Tag Archives: college


SAT Cheating Investigation: The Latest Scandal in SKorean Education


Thousands of Chinese and South Korean students who took their SATs earlier this month will have to wait a bit longer for their scores to arrive. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the exam around the world, is temporarily withholding scores in response to allegations of cheating, according to the New York Times.

The Educational Testing Service, which is contracted by the College Board to administer the test overseas, said in a statement that they had “specific, reliable information” that there were “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit, to the ultimate detriment of all students.” The ETS also said it would investigate and release valid scores by mid-November.

The SAT is a crucial test for international students applying for American colleges and universities. Unfortunately for the students affected in this latest cheating scandal, they won’t be able to send their scores in time to make the early decision deadline, which is at the end of October for most institutions.

An executive director at Princeton Review’s Hong Kong and Shanghai divisions told TIME that most of the students who are applying for early decision to American universities already have scores from past tests, but most likely took the October exam in hopes of submitting a higher score.

Students took to social media and message boards, understandably expressing concerns over whether or not their chances of admission would be affected. ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing assuaged these fears, telling TIME this past Wednesday that ETS would “make universities aware of the circumstances and supply students with a letter to share with the schools to which they are applying.” Other admissions counselors also commented that the delay would not hurt chances of admissions — as long as they weren’t implicated in the investigation.

The news isn’t all too surprising, especially regarding the highly competitive South Korean education system. In the past, a number of preparation schools have been accused of acquiring test questions in advance and then sharing them with their clientele — the students. The SAT was cancelled in South Korea in May of last year, and 900 scores were voided in 2007 due to the same reports.

The picture gets worse in the case of the yearly college entrance exam, which is considered a “make-or-break” moment for young Koreans. The South Korean Ministry of Education faces a difficult task of fixing a system that has been described as an “arms race.” Parents reportedly paid $18 billion in 2013 for private education in cram schools, also known as hagwons, to gain an advantage in the yearly college entrance exam. An average household of two children spends more than 4 million won ($3,946), or about 10 percent of monthly income, on private education.

Most of the money goes to private English lessons, which explains the bottomless need for English teachers. In August, Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea said the ministry was considering changing the grading system for English, one of the most competitive subjects in the entrance exam. According to previous test-takers, a single wrong answer in English could mean a student missing the cut for the highest tier of scoring to be considered for an elite university.

All that spending and stressing apparently isn’t paying off too handsomely. Learning company EF Education First ranked South Korea at No. 24 among 60 countries in English proficiency.

Lying on college applications is a rampant issue as well, according to Joongang Daily. Students include awards that don’t exist, volunteer and extracurricular activities they’ve never done and awards they’ve never received. In many instances, their teachers have no problem writing recommendation letters full of activities and achievements the student never fulfilled. A system that was meant to help rural and lower income students by taking the focus off standardized test scores doesn’t have the capacity and regulations to properly screen applicants.

Since 2011, South Korea has led the world in the percent of young adults with a college education, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But as always, the numbers don’t tell the whole story — after all, an incredibly competitive system that drives many to cheat, lie and spend huge amounts of money can’t be good for the students.

A poll by the Korea Health Promotion Foundation taken earlier this year revealed that over half of the teens polled said they had suicidal thoughts this year, and one in three said they felt very depressed. In addition, almost half of the teens polled said school pressure and uncertainty of the future were the main causes of stress. This is evident in Korean Students Speak, a Tumblr project created by a group of Fulbright English Teaching Assistants who wanted to allow their students to creatively express their opinions about anything. Many students took the opportunity to vent and express their frustrations about the pressure of school.

Test scores and intensive education may have made sense during the “age of industrialization,” said Lee Ju-ho, an academic at a think tank in Seoul and former education minister. But not anymore.

“We look into the ways to reform our education system not based on test scores, but based on creativity and social and emotional capacities,” Lee told BBC News last year.

Education Minister Seo Nam-Soo echoed the same sentiment, which is at least a start. “We still have a long way to go,” he said, “but we are doing some soul-searching in our society, and our goals now are about how to make our people happier.”

Image via Education News

College Fair

Korea Daily’s 9th Annual Los Angeles College Fair


The days are growing shorter, and college students have already begun heading back to their institutions of learning and enlightenment, except for the University of California students, who will be sitting on their laurels until the beginning of October. For their younger high school counterparts, those entering their senior year will soon be forced to think about what they will do beyond next summer, if they haven’t started worrying already.

For those in need of some guidance, the Korea Daily College Fair might be exactly what you need. Both students and parents in the Los Angeles area are encouraged to attend this year’s fair to find out more about curriculum, admissions, financial aid and even tips on campus life.

The 9th annual L.A. College Fair will be held on Sept. 20 at Choong Hyun Mission Church in Los Angeles (address below).

Apart from the seminars and workshops, attendees will also be able to listen meet successful graduates, including Arden Cho, Steve Jung, Sally Na, Tae Eun Kim, and Janet Kwon. Anyone who needs more direct help will be able to hold one-on-one counseling sessions with admissions consultants.

Students thinking about a particular school can also meet representatives from over 50 colleges and universities. Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity and find out as much as you can. If you don’t come home with a backpack full of brochures and pamphlets, you haven’t done enough.

