Los Angeles: Combatting the Model Minority Stereotype

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Sep 6 13:04:38 UTC 2007

Combating the Model Minority Stereotype

by Molly Nance
Sep 5, 2007, 06:17   Email article
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For more than a decade, a group of educational leaders within the
University of California system have been working towards a common
goal: the development of a statewide think tank that would address the
issues of the growing Asian American and Pacific Islander population.
In July, the university system's Office of Research announced the
establishment of the first UC Asian American and Pacific Islander
Policy Multi-Campus Research Program, headquartered at the Asian
American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The program's director, Dr. Paul Ong, a professor of urban planning,
social welfare and Asian American studies at UCLA, says such
collaborative action is long overdue.

"I think the big change is that until recently the public policy
issues for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were second thoughts
in term of priorities," he says. "And clearly with the growing
numbers, they bring a different perspective and different set of
challenges to public policy."

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the number of Asian and Pacific
Islanders in the United States has grown from 7.3 million in 1990 to
10.6 million in 2000, an increase of 45 percent. Nearly 4 million of
them live in California.

The research program comprises 50 faculty members from all 10 UC
campuses, bridging an assortment of disciplines including political
science, economics, education and urban planning. This compilation of
expertise will foster successful policy change, says Dr. Don T.
Nakanishi, director of UCLA's Asian American Studies Center.

"This program is unique in that it will link together scholars from
different disciplines to take a very close and hard look at the Asian
American population and do so in a way that will be a public service,"
he says.

Nakanishi says a research program is needed to combat the Asian
American "model minority" stereotype and address issues involving
health care, educational access, employment and language acquisition.

"In fact, there are significant problems within the Asian population,"
he says, using as an example the disparity of income levels among
Asian communities.

The research program has already gathered data showing that less than
13 percent of Asian Americans live at or below the poverty line, but
as many as 40 percent of Southeast Asian populations - including
Cambodians, Hmong and Laotians - live in poverty.

Nakanishi also notes that discrimination against Asian Americans still
exists in the corporate and academic worlds.

"There is the issue of diversity within higher education. What you see
is a pyramid of Asian American and Pacific Islander decline," agrees
Ong, referring to the proportionally smaller number of Asian
administrators compared to professors, and professors compared to
students. "Part of the research group is to address what appears to be
another glass ceiling in higher education."

The research program is also working to create solutions for English
language learners as the number of immigrants from Asia and the
Pacific Islands continues to increase.

"We do have immigrants who have enough command of the English language
to become citizens," says Ong, but he notes that there is a language
barrier for more complex tasks, such as understanding a voting ballot
or visiting the doctor.

"Health providers don't speak the same language as the immigrants," he
continues. "In the past, what they've done is have their kids be the
interpreters, but that places the children in a bad position. There
are technical issues that don't easily translate to a minor, so we
think it's very important for immigrants to have access by having an
appropriate language facility."

Working with multiple campuses to research public policy issues for
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is both advantageous and
problematic, says Dr. Andres Jimenez, the executive director of the
University of California International Center on Opportunity and

Jimenez, a member of the executive committee for the program, explains
that while there is a great amount of value put on interdisciplinary
work and collaborative work among UC campuses, junior faculty
participation is sparse.

"The main hurdle is the academic culture and academic rewards. There
aren't enough incentives to work collaboratively until a faculty
member is senior or has tenure," he says.

Ong says another pitfall is simply the distance between campuses. For
example, UCLA is located 600 miles away from UC-Davis.

"The real complication is that we are staggered," he says. Still,
"when you deal with policy issues that are complex, with economical,
cultural and sociological dimensions, it's important to look at an
issue from multiple perspectives."

Although the multi-campus research program is based within the UC
system and will be a resource for state legislators and community
organizations, education leaders, like Nakanishi, Ong and Jimenez, say
they would like to see the program develop nationwide in the following

"We will establish a base here," says Ong. "But we're just getting started."

- Molly Nance http://diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_9225.shtml

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