scholarship can help untangle some of the
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issues related to the umbrella group’s problems of naming and conceptualization, and
how they are applied to education and social justice.
Oppressed Minority Framing
Of the various frames that have been used to conceptualize research on Asian Americans
and education, there are two that have been most dominant: the “Oppressed Minority”
and the “Model Minority.” Both frames pre-date the upsurge of sociocultural, postmodern,
and critical research since the late 20th century, but both frames also continue to be
influential. There are variations of the “Oppressed Minority.” However, the general
premise is that Asian Americans are generally immigrants or the children of immigrants
who had to leave their homelands, often because of American or European oppression, to
seek a better life in another country. There is a certain irony noted in some of the
“Oppressed Minority” scholarship, as immigrants, such as those from Asia, end up in the
same countries that played a major hand in dismantling their homeland’s government and
economy (Viola, 2009). Upon arriving and residing in the United States, Asian Americans
are a minority that has been historically and institutionally oppressed, much like other
minority groups, and particularly people of color. While there have usually been more
well-off individuals among Asians who come to the United States, the “Oppressed
Minority” frame tends to speak of those with economic privilege as a minority and
focuses on working-class communities. The “Oppressed Minority” is a powerful narrative
that speaks to the experiences of millions of Asian Americans that spans two centuries,
whether as mine or railroad workers in the mid-1800s, agricultural and cannery workers
in the early 1900s, post–Vietnam War refugees after the 1960s, and present-day low-wage
laborers whose family members may or may not be documented (Low, 1982; Singh, 2008;
Um, 2015). The “Oppressed Minority” frame is commonly invoked to couch arguments,
theories, and policies regarding Asian Americans in general, including issues of
education. As might be expected, issues of oppression and various “-isms” (e.g., sexism,
classism, racism) are a common part of the liberal, progressive, and radical lexicon on
Asian Americans, and are used to weave Asian American communities within the larger
fabric of U.S. history and the struggle for civil and human rights of minorities,
immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized populations (Au & Brown, 2014; Howard,
2010; Kurashige, 2008).
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Model Minority Framing
The other part of the duo that often frames Asian Americans and education is the “Model
Minority.” Perhaps the most dominant topic within research on Asian Americans in
general, the “Model Minority” has been well-documented and studied for some 30 years.
The basic premise holds that the Asian minority group has somehow been able to adapt
and achieve well within the U.S. system, particularly within education, which is popularly
held up alongside hard work as the key to upward mobility. Key interpretations here
would include “the American Dream” and the adage of all Americans being able to “pull
one’s self up by the bootstraps” to join the middle class or even the rich (Apple, 2006; Yu,
2006). This rather simple conceptualization has had tremendous implications for
education, politics, social services, and other areas (Beam, Casabianca, & Chen, 2011). One
implication of the “Model Minority” is the notion that the U.S. educational system works
(i.e., it is a true meritocracy), and thus does not need substantial reform or overhaul. A
second implication is that the “Model Minority” Asian Americans are not really in need of
educational accommodations, services, funding, or policy reform. A third implication is
that if there is a “Model Minority” then there must be other minorities (e.g., Latina/os)
who are not adapting and achieving, and thus perhaps there is something at fault or in
deficit with those groups instead of the system. A fourth implication is that Asians must
be doing something right to be able to achieve highly, and thus there must be something
within their “culture” that is able to be emulated, especially for other minorities who are
not doing as well. While there are other implications of the “Model Minority,” the four
listed begin to unveil the highly problematic consequences of the frame when it is
perpetuated, generalized, and acted upon as truth, including by Asian Americans who
adhere to and benefit from its propagation. Various scholarship has examined how the
“Model Minority Myth” (MMM) came about in popular news media during the mid-1960s,
not long after the incarceration of Japanese Americans (James, 1987; Shimabukuro, 2016),
amid U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam (Prashad, 2007), and also domestic and international
struggles for justice often led by peoples of color challenging the white establishment
(Elbaum, 2002). Research literature in education and other disciplines have analyzed how
the MMM frame has served as a sociopolitical wedge that divides interest groups who
may otherwise collaborate to push for change (B. Chang & Au, 2008; Poon et al., 2015), such
as in high-stakes testing, school board or labor union elections, diverse curriculum,
bilingual education, and university admissions. In looking across educational scholarship
that addresses the “Model Minority,” while there is research that seems to support the
frame across Asian America and its subgroups, more of the literature seeks to critique
and demystify the MMM.