You can find out more about the Korea Daily College Fair on their website. They’ve also listed a few tips for students and parents to look over before hitting the fair.

Click here for tickets for the Los Angeles fair (same-day registration is at 9:30 a.m. at the fair).

For those outside of Los Angeles, you can check out fairs in Atlanta on Sept. 13 and New York on Sept. 27.

David Chang

Student Spotlight: Boston College’s David Chang

What’s the best thing about your school?
The Jesuit tradition. I didn’t really know what that meant before college but I see BC does not aim to produce doctors, lawyers, and etc. Instead, BC wants to make better men and women so we can make the world a better place.

Give a little description of your background (where did you grow up, etc.).
I grew up on the north shore of Long Island. My town was mostly made up of white Jewish peoples so Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were the social events to attend. I did not always embrace my Korean heritage because I wanted to fit in to the community I grew up in.

This mindset came from me realizing I was different. For example, in the first grade when my classmates told each other their middle names, I felt different. I heard “normal” names like Andrew, Evan, and Michael but mine was not “normal.” My middle name is the Romanization of my Korean name-Keunchul. Eventually, my classmates turned to me and asked me what my middle name is. I was embarrassed because it was different and difficult to pronounce but eventually I relented. The result of sharing a little part of my identity was humiliation. The other kids laughed and made fun of me that led me to cry.

This started a phase in which I hid my Korean culture from my friends. I refused to learn Korean and felt indifferent of issues concerning Korea. As I got older, I realized how important being Korean was and I started to identify myself as Korean American rather than just American. Although I supported the U.S. over Korea during the World Cup, I’m still connected with my roots.

48 Hours Group

Are there any organizations/clubs you are involved in? Tell us about what you’re up to!
I am a news producer for Boston College Television. I basically help research news and find interesting topics and events on campus to film. Film/TV production has always been a hidden passion of mine and I never really acted on it until I came to college and joined this group.

I am also involved in programs held by the Office of First Year Experience (FYE) as well as working for FYE as an Administrative Assistant. At Boston College, we believe that the first year in college is a critical year for growth.

My favorite program that FYE has to offer is 48 Hours. 48 Hours is a weekend retreat for freshmen to talk about their experience so far academically, socially and spiritually. Ten senior leaders help facilitate these conversations and six sophomore Point Guards make sure the weekend is fun and meaningful for all. I went on 48 Hours as a freshman and I was lucky enough to come back sophomore year as a Point Guard! Point Guarding was so much fun because I was able to see the program from the other side and made great friends through the leadership team.

In addition, I am part of Appalachia Volunteers, which takes a group of students that give up their spring break to do service related work throughout the Appalachia region. It’s not a typical service trip. The Appalachia Volunteers program introduces students to the Catholic Jesuit mission of the university, encourages students to integrate moral and ethical principles with their experience of service and immersion and helps them decide how to use their gifts in service to others. It’s truly a program that has inspired me to do more service work and at the same time, I made some of my best friends through the trip!

Your go-to food place:
Le’s Vietnamese Restaurant in Boston. I never had pho before I got to college but now I am hooked.

I also love Italian food. So anywhere on the North End of Boston is good eating.

What was the hardest thing you’ve done so far?
Running the Boston Marathon was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I wasn’t much of runner before college but after what happened in 2013, it only inspired me more to run it. The whole experience was crazy and parts of it I really wanted to die but moments like my parents surprising me at mile 13 in Wellesley, seeing my friends at mile 21 in BC, and the final mile made it all worth it. It’s an experience that I’ll never forget.

What is your best student-budget recipe?
I love to cook. Baked ziti and lasagna are my specialties.


Who has been an influential figure in your life?
My dad and his dad. Those two are the greatest people I know.

My dad came to the US after he graduated from medical school in Korea. He spoke no English and struggled to try to make something happen in medicine. Now he’s the chief of his department at the hospital he’s been with for over twenty years.

My grandfather escaped from North Korea to South Korea during the Korean War with my grandmother, aunt, and two uncles. He died when I was little, but without his courage and resilience, we wouldn’t have a future.

What has been your favorite memory so far?
Ugh this is tough. Besides the Boston Marathon, I’d have to say my internship in Korea. In the summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to intern at KBS for a program dubbed Cool Kiz on the Block. It was really cool to be able to see the behind the scenes work that goes into a television show and I got to meet some Korean celebrities. One time during the show, we went on location to a rural part of Korean and after filming, we had a barbecue together and it was an awesome time. I also was able to have a good conversation with John Park from American Idol … in English!

If you could sum up your life as a student in three words, they would be…
Stressful, exciting, and unpredictable.

Is there anywhere in the world where you’d want to study abroad? Where is it, and why?
I’d want to go South America. It’d be a huge change of scenery and there’s so many cool places to go. Machu Picchu is on my bucket list.

What song is representative of your life right now?
“Give a Little Love” by Noah & the Whale.


Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’m hopefully doing something that makes me happy or preparing for my career. I am studying to get into medical school so that’s the current plan but if I’ve learned anything from life, things can change. Not sure if that’s a good thing ;)

What’s your go-to selfie face? (A picture is obviously necessary.)
Hate doing selfies…

Coffee, tea, energy drinks, “crazier stuff,” or nothing at all?
Anything mocha, or black coffee. I don’t really like the taste of black coffee but the bitterness wakes me up. It also helps if it’s cold.

