Creating Educational Institutions as Centers of Academic Excellence, Community, Identity, and Empowerment: The Case for Asian Americans

Article excerpt

Abstract

As we enter into the twenty-first century, Asian Americans are increasingly diversified. Asian Americans are being progressively more affected by overlapping identities and allegiances, and they are also affected by the perceptions of themselves by others and by each other. Yet despite this diversity, there are many commonalities of experience that they share with each other because of our nation's perceptions of (or, might we say, obsession with) their "race"--which coalesce interpersonally and intrapersonally toward a pan-ethnic self-awareness of their Asian Americanness. In the past, Asian Americans have been heavily discriminated against in education. Yet since the 1960s, Asian Americans have been depicted by the media and by American society as epitomes of model minority success--especially in the arena of education. This essay examines some of the features of the so-called educational success of Asian Americans and calls into question whether this reflects accurately the experiences and conditions of contemporary Asian Americans. It also notes indications of generational declines in Asian American educational attainment and differential rate of returns on educational investment that suggest the continuing presence of discrimination and the effects of the glass ceiling. In order for Asian Americans to prepare for a brighter future that can offset some of the negative trends and conditions, we must acknowledge that overlapping identities and allegiances are important aspects of contemporary Asian America. Rather than to see these to be shortcomings, problems, or fracture points, the commentary will suggest that these are the very seeds for a future vibrant, dynamic, multipositional Asian American culture and community. In order for that future to be realized, however, we must acknowledge that education has been and continues to play a central role in Asian American culture and community. For Asian Americans to be successful in the future, we must also acknowledge that educational institutions must increasingly serve as centers of academic excellence, community, identity, and empowerment. This essay argues for the creation of educational institutions at the high school and collegiate level that highlight academic excellence, preservation of heritage, and service to the world--but in this case, with a dual mission to empower Asian Americans and to advance communication and education between the East and West. We also note several examples of African American and Latino educational institutions and discuss some of their successes and issues. The essay concludes by arguing that Asian Americans (under a broad definition of themselves) have the economic, political, social, and cultural power within themselves to create such institutions and that these institutions will serve the needs of the Asian American communities, the United States, and the world.

The Twenty-first Century Setting--Overlapping Identities and Allegiances

As we enter into the twenty-first century, Asian Americans are increasingly diverse. Foreign born and U.S. born, immigrant and refugee, multi-ethnic and multiracial, transnational and pan-ethnic, and increasingly multigenerational, no easy characterizations of Asian Americans are possible. Asian Americans are becoming more affected by overlapping identities and allegiances, and they are also affected by the perceptions of themselves by others and by each other. Yet despite this diversity, there are many commonalities of experience that they share with each other because of the mainstream perceptions of their "race," which coalesce interpersonally and intrapersonally toward a pan-ethnic self-awareness of their Asian Americanness.

One example of this growing trend toward overlapping identities is transnationalism. Transnationals who significantly stake their fortunes in more than one nation are increasingly common. What might have once been described as the international jet set has morphed into a global transnational elite whose children may have such histories as being born in Hong Kong, being educated at a boarding school in Switzerland, attending Cornell University as an undergraduate, graduating from Kings College in the United Kingdom for his or her doctorate, speaking four languages, marrying a 1. …