Although the two frames of “Oppressed Minority” and “Model Minority” can be held up as
binary opposites, they are not mutually exclusive and have been tied to one another in
analyzing Asian American issues. For example, conservative and neoliberal discourse may
sometimes utilize parts of the “Oppressed Minority” frame. These are often used to
defend the idea that Asian Americans are the “Model Minority,” as “they” came from such
difficult backgrounds but were able to succeed once in U.S. society and schools. Although
both frames are commonly employed by Asian Americans themselves, these frames can
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be refuted as generalizations that essentialize or overlook large sections of the
heterogeneity within the Asian American monolith. The “Model Minority frame” is
somewhat simpler to challenge here, as there are clearly large sections of students within
dominant ethnic subgroups who do not fit the high-achieving stereotype. The “Oppressed
Minority” frame requires a bit more examination, as it has been applicable to Asian
Americans in many contexts, including education, the law, and social movements. In
terms of conceptualization, the “Oppressed Minority” frame fit well with much of the
thought that highly influenced those who considered themselves Asian Americans and
part of the Asian American movement struggles from the 1960s to 1980s. These ideas
included Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the work of Frantz Fanon, the legacy of the Black
Panther Party, and elements of Malcolm X and even Martin Luther King’s approaches to
dissent and community organizing (Ho, 2000; Kelley, 2002). It should be noted here that
African American experiences and epistemologies were foundational to the “Oppressed
Minority” framing and how Asian Americans approached issues of equity and justice
(Lam, 2015; Pulido, 2006).
Scholarship on Asian Americans that was concerned with social issues also often utilized
neo-Marxist and critical approaches that fit neatly with the “Oppressed Minority” frame
(Kwong, 2001; Takagi & Platt, 1978). These emphases on race and class oppression can
seem applicable to the population at those times, as most Asians who came to the United
States before the World Wars were men, and the majority who arrived before the
mid-1960s were poor and working-class laborers (S. Chan, 1991). But due to various policy
changes after the 1940s, the Filipino manongs and other bachelor societies made way for
marriages, children, and family reunifications (Scharlin & Villanueva, 2000; Wei, 2004). In
particular, the 1965 Immigration Act significantly multiplied the number of Asian
Americans, particularly those with significant financial resources, or high levels of
education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, in what is
sometimes referred to as the Brain Drain of Asia (P. Ong & Liu, 1994; San Juan, 2000). While
race and class discrimination persisted, Asians in America had become a more complex
population. Thus, gaps in existing theoretical approaches and the “Oppressed Minority”
frame began to be more apparent. While not straying from the call of the “Asian
American” project of the 1960s, scholars in the 1980s were already observing the rising
privilege and elitism among Asian Americans and the need to develop new and more
comprehensive approaches to challenge social injustices (Omatsu, 1989).
The Context of Affirmative Action and Framing Asian America
A context that illustrates problems with the “Oppressed” and “Model” minority frames is
affirmative action, which were policies put into place most notably for more equitable
access to employment and higher education. Originally intended to address historical
inequities for marginalized groups (e.g., women, racialized minorities, people with
disabilities, war veterans), affirmative action has continued to be a controversial issue in
the mass media and courts of law, where it is criticized as an unfair advantage in hiring
and admissions for applicants who are unqualified, often to the detriment of whites and
other groups who consider themselves displaced solely because of their race (Hartlep &
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Lowinger, 2014; Museus & Maramba, 2011). Within racialized “minority” communities,
affirmative action has been critiqued for overlooking issues of class and privilege, and
providing benefits to applicants with great capital who happen to be of a racialized
minority. For example, one problem, previously discussed, is when all Asian Americans
are generalized and racially lumped together: this time as a historically marginalized
group like “Oppressed Minority” or “people of color” (Jung, 2014). Here, members of other
marginalized groups may question why Asian Americans are included in affirmative
action programs, when their group does not seem very “oppressed” and is doing quite
well (Gupta, 2006). If race appears to be the only consideration for program eligibility,
critiques may be leveled at Asian Americans coming from highly educated middle-class
families, participating alongside others who come from poverty and other hardship.