Who’s the person/people you can rely on for anything?
My former boss Chris. He was not only a great boss but a mentor and friend. Even though we don’t see each other as often as we did, he always makes sure to check in on me from time to time. We’ve had a lot of good times and he’s always been there for the not so good times.



If you would like to participate in KoreAm U’s Student Spotlight feature, you can find more information here. Alumni, we have something for you too!

Aimee Dockum

Student Spotlight: CSU Fresno’s Aimee Dockum

Give a little description of your background (where did you grow up, etc.).
Hi, my name is Aimee Dockum and I’m a music performance major at Fresno State. I’ve been playing the cello for over 11 years, and it’s because of my cello professor that I am who I am today. I met him when he first joined the institution–Dr. Thomas Loewenheim–he took me under his wing and I grew exponentially as a musician and as a person.

I’m an adopted Korean, and in high school had been suffering a major identity crisis. I didn’t know what to do and was failing academically. I felt so lost … but Dr. Loewenheim helped me through it all an i was able to successfully join the college in 2012. Upon becoming an official Bulldog, I found my path. My studies have been getting better and better, I now know what I want to do with my life, and have matured so much.

Even before being in college, I had the amazing opportunity to study with professors and participate in the orchestra.

Now, as a college student, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to represent my school all over the West Coast. Fresno State has hosted multiple international music festivals, such as FOOSA and FiYO. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to meet and play with some of the greatest musicians in the world- such as Lynn Harrell, a two-time Grammy Award Winning Cellist.

Last school year, I won the Fresno State Concerto Competition and was able to play the Lalo Cello Concerto in D Minor with the school’s orchestra.

Because of all the support and knowledge this university has given me, I’m well on my way to becoming a professional world-renowned musician.

Aimee Dockum

Are there any organizations/clubs you are involved in? Tell us about what you’re up to!
I just helped in founding a new club at Fresno State! This year is New Music Ensemble’s first year as a recognized club. It’s a group of talented students who play works by living composers! A lot of the time we feature the schools very own student composition majors. We have a concert coming up on halloween, and are always looking for composers to send us their pieces.

What’s the best thing about your school?
The best thing about my school is how supportive they are of their students. The music department here is so encouraging and always pushing us to reach a higher level. It’s really very heartwarming to know such a great faculty is working at Fresno State.

Your go-to food place:
Sweet Tomatoes. I like to think I’m classy, but the idea of a buffet always wins me over … Haha. I also love this local Korean food place by my school called Samos Kitchen, the ahjussi there is so nice to me and always welcomes my friends and me.

What is your best student-budget recipe?
I’m a horrible cook, so the best attempt I can make is instant ramen…

What has been your favorite memory so far?
Favorite memory so far has been performing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles with FOOSA, a summer string academy held at our school. It was such a wonderful experience and the hall is so beautiful!


Tell us about your favorite and least favorite classes.
My favorite class is my private lesson time, because my professor is amazing and I always learn so much. My least favorite class… environmental studies. To me all the rocks and dirt look and feel pretty much the same, trying to differentiate all of them just makes my head spin *_*

Do you have a worst roommate story? Let’s hear it.
I don’t have a roommate … However this past summer I roomed with two of my friends and learned we could go through multiple cartons of ice cream in a night for two full weeks … Hagen Daaz will be the death of me.

Who has been an influential figure in your life?
My cello professor, Dr. Thomas Loewenheim. He’s helped keep me on track and has supported me 200% ever since I met him. He’s so passionate about music and it’s so contagious that I’ve become incredibly passionate about music, too. His dream is to make Fresno the best big “hub” of music, which at first I thought was ridiculous, but he’s come so far these past years that I believe he can do anything.

If you could sum up your life as a student in three words, they would be…
Coffee, music, coffee…

Is there anywhere in the world where you’d want to study abroad? Where is it, and why?
Germany! I’ve been working towards that goal for a while. So much history, so man beautiful landmarks … The Berlin Philharmonic is there, and I’ve always wanted to be a part of that. So being able to study in the same place that they reside in would be way too cool. So many music greats took place there, I just want to immerse myself in the culture.

What was the hardest thing you’ve done so far?
Playing for Janos Starker.

Now, it doesn’t seem so bad, but Janos Starker is a music legend. Cellists dream of playing for him. I was a 14-year-old dork that didn’t know how big of a deal he was. So I went in, scuffed jeans and beat up converse, and (attempted) to play my piece for him. He stopped me not even halfway through, told me my fingers were too weak, and made me cry like a baby. That lone moment is such huge motivation for me to take things seriously.

What song is representative of your life right now?
“Stuntman” by DANakaDAN

He’s also a Korean Adoptee and everything he writes has really struck home with me.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I have no clue. Hopefully in an orchestra, doing what I love. Or traveling the world eating my heart out, one city at a time…

What was the last book you read…for fun?
Kafka on the Shore by Murakami. It quite literally blew my mind.

What does your typical day consist of?

Wake up, work (I teach at a high school), school, practice, more school, teach (I teach private lessons too), practice, and sleep. Somewhere in there I manage to fit in Instagram binging and Tumblr obsessing.

