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W HEN PAUL KIM was in high
school, he felt proud being con-
sidered "one of the guys."
"I grew up in a small town in Ohio.
Twelve thousand people. I was the
only Asian in my class...no blacks, no
Asians, except me. People would say
'You don't have problems in your high
school, do you?- And I remember
saying 'No, I don't.'"
But during out-of-town basketball
games, Kim's fellow Asians from
other schools became targets of jokes.
"My friends would be making fun
of this Asian person. I'd say, 'Hey
wait a minute. I'm an Asian," Kim
recalls. "It was never explicitly said,
but their attitude was 'You're not one
of them, you're one of us.' I remember
feeling sort of proud of that."
Looking back, the University
medical student said he felt that way
because he had no idea that he was
compromising himself as an Asian
"I felt like I fit in. I think that had a
lot to do with being blind to the com-
promises I was making," he said.
The media portrays Asian
Americans as the model minority -
one which has overcome all the
problems of being a minority . Their
race is often viewed as an American
success story. Yet Asians say that
that label fails to convey the realities
of being an Asian American. Even
today too many Asian American
students say they feel they must com-
promise their identities to become
A wide variety of stereotypes and
misconceptions that surround Asian
Americans are at the center of the dif-
ficulties that Asian Americans ex-
"Stereotypes are like an LP - they
have a front side and a flip side," said
Ton Aramaki, the Asian American
representative in the University's
Minority Student Services office.
On the positive side of the
stereotype is the notion that Asian
Americans are studious and hard-
working. Recent studies lend creden-
"We're not asking that they put as
much money into an Asian
(program). We're just asking that we
not be philosophically ex-
According to Goto, the University's
handling of Asian Americans implies
that the minority group has acheived
equality on campus. "Five percent
versus the 95 percent other, and it's
already threatening. Five percent
and they can call it equality on cam-
RECENT TECHNOLOGICAL, In-
dustrial, and economic suc-
cesses in Japan reinforce the myth
that Asian Americans are a threat.
Advances also contribute to another
myth - that Asians are naturally gif-
ted in science and mathematics.
According to Sasaki, Asian
Americans often see careers in the
technical fields as one sure way to
succeed in a predominantly white
"Going into technical fields is the
easist way, for us to get into society
historically," he says, because the
qualifications for success - such as
test scores, grades, and problem-
solving skills - can be judged objec-
tively on paper, decreasing the chan-
ces of discrimination.
As a result, the notion that Asians
are naturally inclined to pursue a
scientific career often alters others'
expectations of Asian Americans.
"People look at you and expect you
not to express yourself well," Kim
says. "When you're in an English
class, people expect to kick your ass."
Rebecca Liu, a senior in LSA,
political science and economics
major, is one Asian American
who decided to flout that preconcep-
tion. Because her first love is theater,
she decided to take time out from
school to audition at a performing arts
school in New York a few years ago.
Out of the 1,200 people who
auditioned for the school, she was the
"People really freaked out. It was a
shock for them," she recalls.
"They're really shocked to see you in
a setting like that. They're surprised
that you're interested in it."
Aside from the academic
stereotypes, Asian Americans also
must deal with the presumptions that
they are foreigners rather that
"Becauses there are a lot of foreign
students on campus, Asian students
tend to be perceived as one and the
same,"said Julie Sasaki.
"The worst thing is having
somebody think that I'm a foreign TA
who doesn't speak any English," said
one Asian American woman who
asked not to be identified. "I find
myself speaking especially good
English, trying my best not to make
any grammatical errors just because
I don't want anybody to think I'm
fresh off the boat."
Karen Lam, who last term com-
pleted her graduate degree in social
work at the University, grew up in
California and was surprised by
people's perceptions of Asian
Americans when she came to the
"When I came to U of M, it was
culture shock to me, " said Lam, who
was born in Chicago. She said she has
been asked questions ranging from
" what country" she comes from to
whether or not she knows the
locations of particular Chinese cities.
"One guy told me I spoke English
very well," she recalled. "If people
don't know you, they think you're
from another country. They think you
're an expert on your ancestry."
OTHER STEREOTYPES abound.
The American media plays a big
part in perpetuating the many
stereotypes, Aramaki says. Various
types of media "don't portray Asians
in a very humanistic way," according
Julie Sasaki agrees. "I think a lot of
the stereotyping has to do with media
portrayal. They don't portray Asian
Americans, period," she says. "When
they do appear, it's done in a very
violent way. "
"American films have always
stereotyped Asians,"Aramaki says
adding that films portray Asians as
being either very violent or very
passive, gentle, and simplistic.
Aramaki pointed out that movies
such as "The Deerhunter" and "The
Year of the Dragon" portray Asians
as having little regard for human life
and a lot of involvement in crime.