Conversely, Asian Americans are sometimes not included as part of affirmative action
policies, such as admissions to public magnet schools that may have strong reputations
and require an application but are also tuition-free. In this context we may find more
privileged Asian Americans locating themselves away from people of color, and closer to
whites and other “non-oppressed” communities. In this context, Asian Americans may
also claim displacement by “less qualified” applicants (J. J. Park & Liu, 2014). Often times,
the rhetoric of the “Model Minority” frame echoes in the near distance when Asian
American constituents complain, “If we came to this country without anything and still
made it, why can’t they?” Here, “they” can refer to Latina/os and African Americans,
despite some of the obvious flaws in comparison.
Aside from other “Oppressed Minority” groups, within Asian American groups there can
be critiques of more privileged individuals who displace others coming from significant
hardship. One example concerns certain Southeast Asian groups who came to the United
States because of its war in Vietnam. Various types of affirmative action legacy programs
still exist for Hmong, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, and Mien Americans. However,
inequities can occur when factors other than nationality and ethnicity are not considered.
For example, the earliest wave of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants who came to the
United States tended to be more privileged, such as those who had money, education, or
military clout, and received greater government assistance than those who came later
(Võ, 2008). The later waves had significantly less capital, yet there is usually no distinction
made across Vietnamese groups. In Cambodia, the civil war, mass imprisonment, and
purges that occurred (N. J. Lin, Suyemoto, & Kiang, 2008) were experienced by some
ethnic Chinese merchant families, often from Chaozhou or Fujian province backgrounds
(Nyíri, 2012). On paper in the United States, ethnic Chinese Cambodians are held the same
as Khmer Cambodians (L. W. Gordon, 1987), although the latter are “indigenous” to the
land of Cambodia, were largely agricultural workers, and are noticeably darker in
phenotype. Yet when we look at the educational and economic outcomes of these families,
we tend to see much greater mobility for ethnic Chinese than Khmer communities, who
often have similar educational outcomes and identities to that of many low-income
African Americans (Chhuon, 2013; McGinnis, 2007). Despite the probable advantages of
many ethnic Chinese and early wave refugee or immigrant subgroups, individuals from
across the subgroups are usually considered the same when applying for educational
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programs and admissions. Typically those of higher capital are accepted, as they appear
to be more “college-ready.” While there has been some degree of “intermarriage” of the
groups over time, the key point in mentioning these disparities in ethnicity, class,
immigration history, and phenotype is to demonstrate how material inequities can occur
when we homogenize and over-simplify race, experience, and merit, such as with the
“Oppressed Minority” and “Model Minority” framings of the Asian American umbrella
group.
Intersectionality and Transnationalism
Despite the shortcomings of the “Model” and “Oppressed” frames that largely focus on
issues of race and sometimes class, both continue to be employed in popular and
scholarly discourse. However, continuing changes within communities under the Asian
American umbrella, and broader international changes (e.g. migrations, communications,
popular media, social movements), have pushed theory and practice to be more nuanced
and dynamic. Two generative concepts in better understanding these changes and their
educational effects are intersectionality and transnationalism. Intersectionality was
coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), within the context of naming and
addressing institutionalized oppression in its multiple forms as they may occur
simultaneously. Crenshaw initially focused on racism and sexism from a black feminist
standpoint, but intersectionality was soon applied to other issues such as
heteronormativity, classism, and ableism, in an effort to recognize and disrupt what
Patricia Hill Collins has referred to as “interlocking systems of oppression” (Collins, 1991;
Fujino, 1998). While many of the ideas behind it are not new (Boggs, 1998; Combahee River
Collective, 1977; Du Bois, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1996), intersectionality has been a
generative construct across diverse areas of social sciences, humanities, and activism.