What does your typical night out consist of?
Grabbing tea and watching an abnormal amount of movies (particularly Hayao Miyazaki films). Honestly, as long as I’m with my friends, we can do anything and I’d be happy.

If you had to evacuate your dorm/apartment/house immediately, what one item would you grab on the way out?
My cello… I mean, she’s 200 years old…

What’s your go-to selfie face?

KoreAm Stuff

Coffee, tea, energy drinks, “crazier stuff,” or nothing at all?
Coffee and tea.

Who’s the person/people you can rely on for anything?
My best friend, Patricia. She also plays the cello, and I met her in college. She’s so sweet and so supportive of everything i do, and always has my back. I love her to death and I probably wouldn’t be sane if it weren’t for her!


If you would like to participate in KoreAm U’s Student Spotlight feature, you can find more information here. Alumni, we have something for you too!

Lydia Suh

Student Spotlight: Western Kentucky University’s Lydia Suh

Give a little description of your background (where did you grow up, etc.).
I have always lived in small towns where the Asian population is little to none. I never thought it was weird being the only Korean in my class. To me, it was weird when tons of Asian people were together; I felt out of place.

Your go-to food place:
Since I’ve been in California, Chipotle.

Tell us about your favorite and least favorite classes.
My favorite classes are labs because they are hands on. I like being able to move around and actually do something rather than sit and write notes while a teacher is lecturing.

Do you have a worst roommate story? Let’s hear it.
When I was in 7th grade I went to summer camp. My roommate had a baby doll that she thought was real, and it was creepy. I would walk into the room and turn on the lights, and she would quickly turn them back off because the baby was sleeping. It was definitely an experience.

Who has been an influential figure in your life?
My little sister has been really influential because she is always there for me. She is so strong and can make light of any situation. If you need to laugh she’s the first person you should talk to.

If you could sum up your life as a student in three words, they would be…
Stressful, time-management, fun.

Is there anywhere in the world where you’d want to study abroad? Where is it, and why?
I would love to go to Europe because I’ve never been. I have always loved traveling, and a couple of my friends studied in Europe last semester and loved it.

What was the hardest thing you’ve done so far?
College, because you suddenly become independent and you have to find the right balance between school and fun.

What song is representative of your life right now?
“Long Way Home” – 5 Seconds of Summer

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully I’ll be able to support myself with a job that I enjoy.

What was the last book you read…for fun?
The Maze Runner

What does your typical day consist of?
Wake up, get stuff done, eat, hang out with friends, sleep.

What does your typical night out consist of?
Spending hours figuring out what to do because all my friends are indecisive, then ending up going to steak’n shake, waffle house, or IHOP.

If you had to evacuate your dorm/apartment/house immediately, what one item would you grab on the way out?
If I was at home I would grab the photo albums, but if i was at the dorm it would be my laptop.

Apple or Android, or neither?

Mac or PC, or neither?

What’s your favorite tree?
Pecan, because there was a pecan tree in my backyard growing up and we would always pick the pecans and eat them.


If you would like to participate in KoreAm U’s Student Spotlight feature, you can find more information here.



College Students, Embrace Your Spotlight!

It’s already nearing the end of August, and for those on a regular academic schedule, that means school and lectures and parties you have to attend. But no fear! KoreAm is here to help you ease back into your semesters, quarters or what have you.

Going to college is all about meeting the right people, whether it be the right friends, roommates, professors, study buddies or BP partner. But usually, that’s limited to where you’re able to go. Why not get a head start with our new feature, Student Spotlight?

In the vein of I Am KoreAm, Student Spotlight is geared specifically for college and university students. We figured with tens of thousands of Korean American and Korean international students spread across the United States, they’d want a way to connect with others–as well as see what’s going on outside of their own bubble.

If you’re a current student and would like to participate, send an email to KoreAm.U@iamkoream.com with the subject heading “STUDENT SPOTLIGHT.” Please include your full name, class year, institution name and major. Then, complete this sentence: “I am proud to be a [school mascot] because…”

If selected, we will send you a questionnaire along with a few more details.


Student Spotlight is the precursor to our upcoming online extension, KoreAm U! We will be announcing more news about that shortly, so keep your eyes and ears peeled.

Class of 2014, did you just miss the cut? Alumni, do you feel left out? No worries! Check out KoreAm’s Alumni Catalogue! For everyone else, check out our I Am KoreAm feature!


Asian Americans: The New White?

Asian Americans are held up as the great success story, on the fast track to assimilation. But this has put us at the center of the debate about fairness in this country, raising the question: Are we becoming white?

story by Eugene Yi
photo illustration by SUEJEAN AHN
photo by MIKE LEE

In 1922, Takao Ozawa, a Japanese man who had lived in the U.S. for decades, sued the federal government to be considered white. His application for citizenship had been rejected, as naturalization was only offered to “free white persons,” “aliens of African nativity” and “persons of African descent.” In his case, Ozawa mentioned the similarities in skin tone between his and a white person’s, as well as his loyalty. He wrote, “In name, Benedict Arnold was an American, but at heart he was a traitor. In name, I am not an American, but at heart I am a true American.”

Ozawa’s case wound up before the Supreme Court, which did not, in the end, think Ozawa could be considered white. The result must not have been a surprise, coming as it did during the age of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the yellow peril and Yellow Peril, an influential 1911 book which argued that, in fulfillment of the Book of Revelations, Jesus Christ would descend from heaven to protect the “Occident” against marauding hordes of Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Korean people.

