Letter to the editor


Are Asian Americans a minority?

USC has come a long way in diversifying the student body. According to Amanda Pillon’s article on April 8, “Admissions more selective than ever,” the ethnic makeup of the class of 2014 has increased from the year prior to being 20 percent “minorities.”

I bet you are asking why I put “minorities” in quotation marks. After reading the article, I noticed that a major racial category was left out of who is considered a “minority.” Asian Americans were not included in the 20 percent of admitted students that identified themselves as a “minority,” which included “African Americans, Latino, Native American [and] Pacific Islanders.” Why are we left out as being identified minorities? Some might argue that there is a large population of Asian Americans on this campus, there are other marginalized and underrepresented communities, or even that Asians make up the majority in the world. To this I have to call shenanigans.

Asian Americans have suffered years of discrimination and degradation from the Naturalization Act of 1870, which expanded citizenship to African Americans but excluded Asian immigrants; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which effectively barred Chinese from entering the United States; the California Alien Land Laws of 1913, which denied “aliens ineligible for citizenship” to own land; the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, which prohibited East Asians and South Asians the right to own land or achieve naturalized citizenship; the Tydings-McDuffe Act of 1934, which severely restricted Filipino immigration to the United States after 39 years of American colonization; and Japanese American internment during World War II. Still making up roughly 5 percent of the US. population according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Asian Americans are a minority in this country.

If the word “minority” was to mean underrepresented communities, then also I have to take issue with that. Although Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, Indian Americans and Japanese Americans make up the bulk of the Asian American community at USC, students of Southeast Asian descent that should be considered “underrepresented,” such as Vietnamese, Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians, Thai and Filipinos, as well as other South Asian Americans, such as Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankans, are left out and enveloped into the larger groups when it comes to aid and recognition.

I don’t aim to degrade the status of increasing diversity within these other groups as entering freshmen. I applaud the efforts of USC reaching out to all communities. The issue here is that we as Asian Americans are seen as the invisible minority.

Asian Americans are seen as successful economically and in education, which in effect leads to the notion that Asian Americans are either not really a minority or even as “honorary whites.” Because of that, Asian Americans are left out of the discussion in regards to many pertinent social issues, such as immigration, discrimination and poverty. I have seen the progress of the Asian American community, whether it be in government, the media or academia. But this lack of recognition proves that there is a long way to go in including Asian Americans in these dialogues. We are here and we want to be equally heard.

Kevin Cheung

Junior, Business Administration

President, Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment

5 replies
  1. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Although I am not compelled to agree with Joe’s overall viewpoint – I do agree with his premise: that Asian Americans are often not “counted” as minorities because of their relative success and integration into American society.

    Now let me make clear that this comment is in no way meant as nor should be construed as a claim that, through some fault of their own, other minorities remain relatively impoverished and uneducated. I will not debate whether this is their fault or the fault of society for “keeping them in check.” However, it is a simple fact that the per capita income of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans is significantly lower than the average per capita income in the United States.

    I, as a socially moderate Asian-American, would classify Joe’s comments as showing a somewhat conservative viewpoint on race in America. And, I think that seeing conservative America’s overwhelmingly positive opinion of Asian-Americans is encouraging.

    I think it shows that Asian-Americans have become the first ethnicity to enter into a post-racial America. Asian-Americans have the respect of all ethnic groups, for the most part. Furthermore, they are respected by social liberals and conservatives alike. On the other hand, many social conservatives are resentful of blacks, many of which they feel are lazy individuals that drain off of America’s welfare systems. Similarly, social conservatives decry illegal immigrants and Hispanics that “don’t know English” as breaking some sorts of implicit or explicit “rules.” These types of things create tension, and thus a hyper-racial world exists to this day.

    Now, I am by no means saying that there aren’t still completely hateful racists out there. I am simply saying that racism for racism’s sake is a rare thing in America today. Most perceived “racist” sentiment comes from social conservatives who think that it is unfair that traditional minorities, in their opinion, are lazy and game the system.

    But somehow, Asian Americans have steered clear of these currents. As the author said, Asian Americans are typically seen as well educated, hard working, upper-middle class Americans. Social Conservatives can identify with them, as they believe these values are important and show overall good character. This stereotype leads to the benefit of the doubt being extended to ALL Asian-Americans, regardless of how affluent or hard-working they ACTUALLY are.

    Asian-Americans still keep their own cultural and racial identity. Over the generations, these identities do fade, and younger Asian-Americans may abandon this culture in favor of a totally American culture. The important thing is that Asian-Americans are largely not resented for keeping their own cultural or racial identity, if they choose to do so. And, even those young Asian-Americans who wholly adopt “American” culture can find consolation in the fact that now they will contribute to their new culture and find joy from it.

    I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, in an almost totally Caucasian area. Through many of my years in Middle and High school, I was the only minority in my class at the local Parochial school. In fact, I distinctly remember a day in my 9th grade year, where our homeroom teacher was doing a mandatory diocesan survey of the ethnic makeup of our class. Mr. Burd, the teacher, asked everyone who was “Caucasian” to raise their hands. Literally, every kid except me did so. Under the impression that everyone had raised their hands, Mr. Burd went to put the sheet away. Then someone said, “What about Andrew?” It wasn’t that Mr. Burd didn’t know me [I had known him for three years before then]. It’s just that my race was never a big issue with my classmates and teachers. Even in that moment, when my race had become a slight aberration to distinguish me from the norm, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I literally just looked around the class, with everyone looking at me, possibly realizing for the first time that I was the only non-Caucasian and the only non-Catholic in the whole class, and laughed at the spontaneous hilarity of it all.