Previous social justice efforts in the United States tended to prioritize just one
oppression, often at the expense of others, due in part to gaps within the then-dominant
approaches of Marxism-Leninism, Black nationalism, and white-stream feminism (Grande,
2003; Ling, 1989). This led to the marginalization of many communities, such as indigenous
peoples and black women, whose positions and experiences were commonly relegated to
the background of racial justice movements by black men, and feminist movements by
white women.
Like with other racialized communities, intersectionality has afforded more nuanced
approaches to the multifaceted problems faced under the Asian American umbrella,
which, as has been shown, require more than a race analysis to move toward equity in
schools and society. Utilizing intersectionality has allowed researchers and teachers with
Asian American communities to tease out different overlapping elements of inequity,
including the aforementioned contexts of ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation,
which may have been masked in previous approaches with a static focus on just race,
language, or nationality (S. J. Lee, 2006; Narui, 2011). When used as a lead-off point to
engage social issues in classrooms or scholarship, intersectionality can help facilitate a
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more dynamic praxis through its multilayered analysis that does not “force” subjects to
choose one part of themselves to identify and address, which can artificially isolate
problems and subsequent interventions. Instead, educators and researchers can promote
an intersectional praxis that is cognizant of the diverse influences and identities of
people, which are hybrid and ever-changing and can both dehumanize and provide
agency (Asher, 2008; N. I. Kim, 2000).
Another highly generative concept has been transnationalism, a newer global
development that highly impacts educational research and pedagogy with Asian
Americans. Transnationalism, which has multiple interpretations, generally concerns the
heightened interconnectivity of peoples around the world largely due to changes in
transportation, communications, and global flows of capital. This heightened
interconnectivity includes shifting forms of culture and capital and the de-centering of the
nation-state and nationalism among peoples. In other words, transnationalism interrupts
some of the fixed notions that have historically attached populations to certain identities
and practices based on the countries and regions they are from and live in. In education,
much policy, curriculum, and intervention have been based on these more fixed notions of
communities. However, the increasingly transnational nature of populations, including
Asians in the United States, problematizes these notions. Prior to globalization, most
Asian immigrants and refugees stayed in the United States after arriving, and this norm
was prevalent in developing studies and pedagogies with Asian American populations that
flowed in one direction (Osajima, 1998). Indeed, research usually just differentiated
between how many generations an individual or family may have been in the United
States, and did not account much for them going back and forth between the United
States and their motherland, or going to other countries and back to their motherland
and the United States. In current times, a higher level of transnational flow has been
observed among Asian Americans, including between and around the United States, the
Americas, and Asia. For example, movements of East Asians to Latin America, the
Caribbean, the United States, Southeast Asia, and also back to East Asia, have become
more common (J. S. Y. Park & Lo, 2012; Ropp, 2000; Yamashiro & Quero, 2012). In some
instances, this pertains to wealthy and middle-class families who pursue educational and
business opportunities abroad, and also look to capitalize on tremendous growth in South
Korea, India, and mainland China. These movements also include low-income parents and
students who traverse state and national boundaries in order to find the best temporary
work situations, and may operate under the radar of border surveillance and policing
(Buenavista & Gonzales, 2011; Gupta, 2006). This heightened transnational flow has
significant impact on myriad issues, such as nationality and citizenship, community
development and ethnic enclaves, and marriage and raising families. Within education,
scholars, policymakers and educators have had to adjust their approach to “Asian
America” given the widening diversity, including very well-off students and their parents
who bring different expectations, demands, and experiences to K–12 and higher
education, while also fueling the ever-problematic “Model Minority” frame. In the
neoliberal economy, school districts, universities, and the large nonprofit industry in
education have sought the funding and transnational economic opportunities that come
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with opening their doors to the rising Asian economic powers, particularly the People’s
Republic of China (Dirlik, 2012). Perhaps the closest paradigmatic shift that this can be
compared to is after the 1965 Immigration Act, when relatively small populations and
diversity in ethnicity, occupation, and class skyrocketed in growth. As previously
discussed, these drastic demographic changes made apparent the need to adjust the
optics through which Asian Americans were viewed, including the “Oppressed Minority”
frame.