Ninety-two years later, the boundaries of whiteness appear to have grown more generous. A few months ago, the Washington Post ran an op-ed called “How the Asians Became White.” UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh opined on coverage of the diversity numbers of the employees at Google. The New York Times had earlier written that Silicon Valley remained a “white man’s world.” But, Volokh noted, while there is a lack of black and Latino employees, Google was actually less white than the American workforce as a whole, and far more Asian, with about a third of the employees of Asian descent. Volokh sagely wrote that he’d been observing that type of oversight for some time, and quoted himself from something he’d written prior on the topic. This one, from 1998: “To some extent, this sort of mistake is funny and even a bit heartwarming. The racial divisions between white and Asian, once so stark and to many almost unbridgeable, are quickly fading away.”

To have one’s ethnicity, one’s race, stripped away is nothing short of a provocation, even if it is “heartwarming.” “So what?” one might think. It’s the kind of provocation one should expect on the Internet, which runs on cats and outrage. And the “Asians becoming white” headline is nothing new. Coming from the other side of the political spectrum, ethnic studies scholar Scott Kurashige wrote in 1992 that Asian Americans were like Casper the Friendly Ghost: seen as either white or invisible. Other left-leaning columnists have made similar observations.

CS-Minority-0714-1harvardScreenshot of a website set up by the Project on Fair Representation, which seeks testimonials from people who think they were rejected by a school over race. 

So apparently, Asian Americans are basically white, or at least “honorary whites,” next in line to “become” white, a model for other minorities to follow. A comparison to European ethnic groups is often made, usually the Jews. It is, on the face of it, not an unconvincing argument. Asian Americans are immigrants also, stereotyped for having great success in this country. So great is the desire to succeed that Asian Americans are supposed to embody every stereotype of assimilation: educational attainment, loss of foreign language, intermarriage, what have you. For that, Asian Americans are noticeably overrepresented in higher education and in technological and scientific fields.

Thanks to people like Volokh, the occasional overrepresentation of Asian Americans has been cast as a question about the basic fairness of this country. It’s rare for Asian Americans to be at the center of an issue of such import; we are still often invisible, after all. But whiteness has so many connotations that it’s difficult not to be disquieted by this type of talk. More than just a political question, at its root, it is a more personal matter, one that touches on the very nature of being Asian American itself.

* * *

We all knew what the acronyms meant. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s and ’90s, I heard it plenty. UCLA: University of Caucasians Lost among Asians. Or U C Lots of Asians. UCI: University of Chinese Immigrants, or University of Civics and Integras (To the millennials, those were popular with the rice-rocket set back then). A ton of Asians went to UCs, and multiple acronyms existed, which speaks to both how obvious this phenomenon was, and to the endless creativity of procrastinating students.

When my high school class started hearing back from colleges, one of my Latino classmates received acceptances from a few schools that I had not gotten into. His application essay had been a gritty account of growing up in a tough part of town, errant bullets embedded in the drywall in his childhood bedroom. Mine was an existential deconstruction of Alphaville’s 1984 new wave hit “Forever Young,” a 500-word cri de coeur set to sighing synths. Though one might be tempted to pin his better fortunes on his race, I think the essays probably say it all.

I remember we all compared admissions letters, and shared in the realization that it would be a different letter—the financial aid package—that would determine where we’d end up. The aforementioned classmate mentioned how much money he’d received in financial aid, and boasted that he could lend us some. In a fit of adolescent pique, I blurted that he shouldn’t be proud of the fact that his parents hadn’t worked as hard as mine had.

A file photo from Oct. 23, 1996, when UCLA students, surrounded by Los Angeles Police officers, staged a sit-in in West Los Angeles, during a protest against then-ballot Proposition 209, which ended many aspects of affirmative action in California. 

It was a brutish outburst, a dumb thing for a kid to say. I didn’t know anything about his family or their story. I certainly didn’t know anything about affirmative action. And I cringe at the memory now, because I am dismayed that it sounded so much like a talking point for anti-affirmative action activists. They argue that success is being penalized, and Asian Americans are proof of the need to do away with the consideration of race. Some cite studies remarking on the difference in average SAT scores between the races, or talk about suspiciously consistent percentages of Asian Americans in Ivy League student bodies. One recent example is a set of websites seeking testimonials of people who believe they have been rejected from a school because of their race. Set up by the Project on Fair Representation (essentially a one-man operation helmed by Edward Blum, a former investment banker and fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute), the goal is to gather enough potential plaintiffs to challenge universities that use applicants’ race and ethnicity as admissions criteria. Many of the pictures used by the websites, despite denials from Blum, feature Asian or Asian-looking people. Smelling a rat, Julianne Hing, who wrote about the effort for the progressive news website Colorlines, pointedly asked, “How do you know when you’re a pawn in someone else’s race war?”

