November 19, 2012
Southeast Asian American Access in Education Coalition, and the UNITE conference
This year, on June 19th, the Pew Research Center published a report called “The Rise of Asian Americans”, praising the progress made by Asian Americans in the United States. The Pew report claimed that in spite of Asian Americans being “…held down by a century’s worth of exclusionary policies explicitly based on race… Today they make up nearly 6% of the U.S. population. And in an economy that increasingly relies on highly skilled workers, they are the best-educated, highest-income, fastest-growing race group in the country.” Despite the seemingly praise-worthy news, there was much criticism of the report. Why did that happen? The key words that really sparked controversy were “best-educated” and “highest-income”. In many ways, the information presented to the nation stood in stark contradiction to the realities facing specific Asian communities.
Recently, several Dream project mentors and I attended UNITE (You and I Together for Education) Summit, through an invitation from the Southeast Asian American Access in Education Coalition (SEAeD). Held at Highline Community College, this summit partnered SEAeD with other programs like the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs and Win/Win Network. The UNITE Summit was the first ever Southeast Asian and Asian American Education Summit in this great state of Washington. As a result of community outreach, the organizers were able to gather 225+ students, parents, and families to address the Southeast Asian American Opportunity Gap.
These were the following goals of the summit:
1) Promote solidarity among the Southeast Asian American community by working together with students, families, the local community and stakeholders to address educational needs from early learning to K-12 to higher education
2) Raise awareness regarding educational access issues of Southeast Asian Americans;
3) Connect Southeast Asian American students and families to educational resources and community-based service providers;
4) Promote a community wide climate and initiative that is conducive to personal growth, empowerment, equity and leadership for the Southeast Asian American Community.
In order to truly engage in conversations about this opportunity gap, several key things had to be discussed at the event. What I am talking about in particular is the model minority myth, the narrative that encompasses all Asian Americans as hard-working immigrants whose tenacious emphasis on education inspires their children to be those straight-A, elite university students. However, it’s stereotypes like this that create this one homogeneous identity for Asians and subsequently hides the opportunity gaps within Southeast Asian American communities such as the Hmong, Mienh, Lao, Vietnamese, Khmer and Burmese Americans, to name a few.
As a result, it seems plausible to me that the most challenging obstacle faced by Asian Americans students is this idea that they are already in a good position to make it into college and be successful because they are simply Asian. To connect this with my Dream Project experience, I believe that as mentors and as social allies, we all need to understand that access to education is a problem that is not just limited to one demographic. By continuing to educate ourselves regarding the different conditions of existence and depictions of each group, I think that allows for the opportunity for personalizing the work that we do.
Ultimately this knowledge provides the means for us to appreciate this particular core value of the Dream Project: Through learning about and discussing issues of social inequality and access to education, undergraduate Dream Team mentors develop the communication skills necessary for open dialogue with others from different backgrounds. Through shared experiences and stories, we strive to create stronger relationships with our Dream Scholars knowing that we can learn from them as much as they can learn from us.