In the current era, the more fluid and transnational nature of many communities under
the Asian American umbrella demands a more expansive analysis, of which the concept of
transnationalism can prove helpful. As Asian communities have migrated to the United
States and the Americas for over 200 years, scholarship on Asian diasporas in North
America have also taken place, providing some of the groundwork and current framework
for research on transnationalism (Hirabayashi, 2002; Vang, 2010). In education, previous
reforms concerning Asian Americans included calls to make curriculum and assessment
more multicultural and culturally relevant, being mindful of the diversity under the pan-
ethnic umbrella (Fu, 1995; Suzuki, 1984). The diversity types that were typically addressed
were ethnicity, immigration history, and language, and less so gender, sexual orientation,
religion, and other areas. As transnationalism continues to grow, efforts at educational
equity will require even more modifications to address students and families who, despite
being of the same ethnicity, nationality, language, and religion as other students in their
class, may understand themselves differently and have very different practices from their
peers and school community who have historically been considered “Asian American.”
Given these significant shifts, scholarship and Asian American studies programs have also
shifted. This includes the University of California, Berkeley, which has one of the first
Asian American studies programs in the nation and is tied to one of the few ethnic studies
Ph.D. programs in the United States. In 2010, Berkeley restructured its name and agenda
to the “Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies Program” (E. H. Kim, 2010). Yet as
research and teaching agendas seek to be more inclusive in their approach to Asian
Americans and education, some scholarship remains wary of the shifts to
transnationalism that blur the lines between Asian and Asian American studies (Okihiro,
2010). Concerns include losing the activist leanings of Asian American studies and the
ethnic studies tradition, being subsumed into “international studies” that may hide
inequities faced by historically marginalized populations in the United States, and
becoming co-opted by transnational private and government interests that are pandered
to by the university corporation.
Moving Forward
Current Issues
Asian Americans and Education
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In this discussion of issues within the area of Asian Americans and education, a major
thesis point has been that the tremendous diversity included under the monolithic Asian
American umbrella demands greater disaggregation in order to be more accurately
understood. Through a general description of demographics, the large disparities of Asian
Americans, including between ethnic and regional subgroups, have been introduced, and
the history of the construct of “Asian America” and the various tensions that hide behind
the pan-ethnic name and project have been discussed. The two dominant frames of Asian
Americans in education, the Model Minority and the Oppressed Minority, were introduced
alongside the context of affirmative action to illustrate the inequities that occur in policy,
research, and pedagogy when the analyses of Asian American communities are not
nuanced and are based on a singular frame or a forced binary concept. Two generative
pathways toward a more dynamic analysis and praxis with Asian American communities
through the concepts of intersectionality and transnationalism have been presented.
Throughout these discussions, examples and contexts were provided of how the issues
play out in policy, research, and teaching. A more equitable and dynamic approach to the
topic of Asian Americans and education is possible, but it is beyond the scope here to
name all of the issues in education faced by Asian American communities, in what might
amount to a “grocery list” of essentialized problems and interventions. Instead, several
prevailing issues faced by multiple communities under the Asian American moniker are
indexed.
As may be expected with non-white, immigrant, or minority populations in the United
States (Jiménez, 2012), Asian Americans have faced longstanding exclusion from the
education system. If we turn to some of the most notable struggles, more well-known
cases of exclusion have included Tape v. Hurley (1885) in the California Supreme Court,
the 1968 Ethnic Studies Strike in the San Francisco Bay Area, Lau v. Nichols (1974) in the
U.S. Supreme Court, and the tenure battle of education professor Don Nakanishi at
UCLA. Widely taught within the canon of Asian American studies, these cases speak to
the historical exclusion of Asian Americans in various arenas, including school
enrollment, bilingual education, curriculum, and academia (Fujino, 2008; Wu & Chen, 2010).