    You see, my classmates, many of whom I still count among my friends, gave me the benefit of the doubt when they met me, possibly because I was Asian American and not a “minority” in the fullest sense. Thus, they got to know me and, viola, they knew me as Andrew, their friend, an affable, intelligent, likable person. They did not know me as Andrew, the only minority in the class. Both they and I never looked at me as a minority or thought of me as a minority. Skin color was just that, a color, and who worries about colors outside of art class, right?

    And this is what I mean by a post-racial America. This is what Asian-Americans are starting.

    An America where almost everyone will not prejudge you based on your skin color. Where they will not even care about your skin color, but instead get to meet you and see what type of person you are before judging you. Unfortunately, America is built on stereotypes. The current stereotype for Asian-Americans is favorable enough that Caucasians give us the benefit of the doubt, identify with us, and can connect with us [and us with them] on a post-racial plane. On the other hand, both liberal and conservative Caucasians often fudge up relationships with African Americans or Hispanics. There is either a prejudgment or an overcompensation for that prejudgment in these dealings. As a result, the actual person to person relationship is shrouded by a veil of negative stereotypes or political correctness, and is thus degraded.

    In essence, two things are needed in order to guarantee a post-racial America. First, positive stereotypes of every racial group – this allows conservatives to extend the benefit of the doubt to all individuals within that racial group. And Second, a passive indifference to skin-color from both sides (majority-minority) in day to day individual relationships between whites and minorities.

    Asians successfully have fulfilled both of these criteria for themselves. And this is why we live in a relatively post-racial state. The lack of addressing Asian-Americans at all is, I feel, a side-effect of America’s evolution from a race-centric society to a post-racial one.

    Ultimately, I hope for a day where not only Asian-Americans, but all minorities, are not seen as “minorities,” but for the individuals they are. A day where noone will ever think about skin color or care much about such an innane and superficial difference. This is not to say America will be of a homogeneous culture, or of only an Anglo-Saxon culture. This is to say that each person will practice the religion and the culture they want to, each person will enjoy their racial heritage, but at the same time see every other person as another individual, so totally unique in his own right, as an individual, that to label him a black individual, an Asian individual , or a white individual is practically an insult to his own individuality.

    Some might call me an idealist for hoping for this. However, I think that idealists like myself can take consolation in the realization that Asian-Americans are crossing the threshold into such a post-racial America. Where they are waiting for the rest of the country to catch up.

  2. Joe
    Joe says:

    Maybe Asian Americans aren’t counted as minorities because, by and large, they aren’t racists demanding handouts and payoffs on the basis of their skin color. Most Asian Americans seem to be hard-working, moral people who just want to exercise their freedoms to seek education, work, and build their families. Perhaps you should be honored to have been apparently forgotten in the enumeration of racial-guilt-mongers. You got into USC *despite* racist admission policies, not because of them.

  3. AMST378
    AMST378 says:

    Kevin,

    Specious article my friend. Asian people will be heard when they start acting more assertive instead of hyper-assimilating with white people i.e. acting so whitewashed; reluctant to make waves; and avoiding racist confrontation, no matter how subtle, when the occassion arises. Turning the other cheek doesn’t work.

    The admissions here probably used “minority” to imply those ethnic groups that are underrepresented; experience socioeconomic hardships; and aren’t instilled with the value that a college education is imperative, hence the label “first time college.” It’s an equivocal term, “minority,” but in that context it implies those who don’t have as great of a chance to attend university because “Asian Americans are seen as successful economically and in education.” You said it, not me. USC is trying to shed its old school WASPY-snob image with their aggressive recruitment of underrepresented minorities.

    We don’t need a Vincent Chin; A&F ‘2 wongs can make it white’; Details magazine “Gay or Asian,” and the likes to put our feet down.

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      AMST378,

      First of all, thanks for reading this and writing a response to this. True, I do agree with you on the first point. Many Asian Americans seem to fear the discussion of race. Engagement of Asian American students in learning the history and how to understand the their own identity is the goal.

      But in regards to admission’s implied meaning, minority is such a loaded term. Especially with Southeast Asian American and other South Asian American groups, the rates are so low, that some don’t even get to identify themselves with a box, thus lumping them together with the many Chinese, Korean, Indian and Japanese Americans who make up most of the Asian American admits. These groups get ignored and don’t have as many resources to foster their development in universities, or even get outreached to.

      In regards to how “Asian Americans are seen as successful economically and in education,” this perception is that model minority myth which holds down many Asian Americans from feeling equal in in issues that regard Black and Latino/a students. Even the with the data, ethnic break down of education and poverty rates for many Southeast Asian American groups are far below average of both, making the numbers over-inflated.

      What I guess I’m trying to say is that much of the issue comes down to the implied meaning of not including Asian Americans in the minority category hurts much of the progress that Asian Americans have overcome. It isn’t fair to exclude this huge and diverse community which makes up 1/20th of the US population in something which has much implied meaning. If Asians Americans are not a minority and not White, what are we?

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