"Asians are portrayed as a servant
on the Ponderosa or a guy in Kung
Fu," said Mike, an Asian American
engineering student who spoke on the
condition that his real name not be
"Where does anybody get an ac-
curate veiwpoint of Asian
Americans? It's very hard to do with
all the other stuff that's going on
around us in the media," Aramaki
The stereotypes are as pervasive as
they are abundant - so pervasive, in
fact, that many Asian Americans say
they believe them themselves.
"What is your automatic perception
of someone who has power?" Kim
asks. "It's a white male. This person
has a lot of sexual power, a lot of
social power, a lot of political power.
"The pathetic thing about growing
up in this society is that I myself can-
not picture an Asian in that role," he
says. "It's weirdto think that I'm not
even comfortable thinking about them
casting an Asian in a powerful role.
The stereotypes go beyond the
media to affect the way both Asian
Americans and the rest of society
perceive Asian Americans.
"The media reflects society's
opinions," says Goto. "And what
that's saying is that all these Asian
people can never become real
That perception pressures Asian
Americans to make a choice: To
either renew ties with their heritage
of assimilate as much as possible into
the white world.
Both choices, however, are too
narrow and hold potentially destruc-
tive implications. Wanting to receive
equal treatment and become part of
the mainstream can cost an Asian
American his or her identity. Yet
clinging to one's ancestry can
force an Asian American to accept
Goto says that many
AsianAmerican see only those two op-
tions in reconciling their differences
with the dominant white culture.
"I think people are caught into
saying, 'If you want to be in the status
quo and accepted as equals, then that
means you don't like being Asian. If
you don't want to be status quo and
you want to keep your Asianness, then
it sounds like you want to be a second
class citizen, you don 't want to be
equal.' But that's not really the
issue," Goto said.
"What people are saying is that you
have to accept the rules of the game
as they are," said Dave Sasaki. "If
you want to make it in the white
world, you have to accept white
B UT THERE IS a third option, and
an option that very few people -
including Asian Americans them-
selves - recognize.
People don't give us credit for
having an Asian-American way of
being. And there is an Asian
American way of being," Kim said.
"Culturally it's suicide to think that
you have to be either one part or the
Although Kim and others say there
is an Asian American culture, they
emphasize that it is a completely
unique culture, neither Asian nor
American. "It's not a mixture of the
two, and it's not measurably one or
the other. It's completely separate,"
It is easier to explain what Asian
American culture is not than what it
is. Because so few people
acknowledge its existence, few people
can identify it.
"No one understands (Asian
American culture). No one can iden-
tify with it yet. No one can say, 'I
three choices: Asian, American, and
Asian American,' " Goto says.
But it does exist, Dave Sasaki main-
"Asian American culture hasn't
been articulated as well as other
cultures...as well as black American
culture of Hispanic American
culture, for that matter,"Dave
Sasaki says. "But by definition Asian
Americans are a new culture because
we have different experiences from
anyone else in the world."
A myriad of experiences define that
culture - ones as common as walking
down the street.
"Walking down the street for me is
a completely different experience
than what it is for a white American,"
Kim says. "I think walking into a
restaurant or getting on a bus is a dif-
ferent experience for me because I've
grown up with the world reacting to
me as an Asian person. I don't think
people treat me the same as a white
Although many people think that
erasing such differences is an ideal to
strive for, Kim disagrees.
"I don't want to be treated the same
as a white person because I'm not
white. I don't want people to be race
blind," Kim says. "I don't want
people to ignore I'm Asian. That's
like saying there's something wrong
with Asian and you've got to ignore it
to deal with the person that's there.
That few Asian Americans occupy
socially and politically powerful
positions also defines culture.
"From pressure from society we're
actually inhibited and can't develop
our skill at politics as well as others
are,"Mike said. "There are Asian.
Lawyers (in Asia). There are people
in Asia who are in the humanities."
"Why is it that when you think of
someone as a socially powerful per-
son, like the president of a company,
the _paradigm is white," Kim says.
"You don't think of an Asian person,
you don't think of a black person.
"A lot of it has to do with the fact
that white culture has propped itself
up as the standard of standards,"
Kim says in answer to his own
Those cultural standards range
from social and political roles to stan-
dards of beauty, adds Kim, who said
he used to think he was ugly because
he looked Asian.
"What is the standard of chic
beauty? Basically it's what you look
at in Vogue magazine," Kim said.
"That's completely based on white
west European looks and if there are
any Asians in there, it's only because
they happen to meet the criteria of
Because there are a lot offoreign students on campus, Asian students tend to be perceived as one and the same.".
highest costs of living in the nation:
Honolulu, San Francisco, Los
Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
Asian Americans on the average at-
tend school for more years than
whites, but a higher level of education
doesn't guarantee pay that is propor-
tionate to their skills. A 1979 study
Breaking ground for
a third alternative
By Christy Riedel
on Asian Americans because whites
see it as a threat.
"It looks like we're doing well, but
the flip side of that is that it looks like
we're taking over," Aramaki said.