Despite the California and East Asian focus of the four cases, they can be helpful in
making connections across Asian Americans and other groups, as all four had wide
implications in education and illustrate how Asian Americans, like other marginalized
groups, had to become involved in advocacy and equity struggles and not just wait for the
system to change itself. Conversely, with the upsurge of Asian representation in
admissions and curriculum, education discourse that just focuses on these older cases
runs the risk of re-inscribing the Model Minority Myth and excluding issues faced by less-
privileged Asian Americans.
In less visible arenas of education, Asian Americans still experience issues with exclusion
and access, such as the aforementioned underrepresentation or lack of support in special
education, which can be seen as more of a reification of the Model Minority Myth and
lack of resources, rather than the higher academic abilities of Asian Americans. Language
support for Asian American students and their parents continues to present difficulties
for bilingual education, which is highly structured around a “one other language” Spanish
Asian Americans and Education
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paradigm. Not only do these language programs tend to devalue home languages
(Martínez, 2013), but they are also known to have trouble developing curriculum and
assessments that accommodate the diversity of languages and dialects that Asian
Americans may speak, read, or write, such as the multiplicity of languages spoken by
immigrants whose nationality is Indian (S. Shankar, 2011). This lack of support can be tied
to teacher education, including credentials for bilingual teaching, teacher education
coursework, pre-service placements, and the lack of recruitment and retention of Asian
American teachers in general (Goodwin, Genishi, Asher, & Woo, 2006; Sheets & Chew, 2002).
While it is common for teacher education programs around the country to have missions
of equality and multiculturalism in schools, there is significant disparity in engaging with
the diversity of Asian American communities in non-essentialist ways (Choi, 2016; Li, 2013).
A not unusual arrangement in teacher textbooks and training are static models of race
and culture, which float from one racialized group to the next, starting with African
Americans, then Latina/os, and then Asian Americans, with no examination of whiteness
(Lei, 2006). Despite good intentions, these issues are compounded when there is a lack of
research on Asian American teachers and students that teacher education programs can
work with (Pang, 2009), and by the statistic that over 80% of the teaching force is white,
middle-class women who may need significant coursework, pre-service, and in-service
development to equitably teach with such diverse school communities (Irizarry, 2011;
Kohli, 2009).
Issues with special and bilingual education, teacher recruitment and education, and
curriculum are not new when concerning Asian Americans. Some of the more recently
emerging issues lie with communities that are not historically emphasized in scholarship
on educational equity and social justice. Per the discussion on transnationalism and Asian
Americans, there are growing issues with students and families who come from
transnational backgrounds, which are often highly privileged. One example concerns
middle-class and affluent parents who push their children toward high academic
achievement through a slew of after-school tutoring to maintain a high GPA, high-stakes
test preparation to garner top scores for elite program and school admissions, and
private extracurricular programs to beef up their résumé for university applications.
These parents are not representative of the majority of Asian American families, yet given
the transnational shift of scholarship, in these families’ countries of origin there is
already significant research and concern regarding the ill effects of “shadow education”
and high-stakes exam culture (Bray & Kobakhidze, 2015; Byun, 2014), which have also been
observed in the United States (Zhou & Kim, 2006). Educational research has examined the
debilitating effects on the public system from primary to higher education, including rote
teaching, large-scale cheating, and high strain placed on children, which has led to an
increase in highly publicized suicides (Cheung & Chiu, 2016). In the immediate context of
the United States, the pejorative nickname of “tiger moms” has been applied to South,
Southeast, and East Asian parents who push their children to succeed in similarly
extreme ways, regardless of class (Qin & Han, 2014). Aside from the ill effects on children
and public schools, these families, particularly the affluent ones, are also among
constituencies who strongly oppose programs that stem from the legacy of affirmative
Asian Americans and Education
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action, which they feel privileges deficiency, particularly by Latina/os and African
Americans (Spencer, 2015). Whether they are recently arrived elite transnational families,
or more long-term residents who have excelled in schools, these Asian American families
contribute to the Model Minority Myth and the division of minority groups in the United
States. The experiences and practices of this one high-profile population may end up
being generalized to all Asian Americans, thus further concealing the tensions and issues
of other subgroups.