All of this pits Asian Americans against underrepresented minorities, and is a continuation of the history of weaponizing the model minority myth. Sociologist William Petersen coined the expression “model minority” in a story he wrote in 1966 for the New York Times Magazine about the success of Japanese Americans. Indeed, it was called “Success Story, Japanese American Style.” But he didn’t evince an obvious agenda, and approached the topic with the mannered caution of a trained academic. He goes through the litany of crimes committed against Japanese Americans: discrimination, suspicion, internment, deprivation of basic rights. He allows himself to drop his objectivity only when marveling at their success, at how far they had come, “by their own almost totally unaided effort.” Petersen contrasted the Japanese American experience with that of other groups, including, interestingly, the Chinese, whom he did not see as being successful.

Kurashige, the ethnic studies scholar, wrote about the ways that the African American and Japanese American communities interacted in Los Angeles following World War II in his book, The Shifting Grounds of Race (2008). Japanese Americans returned to L.A. after the internment, and initially struggled to get back on their feet. Alliances formed between the Japanese American and African American communities to fight for common goals. But as Japanese Americans’ lot improved, tension between the two communities emerged, he argued.

“The ideological characterization of Japanese Americans as a ‘model minority’ to be integrated served to stigmatize the others as ‘problem minorities’ to be contained,” he wrote.

Criticisms of the model minority myth generally mention the widely divergent outcomes for different groups of Asians. While some groups are doing well, others lag behind, with educational outcomes and household incomes at the bottom end of the spectrum. Much academic work has been done adding needed nuance, yet the impression still exists. Sociologist Nadia Kim took her stab at trying to complicate the picture in her drily titled 2007 paper “Critical Thoughts on Asian American Assimilation in the Whitening Literature.” The paper reads like the academic equivalent of a diss track. Asian Americans, she wrote, “do not desire a white identity.” A sense of mission is readily apparent, and her language is often accusatory, full of italics and verve.

CS-Minority-0714-3saynosca5AP Photo/FRANK WIESE
Asian Americans protest a Senate Constitutional Amendment in California that would have asked voters to consider eliminating California Proposition 209’s affirmative action ban.

Regarding the 1965 law that opened up the country to immigration from Asia, and its policy of favoritism for educated professionals, she wrote it had been enacted “as if to engineer a model minority.”

Regarding intermarrying: “[C]ontrary to popular wisdom, the second largest proportion of marriages is not Asian-white couplings but interethnic marriages, that is, marriages between different Asian ethnic groups.”

Regarding financial success: Asian American poverty is at “a rate considerably higher than for white Americans.” And individual income lags behind comparable whites.

And regarding the idea “that European immigrants were once not white but later became white. Such a claim has not been conclusively supported by historians themselves.” Their whiteness was never questioned, she argues, citing a study showing that Italian Americans, unlike Takao Ozawa, were never denied citizenship. Additionally, Kim brought up the history of European ethnic groups shoring up their whiteness by literally attacking African Americans. More recent history provides troubling parallels. The tensions between Korean Americans and African Americans in the leadup to the L.A. riots in 1992 may not have been about shoring up whiteness, but it certainly created tension between Korean Americans and African Americans, adding another example to an established pattern. Proximity to whiteness is often affirmed by distance from blackness.

* * *

Affirmative action again stirred controversy in California earlier this year. I watched with great interest. Usually, it’s the white conservatives using Asian Americans to make an argument against the policy. This time, it was Asian Americans making the argument themselves.

A bill, known as Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, would have put the issue of race in college admissions back in front of the voters. The use of race has been illegal since 1998. After the ban of the use of race went into effect, admissions rates for black, Latino and Native American students dropped precipitously across the University of California system. White and Asian American rates remained largely unchanged. Student enrollment for fall 2013 in the UC system showed Asian Americans made up 40 percent of the undergraduate population, a massive overrepresentation for a group that makes up about 14 percent of the state’s population. Depending on one’ s political persuasion, one could see this as either cause to unite to increase diversity and opportunities for underrepresented minorities, or, just rewards for hard work, something to defend. It was a classic wedge issue.

An ad hoc group of mostly first-generation Chinese and South Asian Americans waged a fierce online campaign against SCA 5, full of hyperbolic language and rumors about the bill. One op-ed on the website Siliconindia called it “The Most Racist Bill in the History of California.” SCA 5 became “Skin Color Amendment 5” in other tellings. Crude pics repurposed the “I Have a Dream” speech and the image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to have him make the case against affirmative action from beyond the grave.

Polling data generally shows that Asian Americans strongly favor affirmative action. This had put Asian Americans in alliance with other communities of color. But in this case, these new activists’ voices were louder, and it was enough to compel several Asian American state lawmakers to back away from what they initially thought was an uncontroversial bill. Asian American Republicans sought to capitalize on the split, announcing their opposition to affirmative action.

Conservative students at the University of California at Berkeley staged this “protest” of affirmative action on Feb. 26, 2003, holding a bake sale with treats priced according to the buyer’s ethnicity, gender and social status. 

I’d always wondered if or when this particular shoe would drop. Amy Chua recently made herself a celebrity as the Tiger Mom, raising model minority cubs. But she’s not stumping for education reform, or denying pee breaks in public schools to keep kids on task, or whatever. But with the protesters in California, a new reality seems to have emerged: There are Asian Americans who are willing to take the model minority myth, and march in the metaphorical streets. And if that means scuttling political orthodoxy and solidarity with other communities of color, so be it.

