“What are you?”
asked the Chinese graduate student, looking at me. We had hired him and a Korean graduate student to intern in my research group. They knew I was some kind of Asian but they couldn’t figure out what kind from my name and my appearance. In the rarefied academic world of research and graduate school, they had never encountered any fellow graduate students, researchers, or professors who were Filipino. I wasn’t surprised. When I was in graduate school at U.C. Berkeley, I met very few Computer Science grad students of Filipino descent like myself (none, actually), and only a few other Filipino or Filipino-American graduate students. There were plenty of other Asians and Asian-Americans from other ethnicities.
NAM education workshop from New America Media on Vimeo.
An upcoming report from the think tank Education Trust-West, described here by New American Media, confirms my experience. This report will reveal significant disparities in academic achievement among different Asian ethnic groups in California. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian and Vietnamese students often scored better than their white classmates while Cambodian, Laotian and Pacific Islander students fell farther behind the longer they were in school. Filipino students’ performance tracked closely to whites.
Details can be revealing. 72 percent of Asian students in eighth grade were testing at grade level in English in 2009, outperforming their white peers by 6 percent. Chinese students scored highest, with 81 percent achieving grade level proficiency. Only 46 percent of Cambodian and 40 percent of Laotian students scored well, however. The differences get worse as time goes on. Only 6 percent of Laotian and 11 percent of Cambodian students reach college-ready level English proficiency by high school graduation, while 41 percent of Chinese and 38 percent of Korean students reached that same level.
Ling-Chi Wang, professor emeritus in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley, said Ed Trust’s findings show that the mainstream media image of Asians as the “model minority” image is incorrect. Wang spoke at a news briefing organized by New America Media. The briefing was part of a half-day training on education data research (video embedded above) for ethnic media reporters.
To me, this is another example of how diverse Asian-Americans are. While elite colleges may look at Asian-Americans as one big homogenous group, data from this report makes it clear that they are not. As Wang points out, “the needs of certain Asian groups have been overlooked and under-funded.”