Next Steps and Pedagogies
As the international gaze moves toward “top-ranking” Asian countries on international
exams like the PISA and TIMSS, with ties to “top-performing” Asian American students in
U.S. schools, critically rigorous research on Asian Americans becomes increasingly
important on the global stage. With this in mind, some of the major demographics,
conceptualizations, and dilemmas within the area of Asian Americans and education have
been reviewed. The concept of “Asian America” itself presents an assortment of problems
that typically emerge across studies of Asian Americans. If the research does not include
such questioning of the monolithic umbrella term, it may reinforce the large body of
research that has glossed over the enormous diversity and disparities of the Asian
American population. Although concerns of homogenization and essentialism have been
discussed for several decades (Coloma, 2006; Lowe, 1991; Ocampo, 2013), the dilemmas
within a pan-ethnic project such as “Asian America” persist and are perhaps broadened
by factors of transnationalism (Cainkar & Maira, 2005). In an influential paper by seven
South Asian American scholars at the turn of the 21st century (Davé et al., 2000),
suggestions were made for the research to incorporate pedagogies organized around
themes and crisis points, and research around inter-minority relations and professional-
class Asian Americans, in order to more fully engage the complexity of the umbrella
group that has all too often been left behind. Some of the literature has taken up these
suggestions and been able to offer more nuanced and inclusive scholarship, especially via
themes and the context of middle- and upper-middle-class Asian Americans (Du, 2010;
Tiwana, 2012). However, a rather understudied area is “inter-minority relations” or the
relations between marginalized groups in the United States, which now constitute a
majority in some states. A crucial tension here lies in what has been labeled anti-Black
racism by other “minorities,” including more elite recent immigrants, and working-class
Asian Americans whose families have been in the United States for multiple generations
(Nopper, 2010; Rodríguez, 2005). This tension is sadly ironic given the enormous influence
that African Americans have had in Asian American struggles for social justice. Perhaps
the most well-known “crisis point” of “inter-minority relations” and anti-black racism with
Asian Americans was the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising, largely involving African Americans
and Korean Americans (Chung, 2007). More recent was the 2014 slaying of unarmed
African American father Akai Gurley by Chinese American police officer Peter Liang in
New York. Despite an understandable range of emotions regarding the two instances,
both incidents offer rich contexts for critically studying and teaching about African
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American and Asian American communities, and uncovering the intersectional factors at
play in controversies like the slaying of Akai Gurley and the broader #blacklivesmatter
social movement.
In addition to teaching and studying via “crisis points” and “inter-minority relations,”
other bodies of work have also dynamically explored issues and pedagogies that can help
move toward greater educational equity and social justice. Within ethnic studies and
Asian American studies, there has long been a call and practice of connecting
communities to campus, or community as campus (Kiang, 1998; Osumi, 2003; Tachiki, Wong,
Odo, & Wong, 1971). In recent years these traditions have been linked to service learning
and its potentially transformative effects, often in urban areas and with working-class
students (B. Chang, 2015B; Yep, 2010). In addition to outcomes associated with engaging
community-based issues and learning outside of classrooms, service learning has also
been tied to participatory action research (PAR), where students, teachers, and their
greater school community engage in research projects embedded in the issues of their
local neighborhood (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013; Ishihara, 2011).
As the findings are presented to other local stakeholders, as well as scholars and elected
officials, these projects develop digital and performative elements that have been shown
to effectively develop multiple forms of literacy (B. Chang, 2014; Haddix & Sealey-Ruiz,
2012). As these pedagogies are thematic and community-based, they help facilitate
communication and collaboration among Asian American stakeholders and members of
other groups (e.g., racialized, socioeconomic) that are also part of their local community.