Instructive parallels exist in other communities. Historian Sonia Song-Ha Lee, of Washington University, wrote about the activist history of New York’s Puerto Rican community in her book, Building a Latino Civil Rights Movement. African Americans and Puerto Ricans activists often fought alongside each other until the ’70s, when the coalition started to fray. Several factors contributed to an eventual split, including the growing political influence of Puerto Ricans who had entered the middle class. Fissures started to form along class lines, according to Lee.
“The middle class was able to dominate the conversation by the ’70s. A lot of these middle-class Puerto Ricans started to prioritize job security, and started to choose narrow political goals, versus broader visions of rebuilding a new society,” she said. Some middle-class Puerto Ricans even trotted out a familiar argument: that they shared a common path with earlier waves of European immigrants, overcoming prejudice to reach an attainable American dream through bootstrapping alone. But at that point, entry into the middle class had proven elusive for the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans.
There are echoes of this line of thinking when Asian Americans take up the argument for merit in education. For some, status in the middle class is a birthright rather than an aspiration. Much of the SCA 5 activity was focused in the ethnic suburbs around Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, well-off parts of town with more recent immigrants from China and India who might be less interested in broader messages of solidarity. This, despite the fact that the majority of Asian Americans still support affirmative action, and that, importantly, some Asian American groups are lagging far behind others.

“I think for better or worse what we were seeing in the SCA 5 battle is … Asian Americans expressing a greater sense of agency for their own purposes, which are moving in contradictory political directions,” said Kurashige. “Therefore, we ought to expect not a simple shift in any specific direction, but some heated debates and struggles to define Asian American politics in the 21st century.”Outside of education and the tech industry, though, the issue is not as contentious, according to Vincent Pan, of the advocacy group Chinese for Affirmative Action. “Nearly all Asian Americans agree with affirmative action in employment hiring and promotion, public contracting, judicial, media and political representation—and so we can appreciate the need and benefit for affirmative action,” Pan said. “It is highly inconsistent and detrimental to abandon it with respect to higher education admissions.”

* * *

One hundred years ago, it would’ve been difficult to imagine Asian Americans having this place in the racial hierarchy to even prompt such conversations. For most of the history of Asian Americans in the U.S., violence and xenophobia ruled. The biggest mass lynching in American history happened in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1871, where anywhere from 15 to 21 Chinese people were killed, depending on the account. Anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II led to the internment of more than 100,000 people, mostly American citizens. In 1982, Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, was murdered during another rising tide of anti-Japanese hysteria. More recently, South Asians have been targeted and murdered following the 9/11 attacks.

“History tells us that anti-Asian discrimination won’t go away so quickly. Just because right now, we find ourselves in a semi-white position, it doesn’t mean we’ll be here forever,” said Lee, the historian. “We still hold a fairly precarious position.”

It seems anytime an Asian country becomes the enemy, Asian Americans become the target. Being an “other” in America is never far from having violent consequences. How many of us second-generation Asian Americans have held our breaths and waited for potential fall-out with every ominous “China Rising” headline or when it’s revealed that the perpetrator in some heinous crime in the U.S. is Asian? Or, for that matter, recent mass shootings that seem to be partially inspired by some very twisted neuroses rooted in being Asian?

Amy Lee places flowers at the gravestone of her nephew, Vincent Chin, at a 20th anniversary memorial at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Detroit on June 23, 2002. Chin, a Chinese American, was beaten to death with a baseball bat by two unemployed autoworkers who mistook him for Japanese. 

This push-and-pull at the core of Asian American life—white/not-white, and foreigner/native—seems to have cycled over the course of American history. No matter how close to white Asian Americans might become, this perpetual foreigner status remained. For most Asians in America, after all, the experience of other-ness is seared into us. When you walk into a room, you look around and count the Asian people. It’s a defining experience for people of color in this country. And it helps explain some of the curious political behavior of Asian Americans.

Generally, one of the best indicators for political allegiance is income. By that metric, Asian Americans should be pretty Republican. But instead, Asian Americans have shown the greatest shift to the Democratic Party of any group in the last 20 years. More than three-quarters of Asian Americans voted for Obama in the last election.

“Asian American political behavior is counter to what traditional political science research would predict,” said political science professor Cecilia Hyunjung Mo, in an email interview. “Further, wealthier Asian Americans are not any more likely to vote Republican than poorer Asian Americans.” She and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments where two groups of Asian Americans were asked about their political allegiances. One group, though, was primed with what they called “racial microaggressions,” where a white lab assistant would say something all too familiar to any Asian American: “You speak good English.” “Where were you born?”

Asian Americans who had been primed with a microaggression allied themselves significantly more strongly with the Democratic Party, 87 percent to 76 percent. The results seem to indicate that not only are Asian Americans aware they are still considered to outsiders, but that one of the two political parties is perceived not to welcome outsiders. Which, incidentally, is the party most associated with xenophobia, exclusivity and a certain strain of American whiteness.

* * *

I recently attended a panel where one of the panelists, an Asian American businessman who’d worked for some of the largest firms in the country, said that if one believed in a bamboo ceiling—a limit to how far an Asian American could rise—then one must believe in the existence of a “short” ceiling, an “ugly” ceiling, a “fat” ceiling. Being Asian is, according to this telling, an overcomeable condition—nothing that a diet or some platform shoes couldn’t help with.