"The link between the stereotype
and hostility is when you react to that
stereotype in terms of a personal
threat," Aramaki said. For example,
he said, whites may perceive the
"success" of Asians as a threat to
their own job security.
Aramaki said his father had one such
experience about 10 years ago during
a Washington, D.C. tour with a
Japanese American group from his
At the time of the tour, Aramaki said,
electrical workers were picketing the
Capitol because Japan had recently
flooded the U.S. electrical equipment
market. When the angry workers
caught sight of the Japanese
Americans, they harassed the group,
nearly causing a riot. Although his
father and other group members were
American citizens, the workers saw
them as foreigners threatening their
jobs, Aramaki said.
The numbers of Asian Americans
present in a given situation often
determines whether or not they will
be perceived as a threat.
Kim says that seeing one Asian
American walking around doesn't
threaten most people. "If you see 20
Asian Americans walking around,
that's when people start getting really
Dean Goto, and LSA senior, recalls
one such experience when he and
several other Asian Americans went
into a local White Castle restaurant.
"There were about six of us and just
by going in and out, there were com-
ments about 'Is it chink night at White
Castle?' "Gotoremembers. "If one
person goes in, it's okay because it's
one person. But there's six people and
it suddenly becomes like the neigh-
A perhaps more graphic incident of
racism occurred on campus last fall
University graduate student Scott
Wong returned to his graduate library
study carrel to find the words "Die
Chink" scrawled on the wall. The
phrase, "Die chinaman, Hostile
Americans want your yellow hide,"
was written on his books.
The belief that numbers make a dif-
ference in how Asian Americans are
perceived - the "critical mass"
theory - manifests itself in a variety
of forms. One of the most recent and
most disturbing accusations is that
several top universities aross the
nation are limiting the number of
Asian American applicants they ac-
cept because there are "too many" at
particular schools right now.
Although no solid evidence has yet
been found to back up the accusations,
Brown, Yale, and the Massachuset-
tes Institute of Technology are among
the universities that have been ac-
cused of putting de facto ceilings on
the number of Asian American
students they will accept.
The University of California system
is said to forcibly distribute Asiam
American among their different cam-
puses, because increasing numbers of
Asian Amereicans are applying to the
most popular campuses in Berkeley
and Los Angeles. Asians account for
22 percent of the Berkeley campus
and 21 percent of the UCLA campus.
STUDENTS SAY recent attitudes
here are equally unacceptable.
Asian Americans represent 4.5 per-
cent of the University's body, and are
considered a "non-underrepresented"
minority on campus. As a result, none
of the special financial aid and
recruitment programs used to lure
minorities to campus target Asian
American students. Admissions of-
ficers say that although Asian
Americans are not specifically
recruited, they are encouraged to at-
tend the University.
But that exclusion from special
programs implies that Asian
Americans are no longer a minority
and thus are not at a disadvantage,
"Asians are considered non-
underrepresented," Goto said. "That
affects what you'll get as far as finan-
cial aid, recruitment, and scholar-
"We don't care how the money is
divided, as long as we're not left out.
"We sympathize with the other
minorities and some of us are trying
to work with them,"Dave Sasaki, a
University medical student said.
"But the University, by its policies, is
making the appearance that we don't
have any problems and that we share
none of the problems that the other
"No culture in this multicultural/society should
ce to that belief. U.S. Department of
Education statistics show that 35 per-
cent of all adult Asian Americans hold
college degrees. That rate is twice as
high as any portion of the U.S.
population - including whites.
BUT ASIAN AMERICANS aren't
doing as well as the statistics
lead people to believe. The 1980 cen-
sus shows that the median income of
Asian Americans surpasses that of all
other U.S. citizens. But nearly 50 per-
cent of all Asian Americans live in
five cities that have some of the
by the United States Civil
Rights Commission shows that
Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino
males with four years of college earn
only 83 percent, 74 percent, and 52.
percent, respectively, of what white
males with the same amount of
Although studies show they are no
better off than whites, Asian
Americans still fall victim to the
belief that they are more successful.
Although the success stereotype may
at first seem favorable, it backlashes
being beautiful on white terms."
"There are two types of beautiful
Asians," Goto says. "One is that they
look like they're white, they look like
they're dark-haired brunettes with
large eyes. The other is the exotic
type - the one in theL'eggs commer-
cial - the one that looks like 'I just got
off the boat.'"
THE STANDARDS of a dominant
culture keep minorities from ad-
vancing and discarding the
stereotypes that hinder them, studen-
ts say. Because Asian Americans
earn more money and receive more
education, many think they should be
happy with their social status.
It's like we're allowed to reach t-his
certain level. There's a certain
amount of mediocrity we're allowed
to acheive because that's the point
over which we'll stop complaining,"
Such problems are perhaps
an inherent part of a "melting pot"
such as the United States. The only
way to find a solution is to end the
dominance of a single culture, Goto
6 Weekend-January 31, 1986