Such projects are increasingly important in the neo-liberal economy, where official
schooling spaces have become more privatized, assessed, and policed. Given such
constraints within the traditional boundaries of education, innovations in teacher
education, out-of-school learning, and collaboration (e.g., schools, community
organizations, tertiary campuses) become imperative in order to develop and sustain
efforts toward educational equity (Tintiangco-Cubales, Daus-Magbual, & Daus-Magbual,
2010; Wong, 2010). With conceptual frameworks informed by critical pedagogy, culturally
sustaining pedagogy, New Literacy studies, critical race, theory and others (Gutiérrez,
Morales, & Martinez, 2009; Jocson, 2008; Ledesma & Calderón, 2015; Paris, 2012), these
approaches to research and teaching help form grounded and intersectional praxes,
which are well-poised to tackle the rich and complex diversity under the Asian American
umbrella, as well as other communities in a changing transnational context of education.
Further Reading
Hirabayashi, L. (Ed.). (1998). Teaching Asian America: Diversity & the problem of
community. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Kiang, P. N. C. (2004). Linking strategies and interventions in Asian American studies to
K–12 classrooms and teacher preparation. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in
Education, 17(2), 199–225.
Asian Americans and Education
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date: 27 May 2017
Lee, S. J., & Kumashiro, K. (2005). A report on the status of Asian Americans and Pacific
Islanders in education: Beyond the “Model Minority” stereotype. Washington, DC:
National Education Association.
Omatsu, G. (2003). Freedom schooling: Reconceptualizing Asian American studies for our
communities. Amerasia Journal, 29(2), 9–33.
Park, C. C., Endo, R., & Goodwin, A. L. (Eds.). (2006). Asian and Pacific American
education: Learning, socialization, and identity. Greenwich, CT: Information Age.
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Benjamin Chang
University of Hong Kong
The Education
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... Furthermore, middle-class and affluent Asian Americans with transnational backgrounds are likely to show concern for their children's education, pressuring their children toward high academic achievement through a slew of different strategies, including after-school tutoring to maintain high GPAs, high-stakes test preparation to garner top scores for elite programs and school admissions, and private extracurricular programs to improve their résumés for university applications (Chang, 2017). Scores from entrance exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT), documents such as Statements of Purpose (SOPs), and letters of recommendations are some of the materials that students must prepare for college applications in the U.S. (Ross & Josh, 2021). ...
... Parents in Korea who are strongly involved in their children's education often pay for private supplementary tutoring or coaching aimed at providing additional help to students outside of school to prepare for a variety of examinations; this is known as "shadow education" (Byun, 2014), and is also practiced in the U.S. (Chang, 2017). While Korean immigrant women may have such interest in their children's education, the COVID-19 outbreak might have left them perplexed by the closure of schools and unexpected shifts in the educational system, causing them to experience multiple challenges and concerns. ...
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... Again, "Asian" is an umbrella term encompassing a diverse, heterogeneous, and transnational collection of populations, with varying medical needs and curative propensities [8]. To date, few studies have examined BCa-related health disparities in this population. ...
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... What remains hidden behind the model minority discourse is the assumption that racism and social injustice are not serious issues-"since Asians can make it, why not you?" (Yu, 2006). Literature reviews in education and other disciplines similarly point out how the model minority stereotype divides social groups who may otherwise collaborate for social change (Chang, 2017;Poon et al., 2016). ...
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... More specifically, by virtue of couching his scholarship in examples from hyper-diverse and disparate Chinese and Asian communities, including those of his family over generations, Luke's writings urge us to be more mindful and rigorous when we look at groups of people as simply on this or that side of whiteness and privilege. In my own work, I drew inspiration from these insights when exploring popular and essentializing conceptualizations of Asians in North America as the "Model Minority" or "Oppressed Minority" (Chang, 2017a), and the detrimental effects those conceptualizations have in educational research, curriculum, policy, and pedagogy. On the other hand, I also drew upon Luke's work when broaching how critical approaches contextualized within Asian American communities can facilitate a more difficult but nuanced conversation about how racialization, privilege, and inequities are entangled in everyday lives (Chang, 2013;Chang & Au, 2008). ...
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