Many would respond by pointing to the underrepresentation of Asian Americans in the upper echelons of corporate America. But the businessman’s words make it seem as if it’s just a matter of time. As Asians, as perpetual foreigners, as “others,” we might still do our little headcounts when we walk into a room. But the rooms, for some, are getting fancier.

The criticisms of the model minority myth are myriad, and valid. But what truth there is to it must be reckoned with. If whiteness can be defined, at least partly, as the lack of impediments to success, then it might be hard not to find this aspect of whiteness readily present in the Asian American community.

Two different Time covers that are essentially making the model minority argument—(left) the infamous 1987 “whiz kids” cover, and (right) the 2011 “tiger mom” cover. 

There is another aspect to this lack of impediment, though, one that has nothing to do with whiteness. The non-European wave of immigration that started in 1965 scrambled America’s racial logic, forcing new lines to be drawn beyond the old black/white and foreigner/native. We live in a country that’s, really, just starting to contend with the second generation of this wave of immigrants. Even though Asian Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, there are times when I marvel at how accustomed I’ve become to seeing faces that look like mine. Any reader of this publication is familiar with the ways Korean Americans are contributing to popular culture and mainstream society. There are moments when I just scratch my head in amazement, wondering, “What aren’t we doing?” There are still things to fight for, of course. Asian American men are still emasculated, as evidenced by any of the seemingly annual studies on how poorly they do in online dating. In popular media, there’ s still more Mr. Chow from the Hangover movies, than Glenn Rhee from The Walking Dead. Asian women continue to be exoticized. The consequences of “otherness” will linger, publicly through discrimination, hate crime, violence and privately, in undiagnosed ways.

There is a real phenomenon at work: the normalizing of people of color. But far from making the country post-racial, it seems to have grown hyper-racial. Two conversations are happening simultaneously: both whether, and how, race matters. The success of a person of color means either the proclamation that race doesn’t matter in American life, or the argument that one is ignoring the myriad ways it still does.

There is a reading of this phenomenon that could see this period as birth pangs of some society that is closer to some inclusive ideal. But as this post-’65 generation ages and assimilates, there is a different aspect of whiteness that comes to mind: whiteness as lacking a culture. As being “merely” American. The fear is that something essential is being lost, a sense of self and identity that goes beyond advice on Korean restaurants and maybe a word or two in the native language. The single largest ethnic group in America is from Germany. There once were literally hundreds of German-language newspapers circulating in the U.S. Now, there are barely any, and few really even think of Germans as anything but part of the white spectrum.

But different facets of whiteness don’t just fall like dominoes. Whiteness is an ill-defined complex of traits and tendencies. And it’s an actual field of study, with many universities offering classes in whiteness studies. Oft-quoted is W.E.B DuBois, the first African American to earn a Ph.D., from Harvard, and one of the foremost minds on race relations in the era just after slavery. He wrote, “The discovery of a personal whiteness among the world’s peoples is a very modern thing—a nineteenth and twentieth century matter, indeed.” The author James Baldwin, another masterful commenter on race in America, wrote in his essay “On Being White … And Other Lies,” “No one was white before he/she came to America.”

Evelyn Yoshimura, the community organizing director at the Little Tokyo Service Center, a nonprofit in L.A., told me a story once about Harry Kitano, an old lion of Asian American studies at UCLA. He used to rail that Japanese Americans were not going to be around for long. Because of their economic success, because of their assimilation, because of their rate of intermarriage, they would just be gone, integrated into the white mainstream.

At first, she said, that seemed to be the case. Japanese Americans intermarried at high rates, assimilated quickly and left Little Tokyos and Japantowns for the suburbs. Community organizations limped along, hosting their events for a dwindling number of people.

Then, some hapa kids started showing up at the annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament. Then more. Enough so that the tournament started to grow. Soon, other programs grew as well. And now, the community’s leadership programs, training sessions and their basketball leagues are bigger than ever.

No one was Asian American before they came here. Someday, Asian Americans may exist in a space independent from notions of whiteness or non-whiteness. But for now, Asian America is something being invented, every day, bit by bit, 18 million people engaging in a collective act of creation. There is yet, it seems, further to go.

Correction added: The previous version left ambiguous the degree of middle class attainment among Puerto Ricans. The wording has been changed to clarify that only a small percentage of Puerto Ricans entered the middle class and helped divide African American-Puerto Rican political alliances.

This article was published in the July 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


College Student from Indiana Posts Anti-Asian Video


Meet Alexandra Wallce 2.0: Samuel Hendrickson, a student from Indiana University, has made a video detailing 10 reasons why he wouldn’t want to be Asian. His reasons include dating Asian women, sweatshops and math.

Since he posted it on YouTube, people have responded negatively, prompting Hendrickson to apologize,8Asians reports. He defends the video as merely humorous digs, but the “jokes” he spews are based on very real stereotypes.

Let’s be frank: racism still exists. Racist jokes aren’t funny. Because we accept racism in our everyday humor, we see the perpetuation of micro-aggressions and misconceptions. If our culture didn’t give racist jabs a green light under the guise of a “good joke,” we wouldn’t see college campuses – areas where we should be challenging and criticizing racism – “border hopping” or “ghetto” theme parties.

Why are supposedly educated individuals continuing a dialogue rooted in ignorance?